Experiencing an International Rotary Outreach Project

Reflections on why global giving is important from Ghana Team Member and Rotary Club of Dallas Board Member Ted Fields,DDS

When I was a kid, the world was a small place. I knew the space from my home to my school; from my backyard to the closest creek. While in college in Atlanta, this world expanded. I was no longer a novice at understanding the bigger world around us. And unfortunately, I experienced a bit of U.S. history right there in Atlanta that by that time, should have only been in textbooks. 

I befriended international students and shared meals and conversation with these friends who didn't grow up as I did. It helped me to realize I needed to stop trying to understand my part of the world so well while ignoring the rest of it: that's a career, not a life well-lived. 
Now as I jet across the Atlantic bemoaning a long layover in London, I am aware how easily I am annoyed by the inconvenience. The delay is mandatory but the frustration is a choice.
As we land in Ghana, I examine my new surroundings and a new perspective sweeps through me. It's hard to believe I was annoyed by waiting several hours among Rolex and Tiffany shops in Heathrow. Here, not a soul owns a ring or a watch and very few have appointments or specific time commitments at all. 
The orchestrated dance between the cars has begun as vendors roam the streets with their wares piled high on their heads, looking beseechingly into the eyes of anyone who will return their gaze. They are searching for their next sale, trying to make a few pennies of profit. This is Ghana’s working class. The shanties where they live are all around us. My attitude has changed, as has happened on previous trips to this country, as these people have once again worked their way deep into my heart. Maybe what I learn here will stick this time and I won't need to be reminded again. Instead, maybe my actions can act as a reminder to others; not just as to how lucky we are, but how many others need and deserve all the help we can give.
I'm often asked, "Why do you need to go to Africa to serve when there are so many people who need help here?" Perhaps I once thought that way too, but I now understand things differently and welcome the responsibility to explain this to others so they don't limit their good works just to those within arm’s length.
My first answer is that I do help people in our local community on a regular basis. Helping others isn't a special occasion activity, as Rotarians it is our motto, Service Above Self.
In Ghana, we are fortunate to have a dedicated team of local volunteers who enhance our efforts to a magnitude we could never do alone. These wonderful partners provide on the ground logistics coordination and transportation, and act as our translators, which allows each doctor to treat many more patients than ever would be possible in the U.S. The health care we provide is significant – many people we see here live in dire conditions - but the hope that we bring may be the biggest gift. With our arrival, these villagers know that they are not forgotten by the rest of the world: we are bringing them hope and reaffirming their self-worth as fellow global citizens.
No one would choose to be born into a poor African village. If you were born in the U.S., as a well-traveled South African pilot once told me, then you have won the life lottery. I reflect on his words often. You may have worked hard to become an attorney or the CEO of a bank, but you have a lot less to do with your professional success than you think. You could have been born in many places to a lot of other families where these dreams would have be virtually impossible, no matter the effort. The local resources, governmental assistance and educational systems here are all severely limited which sets the foundation for terrible conditions to lift themselves up and onto a better life. It could easily have been you in that African village swatting flies and searching for your next meal. I can think of nothing better than to help those with little opportunity see real hope for their future.
Our last clinic day in Ghana
As we pack up and get ready to leave the village, we hand out clothes donated by Dallas Rotarians. This was a big hit and the lines were long even as the sun sets. Some children approach us making hand gestures to their mouths, asking for food. I indicated that I didn't have any food but replied with a high five and a smile. For children in hard places, a smile from an adult goes a long way. Before long, every kid on the street was crowded around me waiting to get a high five, jumping up and down with shouts of joy. A few Muslim girls, around 12 years old, came back again and again for high fives with the biggest smiles you've ever seen. We'd high five and they'd look at each other and laugh out loud. During those exchanges my thoughts returned to gratitude and how seeing these kids so filled with joy was the perfect reminder to focus on what truly matters. 

When we got on the bus to leave, the children began placing their palms on the bus window waiting for me to reach out the window for one last high five. Then as a goodbye, several of them gently pressed only a thumb on the window awaiting my thumb. Just before tears welled up, our bus began to roll away. My last thought was that I hoped that we had brought them something as meaningful as they had given me.
Ted Fields, DDS
May 31, 2017
Dallas, Texas