Natalie Raperport - General Care Projects in Ghana
Landing at 10 o’clock at night, my first impression of Ghana was that it was hot, dry, and lively. Walking through the arrivals gate, I was met by hundreds of men, mainly taxi drivers, shouting out and waving their hands, trying to get the attention of the few bewildered tourists. As a result I was hugely grateful when I spotted the Projects Abroad sign and was whisked away to my host family.
The induction the next day was so helpful, although it definitely took a few more days for all the different place names and locations to sink in! Having arrived on a Monday, my roommate took me to “Quiz Night” the next evening, where I met lots of other volunteers, and even managed to arrange travelling to Cape Coast that weekend with 3 other girls.
Wednesday was my first day at the orphanage, and I began my commute (approximately 33 seconds, as the orphanage was on the same road as my host family!) at 7.30am. Somehow the orphanage had misplaced my details, so I was thrust into the nursery around 11am and told to help with the babies. At first it was hugely daunting, being surrounded by 40-50 screaming children aged between 1 day old to maybe 4 years, but by the end of the morning I had learnt quite a few of their names, and could be found sitting in the courtyard outside with 6 children sitting on my lap at the same time. It was obvious that these children needed a lot of TLC, and I was all too happy to give it to them!
That morning I was also introduced to the nursery routine, something which did not change much the whole 3 months that I volunteered there. I would arrive around 7.30am, in time to help dress the older children for school (sometimes difficult as matching shoes were sparse!). Once their hair had been combed, and their faces smothered in shea butter, we would turn our attention to the babies too young for school, and start playtime outside in the courtyard, under a large tree. Playtime was usually 3 hours long, and although much of the time was spent entertaining them, there was always a large amount of stopping them crying, stopping them hitting/biting each other, taking sharp items out of their hands/mouths and changing their towel nappies. Let’s just say, nappy changing is second nature to me now!
After playtime was lunch, which was a messy affair. I usually helped the slightly older children, who would sit in little plastic chairs at a table, and attempt to feed themselves with spoons. Sadly rather few actually grasped the concept of a spoon, and most days I would leave with a few streaks of groundnut stew down my leg or arm, something else which I got used to very quickly. Once their bowls were empty it was potty time, which involved them all sitting on the bathroom floor on potties, swaying and sometimes falling off as the food made them so sleepy! My favorite part of the day was definitely bathing them, as it was an opportunity for me to give them lots of hugs, and was also the cleanest they would be all day! This routine really took it out of them, and once they were clean, they were put down for naps, and we were allowed to leave. By now it would be maybe 1pm, and I would be utterly exhausted!
Although my daily routine did not differ much from day to day, my weekends were what I really looked forward to. I never realized that Ghana was such a diverse country, and couldn’t wait to organize a different place to travel to, as everywhere was so accessible! Out of my 12 weekends there, I travelled 11 of them, visiting cultural places such as Kumasi and Winneba, the National Park up in Molé, and beach resorts such as Green Turtle and Ada Foah. Each time a different group of volunteers would go, but there was always something to join in, and everyone was welcome to tag along if they wanted. What was so exciting was that all this travelling was still so cheap. One of my best weekends was 4 days long, and cost me £19 all inclusive!
I have so many amazing and hilarious memories from my time in Ghana, which I will hopefully never forget! One of the volunteers eating a raw plantain, mistaking it for a banana, and two of my friends getting attacked by soldier ants are definitely a couple of my fondest memories When I first booked my placement, I though that 3 months was going to be such a long time, and that I would really want to leave by the end, but by the time it came to saying goodbye to everyone that I had met, including my local fruit woman, my dress maker, and the barmen at the Irish pub, I just wanted to stay!
Living with a host family, you really do become part of their family, and it was so sad leaving them, although I promised them that I would return for a visit over the next few years! At the orphanage, it was clear to see how much they relied on help from volunteers, which made me feel that my time was really appreciated and all my work worthwhile. I can’t recommend volunteering highly enough, as it is some of the most satisfying work that I have ever done in my life!