KOFORIDUA, Ghana - Being in 4-H can take people a lot of places, but Neil Klemme never imagined it would take him to the heart of Africa.
Klemme, a youth development agent with the Iron County University of Wisconsin-Extension office in Hurley, recently traveled to Ghana through 4-H, helping with youth development of programs in the country.
Over the course of three weeks, he worked with 4-H leaders, leading a training and sharing his experiences in 4-H.
A major difference between 4-H in Ghana and in the U.S. is the programs are run through the school system there. Klemme was able to travel to six or seven different schools to see their programs in action.
"They were intrigued by my experience," Klemme said. "Their 4-H program only started two years ago, so they were floored to hear that I had been in 4-H for 31 years and that our program is turning 100 this year."
While at the schools, Klemme shared many items from Iron County, including stickers, T-shirts, water bottles and other items.
During his second week in Ghana, Klemme held a two-day training with more than 40 leaders from across the country. Klemme was "pretty well received," by the leaders, but they had a hard time dealing with some of his ideas.
"One thing we work on is including teens in leadership programs, asking for their opinions," Klemme said. "In Ghana, they didn't like that. They kept saying they didn't ask the opinions of teens, but I told them that 20 years ago, we didn't, either. Teens have an important perspective, but I think it's going to be hard to change that there."
After the training was complete, Klemme was surprised by a visitor at his hotel, thanking him for his views on 4-H.
"A man who attended the training drove to the hotel and thanked me," Klemme said. "He said he was so excited to get back to work with his students, and liked the idea of including teens more into the groups. He kept telling me, 'It will work,' and I appreciated that. That was exactly what I was looking for, one or two people to buck the system and be open to trying something new."
In addition to training, Klemme was also able to view 100 students graduate from their 4-H program. In Ghana, volunteering is not common, but Klemme said he was inspired by the graduates' attitudes.
"They asked me how they could stay involved in 4-H," he said. "Despite Ghana not having a strong volunteer culture, that showed me that is changing. I told them they could teach other kids the things they themselves have learned. It starts with young people, and even at the schools I visited, two to three kids asked me how they could stay involved with 4-H."
Agriculture is one of the main projects in Ghana, and Klemme said he witnessed a boy showing rabbits. The boy was breeding the rabbits to share with other children so they could also work with them.
For Klemme, it wasn't all work while in Africa. He was also able to do some sight-seeing, including witnessing Boti Falls, a 394-foot high waterfalls in the middle of the rain forest.
Klemme was also able to view the U.S.-Ghana soccer match during the FIFA World Cup while in Africa.
"That whole week, people kept saying, 'We're going to beat you,' and I was like, 'Probably, because I know nothing about soccer,'" Klemme said. "But after the U.S. won, I stayed in my room for the night. Everyone was really friendly the next morning, though. It was cool to witness the World Cup from the perspective of another country rooting for their team."
One thing that surprised him about soccer was the lack of training in the country.
"There are no high school teams, and these kids are all self-taught," Klemme said. "They play in a dirt field and maybe get spotted by someone to play on the national team. It just starts with a bunch of kids playing with a soccer ball outside. They are usually flat soccer balls, so I would love to send some brand new ones over there."
Klemme's goal for the future is to see if someone from Africa could come to the U.S. to experience 4-H from a U.S. perspective.
"I have been talking to people in Washington, D.C ., and I think it would be awesome to have someone come here," Klemme said. "I think it would be a really rewarding experience for someone. I am working to see if that could be a possibility."
After returning to the U.S ., Klemme was able to reconnect with some friends he made in Africa through Facebook. He would like to return in the country in a few years, but would like to bring someone with him.
"It was a good experience, and I would like to do it again, but I think it would be more meaningful if I took someone with me," Klemme said. "But, being by myself, I was able to gain confidence as a youth development leader because there was no one else to fall back on. I learned more about my skills.
"It was an amazing trip, and I am so glad that I went."