One thing that I enjoy about social media is its ability to connect you with so many strangers, near and far, with similar values and interests. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has found herself scrolling the timeline or news feed of a person I do not know and saying or thinking “Oh my goodness, I’d love to meet him/her”. Well, this is how I encountered Robin Howzell. I was completely drawn to her pictures and apparent love of Ghana and became more intrigued as I learned about her travels and life through her social media posts. I watched from afar as she traveled between Ghana and the US and cheered her on as she started a pen pal program with Ghanaian students. And I admit, I swooned a bit when she married a man that she’d met and fallen in love with during her first trip to the country. Robyn is originally from Philly but relocated to New Mexico five years ago. She now splits her time between NM and Ghana. For a while, I’ve been wanting to do a podcast interview with her, but distance and travels just wouldn’t allow for it. So we decided that an interview via email would have to do.
Check it out below and be sure to connect with her via social media!
When did you discover your love for travel? Where were you?
I discovered my love for travel in 1986 when my father, who was in the military, invited my daughter an I on his last tour to Frankfurt, Germany. It was my very first time on an airplane and it was a long flight; 22 hours total! While on my layover in London’s Heathrow Airport, I was holding my daughter in my arms and watching people head out to their different destinations. And right then I just knew that I would travel the world. I was already head-over-heels in love with flying. I loved the size of planes and fantasized about being a pilot. I was hooked from that moment.
What’s your craziest or most interesting travel experience?
My craziest and most interesting travel experience was the time I ran with bulls in Pamplona Spain. I still can’t believe that I stayed up all night to run the streets with bulls! Although I didn’t get very far out of fear and other distractions, I was there in the middle of it all and it was exciting.
Tell me about your first trip to Ghana. Why did you choose to go there? When did you realize you loved the country?
My first trip to Ghana was in May of 2014. I had been traveling the globe during the summer and had just returned to the United States from studying Spanish in Spain earlier that year. Prior to Spain, I traveled to Costa Rica, London, and Ecuador for the summer months. I realized that in most of the countries I’d visited, I hadn’t seen many people who looked liked me. I was really hoping to connect with people in other countries to learn about their black culture. But I found that I was usually the only African-American hanging around. I’d always wanted to visit Africa but I had no idea which country to travel to. So I did a little research and found a volunteer program and decided to be an advocate for child labor and child trafficking. I signed up for the program to teach and advocate in one of the villages in Ghana. I fell in love with the children while teaching. It was love at first sight and I knew in my heart that Ghana was where I belonged. I just felt a freedom that I hadn’t experienced in any of the other countries I’d visited. Ghana felt right. I felt like I was at home in peaceful surroundings.
When traveling to Ghana, what reception have you received from other Ghanaians? Have you felt welcome? Shunned? Both?
Akwaaba, which means welcome, is the way most Ghanaians greet African-Americans who visit Ghana. “Akwaaba home sister/brother” is very common to hear from a Ghanaian. Their easy-going spirit and good nature make it easy to get along with them. I’ve found that it’s not difficult to adjust to the Ghanaian lifestyle and I’ve always felt welcome in their homes, whether I lived in Kosa, Senya, Accra, Cape Coast, or Osu. I’m a social butterfly. I’m versatile and non-judgmental so bonding with people is natural for me. It also helps that I look like most Ghanaians in skin tone. I’m often told that I’m from the northern region but I say I’m from the west. My DNA test results will arrive soon to resolve that issue!
What surprised you most about the people and country?
I was surprised to see the faces of so many Ghanaians who favor someone I knew back in the United States. What surprised me the most about the country was the living conditions in some of the villages. In some houses in the villages, there is no running water, electricity, or bathrooms. Although people have means to wash, use bathrooms, and drink water, it was a bit shocking to see how some of our brothers and sisters in most villages were living. The village life isn’t easy in Ghana but somehow the hard-working people make it work. The country is beautiful. There’s rich culture, natural resources, and powerful Ashanti history.
Share a little bit about your pen pal and volunteer program. How do people get involved?
I started the pen pal program after returning to the U.S. from Ghana in 2014. I wanted to do more to help the students who attend school in the village where I’d been teaching. I was frustrated by the lack of school supplies, food, proper uniforms, and learning tools available to the students and teachers. I wanted to share their stories with people in the U.S. so I challenged them to a book writing contest. They were all challenged to write stories about their life in Ghana. The judges looked for book-length, originality, spelling, and creativity. The book contest and pen pal campaign was a way to keep the students in touch with people in the United States. My intentions are to bring penmanship back into the classrooms, learn more about the diversity of Ghanaian culture, and to help encourage the children to stay in school. The campaign runs year round and we ask each pen pal for a commitment of six months and a small donation to help buy school supplies, uniforms, and food for the children who attend school. For more information visit our website www.weareonepeopleglobal.com. We are proud to say that we held our second annual book contest this year and the first prize was a Kindle Fire.
Tell me about meeting your husband in Ghana.
Wow. I’m smiling. I met my husband, Kwame, in the summer of May 2014. That was the same year I was volunteering in Senya Beraku. He was in the West Hills Mall when he approached me coming out of the Shop Rite market. Naturally, we shared a quick smile and said hello. We made plans to meet every weekend in the mall at the Second Cup coffee shop where we engaged in long conversations about Ghana. We connected so easily because of the volunteer work I was doing and his kind spirit, and we found that we have a lot in common. Interestingly enough, his mother grew up in the village where I was volunteering. We married in May of 2016 in Ghana and celebrated our first year anniversary this summer, May 2017.
Do you have any other business ventures?
I’m an independent author of two books. I was the owner, manager, and cosmetologist at Hair Strand Inc. in Philadelphia, PA for 20 years. I decided to close down my business to make a lifestyle change and I took a leap of faith. In 2014 after returning from Ghana I started my company We Are One People Global. Our mission is to help students in Ghana one classroom at a time. We want to see students in every classroom have books, paper, pens, pencils, uniforms, a balanced breakfast and an academic education. We also want to bring people together around the globe. The volunteer program is designed to help send people to Ghana to participate in one of our projects in Senya Beraku. I’m also excited to announce a new business venture with my husband, Kwame. We just registered Global People Foundation, our non-government organization (NGO) on the continent of Africa. Global People Foundation is a volunteer program located in Ghana and our mission is the same. We want to bring people together around the globe.
So, other than Ghana, what’s your favourite destination.
The Bahamas. It’s beautiful and the beaches are good to swim. I enjoy eating conch salad with the fisherman and grilling whole fish back at my timeshare when I visit. I really enjoy the relaxed romantic atmosphere in the Bahamas. The people are always kind and their lifestyle appears to be calmer than most Caribbean islands I’ve visited.