WAKE FOREST — Sixteen-year-old Heritage High School Emily Orander is four years cancer-free from a brain tumor. On Monday, she will venture to Ghana, where she and 11 classmates might encounter baboons, eat snails and lodge in compounds with local families.
Orander was inspired by the film “A Greater Yes,” about a woman fighting cancer who visits Africa on a mission trip.
The day after she saw the film more than a year ago, her teacher handed out fliers for a program called Project Wisdom – a service-learning trip to Ghana.
“I held that paper, and I was just laughing to myself,” Orander said. “I kind of considered that my sign from God that I was meant to go to Ghana.”
Heritage High English teacher Miles Macleod has been preparing the group of students over the past year for their two-week trip to Ghana.
Through schoolwide pep rallies, a golf tournament, yard sales and other events, the students raised more than $13,000. That money both pays for the trip and aids local charities.
This trip will be no care-free safari.
The students will work with various groups, learn from Ghanaian guides, visit markets and experience a unique culture that includes drum circles and tours of former slave castles.
For a few students, the trip will be their first experience outside of the United States.
“I’ve barely ever left North Carolina – it’s a whole different world I’m going to,” said Taylor Morgan, 18, who graduated last weekend from Enloe High School. “I jumped at the chance, going to a different place.”
Heritage High student Samantha Sobek, 16, said she is looking forward to “seeing the world.” But she admitted that, “My mom’s been terrified.”
Each of the dozen students will depart for the developing country with a bag of donations requested by organizations, such as health clinics and an anti-child-trafficking group, that serve in Ghana.
“I want to do something,” said Orander. “I get frustrated with how things are today. All the teenagers are just stuck in their little world on their cellphones, and I just can’t stand it. It’s pretty much because I had cancer, and that kind of changed how I see things now.”
During the trip, the students will present a proposal for a service-learning project to a panel made up of Macleod and his wife, the tour agency and some natives of Accra, Ghana’s capital city. The winning proposal will be implemented in Heritage’s 2015-16 curriculum.
“These are the lessons you can’t teach in a classroom,” said Macleod. Lessons such as not taking clean water and time for granted.
Macleod’s idea for a student trip to Ghana began several years ago. When he visited the nation for the first time in 2005 to teach, he was shocked to see that the students relieved themselves in a hole in the corner of the soccer field.
Macleod donated $50 to build a bathroom, and he realized how far his contribution went toward the efficiency and dignity of the school. Inspired, he, his wife and a friend founded a nonprofit to assist the school and others in the area. He returned to Ghana to develop the program.
When he shared his stories from his trips, Macleod found that his most captive audiences were young students.
His America-to-Africa mediation had begun. This trip will be his fourth journey to Ghana.