Cristina Tyley - General Building Projects in Ghana
I had wished to experience Ghanaian life for as long as I can remember and cannot say why Ghana over any other African country. Perhaps it was my memory of them being huge soccer fans which I was too as a child. I had applied to do a building project 10 years earlier when I was 19 and studying at university, but couldn't raise the funds and now nearing 30 I really did not want Ghana to be one of those places I 'never got around' to visiting.
I would have loved to go for 3 months but my work was generous to grant me one month’s leave and I still felt I got to experience the culture fully in this time. I am an active outdoor person with a busy office based managerial job, so I found that a building project was the perfect choice for me.
The Building Project
The project was just starting when I arrived in Ghana so it was nice to see the 'before' shot even if I wouldn't be around for the 'after' shot 3 months later. We were to build a three-classroom block in a small village called Kokormu a short ride north from Mamfe. We arrived each day to site at around 8.30am and worked on the building project under the supervision of local workers who gave us our daily brief which would usually either be, making mud bricks to set, mixing mortar, mixing cement (all manually!), carrying bricks, bowls of mortar, cement or wheelbarrows to the building.
The work was heavy going, especially in the heat, which I loved. I never wanted to stop, I enjoyed the stress free work, and the novelty of seeing what you were working towards progress day by day, week by week, and chatting to volunteers as we went along. We finished work around midday as the sun gets pretty hot.
During the mid-morning break we were lucky to be given freshly harvested fruit; watermelon, oranges, bananas, papaya, coconut, which tasted a million times better than the imported fruit we buy in the UK. At this time if we were lucky, the children at the local school might be on their break time and would love to come over and talk to us, or just watch us work! I particularly loved chasing them all around the village but they challenged me as they sure can run!
My Host family
My host family were wonderful people. There was my host mom and dad, and three of their children who were all grown up. They were welcoming from the second I walked in, as were their array of pets! They were keen to get to know us and our cultures but this never became intrusive. They respected our peace and privacy, but if you talked to them they loved to share their experiences. I loved talking to them over meal times, and during the evening when it was dark and we would sit around the table chatting.
Being a Projects Abroad host family, they have so many interesting stories to tell about volunteers of all cultures. My hosts integrated me into their family and wider community and I really did feel like this was my home, so much so that I never felt homesick. I loved coming back to the house and watching the goats and chickens wander around the yard.
The house I stayed in had a block of four rooms dedicated to volunteers, each with two single beds in. This block adjoined the dining room where we hung out as well as the kitchen. The host family lived on the same plot but in a separate block. The house was kept clean, and we had a toilet in a separate block with a shower base. We drew water from the well which was within their courtyard and daily I would take a bucket shower in the shower room. These were incredibly refreshing as the water under ground is cool but not cold as we might find in our cooler home countries, and when you had been sweating all day, it was just perfect.
We had a TV in our house, but I barely noticed it was there and never turned it on. Electricity had been introduced to the village only a few months earlier, but this is very temperamental so I did not rely upon it and many nights we would experience a power cut, but this just added to the fun as we all scurried around for our torches.
After a much needed bucket shower following work and a nice lunch provided by the host family, the afternoons were free, so I would often do some local sightseeing or wander in to the town of Mamfe or city of Korforidua to check emails, drink a cold beer, read my book or chat to the other volunteers and locals.
On Thursday afternoons volunteers had the opportunity to help out with a reading project organized by a Projects Abroad school teacher. I went every Thursday to Akropong to listen to the children read from he books which Projects Abroad had donated. The children loved to read and it was extremely rewarding to be able to help them and a welcome experience to work with children when my placement was so different.
There is ample time on weekends to travel to local destinations, and if you wish to go further afield this is possible, however be warned the roads are bumpy, the transport slow, and therefore the experience can be tiring. The costs of traveling, paying for various tro tro journeys, hostels and the food can all mount up. So if you do plan do some travel whilst here, account for that in your budget and learn to haggle!
Having said that I spent two of my five weekends traveling north to the Volta region to see the waterfalls and monkey sanctuary and south to Cape Coast to visit the castles, forts, and learn about their history. There are always volunteers to go and travel and you will tend to find there is always a small group of people wanting to visit the same places as you.
Memorable experiences and leaving Ghana
Some of the best memories I have of Ghana involve a radio station tour offered by a warm hearted friend of my host families, going for morning runs through beautiful farmland, chatting to fellow volunteers about all the places we wanted to visit as well as celebrating my 30th birthday with a cake.
I was incredibly sad when my month was up and I had to leave. The family invited me to join them at church on my last day, and after the service we got the congregation together and took a photo with everyone there. My host mother made me an early dinner prior to my taxi arriving consisting of fried chicken and jollof rice which was delicious. I am really going to miss her cooking and the family's kind hospitality. There were tears as I stepped into the taxi, saying goodbye to my new family and to my fellow volunteer.
Arriving home there was a bleak mist and drizzle. My family met me at the airport and it was lovely to see them, but going back to work the following day was tough. The pace of like in the UK is so fast and our stress levels can get so high as a result. Ghana allowed me to slow down and appreciate the smaller pleasures in life. I do hope I will be able to visit the village again.
Advice for future volunteers
My main advice would be to make the most of it by integrating with local culture and people as much as possible - you may never get this opportunity again. Volunteering is extremely rewarding and a great way to truly experience foreign cultures. Living with a host family rather than staying in a hotel really provides you with an opportunity to do this. I had a wonderful experience, made so many friends and have learnt so much.
My top tips to those on a building project would be to expect hard work, wear old clothes, bring sun screen and gloves, take time to talk to the locals and above all just enjoy the challenge.