Kim Brereton - Teaching English & Other Subjects in Ghana
Before I went to Ghana, I was very excited. The nerves only hit when I was packing my bag, most of it was full of things for the children and I had very few clothes and toiletries, despite not knowing what was available in Ghana.
When I first arrived in Ghana, it was dark. Hundreds of people were outside the airport and I was tired and excited. I met the Projects Abroad member of staff who took care of everything, from giving me lots of new information to getting me a drink (it’s normal to drink water out of a plastic bag!) and taking me to my new home.
It was a short drive to my new home in Accra, the capital of Ghana. I was dropped off and met my host mother and father and my roommate. My roommate and I sat up chatting for hours. I had acquired a Ghanaian SIM card and so I could phone home to tell them that I had arrived and everything was OK. That was one of the many things that surprised me about Ghana, the fact that I could be in constant contact with home for relatively little money. About 5p a text, which was very nice.
My first day in Ghana was spent on an induction, traveling around the city with the local member of staff and learning how to use tro-tros (the local buses), what the local food was and how to get the best bargains. I was overloaded with information but life in Ghana soon became the norm.
I worked in an elementary school which was very challenging to say the least! The children were adorable, but I found the way that they learn and are expected to behave quite difficult to deal with. My housemate and I were constantly battling with authority about what the children were expected to do and their punishments but in the end, we did make a difference. I learnt a lot from being in Ghana. There were days when I really struggled with the customs, expectations of the country and the people but when the children smiled, it was all worthwhile.
In our school we became class teachers and so we had a lot of involvement with the children. We saw more of the poverty and unfairness than some of the other volunteers did. We fundraised for a library whilst we were there and taught ICT, art and all of the standard curricular subjects. It was amazing to compare how we taught with how the Ghanaian teachers taught. The children got so excited about our lessons because we would try all sorts of different methods instead of just rote learning.
A typical day involved getting up at about 7am, having a cold bucket shower, eating breakfast of water melon, bread and jam. Then we would walk about 30 minutes to school and be there about 8am. School started at half 8 with a whole school assembly followed by a check of the children’s uniform, nails and hair. The first lesson of the day involved settling the children down and listening to many stories which began with ‘Madame..’ and could finish with anything! We then taught for an hour and the children had a break. After another hour, we had lunch. The children sat on the floor and ate rice with some form of meat or fish with their hands. Then they played for an hour.
The afternoon consisted of two lessons with a break in the middle. It sounds like a pretty easy day and comparable to the UK, but it wasn’t. The lessons were conducted very differently and the heat made me exhausted after just the walk to school. During the breaks, I would play with the children which was unheard of. We would run and laugh and play soccer or traditional Ghanaian games. The children needed attention and loved being talked to, held and played with. They also loved hearing about what England was like. I loved every day at school. It wasn’t easy trying to juggle the individual attention that all the children needed with culture shock but it was very rewarding.
After school, I would walk home with some of the children and then the evenings were my own. Generally though, I was exhausted and so would relax and plan lessons for the next day or go into the city for some food and shopping with my housemate or see other volunteers. There was plenty to keep me occupied; I just didn’t have enough energy for it all!
Although we did travel around Ghana, which led to many wonderful memories, my favorite ones are of the children. When we walked into the classroom a festival would begin. The children would sing, dance, laugh and party. They would be cheeky and then wink and hug us. Their energy amazed me and I could never put into words how amazing and challenging, disheartening and rewarding my experience in Ghana was.