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Giving back to Ghana, my parents’ homeland

Danielle Ohemeng and her family

People in the U.S. know me as Danielle, or Dani, but my full name is Danielle Adwoa Serwah Ohemeng and my parents are from Ghana. 

My father came to the U.S. in 1979 to obtain a degree at U.C. Berkeley and my mother came in 1991 to complete a master’s degree in business administration at Baylor University in Texas.

I was born and raised in California, just south of San Francisco. After living in California for 18 years, I went across the country to North Carolina to attend High Point University. I majored in math and minored in educational studies, and graduated in August 2017.

I wanted to volunteer with the Peace Corps so I could do something I enjoy and make an impact for more than a few weeks or months. I applied for the secondary math teacher position in Ghana because I wanted to spend my time doing something that combined my two top interests: travel and education.

With both of my parents coming from Ghana, and a majority of my family still living there, I wanted to serve in Ghana so I could connect more to my roots. My parents felt it was serendipitous that Peace Corps Volunteers serve in Ghana. All of my relatives greatly appreciate that I am going to give back to my community.

While many African Americans are not able to trace their lineage back to their country of origin, I have been able to visit my parents' native country three times. My most recent visit was nearly six years ago. We are the only ones in our extended family who left Ghana, but my Ghanaian relatives treat us just like the other family members whenever we visit.

While visiting, my family stayed at my uncle’s house near Accra, the capital of Ghana. His home is similar to those here in America, but unlike in the U.S., almost everyone in Ghana walks or takes a public bus or taxi. At the time I visited, my uncle and grandparents shared a driver and employed a few people to do house chores. Although the countries are completely different culturally—you’d never see someone transporting chickens in the trunk of a taxi here in the U.S.—Ghana’s city life was not too different from what I’ve seen in America.

Being a Ghanaian-American gives me confidence as a Peace Corps Volunteer, but I also worry that my experience will be different than my fellow Volunteers. I have eaten Ghanaian foods, such as banku and jollof rice, listened to highlife music, worn traditional clothing and heard some Twi, a dialect spoken by many Ghanaians. On the other hand, I don’t know how to cook the foods, am not fluent in any Ghanaian language and have never done house chores the Ghanaian way, such as hand washing clothes or taking a bucket bath. My goal is to educate myself quickly and not let anyone’s judgments affect me negatively, but use them to help me learn.

My mother doesn’t think I will have any special advantages because of my Ghanaian ancestry. Other than my name, she feels I am very much an American because I don’t speak any Ghanaian languages and don’t understand the social norms. She feels that locals may be disappointed because I have not been brought up to be more “Ghanaian.” They may have higher expectations of me and may want to relate to me like a peer, only to find that I am like any other American Volunteer.

I hope to be able to connect with my relatives while in Ghana, but I gave them six months before they can visit me at site or I stay with them so that I can have a true Peace Corps experience.

My parents and I share the same goal for my service: to serve while learning about my Ghanaian heritage. Over time, they want to see me build a strong bond with my local community and inspire others to contribute to the lot of the less privileged.

Whatever my experience will be, I know that Ghana has made an impact on me and my family members’ lives, and I want to return the favor by making a difference in the lives of Ghanaians.