Mikaella Caruncho - High School Specials, Care & Community in Ghana
I am 18 years old and I joined Projects Abroad the summer right before I started as a freshman at New York University. I took part in the High School Specials in Ghana and was placed to work at Lady Heike Nursery School and the Home of Hope in Cape Coast. During my placement, I was accompanied by eight other teenagers, one of which was my younger sister.
Arriving in Ghana
My younger sister, Francesca, and I took a five hour flight to New York, had a fourteen hour layover in New York, and then a ten hour flight to Ghana before we finally arrived. We stepped off the plane and were instantly welcomed by the humid Ghanaian heat.
Our first impression of Ghana was frightening but once we got out of the terminal, things started getting better. We were greeted by Nyame, a very friendly Projects Abroad staff member, who gave us our Ghanaian names, mine being Abena because I was born on a Tuesday. He gave us a seemingly rehearsed “speech” about why Ghana is the greatest country to travel to and how we must not break our mother’s hearts by choosing to stay in Ghana forever.
We then headed to the Projects Abroad office in Accra where I had my first experience being part of the Ghana culture. When I was offered water, I was given a small plastic pouch with which I was supposed to bite the corner off to drink. We sat in a non-air conditioned room drinking out of this strange pouch until we were met with another volunteer, Evi. The three of us packed ourselves into a small car and started our 5 hour journey to Cape Coast.
After being introduced to our supervisors, Lucy and Jenna, we were introduced to our host family as well as the other seven volunteers who we were going to be living and working with over the next two weeks. Everyone was really nice from the start and from that point on, our journey in Africa really began.
My Care & Community placement
At our placements, the children were all so jumpy and excited to see us and once we were spotted they would run to the window waving and yelling “Abafo” and “Obruni.” When they saw us taking pictures, they would run up to us and try to get their faces in the camera, and when you would show them the picture you took they would smile and laugh, amazed at this modern piece of technology.
During school we would sing songs with the children, teach them the alphabet, feed them and do arts and crafts projects with them. After lunch we would leave the kids to start working on building the new nursery school just down the hill. We cemented floors and painted the walls. We would always plug in our iPods into speakers and play music while we work. This got us pumped up and it got the kids excited too. Since we were all teenagers, we shared the same love for pop culture and therefore spread that out to those we met in Ghana as well. I would say our group of 16-18 year olds left an impression in Cape Coast that would be difficult to forget.
Getting to know other volunteers
As a High School Specials group our trip also included a weekend trip to sites such as the Cape Coast Castle and Kakum National Park, where we walked over 7 bridges that overlooked the forest. Being able to see these sights in Cape Coast and being able to meet such amazing people really enhanced my love for this village, culture and country.
It helped too that all the volunteers I got to spend the two weeks with were amazing! We all got on together really well because we all shared a similar passion for traveling and humanitarian work. We all got along so well that going to work did not even feel like work. Though at nights we were all exhausted, we still hung out due to all the built up excitement we had over being in Africa. We would bond at the dinner table, where our host mother would give us delicious meals of chicken and rice, plantains, beans and fruits. After dinner we would have dancing/singing parties in each other’s bedrooms and just enjoy our time in Ghana.
Even though I was only there for two weeks I gained experience and made friendships I know I will remember forever. All the people, especially the children I worked with, are now memories in my mind that I will be bragging to others about throughout my whole life.
I had to endure the unbearable heat, the unfamiliar smells and foods, and the endless amount of bug bites, but I still feel as if this country is one of the most beautiful and culturally rich places I have ever visited. If I could go back I would in a heartbeat. Ghana is a place everyone should visit; not doing so would mean you are missing out on one of the most amazing experiences of your life.