Six Media, Communications and Journalism students gain real-world experience and new perspectives in Ghana

Young Ghana boy in a cocoa tree

The College of Arts and Humanities takes pride in supporting the full range of creative and academic endeavors of students and faculty — endeavors made possible through generous gifts made to the Dean’s Council Annual Fund.

Over the 2017-2018 winter session, Dean’s Council funds helped five of the six Arts and Humanities students experience a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity over the winter break. Thanks to the generosity of Dean’s Council donors, travel funding was provided to Media, Communications and Journalism (MCJ) students Daniel Avalos, Jason Duong, Alyssa Honore, Megan Trinidad, and Rachel Zurcher.

Support Fresno State College of Arts and Humanities

Become a Dean’s Council member today!

Click here, select “View All Giving Opportunities,” then click “Other,” and enter “CAH Dean’s Council.”

“For many of the MCJ students I took, it was their first time abroad,” said MCJ Professor Jes Therkelsen.

The 16-day trip gave Fresno State students the opportunity to be part of a university-wide international service-learning project aimed at helping cocoa farmers make better business decisions to increase income generation in their community. While last winter was the inaugural trip, the overall multi-year goal of the student-run project is to help cocoa farmers in Ghana increase their yields to gain fair trade status.

Cocoa farmers in Ghana

Overall, 18 students and three faculty members from different colleges across Fresno State traveled to Ghana. Every student used their area of focus to the overall project — including Agriculture, MCJ, Psychology, African American Studies, and Social work — creating a comprehensive program aimed at helping the cocoa farmers.

Therkelsen said the goal is to “provide students with real-world applications of how to use the skills they are using in the classroom to help communities in need.”

For the MCJ students, their primary role during the trip was to document and tell the stories of the farmers, students, and the program.

“The main challenge I had telling stories of Ghana was trying to encapsulate the atmosphere of the country. Everything just feels different over there,” said Jason Duong, “To get myself in the right mindset, I spent hours re-watching footage I obtained on my trip. I also created a playlist of songs that I listened to while in Ghana. It helped me tap into my feelings during the trip.”

Beyond helping the farming community, students were also able to immerse themselves in a culture full of bright colors, big smiles and lots of dancing by exploring nearby villages, beaches, and even a hike through rain forests.

“My favorite experience was when I was a part of an impromptu drum circle,” said Jason Duong.

The overall experience of travel and culture is much of what the students remembered. In reflecting on variations between life in Central California and Ghana, Aly Honore said there was a definite culture shock, and the differences were innumerable. However, looking deeper she noticed something else, a different outlook on life which almost seems to question the validity of western life priorities.

“The culture of villages in Ghana was almost opposite of that which I’m used to in America. Families are accustomed to farming for a living. While our lives and goals in America are often based on a desire for comfort, more money, more property, etc., theirs are based on kinship and tradition and providing,” said Honore. “They seem very happy and content, something I wasn’t necessarily expecting because, in America, manual labor jobs are often seen as difficult and not ideal.”

It was an “incredible opportunity for many students to experience a foreign culture, to be exposed to different ways of living, and to understand how they can be of service,” said Therkelsen.

The MCJ students involved in the trip are working on a long-form documentary. While work on this is still in progress, they did want to share the work they have done so far with Dean’s Council donors who made their trip possible. Below is “cut 4” — or the 4th revision of the unfinished documentary.

Here’s what the students had to say to the Dean’s Council Annual Fund donors:

“The funds helped just go on the trip. Traveling isn’t cheap. There are a lot of things you must buy before going. Without the Dean’s funding, I wouldn’t have been able to go to Ghana,” said Duong. “If I got to say one thing to the Dean’s Council  it would be, ‘Thank you so much for helping me achieve my dream of becoming a traveling filmmaker.’”

“I would say thank you, thank you, thank you! This was an experience I had always dreamt of, and I feel so blessed to have been able to experience the villages of Ghana. I came back from this trip changed. It changed my perspective of western life for the better and allows me to understand the roots of my own diaspora a little bit better,” said Honore. “This trip was the experience of a lifetime. It has set me up for a lot of great opportunities and allowed me to gather my understanding of how big the world is and how small some challenges are. I am at peace now a lot more often because of this trip, and I couldn’t thank the Dean’s Council enough.”

Support Fresno State College of Arts and Humanities

Become a Dean’s Council member today!

Click here, select “View All Giving Opportunities,” then click “Other,” and enter “CAH Dean’s Council.”

With a goal of gaining fair trade status for the farmers, this trip was just the beginning. Another trip to Ghana is currently being organized for the winter break, and your continued support is needed.

Fresno State students and faculty pose for a group photo in Ghana.
Fresno State students and faculty pose for a group photo in Ghana.

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Fresno State College of Arts and Humanities Communication Specialist

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