Organizer applies lessons from Ghana to Lindsay Heights

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McLaurin poses with one of her Ghanaian friends.

International community organizing is one major goal Tyanna McLaurin can check off her list.

At the age of 16, she first traveled to Ghana with her mother and brother, and vowed to return one day.

McLaurin, now 31 and a Marquette University graduate, returned home to Milwaukee this summer after four years in Ghana as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Since Oct. 1, she’s worked for the Lindsay Heights Health Alliance as an Americorps staff member. Her role as the healthy community coordinator for LHHA is a perfect fit, she said, because the work she is doing there – community organizing, working with youth and planning health programs – is what she did in Ghana.

“Compassion and having a genuine interest in people” is one of the biggest lessons McLaurin learned in Ghana. Relationship building is at the root of what the Peace Corps teaches its volunteers when they enter the communities they will serve, according to McLaurin. “When you (build relationships), you’re better able to engage (people), get them to come out (to events) and connect them to resources.”

Despite the cultural differences, McLaurin said that she adapted well to Ghanaian life. She noted that the two cultures approach time differently.

“In Ghana, the time thing is a bit shaky because you can be somewhere waiting for someone, and they may not show for 30 minutes to an hour later,” she recalled. “So coming back here is training your mind, like, ‘Okay, we’re not in Ghana – you need to be on time.’”

McLaurin misses starting and ending meetings with prayer, she said.

While the challenges in the Ghanaian and Milwaukee communities are similar, they are handled differently, according McLaurin. In Ghana, people solve problems as a community as opposed to using third parties, such as the police.

McLaurin said she felt she made a difference in Ghana by putting on large community events such as HIV-AIDS mobile testing campaigns, reproductive sexual health workshops for men and general health events for families. She’s most proud of earning the trust of the youth in her village. “I built very strong relationships with them, where they could ask me anything,” she added.

During McLaurin’s yearlong Americorps position with LHHA, she hopes to positively affect the Lindsay Heights community by producing quality programming, increasing healthy food resources and empowering youth.

Applying what she learned while in Ghana, she plans on “connecting the community to resources that are available in Lindsay Heights, so they can live a better lifestyle.”

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