This summer, Maria Crossman started each morning with a bucket shower and a tro-tro ride.
Crossman, a graduate student in the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration, travelled to a Liberian refugee camp in Ghana and taught English in a small, remote Ghanaian village.
Crossman’s African journey began by searching through a volunteer matching website, Global Volunteer Network, which facilitates volunteer trips to six different countries in Africa and areas in need around the world.
“It was nice to go through an organization that has experience setting up these programs,” she said.
While mitigating apprehension, Global Volunteer Network matched Crossman with Population Caring Organization – a non-profit that established a program at the Buduburam Refugee Settlement in Ghana in 2003 to provide assistance to more than 42,000 refugees displaced by the Liberian civil war.
The humanitarian mission was founded by Emmanuel G.V. Dolo, a Liberian refugee living in Ghana who sought to improve the refugees’ living conditions and address both the lack of education and the rehabilitation of single mothers decimated by the violence of war.
Crossman’s vision of volunteering came to fruition with her arrival on Ghanian soil this summer.
“I went in with very few expectations, which I think helped a lot as far as my transition was concerned… It allowed me to absorb more of the culture, and be more open to how differently things are done,” she said.
Crossman was only one of two teachers at the school, a facility she says severely lacks necessary funds and resources.
The differences in amenities and supplies between the small village school and its American counterparts were the result of more than a lack in funding.
“I would say their education style is really different from the U.S. I think in the U.S. it’s much more collaborative… I feel like in the U.S. children can have more of a dialogue with the teachers, whereas, when I taught, it was me speaking,” Crossman said.
Despite cultural differences and a drastically different daily life from the master’s student, Crossman found common ground with the camps residents.
“They really went out of their way to make sure that I felt safe and comfortable. I’ve never experienced anything like that,” she said.
Morris Koisee, the program and volunteer manager for Population Caring Organization, who has lived in Buduburam, the refugee camp, for over 10 years, acted like an older brother to Crossman and often accompanied her to and from the village.
“We talked a lot about the challenges that they face on the camp, the challenges that they face in the village in regards to resources and politics,” she said. “I think I took a more active role as far as trying to help them grow as an organization than most volunteers do.”
Crossman reflected on her first day on the refugee camp as an emotional mix: “overwhelming and amazing.”
“My biggest challenge was being by myself,” she said. “It’s hard to really grasp the differences and the privileges of being from the U.S.,” she said.
Crossman, who recently began a job with USAID, said it was harder returning to the states than it was leaving them.
“When I came back to D.C., it literally felt like I was on a different planet,” she said. “That was the hardest thing – trying to understand the devastation that is happening somewhere else and that not enough is being done about it.”
Crossman’s volunteering left more than an altruistic mark in Buduburam.
Koisee’s wife gave birth and the parents named their son after Crossman in honor of her arrival.
“He named him Morris Crossman Koisee,” she said. “My dad was pretty excited about that. I told him that his namesake was running around in Africa.”
Crossman’s travels brought her to another continent, opening up her eyes to daily struggles she feels many Americans are ignorant to.
“In the U.S. we’re so U.S.-centric that we’re completely – not everyone, of course – but we’re kind of ignorant to the truths of the world and what’s going on,” she said.