Danqing Zheng - High School Specials, Care & Community in Ghana
When I signed up online on Projects Abroad for the summer placement in Ghana, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. A rising senior in High School, I was ambitious to try new things and experiences. I wanted to volunteer and help those in need, especially in a third world country.
When reading the brochures and placement (Care) about my time in Ghana, I had imaged a society and lifestyle not too different from the one I was living. Painting, arts and crafts, and teaching school kids did not sound that bad. However, all of my expectations were soon shattered when I arrived in Ghana.
After touching down in Accra, I was no doubt greeted by the heat and dust of the local climate. Although a lot of the facilities and equipment at the airport could not compare to those back home, I cleared my head of prejudice and proceeded through customs and baggage claim. Soon after, I was picked up by a Projects Abroad staff member and transported to the head office. That night, the other volunteers and I had our first Ghanaian meal – fried chicken with a specially prepared rice dish.
TThe next morning, we got on a tro-tro (or a long van that carries 10-15 people) and headed out to Cape Coast. Once we arrived, we unpacked our luggages at our host families and walked around town. After familiarizing ourselves with the local customs and culture, we returned home – for work was going to start tomorrow.
The next day, we were picked up by a taxi (arranged by Projects Abroad) and arrived at St. Monica’s all girls school. After inquiring and meeting the headmistress as well as the kids (who were in the classrooms, and there were roughly 600 kids in the school), we went to the back of the school and went to work.
Our task seemed relatively simple – paint (base layers as well as drawings) the outside and inside walls of a nursery as well as fading walls around the school. The task seemed feasible and we all thought it would be done in a week or so, but it proved to be more arduous and difficult than it seemed. The first few days we spent sanding down any bumps in the walls and sanding away some of the older paint as well as mold on the outside walls.
The day started at 7, where we’d have breakfast at our host family. Then at 8, a taxi would pick us up to go to the school. Arriving at the school, we would wait at the staff room for the painter, Mr. McCarthy. Then from 9 to 2, we’d paint and do as Mr. McCarthy instructs us to, with an hour lunch break. After that, the day would be for ourselves, whether its exploring the town, going to an internet café, or just enjoying the sun. It gets dark in Ghana around 7pm so by 8 everyone’s back home and ready for bed.
As the week went on, we worked tirelessly under the sun and humidity to tackle on the task. When recess came for the kids in the school, they often crowded around us, amazed at our presence and our skin color. They called us “Obruni” which means “white man” in Fanti, the local Cape Coast dialect. Eric, a Projects Abroad staff member explained that they do not mean this in a negative way, but it is merely a way they address anyone that has a lighter skin color than themselves.
The little kids (age 4-5) would often run along with us and touch our hands, shorts, or legs while we work. While the older kids (ages 10-11) would try to communicate with us (seeing that English is the official language of Ghana) and often drew pictures of us with them with hearts and such on loose-leaf paper. Small deeds like that really gave us a motivation to paint, despite the weather and rain.
I still remember clearly one instance where we were painting, and all the sudden it started to rain. I was painting the outside window and doorframe and the rain from the roof literally fell on to me and my bucket of paint as I stood there to finish the task. Seeing that we were already behind schedule, I took it upon myself to finish the task at hand, rain or shine. Although I got wet and wanted to stop and sit inside like everyone else, I toughed it out and that was my statement there and then.
The following week, we spent some days teaching the kids as well as doing some arts and crafts. We also finished just in time the interior as well as exterior of the nursery. Overall, it was a great experience to be at the school and to work with my hands to give these kids a designed and repainted nursery room.
My host family was also very kind to me and provided all the basic living necessities and such. During my stay, I also had some crazy times with some of the locals. Joe, my host family’s son, took me to the world cup game, Ghana v Uruguay. At the STC station (bus / gas station), there were more than 800 locals watching the game on the projector. When Ghana scored its first goal, the place went nuts! Everyone was jumping, dancing, drinking, singing, and cheering. Chairs were thrown into the air and Shakira’s Waka Waka began blasting from the speakers.
All in all, it was an amazing 2 weeks and unforgettable experience. It’s an experience that is priceless and something you’ll remember in your lifetime.