Eric Bragg - Ghana Country Director
Eric currently works as Rustic Pathways’ Ghana Country Director. Before assuming the latter role in 2014, he was a program leader in Costa Rica and the Dominican republic, as well as Ghana. Born and raised in Connecticut, Eric has a bachelor’s degree from Washington University and a master’s degree in sustainable development from the Blekinge Institute of Technology in Sweden. In his free time, Eric enjoys running, hiking and exploring Northern California.
What have your own international travels entailed?
Prior to college, I volunteered as an English teacher in Asuncion, Paraguay. I then completed my bachelor’s in history and political science from Washington University in St. Louis and studied abroad at Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile in 2008. In 2012 and 2013, I did a master’s in sustainable development at the Blekinge Institute of Technology in Karlskrona, Sweden. On a few occasions over the past few years I led programs for Rustic Pathways in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and Ghana. I have been to 41 countries on five continents (but who’s counting?).
You started as a program leader and are now a country director. How did you first get involved with Rustic Pathways?
I always loved traveling and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life right out of college. I applied to lead programs with similar organizations, but ultimately chose Rustic Pathways because the pay was better and the contract in Costa Rica was longer than my other offers. It wasn’t long before I fell in love with the amazing community of compassionate and adventurous travelers that is Rustic Pathways. I have been here ever since.
What makes Rustic Pathways’ programs different from other programs in Ghana?
Interestingly, there aren’t too many similar programs available in Ghana. I come across a variety of European organizations that seem to be pretty good at roping in volunteers, but none of them provide the comprehensive educational experience that we do.
We allow our students to volunteer, be adventurous, dive deep into the culture of the country, and move about geographically to get a more complete picture of Ghana. We rely on well-cultivated relationships with community partners that allow for a truly authentic and immersive experience.
What is the most fulfilling aspect of your job?
The most fulfilling aspect of my job is when I see how deeply students are affected by their immersive experience in Ghana. I fell in love with travel at a young age and let it change my life, and I love being able to change students’ lives in the way that mine was changed. I also find a great deal of personal fulfillment in the exploration that my job allows for. I love finding new places to take students, meeting with new partners, and taking public vans into the country to set up projects.
What does a typical day look like for a Rustic Pathways program participant in Ghana?
There is no such thing as a typical day. You might find yourself waking up early to the sound of roosters and goats in a homestay family’s house in a tiny village in the Volta Region, but you might also wake up to the sound of trucks zooming past your guesthouse on the road to Burkina Faso in the Upper East Region. We spend mornings relaxing on the beach and mornings working on building new schools in the hot sun. We wander through massive outdoor markets in Kumasi and hike to West Africa’s tallest waterfall in Wli.
Each one of our programs is designed to provide a complete picture of one or all aspects of life in Ghana, so there are only a few days where you find yourself doing the same thing you did the day before.
What makes Ghana the perfect place for international volunteering?
First off, Ghana is about as safe and welcoming as West Africa gets, and it needs the support of volunteers. It has a wide range of activities to offer. We do walking safaris with elephants, hike waterfalls, sit on secluded beaches, explore massive markets, build schools, and so much more. Ghana has something to offer everyone.
What is the first thing program participants do when they arrive in Ghana?
They eat! We welcome our students to Ghana with a delicious local meal and a relaxing evening. Everyone is always tired when they arrive, so we start off with food and a causal orientation session.
What is the most important thing participants bring home with them?
A humbling new sense of their place in this world.
What is some of your best advice for incoming participants?
It’s RUSTIC. Be prepared to push your limits! We stay in great places with hot showers and flush toilets, but we also sleep on mats in rural villages without running water. Rustic Pathways Ghana is for students who are ready to grow!
What is the most unique aspect of Rustic Pathways’ programs in Ghana?
The most unique aspect of our programs in Ghana is perhaps the relationships that we have with our community partners. For instance, our service and homestay coordinator in the Volta Region is an actual princess who will likely become Queen Mother of her clan of 36 villages. She commands the respect of everyone around her, but she also cooks our breakfast and lunch for us. How many people can say that an African princess cooked breakfast for them?