Georgie Rea - Human Rights in Togo
My Arrival in Africa
I had been on a plane on my own before, but only ever as far as to Ireland. Having just turned 17 and never having traveled outside of Europe I was slightly apprehensive about my journey to Togo when I boarded the plane at Heathrow on the 15th of August this year. All nerves were eradicated when I was greeted by an exuberant member of the Ghanaian Projects Abroad team in Accra.
Three other girls and I were taken to a youth hostel where we would spend the night before going to our separate projects in the morning. We talked through the night, sharing the excitement of the days ahead and advising one another of where to travel at the weekends. In the morning, I left the girls who were all volunteering in Ghana and was escorted to the border with Togo.
The border was bizarre; the noise was deafening, and it was hard to tell who was speaking French and who was speaking English. However, I made it across with the help of Sam, the son of the Director of Projects Abroad in Togo. After breaking for lunch, Sam and his wife took me for lunch, where we watched one of the Togolese athletes competing in the Olympic canoeing on the television.
Lomé and my host family
Lomé was very different to Accra, the roads were narrower, the buildings less modern and the streets were far less crowded. My levels of French did not stretch far beyond high school standard and the Togolese accent was remarkably strong, resulting in me having to take several moments to understand anything anyone said to me before even attempting to respond.
I took French lessons during my trip which helped me drastically to improve my linguistic skills. My teacher who was appointed by Projects Abroad, Rodrigue, was one of the best friends I made during my trip. He was an excellent teacher, patient and comprehensive, and stretched me by discussing subjects such as politics and human rights, giving me vocabulary to help me at my work placement.
My host family were more than welcoming and instantly put me at ease once I arrived in their home. The children in the home quickly became my brothers and sisters. We ate meals together and they made sure that I was exposed to vast range of Togolese cuisine, including the favorite dish amongst volunteers, fufu, which is dough made from yam.
The family took me to church with them, religion being big part of their daily lives. I was welcomed by the church community and fascinated to see the similarities and differences between the western and Togolese Catholic Church services. I fell ill towards the end of my trip but my family and Katrin from Projects Abroad took good care of me.
During my trip I had been amazed by the Togolese dress, made from material, called pagne, bought at the markets fashioned into outfits at the couturiers. My host mother presented me with the gift of a skirt made of such material as a parting gift when I left which I was proud to travel home in.
My Law & Human Rights Project
I worked with an organization called the Collectif des Associations Contre l’Impunité au Togo as my human rights placement. It is a NGO which acts as an umbrella organization for human rights groups across Togo.
I felt fully engaged with the work, despite being a lot younger than the other volunteers, and was assigned tasks involving translation as well as being given the opportunity to have days away from the office and see the work of the organizations task groups brought to life in Atakpamé. The experience gave me valuable knowledge about human rights in Togo, as well as Africa as a whole which has helped me vastly with my application to study law at university.
Traveling and ‘Les Motos’
I am excited to return to Togo as due to the length of my trip I did not get to travel nearly as much as I had wanted! I did take a trip to Togoville, the oldest town in Togo, which gives its name to Togo the country; in the ancient language, Togo means the ‘place where sea and land meet’ and Togoville marks that place. It was a true adventure and I even met the Prince of Togoville! On the same day we visited La Maison de L'esclavage, a house where slaves were kept in the 18th century before they were taken Europe or America on ships. Although the visit was upsetting the history was interesting and the house had been well preserved.
It is difficult to describe the sheer vibrancy of Lomé, the lively buzz of the city, the enthusiastic and welcoming nature of Togo’s inhabitants. But moments which best capture the experience occur on the back of motos; Togo’s preferred method of transport. Each day I boarded a motor bike taxi and ventured to my work placement. Speeding through the city, taking in all the sounds and sights overwhelmed me and I was lost in the blur that was Togo.