Delaney O'Shea - Care & Community in Ghana
My trip to Ghana was filled with beauty, culture and excitement. The adventure began June 10, 2012 as I stepped off the plane into Accra. The first thing to do was to meet the Projects Abroad staff member and retrieve my bags. Then me, my future roommate and the member of staff hopped in a taxi that took us to our host family in the hills. After a half hour in the Ghanaian taxi, it occurred to me that New Yorkers are not the craziest drivers in the world, Ghanaians are.
As we made our way further and further up the hills, Ghana started to look like a whole new world. We passed the school we’d be painting in the following week and came to a roundabout with shops on the outskirts. Directly on the side of the road were men and women with all kinds of different foods on their heads. When cars would come to a stop the street sellers would walk up to the windows and try to sell their goods. At the end of the roundabout our taxi came to a stop and a young woman with a glass box full of Ghanaian donuts on her head came to my window, a man with a plate full of perfectly stacked peanuts came to the front window. The car began to move again and we were off to our host family’s house.
Staying with a host family
When we finally arrived at the house we were greeted by Mercy, our Ghanaian host mom. Mercy is a grandmother and ex-nurse who now lives on a chicken farm with over 1,000 chickens, 4 very annoying roosters, multiple kittens and a lot of different kinds of fruit trees. She also lives with her daughter Dorothy and granddaughter Nana. Mercy greeted us with bracelets she made herself from beads she bought at the bead-market; she then took our measurements to make us authentic Ghanaian shirts.
Mercy introduced us to the proceedings of the house, including how to manually flush the toilet, how to bucket shower and how to wash our clothes using a bucket and clothesline. The bucket showers weren’t always pleasant but Mercy made us feel at home regardless. The windows of the house were open holes in the walls with mesh over them. The house was painted completely teal and was connected to a smaller home where a woman who made scones lived. After dinner we would go to the woman’s door and buy warm freshly made scones from her.
Every morning Mercy would make us eggs fresh from the chicken coop and bring us fresh bread with butter. The house was always filled with freshly picked fruit including oranges and mangos that were more delicious than I’ve ever had and small green bananas that were sweeter than normal bananas. The lunches and dinners would consist of soups with eggs or chicken in it, red-red or fried plantains and beans and occasionally Ghanaian pancakes. Every day there would be a pot of hot water that Mercy had boiled over a fire for our tea. If Mercy’s food was good the street food was amazing.
The regular drinking water was in pouches that were kept in the small refrigerator. The trick to the pouches was to bite a hole in the corner and suck out the water. The tap water is not safe to drink in Ghana so going to a tap and filling up your water bottle is not an option. I could go on and on about the foods you must try before you leave Ghana. Street donuts would be the first followed by the street peanuts that are left moist and also pouched frozen yogurt. I was pretty anxious that I wouldn’t be able to find food I could eat when I originally arrived in Ghana, since I’m a vegetarian, but I soon realised that the Ghanaian food isn’t so different from ours.
Volunteering work in Ghana
After we were settled in at Mercy’s we went straight to work, painting the graffiti covered school. The first step was to give each classroom a nice base coat. As we painted each room the curious Ghanaian students would peak their heads in and watch in awe. Though the students had never seen us before they adored us and were fascinated with us.
I had never seen such love from people I had never even met before. As time went on we got to know the students more and more. They brightened our day and when paint dripped down on our heads, they made it all worth it. The school we painted had around 300 kids and 6 full time teachers so the classrooms were constantly packed. We managed to learn quite a few of the student’s names. Granted Ghanaians are usually named after the day of the week they were born on, so it wasn’t too hard to take a wild guess, we had a one in seven shot in getting it right. Another safe bet was Precious; though it isn’t a day of the week, it is a common Ghanaian name.
After we painted the school in the morning we would go back home for lunch. Once lunch was done we either did a cultural activity or went to one of the three orphanages/schools we volunteered at to teach the kids. The kids at the orphanages and schools were even more excited to see us then the students at the school we painted. As our cabs pulled up the students all came running out of the one room school building anxious to welcome us with hugs.
All the students were fascinated with our cameras and insisted on taking picture after picture with us. When the excitement had died down the learning began. We used games to teach the children English colours, shapes and how to read. We began each lesson with a song that we sang and then the children had to repeat. Sometimes we did art projects with the children or played football. We were amazed to find out how bright and energetic these kids were.
Free time and travels in Ghana
When we weren’t teaching kids we spent our time at the bead-market or wood-market. The bead-market was filled with beautiful and colourful beads and jewellery. The wood market had carvings of all kinds with beautiful craftsmanship. On the weekend we drove down to Cape Coast. It was a two-hour drive and the road had occasional speed bumps to slow down drivers going past the villages on the side. When we finally arrived in Cape Coast, we were excited to explore the beach. Cape Coast is a small city that has a large fishing industry and an old slave trade building, called Cape Coast castle, where tourists often visit.
We spent our first day walking around the beach and watching the huge waves crash onto the shore. The fishermen that were brave enough to go out in such small and unsafe looking boats astounded us. We then went to visit the Cape Coast castle. We took a tour around the building and learned a lot about the places in which the slaves were kept. Then we went to a street performance with traditional Ghanaian dancers. We even got to participate in the dancing. On the second day we went to the rainforest where we did a sky walking tour and observed all birds and bugs in the trees.
After the weekend and another week of painting the school and teaching children, it was time to go home. We had a closing ceremony at the school we painted where the children put on a performance for us through dance. They presented us all with certificates, thanking us for our duties. As a final activity we went to a huge waterfall and took a walk around the forest.
Sad to be leaving Ghana
We went home and began to pack to go our separate ways. Final hugs were exchanged as we departed for the airport. There were tears as we said goodbye to our host family. The family had become a home away from home, making packing up our mosquito nets a saddening experience. Of course we were looking forward to seeing our families again but the Ghanaian people had shown such kindness it was hard to say goodbye.
As we got in the taxi and drove to the airport we reminisced about all the wonderful things we had experienced in Ghana. We had learned a lot about the Ghanaians but even more about ourselves. It’s true give to other you receive as well. No one could’ve taught me that better than the Ghanaian people and their loving and accepting culture.
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.