I remember the first time I saw him, this tall, lanky student briskly across the Kumbungu High School campus. With over 2,000 students at the school in which I taught, I was unsure at first if our paths had crossed before. All students at my school were required to wear the school uniform. This meant wearing a short-sleeved, white button down shirt with khaki shorts and black shoes while the girls wore blue skirts that went just below the knee. One thing that stood out to me about this young man’s appearance was his slight deviation from the school uniform. In addition to the white shirt and khaki shorts, he sported a black tie with the school emblem on it, a tie that was far too short for his tall figure.
He reached me as I stood in the school garden, making plans for the work that needed to be done. I looked up as he approached, realizing for the first time that he was actually headed for me the entire time I had been noticing him. I smiled warmly at him and immediately his eyes fell to his toes. He placed his hands behind his back and shifted nervously back and forth. “Hello, Madam,” he said quietly to the ground, “My name is Mohammed Salim and I am a form 1 general agriculture student. I am here for the garden work day that the 4-H has organized”.
Although I didn’t know it then, this was my first encounter with the young man that would eventually become President of the Kumbungu SHS 4-H Club.Throughout our training with AgriCorps we were often told that we need a lot of trust in the work we do and the people we work with. They warned us that often times we wouldn’t get to see the fruits of our labors. With Salim and my short, year and a half stay in Ghana…that simply wasn’t true
Although I only taught form 2 students, I had the opportunity to work with Salim through the 4-H program. This once shy and timid individual threw himself wholeheartedly into the program. It was just what he was looking for. While the focus and basis of the group was agriculture, Salim thrived in other areas of the program as well such as leadership and communication. He participated in the first ever Northern Region Speaking Contest and was the only form 1 student in the entire club to advance on to the finals. He would come to my house regularly after school to practice for the contest, frantically scribbling notes on ways he could improve. His hard work and determination paid off and he and his partner, Rahina, got second place in finals of the reciting of the 4-H Pledge and Song category.
I would have never guessed it from the first time I met him, but Salim has proven himself to be a natural leader. This one shy, timid young man that used to speak only to the ground, now regularly leads 4-H meetings, speaking loudly and clearly while standing tall and proud in front of his peers. Salim was born to lead. There’s never an obstacle he can’t overcome. He refuses to accept defeat and his ambition and attitude rubs off on those around him. He was always the first to arrive at the 4-H officer meeting with a notebook and pencil in hand. When I left Ghana in December of 2016, I knew the club was in good care under Salim and the officer team.
Since my departure, the club continues to thrive. The school garden boomed this year as they utilized the newly installed drip irrigation system to grow bra (a local plant, harvested for its leaves to put in soup) in the dry season. Together the club worked with merchants at the local market to sell the bra and utilizes those funds for the operation of the club and toward inputs for the school garden next year.
I may never know the full impact of my time in Ghana, I certainly didn’t solve world hunger! But there are little things that happen every day that remind me of the small changes in practices or shifts in perception that I was fortunate enough to witness in the year and a half that I spent living and working in Ghana.
I can’t believe it’s been seven months since I left Ghana. I still receive phone calls and messages from my friends and students in Ghana daily. Thank God for the modern technology that allows me to keep in touch with my friends there! It makes me happy to know they haven’t forgotten me nor have I forgotten them. Ghana truly changed my life and my perspective. It deepened my passion for agriculture and sharing that with others. I can’t wait to return to my community of Kumbungu someday to visit the friends that became like family. I truly believe the future belongs to the few that are still willing to get their hands dirty…and I am so honored to have worked with so many Ghanaians that are willing to do just that.
Sarah Tweeten is from Kensett, Iowa. Sarah has an Agricultural Communications degree from the Iowa State University. She now works as a Market Manager at the Northern Iowa FarmersMarket