Alumni Interview: John Sam-Arthur

A few weeks ago, We got on a Zoom call with John Sam-Arthur, a journalist from Ghana who visited Columbia in November 2018 through the State Department’s IVLP program (learn more about IVLP here). The theme of his delegation’s visit was “New and Traditional Broadcast Media”. Their main focus was on covering elections, and they even got to visit a Lexington County polling place on election day!

While international travel and exchange programs are postponed, we are taking some time to talk with alumni to see how they are doing and how their experience visiting the U.S. impacts their work today.

How are you doing? Is COVID-19 a major problem where you live?

I am doing great! Overall, I see everything going on as an opportunity. With more people relying on the internet to stay connected, I now talk to friends from every continent over Zoom every week! This wasn’t happening before, and I’m excited for the chance to do more cultural exchange online!

Thankfully, COVID-19 isn’t affecting Ghana as much as other countries. The people who do get sick here rarely need ventilators and there are not as many deaths as there probably should be.

This [COVID-19] is a lesson to Ghana that we need more access to running water.  Thanks to COVID-19, there has been a push to install more Veronica Buckets in public areas to encourage hand washing. This is a plastic bucket with a tap near the bottom so people can wash their hands under flowing water. Veronica Bekoe, a public health official from Ghana, invented the Veronica Bucket to combat cholera in the 1970s.

John Sam-Arthur with his “American Mom”, Pat Lawter (left) and Julia Ferillo (right)
John posing with the other delegates and Carol Gelhaus (CCFI’s Secretary) during a reception hosted in the home of one of our volunteers.

What is it like to be a journalist in Ghana right now?

Most events are cancelled, so the news here is all COVID-19 all the time! It’s certainly forcing me to stay grounded and focused. I use a lot of Zoom meetings, and I have colleagues in almost every continent who I speak with regularly!  I’m not sure how we’d survive without technology.  

Like the US, Ghana has a major election this year. What’s interesting is, since 1982, every time the U.S. Republican party wins the general election, Ghana’s Republican party also wins. The same is true for the Democrats. I am interested to see if this trend continues this year. We are also debating how to safely vote in December. It will be interesting to see how this election is carried out.

What did you like the most about Columbia, SC?

What I loved most about America is the cleanliness. The whole waste management system is working. It was a refreshing experience. In Columbia, I loved staying at Hotel Trundle. I was fascinated that there were multiple waste and recycling bins in every room! Everyone in Columbia was so friendly. I feel that Pat Lawter [board president for CCFI] is my American mom!

Sanitation is my passion, and I use photos from my travels to the US when educating people about how and why we need to do a better job with waste management. Every problem can be an opportunity, and I see COVID as a challenge and an opportunity for us to get our act together around sanitation.  

Since we’re all online now, I think this is a great time for us all to participate in international exchange. Especially because many enslaved people in the US came from west Africa, more virtual exchange between Ghana and the US would be powerful.

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