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CCHS grad plants seeds of change with Ghanians

CCHS grad plants seeds of change with Ghanians

Ryan Ott experiences village, city life with Peace Corps

Ryan Ott was looking for something different in life when he arrived in Ghana with the Peace Corps in 2013.

“I wanted to apply for a long time, probably four or five years,” Ott said. “I just had a desire to live and work abroad in the developing world.”

A 2007 Charles City High School graduate, Ott received his bachelor’s degree at Iowa State University in community and regional planning. Ott, who was home this month on a 17-day leave, worked for AmeriCorp in the Cedar Falls-Waterloo area for a year before he went abroad. After three months of culture and language training with the Peace Corps, Ott packed up, leaving behind familiar Iowa surroundings for the village of Nyong Guma, Ghana, with a population of 1,500.

“With Peace Corps’ support, it wasn’t as hard of a transition as it could have been,” Ott said, although he had some surprises. “Ghanians live in a close knit family structure and everyone is very close together. You only go into your room to sleep. The idea of privacy isn’t really a thing.”

As a volunteer agriculture advisor, Ott spent 18 months in Nyong Guma to help continue ‘income generating activities’ founded by his predecessor, helping build farming practices and women’s groups to supplement family incomes.

His ISU and AmeriCorp background helped him process the logistics to pull programs together and his Peace Corps training taught him to connect with local Ghanians who dedicated themselves to continuing programs after he left.

“I helped organize the groups and figure out how to find markets for their products. A lot of it was small animal rearing, so bringing in veterinarians, vaccines, finding markets,” Ott said.

“At AmeriCorp, I was really learning how to be a selfstarter.”

His work moved him to the metropolitan city of Tamale (To-moh-lee), where he does volunteer support work creating training and helping around 50 of the 130 volunteers in Ghana implement their own programs.

Ott estimates that about half of the programs he initiated or continued would still be running at their full scale, thanks to community leaders in the village who were driven to see the success.

“I would try to identify Ghanians who were invested in the project and that was the only way to ensure success,” Ott, who leaves Ghana to return to the U.S. in May 2016, said.

Ott’s own programs had to change once he arrived in Ghana and now his training helps other volunteers adjust their own goals to their region’s.

“I had my own idea of what I wanted to do and had to adapt my idea to what the village actually needed, wanted, what they could achieve,” Ott said. “I had to change my thought process about what’s important, in terms of timeliness and money management. I had to adopt my way of thinking to better suit the village.”

Looking ahead, Ott said it’s time for him to take a break from working abroad and see where he goes next.

“I still need to figure out my future plans. I’d like to step out for a little while,” Ott said. “But this field has been interesting.”

By Kate Hayden [email protected]

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