Giving Back with Operation Dignity

Dr. Kathy Sullivan describes the mission of Operation Dignity and how to get involved.

Article by Shannon Hofer-Pottala

Photography by Operation Dignity International

Originally published in Eagan City Lifestyle

How would you describe the mission of Operation Dignity?

Kathy: Our mission is to seek transformation. That transformation happens in three different ways: we take the natural assets of Ghana and transform them to become profitable for the people, we want to be able to teach people who have access to those resources how to use them, and we visually present a solution to them and lead by example. We take medical, dental, and other teams to Ghana. 

How did you get involved with Operation Dignity?

Kathy: My husband, Jim, met a Ghanaian man here in the United States, who had come to the United States to work to send money back home. It was becoming more and more difficult for him to take care of his responsibilities in Ghana; he felt like there needed to be a presence in Ghana full-time. He and Jim connected and visited Ghana. When they came back, Jim said, "This is what I want to do in our retirement." I said, "You go—leave me at home." Jim spent the first three years listening to the people in Ghana, hearing their dreams, their hardships, and their desire to help their community. He began meeting with chiefs and elders. Jim wanted to understand how they understood us and what their needs were, rather than us coming in and telling them what they needed to do to fix their lives. I got involved and we ended up in Ghana.

How does Operation Dignity ensure the Ghanaian people are being heard, rather than the volunteers speaking over them?

Kathy: Our heart is motivated to want to help other people, which is very good, but we configure the solution instead of asking about the problem. We come to bring goodwill, and in bringing goodwill, we might do more harm than good. Jim spent three years listening to the Ghanaian people and helped us understand their voice; they needed someone to listen. Everything we find as a solution in our brain is not the answer to the problem they're having. We don't understand the complexity of poverty if we've never been in an abject poverty situation. We need to understand and we need to listen.

What kind of work does Operation Dignity do?

Kathy: In Ghana, their natural asset is farmland. We contacted a farmer in Rochester, MN, and hired a project manager from Ghana to start a farming project and we're seeing success. I have 500 acres of land, and on those 500 acres, we have cleared and planted 100 acres. The harvest is plentiful. We're presenting to the people of Ghana something they can see with their eyes: a good crop of corn. Last February, the farmer brought an agronomist—a soil scientist—with him and they had a great idea to form a for-profit company to farm more acres in Ghana and make it more profitable for the people in the small rural villages. Every person involved in the for-profit farming project is interested in humanitarian aid. Part of their profits go back to Operation Dignity, and that helps support the nurses, and the teachers, and the other humanitarian aid in those villages.

What would you say to someone who's interested in joining operation dignity but doesn't know how to start?

Kathy: Just ask. I’m looking for people who are interested in helping others. I’m looking for people interested in helping Africa.  I’m looking for people who are interested in learning and serving; learning about different cultures, poverty, adversity, and more.  The service part comes in many different forms, such as medical and dental teams, supporting education and the schools, and helping with needs assessments. Join me, it’s the trip of a lifetime.

Go to odighana.org to learn more or donate.

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