Elizabeth Palin - Law & Human Rights in Ghana
First Impressions of Accra
I have always wanted to volunteer in Africa, so when I heard about the international volunteering opportunities with Projects Abroad, I jumped at the chance! I am a law student and am extremely passionate about human rights, so I thought that volunteering on the Law & Human Rights project in Ghana would be perfect for me. I had heard such great things about the project and about how beautiful Ghana is, so I couldn’t wait to experience it for myself.
My first experience with Ghanaian hospitality was on the plane ride from London to Accra. Almost immediately, several people returning home had said hello and offered advice on what to do and see during my stay. It was a lovely way to begin my adventure! I soon learned that this friendly attitude was very common in Ghana, and it made me feel very welcome.
My Law & Human Rights Project
I was based at the Human Rights office in Accra, where I was involved in three separate projects: researching a human rights issue, teaching at the local Girls Correctional Center, and participating in the Legal Services Desk.
The human rights topic that I focused on during my stay was child trafficking. This is a heart-breaking and complicated issue, and one that does not have an easy solution. As such, the more research and collaboration of ideas the better, and I was so pleased that I could be involved in the search for a viable resolution.
Teaching at the Girls Correctional Center was also very rewarding. Twice a week, a small group of volunteers prepared an English and Math lesson for the teenage girls at the center, and assisted them in completing the activities. There was usually one volunteer per student, so it was a fantastic opportunity to work over the material with them in detail.
This education is so important for when the girls leave the center, and it was so exciting to see how their skills improved even in the short time that I was there. Although I loved all the girls, I grew particularly close to one student and really didn’t want to leave when my time volunteering was up!
The Legal Services Desk involved a small group of volunteers going to the slums and completing a client intake with a local NGO. Our role was to interview potential clients and, depending on their case, refer them to either mediation or Legal Aid. This was my first time going to the slums and it was a very confronting experience.
The pollution and confined living spaces in the slums were very difficult to see, and it really reinforced why I was volunteering in the first place: to help make a difference, however small it may be. I really enjoyed the Legal Services Desk and learning more about human rights issues in the slums. It was a big learning curve, and I appreciated every moment of it.
My Host Family
I loved the experience of living with a local Ghanaian woman, who we called ‘Auntie’. Through an amazing coincidence, about ten years ago Auntie lived in the same city where I live now. It was so great chatting about all the changes that have been made to the city since she returned to Ghana, and hearing all about her children who are still living in England.
Auntie’s house was beautiful and spacious. I had four host-brothers and one host-sister. We all pitched in to do the chores, such as cleaning up after dinner, and did our own laundry in a bucket outside. Hand washing clothes with my host-sister was always enjoyable, especially as it gave us an opportunity to cool down a bit in the strong Ghanaian heat! Having a large host family was always a lot of fun, and there was never a dull evening.
One of my favorite activities while living in Ghana was helping Auntie and my host-siblings to make dinner. Banku, fried plantain, jollof rice and yam were all regularly on the menu, and were all absolutely delicious. I particularly loved the fried plantain, which is a fruit that looks a lot like a banana, and have really missed it since I’ve returned to the United Kingdom!
Leaving Ghana – back to reality!
My time in Ghana went far too quickly, and I really didn’t want to leave at the end of it (especially as I would be returning to the heart of winter in England!). I learnt so much during my time in Ghana, and it has really encouraged me to continue learning more about the human rights issues that I encountered in my projects.
I also loved learning more about Ghana and its history, and getting close to Auntie and my host family. Since returning to England, I have really missed the food, culture and the friends I made while volunteering. I could not think of a better way to spend part of my summer break, and I can’t wait to go back to Ghana one day!