Sarah and Eldred Atkinson don traditional African clothing and display a sculpture they brought back from one of their mission trips to Ghana. The Spring
Sarah and Eldred Atkinson don traditional African clothing and display a sculpture they brought back from one of their mission trips to Ghana. The Spring Garden Township couple has been traveling to West Africa since 2006. (Bill Kalina photo)

Sara and Eldred Atkinson looked into each other's eyes. They knew it was meant to be.

The Spring Garden Township couple found a new passion -- mission trips to Ghana.

"It's the fulfillment of a passion I never dreamed of," said Sara Atkinson, 72. "I never dreamed I would have an opportunity to do anything like this in my lifetime. I just fell in love with this."

Sara Atkinson is an education team leader with Building Solid Foundations, a York-based nonprofit organization dedicated to working with Ghanaians to enhance their quality of life in rural Ghana through water, sanitation, health and education improvements and economic development.

Sara Atkinson led a team of two Elizabethtown College professors and five students from the college and from American University on a 10-day mission trip to Apam, Ghana, in early January. They taught math, reading and English lessons to elementary and high school students.

"(Ghanaian students) are very interested in learning," Atkinson said. "They are so attentive. They respect their teachers. They appreciate the opportunity to get an education. And they are happy with so little."

Her husband: Eldred Atkinson, 78, recently completed his 10-day mission trip to Apam, where he helped a construction crew that included members from Aldersgate United Methodist Church, where he and wife are members.

The crew also was part of Building Solid Foundations efforts. Plant equipment and electrical supplies were donated by local businesses, and the Rotary Club of York helped with funding, according to a Building Foundations news release.

The crew helped Ghanaians work on Apam's first fish freezing and storage plant so that local fishermen can keep fish fresh longer for sale. Currently, caught fish are spoiling before they're sold because of the area's warm weather.

The mission group also helped tend to the vegetable gardens started several years ago by previous mission groups, Eldred Atkinson said.

Multiple trips: He said he and his wife have been participating in mission trips to Apam since 2006. The recent trip was his seventh, he said.

"You fall in love with it, the people, the area, with what we're doing, the greeting we receive," he said. "(The Ghanaians) are not phony, and it's kind of nice to be that way."

Sara Atkinson said she has been on eight Ghana mission trips since 2006 and hopes the recent teaching group will consider participating again.

Nancy Valkenburg, Elizabethtown College's director of center for community and civic engagement, said she was "blown away" by the experience.

"We learned about how precious water is and how (the Ghanaians) don't waste anything," Valkenburg said. "I felt part of the family while I was there, even though I was away from home. It's something I want to do again."

York Township resident, Carroll Tyminski, an Elizabethtown associate professor of education, said she hopes Elizabethtown will do more mission trips with Building Solid Foundations.

"(The trip) made me reflect upon the values that are really important in life," Tyminski said. "I really admire the people (in Ghana). They really touch your heart and soul. That's what they did for me."