Ghana has 138 districts with 79 dialects, and working there can involve finessing the Akan, Moshi-Dagomba, Ewe, and Ga tribes and their various chieftains and potentates.
One American headed to the west African nation, Robert W. Golledge Jr., says he has had the perfect training: Massachusetts politics.
“I’ve had to deal with a variety of interest groups and advocacy groups, usually with competing positions,” said the outgoing state secretary of environmental affairs. “I’ve certainly learned how to deal with them, and that prepares me well for the situations I anticipate in Ghana.”
Golledge next month will begin a two-year stint as Peace Corps administrator in Ghana, taking his wife and three children from Canton to the bustling capital of Accra, where he will oversee 175 young volunteers in an impoverished nation.
“I think it’s going to be a big adjustment,” he said.
Though Golledge will be 50 when his Peace Corps stint ends, he said the move was hardly a midlife lark. He volunteered with the agency in Costa Rica after college and has long thought of returning to international development work.
“The Peace Corps was a life-changing experience for me,” he said. “It makes a difference not only in people’s lives but in how they view the US.”
Golledge spent 13 years in various positions at the state Department of Environmental Protection, and was appointed commissioner in 2003 and secretary of environmental affairs in August. Governor Mitt Romney’s successor, Deval Patrick, will name Golledge’s replacement next year.
As environmental commissioner, Golledge tightened drinking water standards, set lower limits for plant mercury emissions, and increased prosecution of environmental violators.
He also presided over steep cuts in the environmental agency’s budget.
Golledge will begin training for the job in Washington in January. He will be responsible for the safety of Peace Corps volunteers in Ghana, while also ensuring their work is productive.
Unlike many west African nations, Ghana is relatively stable and has had a functioning democracy for nearly two decades. Still, its problems are serious: drought, deforestation, disease, limited water supply, and a weak economy.
Golledge’s teenage children are already enthusiastically studying about their new home, he said. They will be enrolled in an international school there. Merely preparing for the move has brought the family closer, said Golledge.
“It’s really provided us as a family a great opportunity to talk about a lot of important things, about life and what’s important,” he said.
But the family is unsure how they will feed their Red Sox obsession, with Golledge noting, “There’s a five-hour time difference, so I don’t know how that will be possible.”
Golledge said his parents, a nurse and Episcopal priest, encouraged him to pursue public service. When he returns to Massachusetts, he plans to return to environmental work. But all that’s a long way off. First, there is Ghana.
“It will be an eye-opening experience,” he said. “I’m one of those optimistic fools that thinks I can make a difference.”