BERNARDS TOWNSHIP, NJ - When summer rolls around, most college students go home to work, head to the beach or, if they are lucky, find an internship in something related to their field of study. This summer, Ridge graduate and Basking Ridge resident Conor Skea was able to do all that and so much more.
Skea, a 2011 graduate of Ridge High School, just finished his junior year as a marketing major at the College of Charleston in Charleston, S.C. Besides his studies, Conor is very active in his fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha, and is presently serving as the fraternity's vice president.
One of Conor’s fraternity brothers, a resident of Ghana, had told him about an opportunity to participate in a business program that would give him a chance to earn three college credits in just 15 days as well as helping to improve life in two small African villages.
The program would involve traveling to Ghana, a small country in Western Africa, to work with two small villages in an effort to help them improve their economic and health problems.
Conor, along with 17 other students and two teachers from the College of Charleston, traveled first to the town of Aboano, a community of around 200 built atop a rock without paved roads or running water. The town’s main source of income, a salt mine, had lost funding and been shut down. The team’s project was to work with the community to create a loan system to try to help support the local people and economy.
The next stop was Okurase, a town of about 500 people located in the center of the country. The economy is based on growing rice, harvesting plants, and fishing. Roaming animals and children were living in the countryside in a dirty, germ-infested environment. The student team was confronted with the twofold problems of Okurase's weak economy and major health issues.
In addition to helping set up another loan program for the people of Okurase, the team addressed the sanitary water problems of the community. Students used a microscope to demonstrate to the town’s people what organisms were in their drinking water. “It was rewarding to see the children looking through a microscope for the first time comparing clean and dirty water samples,” said Conor.
“I am extremely grateful for the life I live,” said Conor. “Even if I didn’t grow up in privileged Basking Ridge, it is a blessing to live in a country like America. While people complain about our government and president, they have no idea of the corruption that goes on in other countries and how unfairly the people are treated.”
Along with the programs the student team instituted, the College of Charlestown students each donated $100 to the town of Aboano to help them rebuild the salt mine, an opportunity that could open up as many as 500 jobs for the community and surrounding area. Conor added he is also working with his fraternity to create a program to send soccer balls and sneakers for the children of the region to let them enjoy some recreation.
“The villagers were so grateful to us, thanking us countless times for donating our time to help them,” Conor said. “They were humbled to the bone, but were always extremely happy in spite of the life and conditions they lived in.”
“I received credits for the program but at the same time made a meaningful difference in so many people's lives,” he added. “When it comes to families living on less than two dollars a day, the small details make the world to them.”
“I would love to go back if I had the time," he said.
Additional information about the project and region is available by going to Facebook at Project Okurase and on the web at www.globalbrigades.org/ghana.