Since I'm a Brazil-based agronomist who's worked with cocoa for a few years, I was eager to learn from the cocoa farmers in Ghana, and also to share my knowledge.

In Brazil, we show our warmth by hugging and kissing when we greet people, but in Ghana it's different — we needed to be more formal and to find other ways to be friendly including smiling, sharing knowledge and listening. I was immediately humbled and taken by people's natural happiness and I felt grateful for opportunities to find new ways to reciprocate this happiness. I gave children at a local school face painting sticks from Brazil. We laughed and took turns painting each other's faces, and it remains one of my favorite moments from my time there.

Many of my fellow Joy Ambassadors work in areas such as IT and marketing, and didn't understand much about the technical side of growing, or why it is so hard to increase productivity. When we were taken out to a cocoa farm and given a chance to harvest the pods (removing the seeds and pulp and prepping the beans for fermentation), we all realized how many steps are involved in making cocoa products like cocoa powder and cocoa butter. Growing cocoa is tough because cocoa trees require particular conditions, and processing the fruit requires many steps, but that information is conceptual until you’re there, picking the pods with your own hands.

Once we understood a little about the culture and about cocoa, each of us was assigned Ghanaian "buddies". I was assigned a man named Eric who, like me, is an agronomist — we felt an instant connection. In Ghana he is a Field Extension Agent — he goes into farming communities and teaches good practices. I was able to watch him facilitate a community action plan session. This is basically a process where the needs of a community, as well as the associated action steps, get identified and reviewed every six months. I was inspired by how many farmers Eric reaches and how this affects change. Eric, in turn, was inspired by the techniques I taught him. I saw him begin to question the status quo with regard to farming, and open up to new ideas and new practices. This relationship left us both transformed.

I was also deeply inspired by the leader of the community. With a strong leader who is fully committed to the people and their goals, the rate of change and growth moves much more quickly. And this is crucial because once I was there I realized how slow development happens, particularly because of cultural nuances. Even with a structured approach on the ground, there are many other circumstances at play. For example, Ghanaians are very spiritual people and their spirituality guides them through their choices. I might say a tree is old and isn't yielding enough so it should be cut down, but they might not be willing to cut that tree down because they see spirit in it and therefore revere it. This can make it difficult, but it’s also part of the beauty. Understanding these nuances leads to respect, understanding and also determining a realistic rate of change.

I was called a Joy Ambassador before I went to Ghana but the joy came from actually being there.