Volunteer Review: Michelle C., Teach English and Other Subjects in Ghana
I had a far from dull arrival in Ghana. My flight had been delayed by four hours at the last minute meaning I arrived at 1am, and yet was still immediately hit by the humidity. I see now that my taxi ride to my new home in Teshie Nungua was the perfect introduction to Ghanaian public transport (though I must admit that is far from what I thought at the time); the door handle broke off in my hand, the engine wouldn't start and half way home we came to a slow halt and the driver got out to top up the petrol from a container he kept in the boot.
I'll always remember on my first day on the way to the post office during my introduction to Accra, another Projects Abroad volunteer came onto our tro (the local bus, which lets face it, would have failed its MOT years ago here!). She looked so confident, which was a feeling at that early point I (and the two other new girls sat either side of me) rather envied, as I was still in quiet shock as to my new surroundings. Coincidentally, during my last week I bumped into a new volunteer who looked just as bewildered as I had felt that first day, which made me realise how far I'd come.
I spent the first half of my three months in Ghana teaching French and English at Lincoln International School in Teshie Nungua. I did find teaching a real challenge, but grew to love the children. On my first day I was given a class of 13/14 year olds to teach French. With no idea as to what standard they were at or what methods the teachers used to teach, I thought I'd start by introducing myself so they'd get to know Madame Michelle a bit. As soon as I said I loved music, they all clapped and cheered. Soon the tables and chairs became drums and the rest of the lesson was filled with the girls singing the local songs and the boys rapping. Instantly the ice was broken and I had somehow managed to earn their respect.
Of course, there was always a good gossip to be had in the staff room. All the teachers were so friendly, and soon I was teaching some of them how to read music as we tried to set up a school choir. The nursery was always very enjoyable too. I used to go break and lunch time, and every day it was the same; as I walked through the gate about 30 children would pounce on me, each one fascinated by something different: my blonde hair, white skin, moles, a bracelet or necklace I happened to be wearing. Another experience I shall never forget while I was at the school was supervising some of the exams. The complete reverse of situation to what I was used was a bizarre feeling to say the least!
The second half of my time I was at New Life orphanage which I thoroughly enjoyed and loved every minute of it. The orphanage is run by Naomi and Cephas, who are without a doubt the kindest people I have ever met. They treat every child as if they were their own, bringing them up with the love, care and attention every child needs. As was at times the case when going to new places during my stay in Ghana, there'd be something that shocked me, dragging me back to the sudden realisation of how fortunate we are in the western world.
When I first started at the orphanage, I was astonished by the amount of cuts and wounds all the children had, and the poor state the building was in, but these are all things you quickly become used to, and soon it's just the norm. Each day I looked forward to going and playing with the children. It never ceased to amaze them how when they poked my skin it went white briefly. Wherever I went in Ghana, there were always children smiling, waving and looking cheerful; a happiness that I felt was very infectious and always made my day. On my last day at the orphanage I managed to pile all the children into two taxis and took them to our local beach, Coco beach. Its was one of those humbling moments, watching them all bound into the sea, splashing each other and playing with the wet sand.
As alive, bustling and lively as Accra was, I equally enjoyed our weekend trips away too. There were just so many fun-packed times: standing under a waterfall pounding down on you, the canopy walk at Kakum National Park, a chilled weekend at Kokrobite, Ada Foah or Green Turtle Lodge, walking around Elmina Castle learning about its history or seeing how the Kente cloth is made in Ho. These are among many of the activities available; and that's just at the weekends.
During my two weeks travelling I spent my first week going to the northern area of Ghana. On our way we stopped off at Kumasi for a couple of days. Here we explored the market (West Africa's largest), had a look around the old fort and visited the cultural centre. After a very long bus journey, we finally reached Mole National Park. We were fortunate enough to see elephants, waterbucks, warthogs, vultures, crocodiles and antelopes on our walking safari. The tourist scene hasn't really been developed as yet in Ghana, but for those of us fortunate enough to be there, it makes the experience all the more special.
We also stayed in Larabanga, where we slept under the stars on a roof for the night. It was a truly unforgettable experience; listening to the sounds of the village and the music and chanting from the mosque (one of the oldest in Africa) as you fall asleep. My second week of travelling we ventured to Benin (a neighbouring country) where we had a brilliant time, exploring the markets, visiting the stilt village of Ganvie, walking 'la Route des Esclaves' (the Slave Route) and relaxing on the beaches. There were still so many French influences evident, from the crepes, croques monsieur and baguettes sold on street corners to the boulangeries, patisseries and the 3 hour lunch breaks.
Something which is so honourable of the Ghanaians is just how friendly they are. Already just on my second day to school, a lovely lady insisted on paying for my tro ride and made sure I knew where I was going. Whenever you ask for directions, in the majority of cases, they will take you and show you the way, instead of just blurting out directions.
I've lost count of the number of times people have asked me what was my highlight of my time in Ghana. There really were so many highlights that all combined to make my time so unbelievable: watching the eclipse on Coco beach, the three hour church services (if you manage to stay awake the music is breath taking), the incredible rhythm and ability to sing and dance which all the Ghanaians naturally possess that I am so jealous of, the thunderstorms, the 'spot' bars on every street corner, fitting seven people into a taxi - twelve in an estate car taxi, my dancing and drumming lessons, bartering for everything - fixed prices just don't exist, the sheer amount of exuberant markets wherever you go, a cooking lesson on how to prepare the local dish of 'red red', being on TV (!!!), the Ghanaian handshake (which once you get the hang of, find every excuse to use), a relaxing afternoon by the pool of the local hotel for a treat and the Ghanaian vs obruni football match. And of course there were those little things which at the time we all found so frustrating, but now I'm back home I miss: when away at weekends waiting up to three hours for your meal, the really hot food (and I mean REALLY hot food), the constant being shouted 'obruni' at or hissing as you walk down the street and the general complete disorganisation of absolutely everything.
On thinking as to how I could some up my Ghana experience best, I'm simply lost for words. Since I've been back of course there has been the inevitable questions asked of 'how was it?', 'what was your favourite bit?' or 'what did you enjoy the most?' Ultimately I feel that whatever reply I manage to respond with, just doesn't come close to doing it justice. All I can say is: travel, volunteer and visit Ghana! Sounds cliché, but you'll love every minute of it, and believe me, the time will fly by!
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.