Rowena Kuijper - General Care Projects in Ghana
In the beginning of 2009 my adventure began: going to Ghana, which has been an awesome time for me! Ghana is a country in which you can walk on the street safely (also for girls and especially in the south). The people are very kind, they like it to help you and try to show you the way. Every day there are children who will call ‘obruni’ (white person) when they see you. People will often want to talk to you.
In the beginning I had to get used to everything, a lot of things are so different in this culture! I already learned my first night in Ghana how to greet each other by ‘clicking’ the fingers and I drank for the first time in my life water from a sachet. People in Ghana eat food like ‘Fufu’, ‘Banku’ and ‘Kenke’ and they cook on coals. But after a while things start to be normal, also washing your clothes by hand, the bucket showers when there is no water, that the electricity is off often, or that you have to wait a long time for the bus sometimes. The religious faith is also very evident in Ghana. Often you see signs above shops like ‘In God we Trust Beauty Salon’ or texts on cars and trotro’s (small busses) like ‘Jesus loves you’. There are also proverbs like ‘Education is the key’.
I lived for 3 months in Cape Coast. It is very nice to live at the house of a Ghanaian family, you learn a lot about the culture because of that. The nice thing about Cape Coast is that it is a city, but not as big as for instance Accra. It is a nice city next to the sea and you can visit a few interesting things in the surrounding areas like ‘Kakum national park’, the city and castle of ‘Elmina’ and nice beaches. There were some other Projects Abroad volunteers in Cape Coast, all working at different projects. Often we met in the evenings or during the weekends. And every Tuesday evening there was a meeting at the Projects Abroad office in Cape Coast. But you’ll also meet local people and make some good friendships.
I was helping for three months in the orphanage ‘New Life’, in Ansapetu. Ansapetu is a small village about 20 minutes from Cape Coast, but easy to reach by trotro (small bus) or if you want by taxi. The nice thing about this project is that I could combine ‘teaching’ and ‘care’ very well. I taught 3 days a week and helped 3 or 4 afternoons a week at the orphanage.
Next to the orphanage there is ‘New Life Primary School’. As well as the children from the orphanage there are also around 60 other children who go to this school. Those children live in villages around the orphanage. I helped most of the time in one class (class 3, children with the age of 8-10), so I could get to know those children well. After all those weeks you really get a special feeling for those children, so it was very hard to say goodbye at the end of my time in Ghana! I also started French lessons in the upper classes (3 till 6). It was very nice that it is now in the timetable of the school. Other subjects are English, Mathematics, R.M.E. (Religious and moral education), Creative Art, Natural Science, I.C.T. and P.E. I really liked it to teach, especially when I saw that children were really learning new things from me.
With teaching I have seen that when you are enthusiastic and stay happy in front of the kids you can do a good job. What surprises me in Ghana is that at school they sometimes make use of the cane to hit children. I found that difficult to see and didn’t use it myself. Another difficult thing I experienced is that there are not a lot of books in the school. There is not enough money for that. It was often the case that about 5 children had to read one book together. You can partly solve the problem by writing a lot on the blackboard, or tell them a lot of things which are written in the book instead of letting them read themselves. Another difficult thing is that because not all the parents of the children have enough money to buy work books, some children couldn’t follow a lesson well.
Besides teaching I also helped at the orphanage itself. With some other volunteers I created activities to do with the children. We have made a big show with the kids, called ‘New Life’s Got Talent!’. After two weeks practicing there was the show with dancing, plays and music. It was great!
We did also smaller activities like swimming with the kids in a swimming pool, having discos during the evening, making kites, doing sport activities and competitions, playing games, doing creative activities, cooking ‘western style’ etc. I have played with the kids, talked with them, laughed with them, played cards, helped them with their homework and taught some children how to cycle.
For the older kids we organized some workshops like ‘medical teaching’ (what to do with minor and major wounds) and a ‘career-opportunity’ workshop (what profession do you want to become, what education fits with what profession?). On Independence Day (which is on the 6th of March in Ghana) we went with the older children to the military parade in Cape Coast.
I liked it a lot helping in this orphanage. After those few weeks you feel very connected with the kids. It touched me when I saw that the children are very good in dividing toys and candy, unless they don’t have much. You are there for a few months so you can not ‘change the world’, but you can decide yourself how much effort you want to put in the project.
I have learned a lot from this experience. First thing is that it is a challenge to survive in a country with a very different culture and people you do not know yet. Also being part of a minority (white person surrounded by a lot of black persons) is an experience. Besides, I have seen that also we can still learn a lot from other cultures. You are going to think more brightly after an experience like this.
During my last weeks in Ghana I went backpacking with 3 other volunteers. That was a very nice experience. The landscape is different at different sides of Ghana. In the north of the country there is more poverty and the people live more in compounds (in small communities and houses from clay). When you are thinking about doing the same, do not forget to visit the following things: ‘Mole National Park’ (Elephants!), ‘Nzulezu’ (a stilt village build on the water) the ‘Volta Region’ and ‘Ada Foah’.
When you also decide to go on this great adventure:
- - Try to think at home already about some activities you could do with the kids and what kind of materials you will need. You can buy a lot of things in Ghana, but not everything.
- - You could do some fundraising. I did that and could sponsor 12 desks for the school and also some schoolbooks, pens etc. You could also do some fundraising for activities you like to do with the children outside the orphanage, so they will see more about the world outside the orphanage.
- - And a last thing: take care of the money you pay in the taxi. The drivers will try all the time to get you to pay more than you should. Also at the market always bargain.
When you are thinking about doing volunteer work yourself in Ghana: go for it! It will be a great experience!
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.