As a founding partner of Liberty Fairs, a beloved men's fashion trade show, Sharifa Murdock is no stranger to traveling the world in the name of fashion. From Italy to Barbados, maintaining a strong grasp on industry trends takes her around the globe. Yet it was the seven days she recently spent in Ghana volunteering with African Health Now, a charity focused on health education in Africa, that challenged her thinking and impacted her life in the most profound way. She shared her experience with ESSENCE.
On my first day in Ghana, I stood outside of a hospital and witnessed a woman give birth in a taxi a few feet away from me. I imagined the woman in labor was on her way to the hospital. The scene was nothing like you would imagine in the movies. No heroic obstetrician rushed through the doors. The woman just went into labor with no epidural, no equipment and, most importantly, no doctors. After giving birth, she exited the taxi and walked inside of the hospital. The entire moment was surreal.
I felt a rush of emotions and decoding them all in the moment was impossible. I imagine it’s something that I will be unpacking for a very long time. Yet, in that very moment, I knew I was where I was supposed to be in my life. I’m currently trying to have a baby and I went on this trip with African Health Now. One of the goals of AHN is to assist in rebuilding a maternity section in hospitals in Ghana. In fact, I was standing outside of that specific hospital with some of the members of AHN because we intended to assess the needs of the hospital to better determine how we could help. Of course, I never expected to witness a childbirth. Everything about my very first trip to Africa was full of the unexpected.
If you’ve never been to Africa you might believe the false narrative of poverty and despair often seen in media. Those weren’t my expectations. I just wanted to experience the beautiful Ghana my friends told me about. The love many of my friends had for it is what shaped my expectations.
While my trip was for the purpose of service, it also gave me the opportunity to experience the culture. We painted and helped to rebuild a maternity unit. We provided a service and still had plenty of time to explore. It was a reciprocal exchange: I poured into Ghana and it poured into me.
Although yes, it is a beautiful country, it was the people I met that transformed my thinking in such profound ways. Everyone I met seemed genuinely happy — not the superficial happy many Americans perform. It was an authentic love for life. You could see it in the way they interacted with each other. You could feel it in their non-rushed movements. It’s hard to explain. It’s just something you can feel. I knew one of the things I would take home with me from that trip was the clear distinction between what I want in life and what I need.
I realized how much of my life was full of things I wanted and didn’t need, which is probably true for many of us. In the U.S., there seems to be such high value placed on things which didn't reflect my experience in Ghana. One night an organizer of the trip took us to dinner at her friend’s house. The food was amazing and the conversation was free-flowing. At the end of the night, the host invited us to write a quote on her white wall. She wanted us to write something that would capture the experience of what we felt that night. Who does that? Who invites you to write something on the white walls in their home? We would never do that in the states. It was such a strong demonstration of a culture that values experiences over material items.
The week I spent in West Africa also helped me to think more expansively about what it means to give service. I’ve always believed in the concept of lifting as you climb, which is part of the reason I started The Brooklyn Intern to help provide high school students with the opportunity to get internships in the fashion industry. I know firsthand how challenging the business can be and after this trip I wanted my reach to expand beyond Brooklyn and fashion. I wanted to stretch myself and make contributions on a global scale. Because of my travels, this drive to make societal contributions was magnified and that excites me. I came back home with a plan to use my passion to strategically aim for a global impact. Though, I’m still fleshing out exactly what that will look like.
I don’t know if it was possible to emotionally prepare myself this trip. Much like the emotions I experienced when witnessing a woman give birth in a taxi cab, my first trip to Ghana was powerful, surreal, life-changing and something that I will be unpacking for a very long time.
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