Volunteers from the First United Methodist Church of Evanston and Ghanaian visitors heading to Jonesville, Va. for the ASP project.           Photo by Vincent D. Colbert

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Each year First United Methodist Church teens, adults and college students travel to Jonesville, Va., to participate in the church’s Appalachia Service Project, at which participants assist trained construction workers with jobs varying from home repair to major rehab. This year the project’s participants, led by Reverend Jane Cheema, included three youths from Ghana, West Africa, and their leader, Reverend Dr. Isaac Nana Abekah.

 It was not a coincidence that these volunteers from Ghana joined in the Appalachia service project. In 2008 and 2010 members of First United
Methodist Church in Evanston traveled to Aburi, Ghana and helped Rev.
Abekah and a group of Methodist youth renovate meeting rooms and build a
dormitory for the Methodist Youth Division’s training center.This year the tables turned when Dr. Abekah brought three youths from Ghana to provide volunteer services alongside members of the First United Methodist Church.

 The Ghana students, Theodora Ekua Aryee, Mercy Esumanba Mills and Foster Owusu Amoako, were confident in learning new skills, and the concept of being of service to others was something they were already used to, said Rev. Jane Cheema.

During their week-long project in Jonesville, nine teams of workers at seven sites worked on jobs such as repairing roofs, building steps, painting rooms, working on foundations, installing insulation, and replacing windows The students from Ghana all mentioned how they learned to use power tools during the week.

 Theodora, a 21-year-old native of Winneba, a coastal town in Ghana’s central region, is a third-year student at the University of Ghana Business School. She says she has a strong interest in youth work, helping underprivileged young women and facilitating peer counseling. Currently, she is the financial secretary of Ghana Methodist Student Union.

One of her tasks in Jonesville was to rebuild a rotten deck using power tools, a project that would have been done with hand tools in Ghana. One thing that struck her, she said, was that she sensed it was difficult for the homeowners to ask for help. Once the project was completed, she said she felt a real sense of accomplishment.

 Mercy, a 16-year-old from Ayensuako in Central Ghana, studies general science at Adonten Secondary School and says she hopes to become a medical doctor someday. Mercy said she was surprised that homes she thought were abandoned actually had people living in them.

Her responsibilities in Jonesville were to assist in replacing gutters and to add materials to strengthen and stabilize the underpinning of floors. The students Mercy worked with on this trip were very nice and helpful, she said.

 Foster, 18, lives in Accra and is a third-year student at Adonten Secondary School where he is a science student. He says he wants to become a neurosurgeon. He is also a member of the Ghana Methodist Student Union. Foster also learned how to use power tools as well as how to install dry wall and how to insulate a home. Speaking about the differences between the poor in Jonesville and in Ghana, he said that in Ghana “poor means no house.”

Back in Evanston, during an informal “debriefing” at the home of Don and Joanna Gwinn, the visitors from Ghana compared poverty in Jonesville and poverty in Ghana. Theodora echoed Foster’s sentiment, saying she observed that the residents in Jonesville who were at or below the poverty line were “fortunate because they have a house to live in.” 

The First Methodist Church of Evanston has been involved in doing work in Africa for many years. The church has worked for social justice and to improve the quality of public schools and improve conditions for the homeless in Evanston.

Reaching Out to Jonesville

The First United Methodist Church was involved in various fund raising activities during the course of the year to pay for the expense of the trip. There were orientation, organizational meetings as well as workshops in order for the participants to be prepared for a positive cross culture experience in which each individual grows from his/her participation. There was a financial commitment by each individual volunteer. In addition, the project involves a large commitment on the part of volunteers in both time and money in order to serve others.

ASP is a non-profit ministry affiliated with the United Methodist Church. The participants work on home repair, major rehabilitation and new construction for low and very low income people in Central Appalachia.