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Sophie Clarke - Combined Law & Human Rights in Ghana

Law & Human Rights project

Studying a dual degree of International Studies and Law at university, with a desire to build a future in the area of international and humanitarian law, volunteering overseas was always something on my to-do list.

After researching the various places that Projects Abroad offered for volunteer placements, Ghana seemed like the perfect destination. I had always had an interest in traveling to West Africa and the human rights placement offered in Ghana also had a legal aspect – so that was settled!

Arriving in Ghana

After 3 days of traveling, a missed connecting flight and an unexpected overnight stay in Dubai, I finally touched down in Accra. At the airport we were met by a Projects Abroad staff member, Nyame, whose smiling face and friendly nature made us feel instantly welcome. Little did we realize that this friendly attitude was a common trait of all Ghanaian people, and that Nyame’s promises that we would be “calling our parents at the end of the trip asking for more money so we could stay in Ghana” were extremely accurate.

Shortly after arriving at Kotoka Airport in Accra I was given my first introduction to the Ghanaian heat, the unpredictable traffic in Accra, and my wonderful host family. Our host mother, Mrs Afrifa, took the time out to sit and talk to us the afternoon we arrived, giving us an invaluable insight into living in Accra while we sat sipping purified water from plastic sachets – something that became a staple over the following 4 weeks!

Trip to Wli Falls

The next day we were met in the morning by Andrew from Projects Abroad and taken on our induction tour of Accra, which gave me the chance to experience first-hand what day-to-day life in the city is like. On this tour we were shown the ropes as to how to navigate the tro-tro system (hand signals and all!) and got to try traditional Ghanaian food. While this was a little overwhelming at first, with the support of the Projects Abroad staff, my host family and the other volunteers, it did not take long at all to settle in to life in Accra. I think it is also important to embrace all the differences you notice as it will undoubtedly make the experience all the more worthwhile and enjoyable!

My Law & Human Rights project

My placement was at the Projects Abroad Human Rights Office, where I worked on two main projects, the Legal Services Desk and in the Girls Correctional Center. Every morning the Human Rights volunteers living with Mrs Afrifa would wake at around 5:45am to the sound of the crowing rooster, ready to leave the house at 6:30am. As we lived a little further away from the office than other volunteers we had a considerably earlier start.

We would then begin our journey to work, which included catching a shared taxi to the tro-tro stop Brigade, and then squishing onto a very crowded tro-tro to the suburb of Osu through the crazy Accra traffic. Although this may sound like a very hectic way to start the morning, we never once had a dull journey to work and I have come to miss the hustle and bustle of the tro-tro in the morning!

Two days were never the same at the office. During my 4 weeks there I worked in a number of different settings, including Old Fadama, the biggest slum in Accra, the Girls Correctional Center and Legal Aid Scheme. My time there included a good balance between practical work, such as client intake in the slum and teaching lessons at the Girls Correctional Center, and research, preparation and drafting of foundational documents, for my various projects. I thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of my placement and was privileged to work alongside a number of great volunteers, supervisors and professionals.

Traveling in Ghana

Beach in Ghana

As all volunteers work 5 days a week, we ensured we made the most of our weekends. Although I only had three weekends in Ghana, I traveled to various parts of the country with other volunteers each weekend. Our first adventure was to the waterfalls in Wli, while the second weekend was spent at Kokrobite Beach enjoying the African sun and Reggae Night and on our final weekend we visited Cape Coast.

However, the fun was not limited to the weekends. Every Tuesday night all the volunteers would get together for the famous quiz night where all our food cravings were satisfied with delicious pizza. And, every Thursday night, the volunteers would meet at a pub for a drink. On the nights we stayed at home, we were served a great dinner by our host family and sat around as a house talking and entertaining ourselves for hours on end.

Volunteering in Ghana

The time I spent in Ghana was the best I have ever had. My placement gave me the opportunity to engage in work and experiences that I would not have been able to otherwise. I was able to work with amazing people, and I can only hope that I positively contributed to their lives in some way. My experience reconfirmed that this is an area in which I wish to make a future.

My host family made the time all the more enjoyable and Mrs Afrifa was a lovely, energetic woman who was always checking to make sure we were feeling comfortable and at home. As she was the wife of a former President, we were even lucky enough to receive some political merchandise as a reminder of our time in Ghana. Not only this, it was fantastic to meet likeminded people in the volunteers, and I still keep in touch with a number of them today.

Needless to say this trip instilled in me a great love for Ghana, Ghanaian people and culture, and Africa more generally. Despite being home for nearly two months I am still homesick for Accra and hope to return in the future!

Sophie Clarke

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