Care, Care & Community in Ghana by Philippa Pudney
Before we left
‘To volunteer or not’ has never been a question for me - it seems so natural to want to give a little hope to those living with none - I immediately said yes. Which country we volunteered in was never a big question for me as I hope to visit many more countries in the near future. However, in hindsight, choosing a country whose official language is English for my first volunteering trip was wise. This allowed my group and I to settle much quicker and instantly build a connection with our supervisor, host family and the children we worked with, without the stress of a language barrier. I was fortunate enough to have a group of 8 other students within the sixth form who were as willing and excited to go as myself. Although I would have happily travelled as an individual, this support group made fundraising much easier prior to our trip whilst keeping morale high whilst in Ghana.
Despite trawling through Ghanaian handbooks and advice leaflets, the best advice I was given was to have no expectations. Whilst I was well prepared for the physical aspect of the volunteering, the emotional attachment I developed within just 2 weeks to the children we worked with was something I couldn’t have expected or prepared for.
Arriving in Ghana
Upon arrival in Accra, my group was greeted by smiling faces and an air-conditioned bus (which we were very grateful for) which took us to our overnight hostel to rest before our 6 hour journey to Kumasi. When telling the story of our first couple of days to my family, they were strangely sympathetic. Understandably two days of travelling doesn’t sound pleasant but as a group, we were on a constant high as we attempted to prepare for the next fortnight. We had been immediately immersed in this strange, humid, busy, colourful culture. There was no time to become bored on our journey from Accra to Kumasi. We were greeted by a local preacher on the bus then regularly waved at by local people, welcoming us to Ghana.
Our adjustments were made considerably easier after being introduced to our host family who warmly welcomed us into their home, offering us anything we wished for to make our stay as comfortable as they could. We were provided with an array of typical Ghanaian dishes over the course of our stay from which we could request our favourites, or ask for a little less spice! Mealtimes provided a welcome chance for us to further our exploration of Ghana and its traditions as food is such a prominent part of their culture.
The project in Kumasi
We spent the majority of our time in Kumasi at the Atonsu MA School, only five minutes from our host family’s house. Whilst at the school, we painted three classrooms, taught within the Kindergarten and planted trees with the Junior High School. As this particular school had never received a group of volunteers before, our reception was overwhelming. The children were ecstatic at, simply, our presence. It was difficult to move for being surrounded by children asking to be my friend and wanting a high five. For me, this really showed how much hope we could bring to them. I felt as if we were bringing them a chance to broaden their education, see what else was out there and experience what life is like outside of their community. Our relationships with the younger pupils were almost entirely based on their persistent want to be picked up – to which we happily obliged. The older students, however, were keen to know what the place we had come from was like. Their shock to find out that we were allowed boyfriends and to grow our hair outlined, to us, just how vastly different our lives were. This, personally, was fuel to keep on visiting lesser economically developed countries and decrease the gap between their lives and mine.
Within our ‘care’ activities, we also worked at the Kumasi Orphanage. Here, we taught basic English language skills and mathematics then played outdoor games with the children – for example one afternoon we created a mini sports day. The children were very competitive, particularly when racing against us even though they beat us every time. A particular hit with the children was ‘duck duck goose’ as they sat excitedly hoping to be tapped and chase their friends around the circle. I felt welcomed into their community as the children wanted to know all about us; were keen to play games with us, listened closely to our lessons and were so grateful for our time spent there.
In our final week, we arranged to play a football match with the Atonsu MA School football team. Before leaving England, the FA and a local team had donated a full football kit and cup for us to give to the school. We were incredibly grateful to have been given the opportunity to donate this to the school, naming the cup ‘The Ackworth Cup’ which the team received with masses of excitement. It’s fair to say we went into the match as 11 very nervous students and supervisors. We weren’t used to the terrain, the weather stood in our way and on top of this, they had a very good squad! Expectedly, we presented them with the cup after a 3-3 draw and our loss during penalties. For my group, we felt it was important to leave something behind for the school to maintain our connection with them to encourage future trips.
We spent the weekend in Cape Coast, having breakfast with crocodiles after a 42ft-above-the-ground canopy walk! This allowed us to see the more tourism orientated part of Ghana which could be a huge source of income for the country as they have some beautiful natural resources. We also visited the slave fort which, as a history enthusiast, I was intrigued by and appreciated. This break allowed us to rest and refresh ourselves for the week ahead whilst broadening our view of Ghana.
The experience I had was one which will stay with me through my life – especially until my next volunteering adventure. I took from my time in Ghana; a respect for the opportunities I’ve been given, an appreciation of family, a thirst for returning and building my relationship with the children I worked with and an admiration for the Ghanaian culture. I now realise the value of substantial food and how ridiculous the amount of waste in England is, I am thankful for clean running water and having a roof over my head. The main resource we have is time and if we can use that to give someone else a little more time, I see no reason not to.