Rachel Macklin - Care, General Care Projects in Ghana
I was working just outside Accra in a place called Adenta (it's actually not that far but once you have negotiated the traffic it is quite a commute!) at Peace and Love Orphanage and Academy. The orphanage is home to about sixty children some of whom attend the school although some are taken to special schools. As school starts early in the morning Peace and Love is also descended on by lots of other children who live in the neighborhood and whose parents cannot afford the fees at some of the other schools nearby.
Although I had applied for a care placement, having spent the end of the Christmas holidays with the orphans it became clear that if I wanted to spend my whole day at P&L I would have to get involved with the school too as there were only two babies under school age to look after, both of whom already had plenty of staff fussing over them. This was fine by me and I asked Sala, the manager and a teacher if I could observe her lessons and then maybe take some. As I was to learn in Ghana it's a 'free country' and she told me to 'feel free' and that she was happy for me to do whatever I wanted.
To start with I spent at the school I took Sala's class for an hour nearly every day teaching English. It was incredibly hard to hold their attention for a whole hour as hardly any of the children had the books needed and some didn't have anything to write with. Trying to teach with eight children huddled round one book was not ideal and the biros I bought for those without pens tended to disappear very quickly and I would occasionally be confronted with a child I knew had about three pens, innocent smile on their face saying 'Madam, please I beg give me a pen, I don't have one'. However it was priceless to see the kids smile in amazement when I told them they got an answer right.
I later started to help out with Amsha's nursery class with Molly, another volunteer. Some of these children were only two years old and obviously didn't understand the alphabet and numbers they were expected to recite. Also probably the hardest thing for us as volunteers was the 'beating' of the children as punishment especially when it involved the younger pupils. Molly and I were determined to reduce the amount that the teachers reverted to caning the children and introduced a sticker chart for good work or behavior. The sticker handing out ceremonies were the funniest and most touching things. The kids would get called to the front of the class whilst all of the others would stand up shouting and cheering whilst they picked their sticker and got a high five and a kiss from Amsha. We also did story time where we got everyone in a big circle and showed them all of the pictures and got them to act like the animals in the book.
Staying with a host family also enabled me to see what its like to live with a Ghanaian family. Margaret my host mother gave me enough food to feed a small army and Joyce the house girl made me extra determined to wash my clothes properly as every time I was hunched over a bucket rinsing and squeezing she would walk past giggling and shaking her head.
The greatest chance I got to really experience the rest of Ghana was at the weekend and during my two week traveling time. One weekend we went to Kakum National Park where you can sleep in the rainforest and then wake up early to do the canopy walk, we ended up with four of us squashed on a wooden platform with one big mosquito net - we didn't get much sleep that night! During the two weeks we had as a kind of holiday from our placements, my friend Charlotte and I did the obligatory Bradt guide tour of Ghana (the only English guidebook for Ghana in existence - really useful but double, even triple the quoted prices or you will run out of money fast!)
The most memorable bit of this trip was the ferry journey up Lake Volta starting at Akasombo in the Eastern region of Ghana. This was a twenty-seven hour trip and we were lucky enough to get one of only two air conditioned cabins which was great but made me feel extremely guilty though to see the '3rd class' passengers clamber into their crates filled with hay and then proceed to be boxed in by cargo. We woke up to the most amazing sights, stopping in villages of mud huts built on completely barren landscapes, the complete opposite to what we were used to in Accra. It wasn't all luxury though such as the 10 hour trip from Wa, near the Burkina Faso border to Kumasi where we were joined by about 20 goats who were shoved in the boot and who really began to smell after a while. Also the blisters have just about disappeared after a four hour journey sitting on a bus engine - the only seats left!
There were hard times like when Charlotte was admitted to hospital with malaria and Molly and I had to take baby Koby to hospital where he was diagnosed with rubella, malaria and a chest infection. We also went on medical outreach trips to other poorly funded orphanages which made Peace and Love look like an absolute palace but the kids always kept smiling and always managed to cheer me up. I hope to return to Ghana and explore other parts of Africa soon, I've caught the travel bug and as soon as I have saved up again I'll be off!