July 25, 2008

For more than 30 years, the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture's Office of International Programs for Agriculture and UK's Office of International Affairs have been facilitating educational opportunities for faculty and staff to experience other cultures. One of this year's study tours was to Ghana, formerly known as the Gold Coast.

UK students, faculty and staff, together with students from Prairie View A&M University in Texas, spent four weeks in class preparing for the tour at their respective institutions before taking the two-week tour this summer. UK Graduate School Associate Dean and Associate Professor of Nutrition and Food Sciences in the UK College of Agriculture Kwaku Addo, himself a native of Ghana, led the tour.

"Our primary objective for this study tour was to introduce the students to Ghana and to expose them to the country's people, their history, culture, politics and industries," Addo said. "After arriving in Ghana, we spent the first three days in Accra the capital city, listening to presentations from professors at the University of Ghana on a variety of topics ranging from ‘The Role of Women and Development in Africa' to ‘The Agriculture and Farming Systems in Ghana'."

In addition to the lectures, the group visited several places of cultural and historical significance including the W.E. Dubois Center, the National Arts Center and the Kwame Nkrumah Royal Mausoleum. Nkrumah was the first president of Ghana after it gained independence from British colonial rule and the one who promoted the idea of a united Africa. He was a founding member of the Organization of African Unity which is now called African Union.

Addo said UK has offered many international study tours, but none to Africa and since he is from Ghana, it was a good way to get UK's foot in the door of that continent so to speak. This is the fourth and largest tour, 20 travelers, to Ghana for the two cooperating universities. After spending some time learning in the classroom in the capital city of Accra, the group ventured out and began touring the southern part of the country. Addo said the first stop was Tema, a port city in Ghana, where the group visited the SOS Orphanage Village and a textiles plant.

     "We've always made it a point to visit the orphanage in Tema," Addo said. "The participants interacted with the children and those who run the orphanage and presented some gifts to the children."

From Tema, the group traveled to Addo's home village of Aseseeso in the eastern part of the country. There Addo's uncle, who is also the king of the town, and his cousin the queen mother hosted a grand durbar for the group. The festival brought together most of the citizens of the town as well as other kings and chiefs from the surrounding areas.

"This part of the program was instituted to introduce the participants to one of Ghana's most treasured and well preserved culture, the monarchial system," Addo said. "It is a very beautiful ceremony of pomp and pageantry where the kings and queens come dressed in their traditional regalia and amidst drumming and dancing to exchange greetings with their guests."

Addo's wife Esther, a registered nurse for UK Healthcare, is from the village of Adjeikrom also in the eastern part of Ghana. In 2001, the couple began a project to build a kindergarten school there. With support from folks back in the United States, the dream was realized and is now called Kentucky Academy.

"The tour participants were treated to a festive welcoming ceremony by the local chief and his people and some local government officials," Addo said. "The participants interacted with the school children and teachers at the academy, helped paint the school as part of a service activity for the trip and presented school supplies including textbooks to the academy."

Addo explained that Ghana used to be the world's leading producer of cocoa and although, the country is now third in production of the crop, they still pride themselves in the production of the highest quality cocoa beans in the world.

"I tell people that if they eat chocolate and it tastes good, it's probably made from beans produced in Ghana," he added. "If it's not good, it's from (somewhere else)."

Participants learned all about the cocoa tree, chocolate processing and other cocoa products at the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana.

Moving on to the Ashanti region of Ghana, the group visited Bonwire, a village from where Kente traditional clothing worn on ceremonial occasions originated. They also visited Kumasi, capital of Ashanti region and home of one of the most powerful and influential of the Ghanaian kings. 

"About eighty percent of the country's gold and most of the timber come from this area," Addo said. "So you can see the Ashanti king has a lot to oversee.  The group visited the palace museum to learn about Ashanti history and culture and also toured the largest open market in Africa called Kadjetia."

Other tour stops included a gold mine in Obuasi in the Ashanti region and the Elmina Castle in the Central Region of Ghana, which was once one of the largest slave trading posts in Africa.

The group took a canopy walk through the Kakum National Rain Forest, before returning to the capital to participate in a drumming and dancing workshop and visiting a wood carver's village to see how native arts and crafts are made.

Addo said the students, faculty and staff visited many important locations and learned a significant amount about Ghanaian and African culture, but he believes something else will stay with them longer.

"The most important thing is that a lot of people take things for granted. They don't realize the opportunities that are available here in the United States until they go out and see other parts of the world," he said. "I think students and participants have learned that you really need to treasure and maximize what you have because there are a lot of people around the world who don't even have some of the basic necessities of life. It also gets them out of the academic classroom zone. Also, there are a whole lot of things other countries can offer. In a sense, I look at this tour as an eye opener and an opportunity to create awareness in people so they can come up with a whole new perspective about life."

Addo said he originally came to the United States in the early 1980s to further his education. Even though he's decided not to return to reside in Ghana for now, he said he still feels that, through these tours and other engagements, he's having a positive impact on the country by teaching others about it.