Caring: Thoughts on environmental sustainability after one year of living in West Africa

Over the past year Chris and I have had a lifestyle makeover (and not all by choice. Although, I guess you can argue that by joining the Peace Corps we made that choice. If we had only known 👀). We have learned to do without things we didn’t know we could live without (dark chocolate!!!). I remember looking around at our training group in our second month in country thinking “All 30 of us are going through withdrawal from something. No wonder everyone is a bit miffed these days.” It wasn’t easy-o, yet now, of course, we are thankful.

Chris and I are firm believers in being careful to make sure the things we own don’t own us. Giving away almost everything before we came and living quite simply has helped us with this more than ever. Throughout this year we have done without paper products, chocolate, cheese, meat, running water, heat, ac, a washing machine, dish washer, Whole Foods, Amazon, Costco, electricity at times, easily accessible internet, etc. Going without these things has made us realize maybe don’t need them so much after all (except for Amazon Prime). We have also had experiences that have caused us to really consider our consumer habits in America. Below are some of the revelations we have had and habits we hope to keep/take up when we return next year.

Before my list (I loveee lists, bet you couldn’t tell) I wanted to add something that has become extremely apparent over the last year- it’s how dire our climate change situation is. The people here rely on the food they grow each year to sustain them. With increasing droughts and erratic weather patterns their lives are put in danger. Our neighbors have told us how the rains have decreased over the past few years and how they aren’t able to grow enough food because of it. Countries like Ghana also don’t have the same protective measures as the first world countries (although even those aren’t enough) when it comes to natural disasters. Upon coming here we were also somewhat surprised to find several organizations from all over the world doing research about climate change in Ghana. They are also creating grassroots movements to help the farmers cope with global warming.

As we buy and consume we really, really have to keep the larger picture in mind. We have our children and grandchildren to consider, our own health, and the livelihood of our friends in poorer countries across the globe to think about. It constantly blows my mind that people and in particular politicians are in denial that our human activities are wrecking our ecosystem. It’s just clear as day. I can’t believe as a human race we have let it get this far, yet I believe there is a growing number of us that are serious about putting an end to the damage we are causing. Plastics, toxic waste dumped into our oceans, pollution from cars, factory farming, the burning of fossil fuels- I could go on- are all ruining the earth- 1000’s of species, human health, reproduction, the ozone, the oceans, etc.

Below are some ways we can be more thoughtful (orr ethical):

  1. Buy fair-trade products (chocolate, coffee, and clothing are big ones). Ghana is full of cocoa and shea farmers. These people work incredibly hard and deserve a living wage
  2. Use a clothesline for drying clothes. Our dryers use a ton of energy. Get out in the sun on those dry, breezy days and hang those things.
  3. Use cloth instead of paper products. We use rags for everything- cleaning, drying, cooking, napkins, etc. It’s really simple too. When you are finished just wash in cool water and hang on the line
  4. Take up a vegetarian diet 😎 or only buy free range/organic meat from local farmers, and/or decrease meat consumption. Factory farming in the U.S. is one of the greatest contributors of carbon emissions. Really look into how these animals are treated in life and in death. It is not ok.
  5. Buy second-hand things like furniture from an antique store
  6. Buy locally, buy organic
  7. Unplug things
  8. Be a minimalist or have less thingssss
  9. Avoid aluminum, plastic, and processed products
  10. Use less water.
  11. Reduce, reuse, recycle
  12. Be part of the change, not only through your actions, but through getting our government on board. It will never be our government that does these things for us, we the people need to initiate it and show them through voting with our dollar and actions

I probably forgot some things, but this is the list I have been creating in my journal as things have come along. You can easily look up more tips or go deeper by reading books or watching the plethora of documentaries out there. I read Eating Animals by Joanthan Safran Foer recently and would highly recommend it. He is such a thoughtful writer. There’s the classic Food Inc, Meat your Meat, and Forks Over Knives documentaries. I highly recommend the documentary Flow- For the Love of Water. That’s another subject I think is extremely important to be educated about. We watched that documentary a few years ago and it really opened our eyes. I know there are plenty of environmental documentaries too, I just can’t think of any off of the top of my head. Blue Ocean is a good read and How to Live a Low Carbon Life is informative as well.

This is an issue close to my heart, obviously. I see our community members living all around us, who are dependent on what they grow each year, and shudder to think what will become of them if we don’t start doing something serious about this. Food security is already a big enough issue; we don’t need more droughts or erratic weather to make it even tougher for them. These developing countries contribute the least to global warming, yet they will be/are hit the hardest in the beginning. I believe its past time for us to start caring (for plants, people, and animals) and to put more effort into creating sustainable life here. We can do this!!

xo, Kallie

As in the wise words of the lorax: 

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One thought on “Caring: Thoughts on environmental sustainability after one year of living in West Africa

  1. Never let it be said that the older generations cannot learn from the generations which follow. Every day our grandchildren teach us more and more about this world in which we live and about our fellow sojourners. Thank you, Kallie & Chris, for reminding us about what is most important in this life – such as the grandchildren for whom we have so much love.

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