Mary Schafer - Care & Community in Ghana
I went on the High School Specials Care & Community in the Akuapem Hills, Ghana in July, and it turned out to be two of the best weeks of my life. I don’t know what drew me to choose Ghana, but I’m very glad I went!
First impressions of Ghana
I arrived in Ghana with no real idea of what I was about to experience but the initial nerves and ‘what am I doing here?!’ passed remarkably quickly; I soon felt at home in my host village of Kwamoso. The drive from Accra to the hills was a good time to get used to the heat, surroundings, and people that constantly try to sell you things through the windows of the tro-tros as you go along.
The first day was the hardest, as I have to admit I wondered how I was going to get through two weeks in the strange world I found myself in. I knew no one and had no idea how the world worked. However, looking back now, I wonder why I was so worried.
My Care & Community placement
As I was on the High School Specials I spent my mornings with the rest of my group working at a local school. Over the course of the two weeks we repainted the whole of the outside and even a few of the classrooms. Although it was hard work at times, we really enjoyed ourselves as every day we were brought a new Ghanaian treat to try during our breaks, from the Regional Director (Emmanuel, one of the happiest people I have ever met!). These treats ranged from popcorn, to bananas, to ice cream and even proper Ghanaian chocolate, which is amazing by the way.
During our breaks we also got the chance to talk to the children in the school, the oldest of whom were our age (16-17), and a few of the girls taught us some Twi – the local language – every day. We found that the children in the school were just as curious about our lives and backgrounds, as we were about theirs. Just goes to show how similar people are all over the world! One of the most amazing things about the trip was seeing the school transform in front of our eyes every day that we were there, and also how grateful the community was for our small piece of work.
In the afternoons we went to Adom Day Care to play with the children there. This was also an amazing experience as they hardly spoke any English and we still found ways to communicate with them. They could be hard work at times, but we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, and even found ourselves missing the children on days that we had other activities!
We also got the chance to visit the local town to go to the bead and wood markets, and to a quiz night with all the volunteers in the Hills which was an afternoon well spent!
Living in Kwamoso
Kwamoso was a great place to stay. We lived right next to the Holy Hills School complex, so we were always surrounded by lots of local children who knew just how to make us play with them in all of our free time. Endless clapping games went on and several games of soccer (but I warn you, they’re all very fast!).
We also had the opportunity to go to church one evening, which someone had recommended I do if I got the chance but I didn’t understand why, until I went. Church was an experience in itself as it was so different to anything I had ever experienced before. I lasted about an hour in the service before getting too tired and one of the children informed me I should go to bed; the service lasted a very long time I am told! One thing we learned very quickly upon arrival was that the only thing that starts on time is church!
We were also treated to a whole host of Ghanaian food for lunch and dinner – rice and ‘red sauce’, pasta, yam chips and, my favorite, jollof rice. On top of this we had a lot of pineapple and bananas – British pineapple will never live up to the high Ghanaian standards anymore. By the end of the two weeks I was enjoying the food more than I expected and no aspect of life could have been better. I had even grown to love the refreshing, infamous bucket showers!
Our last hours in Ghana
On our final night we all stayed up talking for hours. We all agreed that it hadn’t taken us long to settle in and we finally worked out why: when we arrived, we instantly felt so safe and at home - we didn’t feel like outsiders. We felt like one of the family, as if we had lived there all our lives.
Leaving Ghana was a very bittersweet moment: I was looking forward to getting home and a hot shower, but I was (and still am) so completely under the magic spell of Africa that I didn’t want to leave the great friends that I had made in the short space of two weeks.
I really miss the culture, food, the area, people and their attitudes to life: everything. Little memories keep coming back to me, from great evenings spent with the volunteers to one little boy at day care calling me his sister, to simply laughing one night with the children when we got stuck outside in the rain.
Although I should probably see more of the world, I know that I would rather go back to Ghana and hopefully I will in the not too distant future. In the space of two weeks I gained two new families – the volunteers and my host family. The volunteers because we shared such an amazing experience together and will always have that bond and my host family because from the first day, they made me feel like part of a huge family.
I would recommend this experience without a doubt and to those waiting with anticipation to set off, I say: make the most of it and don’t hold back. Embrace every opportunity you are presented with and, most of all, have a good time! One more piece of advice: keep a diary – you won’t want to forget even the smallest of things.