From soccer to sutures

From soccer to sutures
Pete De Jong, a pre-med biology major, plays with children in a Ghanaian village.

You love soccer, and you’re not bad at it, either. Imagine yourself in the middle of a village square in Ghana playing an intense two-hour game with African men and teens who do this every single day.

Now you’re not sure you’re any good at this game, especially when fans of the opposing team start laughing at you, the only white guy on the field.

Then, something clicks and you remember some of your skills. You blow past a player from the opposing team and make a pass to a teammate, who in turn scores a goal. The crowd goes wild.

This scenario actually happened to Pete DeJong, a pre-med biology major who is studying abroad this fall in Ghana. It was a dream of his to play soccer with children there, but he never expected to have the opportunity that he did to actually play.

“It was the craziest thing to have like 50 screaming local spectators run on the field yelling and telling me ‘You have done well!’ That dream I brought with me was somewhat blown out of the water.”


When Pete isn’t playing soccer with his new Ghanaian friends, he’s doing something that really isn’t much different from what he’s doing on the field: working alongside local people to make things happen. 

This summer, he arrived in West Africa to live in a village and intern at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kasei, Ashanti, Ghana. There, he spent his time shadowing doctors and learning how to perform common procedures like suturing and setting IV drips.

“I learned an amazing amount about Ghanaian culture and customs while I was learning in-depth how the healthcare field works here.”


The opportunity to live and work closely with Ghanaians gave Pete the chance to go beyond something he calls “the typical tourist/vendor relationship” you might experience on many college study abroad trips. 

“We are getting to know people in their part of life, and we are learning far more than we ever could in the classroom.” 

Getting to know the real people of Ghana is the goal of this fall’s program. Eighteen Calvin students are studying with communications professor Stephanie Sandberg, taking classes at the Univeristy of Accra and doing a special project that gets them up close and personal with West African culture. They’re interning with local development organizations and creating ethnographies, or detailed reports, about their place of work.

“My hope is that this will teach the students about service and development and ethnography, as well as serve the organization they’re working for by giving them feedback,” said Prof. Sandberg.

WHERE THEY WORK: Service-Learning Locations in Ghana

ABAN—Four Calvin students are writing the stories of women who work at this organization that takes girls off the street and teaches them life skills.

AKROPOLIS—Six students are working at this school that serves severely underprivileged children, improving the school’s library, tutoring and creating theatre with the kids.

HOPELINE—Two students are studying micro-finance at this business development organization. They will conduct interviews that will help the organization develop marketing materials.

SAFEWATER GHANA—Two Calvin students are traveling to places where water filters have been installed to interview the people who use them. This will help the organization improve distribution methods for the filters.


During their semester in Ghana, seniors Kaylee Kuipers and James Wood are working at SafeWater Ghana, an organization that brings clean water to places where people regularly die from illnesses related to poor water consumption. SafeWater is part of a bigger non-profit based in Grand Rapids, Mich.


Q&A With Prof. Amy Patterson: Researching in Africa


A: I believe my time away benefits my students in three ways. First, I teach classes at Calvin that directly pertain to the subjects I research: international development, African politics and international relations. I am able to incorporate my research into these courses, and my ability to share real-life stories from my fieldwork makes the topics of health, governance and poverty come alive. Second, I have directly incorporated students into my research agenda, including taking research assistants to Zambia and Uganda. Third, I want to model to Calvin students that as Christians, we are called to engage the world and its very pertinent issues, including underdevelopment, inequality and HIV/AIDS.



Calvin students like Pete are doing just as much learning as they are serving people in Ghana. They’re studying the local language, called “Twi,” learning a new culture (including African dance, a class they attend at the University of Accra each week) and discovering the problems that local people face each day.

And they’re learning that for all the challenges Ghanaian people face, there are just as many bright and shining spots in the culture.

“Service-learning here shows us that these places are real, thriving places, too,” Pete said.   


Checking out sites for a potential well in rural Ghana.
Checking out sites for a potential well in rural Ghana.

VERGE: Winter 2011

First-Year Experience