Alexandra Watts - General Building Projects in Ghana
Ever since I was young I have wanted to travel to Africa and this past year I had the amazing opportunity to do so! I was placed in Mamfe in the Akuapem Hills where I spent one month volunteering in an orphanage and one month building. I was really excited but at the same time quite scared. I was only 19 years old and I had never traveled outside the U.S. or Canada, let alone traveled by myself. When my parents dropped me off at our tiny airport in Maine, I knew I was on my own. Luckily, on my flight to Accra there was a fellow Projects Abroad volunteer so I wasn’t entirely by myself.
Arriving in Accra was quite overwhelming. I was introduced to the stench of the sewers that filled the air and the sounds of taxis and tro-tros constantly beeping their horns. Obruni, meaning foreigner, was a word I grew accustomed to as there were always people shouting it wherever I went. The morning I arrived in Accra was the last Friday of the month so like any other last Friday of the month there was a party held in Accra for all the volunteers in Ghana to attend. I decided to stay for the party so I spent the day at the Projects Abroad Office in Accra and then went to the hills later that night. I was so relieved when I arrived in the hills after the hustle and bustle of Accra. The area was much more rural and so beautiful and green, exactly what I had hoped for.
I met my host family the next day. My host father Alex is the nicest man you’ll ever meet and his two youngest daughters, Jennifer and Rita are adorable and hilarious. I was so lucky to have been placed with the Adjanies; they truly made me feel like a part of their family. I, along with two other volunteers, stayed in a building next to the family’s house which was like an apartment building. We shared a room on the first floor and down the hall was our bathroom which had a toilet (quite a luxury compared to some other houses in Ghana) and a bath tub with two buckets to take bucket showers! Although bucket showers were very time consuming and a pain to take when the power was out, there was nothing more refreshing than a bucket shower at the end of the day.
I set my alarm for 6:30 every morning but was usually woken up much earlier by either the roosters outside my window or the people beginning their day. Everyone woke up very early there which I guess was a good thing because it forced me to start my day too. And if I wasn’t fully awake, I was by the time I reached the orphanage where all the children latched onto me screaming “Auntie Aley, Auntie Aley.”
Working at Trinity Orphanage in Tutu, a few towns over from Mamfe, was very rewarding but also challenging. I was told I would be working in the nursery. I’ve had a lot of experience working with children so I thought this would be a piece of cake. When I found out I was working in a nursery of 30 sometimes 40, 1-5 year olds who couldn’t speak English all that well, I knew I would have my hands full.
Each day I would spend time with the children teaching them the alphabet, the numbers, the different colors, the different shapes, and easy lessons like that. When I came to Ghana I brought a bag full of supplies for arts and crafts so we spent a lot of time coloring, making masks, making necklaces with pieces of cut up drinking straws, and of course lots of singing and dancing which they loved. I was always very tired at the end of the day but seeing those children laugh and smile really made me happy. When I reached the second month of my stay in Ghana I switched to building but still stopped by the orphanage a few more times to play with the children.
Building was also very fulfilling. At the end of the day you could see the progress you made and if you were lucky enough you’d get to see the finished project. Unfortunately, I was not there long enough to finish the classroom I had been working on but we made a lot of progress on it. It was a lot of work making the bricks, carrying the sand, and plastering the walls. Building was a great experience because I learned a lot of new things. I got to interact with the volunteers and the locals, during breaks I got to spend time with the children at the school, and every Wednesday the school made us banku! Banku is a Ghanaian dish made from corn dough and cassava mashed up to make a sticky doughy substance and eaten with a sauce.
The food was very different and took some time to get used to but after a few days I loved it. Boiled yams, jollof rice, fufu, and banku were my favorite Ghanaian dishes. I will definitely miss waking up in the morning to a big omelet, four pieces of tea bread, and coffee that Alex always prepared. Sometimes he even bought chocolate spread to put on the bread; he definitely spoiled us!
Now being back in the U.S., I miss Ghana more than I ever thought I would. I miss washing my laundry out by hand with my host sisters Jennifer and Rita. I miss going to Mama’s, the local spot bar, with all of the amazing volunteers. I miss playing soccer with the locals. I miss dinners with my family where we’d talk about our day. I miss traveling every weekend and always experiencing something new. I miss going to the bead market in Koforidua, and the wood market in Aburi where I couldn’t help but spend money. I miss all of the little things about Ghana that you’d never think you would.
There are so many wonderful things to experience and so many incredible people to meet. Projects Abroad is really a great organization, especially if you’re somebody like me who has never traveled by themselves. They always made me feel safe and they were always there if I ever needed anything.
Spending two months in Ghana was the best decision I have ever made. I fell in love with the people, the land, and the way of life. I know I will be back someday.