By Jessica Albert
Ever since she studied African American poetry in the sixth grade, graduate student Devan Ellison has had a deep passion for all things Africa. She never thought that she’d have the chance to visit the places she studied at JMU as an Africana Studies minor because she is a student and on a budget … That is, until one day when a particular flier caught her eye.
“I never thought I’d have a chance to [go] again in the same fashion,” Ellison said. “I knew I wanted to go as soon as Dr. Owusu-Ansah had posted a yellow flier in CMSS outlining the trip and the different classes that it could substitute for.”
Deciding she wanted to go on the trip was easy. Filling out the applications was also rather easy. Getting her vaccinations and passport were also easy. However, getting the money she needed to go on the study abroad trip was a little tricky.
The fees associated with the Ghana study abroad program are over thousands of dollars. Affording the trip and her other necessities and interests seemed almost impossible. During her study abroad application process, Ellison had a lot of other financial obligations. She was responsible for paying her rent and needed to fulfill financial dues to gain entrance into a sorority.
“Most students are encouraged to check with financial aid to see how much [aid] they are qualified to use,” Professor Dr. David Owusu-Ansah said. “Others have family help. For the Ghana program, most minority students have benefited from the Dr. William King Charitable scholarship.“
Ellison could not receive funds from her parents and didn’t meet financial aid requirements. Her last bet was Dr. King’s scholarship, and being African American and an Africana Studies minor Ellison applied and received the scholarship.
“I was granted $3500 to attend the trip and without this scholarship I probably would not have gone,” Ellison said.
With the $3,500 under her belt, Ellison still needed some more funds to pay for her plane ticket and for spending money while she was on the trip.
Ellison facilitated her own fundraiser in hopes of raising enough money so she wouldn’t have to choose between the sorority and the trip.
“Because my finances were so tight, I did conduct a fundraiser,” Ellison said. “I drafted a letter and I sent it out to my church members. I made sure I got the directory of ever member in my church and I mailed letters every day for about a month straight.”
In addition to sending letters, she had her father pass some of her letters to his co-worker. Ellison, herself, also passed out fliers in the barbershop she frequents while at home.
Although many of Ellison’s letters did not make it to their destination, Ellison received about $1,500 from her church congregation and other family members. She received a number of individual donations amounting in increments of $50 to $100.
Ellison’s church gave her the second biggest donation she received. One day during a break from one of her classes in Memorial Hall, Ellison received a phone call from her church telling her they were donating $500 to her trip.
“I just remember crying because I didn’t have to choose at that point,” Ellison said.
Ellison credits her fund raising success to her faith.
“I felt like if it was going to be, God was going to make a way for me, and he did,” Ellison said.
After months of applying, fund raising and waiting, Ellison boarded a plane to Ghana in the summer of 2010. Ellison describes her trip as a rewarding experience.
“It was also rewarding in the sense that I had a chance to experience my own culture,” Ellison said. “I ended meeting one of my best friends there. I had a priceless experience. It’s a beautiful place and the people are beautiful.”
To learn more about the Ghana study abroad click here.