Travel Ban Creates Unique Learning Opportunity for Students in Limbo

As countries around the globe instituted lockdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many nationals abroad in other countries either for work, school, or travel became stuck in scrabble to return home before borders closed. Among those stuck en route were four students from Sierra Leone in transit to Japan to participate in the Asian Rural Institute (ARI) Rural Leaders Training Program.

ARI is a Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Global Mission program that trains grassroots leaders to more effectively serve marginalized communities by focusing on sustainable agriculture that uses integrated organic farming techniques, servant leadership, and community building. The ELCA provides support to the program through scholarships funded through ELCA World Hunger.

Y. Franklin Ishida, ELCA area program director for Asia and the Pacific said, “ARI offers not only an environment to hone holistic agricultural skills, but even more to build up leadership capacity for persons to return and lead their churches and communities. It’s almost like double the impact as we walk with our companions.”

However, due to the timing of the pandemic, the student became stuck in Ghana. Unable to return home to Sierra Leone and or  continue to Japan, the students found themselves in limbo.

“Being stuck in Ghana is an episode I consider to be a challenge,” said John Tucker, one of the students. “We faced it, and by the grace of God we were able to overcome. At first it was a very bad moment, but ARI, being a very caring organization, gave us the opportunity to study in Ghana.”

The opportunity came from John Yeboah, a 2018 ARI graduate who lives in Ghana who offered the students training while they were grounded.

“Our graduate became an important resource in offering them the opportunity to do something rather than remain in a hotel room,” said ARI program coordinator for admissions and recruitment, Manosi Chatterjee Abe, said, “We did not anticipate the depth of the program that John eventually designed, but this was a great blessing.”

Yeboah helped the students find housing during their stay and provided training focused on organic farming with him.

“The Yeboah family was such a loving and caring family,” Tucker said. “At one time our neighbors accused us, because we were foreigners, of having the coronavirus. The next moment, we saw immigration and health officers at our door for questioning. We called Mr. Yeboah, and he came immediately to our rescue.”

Though the students were disappointed they could not go to Japan, the students maintained a positive attitude and remained excited about the opportunity to learn so they could bring resources back to their community.

Abe said, “For the participants, a big part was their ability to adjust to the situation by being open-minded. We were also able to have one web presentation, where we connected the Sierra Leone participants and the ARI community on campus. They shared questions and opinions and overall shared their enthusiasm in all that they were learning.

The students from Sierra Leone have since returned home. Reflecting on his experience as a student, Tucker “Our experience in Ghana, I believe, has equally added to the experience of ARI in this uncertain situation. What I admire most is that ARI never moved away from their core value. They fulfilled all their promises to us and were constant as the northern star.”

Source: Living Lutheran