August 27, 2003 - South Bend Tribune: Returned Volunteers form new organization called BRIDGE to work in Ghana

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2003: August 2003 Peace Corps Headlines: August 27, 2003 - South Bend Tribune: Returned Volunteers form new organization called BRIDGE to work in Ghana

By Admin1 (admin) on Friday, August 29, 2003 - 10:46 am: Edit Post

Returned Volunteers form new organization called BRIDGE to work in Ghana

Read and comment on this story from the South Bend Tribune about Returned Volunteers from Ghana who have formed BRIDGE, an organization that seeks not only to share the wonders of Ghanaian culture with the rest of the world, but also to find funding to enable villages in the Volta region to keep organizations running, at:

Love builds bridges, cuts through barriers*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

Love builds bridges, cuts through barriers


By Justin R. Brandon

Justin R. Brandon, back left, poses with some of his friends in Ghana.

Photo provided

Everyone has daily routines but some people step out of them long enough to discover that there’s life and love out there where you least expect it. Write of your experiences. Send to HOMETOWN, South Bend Tribune, 225 Colfax Ave., South Bend, IN 46626 or e-mail to

Their names are Stanley and Sim, and they gave me enough fruit to last for days. We didn't speak the same language, but that didn't seem to matter; they were masters at smiling.

They smiled when I juggled the fruit and when I showed them how to throw a baseball (i.e. fruit). It didn't matter that we weren't able to small-talk, because we had already surpassed that with a much deeper human connection. These smiles were like nothing I had ever seen before, they were not rehearsed before mirrors, yet they were some of the most beautiful signs of compassion I had ever seen.

Stanley and Sim are brothers, each less than 5 years old, who live amidst the vibrant community of villages around Adaklu Mountain, which is in the Volta region of Ghana in West Africa. Their brilliant smiles were more than just contagious; they opened an entirely new perspective to me on the magnificent bond that all humans share: Love.

Before embarking on the journey across the Atlantic to participate in the International Summer Service Learning Program (ISSLP), sponsored by the Center for Social Concerns at the University of Notre Dame, I had been confronted by many differing views of what this "service" experience would entail. Often, I would hear about the importance of helping those "less fortunate," the definition of which was almost always derived from differences in material wealth.

In these conversations, very few ever stopped to think that our "less fortunate" brothers and sisters in the Third World could possibly be "wealthier" than us in the social realm. However, this idea presented itself in my mind often as I participated in the social interactions of Ghanaians and felt the welcoming compassion of people like Stanley and Sim.

Is it possible that the idea of fortune is more dynamic than the measurement of material wealth? If I could choose only one aspect of this experience to incorporate into my own life and to share with others it would be this: We all need help! Service, charity, assistance or whichever word you choose, is as much about receiving as it is about giving.

This does not mean being patted on the back for work that has been done, it means humbly opening yourself and your community to others around the world in an exchange of knowledge and resources. America may be the most materially wealthy nation in the world, but in our country I have rarely seen the widespread inner joy that covered the faces of the Ghanaians I had the privilege to live, work and laugh with.

Many new avenues are opening up that allow us to exchange knowledge and resources with people around the world. My experience in the Volta region was made possible by a new organization named BRIDGE, formed by former Peace Corps volunteers who worked in the Volta region.

Specifically, I worked alongside a fellow Notre Dame student, Adam Dell of Elmhurst, Ill., to instruct two grass-roots organizations on bookkeeping and funding proposal writing. BRIDGE is an organization that seeks not only to share the wonders of Ghanaian culture with the rest of the world, but also to find funding to enable villages in the Volta region to keep organizations running.

Adam and I worked directly with two important groups in the Adaklu Mountain community -- the Ecotourism Committee (EC) and the Orphan Committee (OC). Both were established in conjunction with the Peace Corps and have successfully completed projects benefiting their communities.

For example, the EC has been operating tours of Adaklu Mountain for visitors from around the world for a few years now. These tours not only provide income for residents of the nine villages surrounding Adaklu Mountain, but they also directly protect the natural ecological beauty of the area for the enjoyment of generations to come. The OC is directly involved in the lives of orphans throughout the nine villages and has recently embarked on a project to provide school uniforms and tuition for some 300 orphans for the next two years.

An identical project was completed in the recent past, thanks to the generosity of Fran McDonald of South Bend.

During our time in the Volta region, Adam and I worked closely with these two committees in developing their ideas into workable plans and funding proposals. One of the biggest obstacles to securing funds is the popular idea that donated or loaned resources will be used carelessly or squandered once they arrive in the Third World.

Adam and I spent five weeks running workshops in which we showed how to keep sound records of financial activity and to create biannual reports for BRIDGE. The bottom line is that there is simply not enough money available within Ghana to make these projects happen; cooperation between those of us who are materially wealthy and those who are on the ground bringing these proposals into reality is vital for improvement to continue.

To learn more about direct service opportunities, making a donation, or the culture of the Volta region, visit the BRIDGE Web site at:

Leaving the Adaklu Mountain community was not easy, especially with countless images of smiling children etched into my memory. I could not help but think about the future of these children and the difficulties that they will inevitably face throughout their lives. However, I find a great deal of hope and optimism in the benevolence of philanthropists like Fran McDonald and the positive results that I have seen from the Ecotourism and Orphan Committees.

My Ghanaian brothers and sisters showed me the powerful beauty of the collective human soul that links us all together in a way that easily transcends language barriers and skin colors. We all have the tremendous opportunity to act on our smiles and change our world for the better; smiles are contagious, and so is love.

Justin Brandon grew up in South Bend, graduated from Clay High School in 2000 and is a senior at the University of Notre Dame, studying sociology and theology.

More about Bridges

Read more about Bridges at:


BRIDGE is an organization that fuses two concepts of development into one driving force. First, BRIDGE seeks to facilitate economic growth and development by collaborating directly with indigenous grassroots organizations. Secondly, we link these organizations with as many different groups in the development process as possible including local and regional government, nonprofits, community associations, and international organizations. We also provide opportunities for international volunteers and travelers to get involved, feel close to these projects, and add a meaningful contribution while receiving the cultural experience of a lifetime. By bridging different groups in the development process, we seek to spur economic growth while expanding the radius of trust among different cultures and communities.


BRIDGE envisions a world in which average citizens from poor and rich countries can participate in building equitable international development by forging mutual understandings and fostering a collaborative spirit.


To collaborate with grassroots partners in developing countries in building organizational capacity while linking them to groups beyond the boundaries of their community.

BRIDGE is dedicated to the sustained development of partner organizations in Ghana by working with social entrepreneurs who are motivated to invest themselves in development and economic projects. To complement this work, we offer virtual and personal interaction between community members and involved world citizens outside these communities. Virtual interaction entails the sharing of Ewe culture through digital media. Personal interaction involves the exchange of cultures through volunteerism and eco-tours to our partner communities. Our development philosophy emphasizes the importance of interaction in the development process.
Why is there a need for development assistance in Africa?

1. Ghana is quickly undergoing the modernization process and many rural communities are still uninformed about the changes that are taking place at the national level.

2. There is a historical disconnect between the government and the informal institutions of chieftancy and civil society in rural Ghana. The history leading to this break is long, and although progress is being made, Ghana will need time to fuse the state and the grassroots communities in order to provide mutual support that is necessary for real economic growth. In the meantime, people in rural communities need positive incentives to invest in long-term projects.

3. Rural communities throughout Africa have networks of tight social bonds with tremendous cooperative potential. Village residents are renowned for their hospitality and benevolence to strangers as well as those in need. However, these bonds alone have not facilitated positive change in development. Although indigenous groups cooperate in many communal activities, their efforts to manage projects with significant budgets have fallen short of their hopes.

4. Positive community development is significantly enhanced when all stakeholders participate. This involves the cooperation and interaction of indigenous community members, the chieftancy and government institutions, and outside donors. Effective development projects also must go beyond the paternalistic charity of the past by forging genuine alliances that respect cultural traditions. Partnerships based on transparent systems can transform perceptions of development and tap into the vast social capital that is already present in rural communities throughout the world.

Why is there a need for a new philosophy of development?

The philosophy of international development agencies initially followed the simplistic approach of the “financing gap” which assumed that GDP growth is proportional to investment. Therefore dumping capital into developing countries under the rubric "aid" was seen as the way to ignite growth. It assumed however that recipient governments would invest, when in fact they often just purchased more consumables. The fallacy of financing investment lead to financing reform policies in the seventies and eighties in which industrialized countries gave aid with strings attached to reforms. The financing reforms often failed and lead to more reforms as if Third World development was a technical issue that could be tweaked to the universal laws of supply and demand. The result in Ghana and around the world was as increase in aid and repayment debt, minimal reforms that were effective, and little economic growth.

Unfortunately this legacy as well as that of colonialism lives with us today, leaving perverse notions of development, and a widespread attitude of hopeless and skepticism among rural citizens about their prospects for a better standard of living. The channeling of international funds through a few educated individuals with minimal participation and checks of accountability must be replaced by real involvement among diverse groups.

How does BRIDGE fit in with this new development philosophy?

Members of BRIDGE have built a different kind of partnership with people in the region we work that is based on trust and cooperation. We have a reputation founded on our interest in the culture, and have legitimized ourselves in the eyes of the people because we have learned the language, customs, and ways of doing things. We have shown respect for their ways, and as a result have moved beyond the common relationship of patronage to mutual partnership. BRIDGE sees itself as a part of a larger and much needed shift in NGOs by moving away from unequal North-South relationships towards genuine multilateral partnerships and alliances. We are therefore dedicated to promoting development through organizations at the micro-level. And through our website, which displays the culture and projects we work with, and our volunteer and ecotour programs, we are bridge builders to outside individuals and groups. One obstacle we seek to overcome is to replace the paternalistic images of Third World charity with strategies that convince people to take action in their own lives to build a more cooperative world. For without the spirit of individual initiative, no viable nation can grow anywhere.

BRIDGE will work to achieve this goal by making international development an intimate and personal experience for all. Our initial strategy is to:

1. Continue to collaborate with the organizations in our pilot communities in the Volta Region and begin building future partners with communities throughout Ghana.

2. Work with and strengthen organizational capacity among groups and organizations at the local level so that they are better empowered to address educational, economic, infrastructural, and cultural needs in their communities.

3. Connect these organizations with outside groups and organizations thereby expanding the radius of trust beyond community lines. We will offer programs to international volunteers and travelers that can enable their involvement in development, and provide the tools to interact with each other virtually and personally.

The Third Goal of the Peace Corps

For many Peace Corps Volunteers, service doesn’t end when returning home from their host countries. The Third Goal of Peace Corps is to bring back home the Peace Corps experience by generating an appreciation of cultures around the world. BRIDGE is an incarnation of the third goal of Peace Corps by offering the cultural movies of Ewe music, language, folklore, and libations. Furthermore, the photographs and descriptions of the people we work with is in the spirit of this important “third goal” of the Peace Corps. People around the world interested in different cultures should enjoy.

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