Anna Sutton - General Care Projects in Togo
As I sit here in my cold bedroom in the South of England, thinking about Togo, it’s hard to know where to start when talking about my time there, but I do know that I would love to be back right now. After having gone on a 3 week trip to Ghana with my school a few years back, I knew I wanted to go to West Africa again. This time I wanted to go for longer and to somewhere where I could practice my French! So I booked my trip for 5 weeks starting in July after my A-Levels to work on a Care Project- which was a nice change from the studying I had been doing for my exams, but as I found out, no less hard!
Before I went I got lots of information about my host family and my project with so many contact numbers for people if I ever needed help whilst there- very consoling for me and of course for my worrying parents!
Arrival and my host family
When I arrived I was greeted by one of the smiley Projects Abroad staff at the airport who took me to my host family. Obviously I was nervous to meet them as I would be living in their house for five weeks, but there was no need for nerves, they were some of the loveliest, most caring and funniest people I have ever met.
The family made sure I took in all aspects of Togolese culture making sure I got my braids done, teaching me their card games and involving me in family parties. They even excused my very ropey French.
I remember once when Maman was asking me whether I wanted a husband (mari), I thought she was asking whether I wanted more rice, (‘du riz’) I just kept saying, “No, no thank you, I’ve had enough!!”
The time I spent with them gave me the best opportunity to improve my French as we would chat every night at dinner much more useful than my A-level conversational classes! All of the family went out of their way to make sure that I was happy and safe (and always well fed!).
Work at the orphanage
The work in the orphanage ‘Maison Bethanie’ was such hard work, but as I said before, I want to go back now as I loved my placement. The orphanage had about forty children from babies to a 21 year old. Before I went I think I just expected a few cute toddlers but having the age range made the experience so much more interesting.
I now consider the older kids, many of whom were the same age as me (17) to be good friends of mine now. Unlike the younger kids who swarm you from the moment you arrive, the older ones take some time to warm to you, but after a while we built up a really good relationship.
I taught English to the older ones as well we set up classes in the morning because they were on school holidays and we needed something to do with them every day! We learnt lots of verbs by playing games and phrases like “I’m hungry” which spread around the orphanage very fast. The little ones were saying it in no time! I hope they did learn something from me but I learnt so much from them. Their hard work in the garden, in the house and in their school work was inspirational.
Aside from the English teaching, we also took everyone on trips to the beach, played games with them, and arranged different activities, as well as trying to just help out in the day to day happenings of the orphanage.
There was always a baby who needed their bottle, a crying 6 year old to look after or chores to be done. We were there from 8am till 5pm each day but had a break in the middle when the kids slept. I miss everyone at the orphanage and with thanks to Facebook have been able to keep in touch!
At the weekends we had time for sightseeing with some of the other volunteers at Projects Abroad to Benin, Togoville and a bit more of the North East. I saw crocodiles, climbed a mountain, visited a waterfall, went to slave forts, saw the slave route, museums, a deserted chateaux and sacred forests, had a ride across a huge lake in a traditional boat, rode a horse and had a python round my neck intentionally!
There are so many things to explore in Togo and with cheap transport, the weekends were really the perfect time to do that and make friends with volunteers like me from all over the world.
On the subject of transport, that is one of the things I really miss about Togo. Riding on the back of a motorbike makes you feel very cool and people shout out “Yovo” to you.
My orphanage was about a 20 minute bike ride away which to begin with I thought was quite a lot but after a while I started to savour the time to myself before and after a long day of work. Plus by moto driver was always really kind and would pick me up later in the evening if we had been out late with other volunteers.
I have so many happy memories from Togo, from when the orphanage threw me a party on my last day to having to say an English dictée with a French/African accent so the kids could understand. I obviously missed my family whilst I was away but especially in the last week I realise that I really didn’t want to be leaving so soon.
I think I probably annoy my friends and family at home with how much I talk about my time in Togo, but it has really shaped the way I think about life. It has also helped me in my studies (French and International Development) and made me very certain that I will return there in the very near future.
Projects Abroad was one of the only companies which would allow me as a 17 year old at the time to travel there by myself and work where I wanted to. I am so happy I chose Projects Abroad and so happy to have had the 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.