Alice Wang - Care & Community in Ghana
I never considered myself a humanitarian. Nor had I believed I possessed the patience for teaching. I had never been particularly good with kids. And the last time I held a hammer…well, I’m not even sure if I own a hammer. So, really, what possessed me to sign myself up for 2 weeks of Care & Community with Projects Abroad? I really have no clue. It’s still a mystery to me even now. Yet it was this baseless, thoughtless decision of mine that has me eternally grateful, because my two weeks in Ghana were a truly memorable experience—one that I would repeat in a heartbeat if I could.
Not 48 hours before I landed in Accra, I had been finishing my last final of sophomore year. I was 16 and unprepared and over packed. However, I soon found that none of that mattered. I had claimed my luggage, met my roommate, and made a rather seamless journey from Accra to Cape Coast. So far, so good.
The work started the next morning. Our supervisor, Kweku, took the five of us to Lady Heike Nursery, our project site. Immediately upon arrival, a few kids pounced on me. They grabbed my left hand to hold, but kept a lustful eye on the contents of my right hand - a bag of small gifts for the children. We all carried similar bags of goodies, which we soon presented to the school’s proprietor, Molly. Needless to say, the kids were thrilled. Luckily, they took to my gifts (water guns, jump ropes, bubbles, etc) with great fervour. I watched them frolic on the playground with their new toys, and they were all smiles and gratitude. As I looked on, I found myself grateful for their gratitude, happy for their happiness.
After our play session with the children, we jumped right into work. For us, that meant painting and renovating the school. Right away, we started painting the entire exterior of the school a vibrant blue. The rest of our days were filled with this vibrant blue (and yellow and green and red) as much of our days were filled with painting. However, by day 4, we progressed to a more labour-intensive task - brick making.
I now have newfound respect for anyone in the construction business. Brick making is hard work…so was the shovelling, brick-laying, and heavy lifting. But we kept our complaints to a minimum because we had a goal, and that was to make these bricks in order to build an outdoor classroom for the kids. Well, we did make the bricks, and we did build an outdoor classroom by our last week. Though we received lots of help from the onsite worker, Jacob, I did feel a surge of pride knowing that these sturdy classroom walls would forever remain a physical manifestation of our toil.
We also left our mark in another manner. The painting of Lady Heike nursery was almost complete. After all our sweeping, washing, second (third and fourth) coats of paint, we could begin the drawing of objects. For me, I had decided to paint a scene from Winnie the Pooh. Trust me, this is quite a task when there is only one brush and 3 colours of paint. However, I managed, as did the rest of the group, and we ended up with a really beautiful classroom, full of life and colour and pictures. Though the classroom was beautiful, the same could not be said of me. I was covered in paint, oil paint, no less, which meant that I basically had to bathe in smelly turpentine to recognise myself. It looked like a rainbow had thrown up on me. Not a pretty sight, but still, I suppose, the ends justify the means.
However, our two weeks were not just one paint-splattered mess. In fact, most afternoons we could be found at New Life International Orphanage. We came around and took the kids on field trips to the pool. There, we taught them to swim. We raced and splashed and laughed. It was a refreshing reprieve from the heat. Other days we had arts and crafts lessons at New Life. The kids were fascinated by origami, and it was cute to see them so proud of their little creations. Other times, we just hung out. We held a sack and spoon race. We played musical chairs. We smiled. We hugged. At Lady Heike, we cared for the children also. We had drumming and dancing lessons. It was then I learnt that most 5-year-old Ghanaians have more rhythm than I do. It’s pitiful but true.
The whole two weeks was a beautiful, fun, rewarding experience. I often find myself wishing to be back. I miss the children, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I miss the smell of exhaust and the incessant honking of the crazed taxi drivers. I miss red red and warm Coke in heavy glass bottles. I miss my roommate and the thrill of haggling. I miss the ubiquitous roaming chickens and the uneven, puddle-filled roads. I miss the constant drumbeats and blasts of hip-hop. But most of all, I miss the experience. That includes the beachy air, the open sewage, and the smiling faces. It includes anything and everything Ghana has to offer, because my brief time spent here was truly remarkable.
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.