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Hannah Simmons - High School Specials, Care & Community in Ghana

Giant tree in Kakum

After a year of preparation, I arrived in Ghana with two of my best friends, Anna and Catriona, with extremely vague expectations. I was hit first by the humidity and chaos of Accra but found I felt extremely welcomed by the Ghanaians the moment I got off the plane. We were met at the airport by Nyame who was the first of many friendly and enthusiastic Projects Abroad staff who we were to meet during our two weeks in Ghana and we spent the first night in Accra. When I was first offered a sachet of water, I mistook it for an ice pack! The idea of drinking from a plastic bag seemed quite bizarre but we soon got used to it, along with our daily snacks of corn and sugar cane. I never imagined that I would miss such insignificant things in the months after I returned.

Playing with the kids

Waking up at 5am was not the easiest of things after an exhausting day of traveling before, but we were all excited to arrive in the Akuapem Hills and amused our taxi driver with our western amazement and enthusiasm to be immersed in this new culture. Our welcome at the office in the Hills was one I shall never forget – Emmanuel, the regional coordinator singing his ‘I want to be your friend’ song and Henry grinning away assured me that the next few weeks would be more than simply memorable. I found you very quickly adapt to a simpler lifestyle and before long I had adjusted not only to the toilets but to the refreshing bucket showers (a lovely wake up after a day’s hard work) and brushing my teeth by flashlight in the back garden.

Anna, Catriona and I all shared a room at Diana’s house and I have to say that I could not have been made any more welcome by Diana, her family and the other volunteers who lived with her. As all three of us love to sing and I had brought my ukulele to Ghana we were invited by Hannah, Emmanuel and Samuel (the children at the house) to play to them in return for some dance lessons! We spent many afternoons playing games, dancing and singing with the kids – I even taught Emmanuel to play Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ on the ukulele and we had everyone, including Diana’s two year old neighbor, joining in! Having such a wonderful host family really made this a precious experience.

Wooden mask

The work we carried out in our two weeks in Ghana was varied which made everyday new and exciting. We began by painting Mamfe Methodist School. There were about 12 of us altogether and we all got on extremely well. There was never a dull moment at the school as the pupils were so friendly - we were blessed to be surrounded by the singing, dancing and enthusiasm of the children and they were always keen to help out.

We also had the opportunity to assist in the work at the Projects Abroad Community Farm, and our other job placements included working at Adom Day Care Center, just a short walk from Diana’s house. Here we tried our hand at building cement bricks which certainly tested our strength, as well as building and plastering a new urinal to replace what was previously a pile of bricks. I loved spending our breaks giving piggybacks, playing games and generally being clambered on by the children. We also had the chance to collect water from a well in what can only be described as a small jungle. I had a great amount of respect for the men and women who do this on a day to day basis as by the time we made it back up the hill, my arms were killing me!

With local friends

During our two week program we also visited Trinity Orphanage on several occasions. It was emotional to see so many children aging from 2 weeks to 16 years fighting for our attention but I am extremely grateful that we got the opportunity to deliver fun activities such as mask-making. The image of masked faces smiling up at me is one that I hope will remain with me forever.

The evenings, as with our days in Ghana, were never mundane. We attended dance lessons at the Projects Abroad office where we picked up some useful skills, and tried our hand at the local drumming. The office also played host to the weekly quiz nights where we could get to know the other volunteers. Everyone was really friendly and it was amazing to meet people from all over the world, not just the locals. While we were out there, Ghana celebrated 49 years since becoming a republic – a night which called for much celebration! We went to bar/restaurant with some local friends we had made and spent the evening dancing away Ghanaian style. I would definitely recommend experiencing the local nightlife, it was great fun!

With host family

At the weekend we visited the bead market as well as Cape Coast. There, we took a trip to the slave fort which taught us a lot about the horrific history of the slave trade, and also went on the canopy walk in Kakum national park. We had spectacular views of the forest and saw some incredible trees, spanning the length of more than five of us holding hands.

Going to Ghana was the best experience of my life to date. I would definitely recommend volunteering abroad because you will meet some of the friendliest and accommodating people as well as find yourself immersed in an entirely different culture, bringing back more than just photos. The trip has assured me of my future career ambition to work for charities in developing countries and has opened my mind to the vast possibilities that await us in the world.

Hannah Simmons

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