Glen Brown - Human Rights in Ghana
During the summer of 2010 I spent a month working in the Human Rights Office in Accra, as part of the Law & Human Rights project. It was an enjoyable and challenging experience which left me with fond memories of Ghana and the people I met there.
I had always toyed with the idea of volunteering abroad, but it wasn’t until the day before I was due to leave that I realised I’d signed up for a month away from all friends and family in a country I’d never been to and with people I’d never met. I thought to myself...’what have I done?’ But thankfully any early worries were soon put to one side by the friendly and welcoming atmosphere I found in Ghana.
Arriving in Ghana
Upon arrival at the airport I was greeted by Nyame, the ever-smiling Projects Abroad representative who offered me so many handshakes you can probably still see my fingerprints on his hand. It would be easy to think that such a display of friendliness was simply put on for all arriving volunteers but this friendliness was commonplace in Ghana as I was soon to discover.
I arrived in mid-August and while that was the back end of the rainy season in Ghana, I could still feel the humidity which made me thankful for the invention of air conditioning. Hot days would generally reach up to 30 degrees, which you would certainly notice if the fan stopped working in the office! But other than that the weather in Ghana was quite pleasant and I didn’t have too much trouble getting used to the conditions.
My host family
During my month in Ghana I stayed with a host family, an elderly couple in the Labadi area of Accra. I found them to be very accommodating which helped a lot when settling in. For the first few days they made sure that the food was quite similar to the standard food I’d get at home, but we soon moved on to more exotic Ghanaian dishes such as kenkey and banku, which I found I quite liked!
My host family really made me feel like one of their own. I was very appreciative of the time they spent with me, but at the same time they allowed me space to do my own thing.
It was great living with other volunteers as well. I got to make some good friends and arranged to go out in the evenings and at the weekends to discover a bit more of Ghana. Getting the accommodation right is one of the key things in order to enjoy your project, and certainly I feel it contributed towards my enjoyment of Ghana.
My Law & Human Rights project
I worked with a team of about 15 other volunteers at the Human Rights Office, alongside some of the permanent Ghanaian staff. The volunteers were from all over the globe, but we got on well and there was a friendly atmosphere which helped when starting out. I found it took a while to get used to things and figure out what exactly I was doing, but thankfully everyone else had been there longer than me and were happy to answer my many questions!
The general aim of the placement is to help raise awareness of human rights issues in Ghana. Since gaining independence in 1957 Ghana has signed every single human rights treaty that has come its way, but huge issues still remain at a grassroots level and that’s where Projects Abroad is looking to improve.
The volunteers would be assigned a few different projects to work on during their placement. Personally, I looked at intestacy rights, domestic violence, child trafficking and attempted suicide as well as contributing to a report for the international protocol project.
For projects such as intestacy rights and domestic violence, your work would involve researching and preparing presentations on the given area of law – to be presented to local communities not far from Accra. These were termed ‘outreaches’’ and there would generally be about 4 or 5 volunteers on an outreach, who would each take it in turns to deliver the presentation and also offer any advice during the one-to-one clinics held afterwards.
Through the outreaches I really felt like I was connecting with the local communities, and also helping them through informing them about areas of law they weren’t aware of. Impact assessments were held with communities that had been visited, with the responses being very positive.
I really got the impression that the Ghanaians are keen to learn, and it was satisfying to see that I had been able to help even just one person during my time volunteering.
Travelling in Ghana
There were opportunities to travel during weekends to other places of interest around Ghana. It was a great way to learn more about the country and was always good fun when there was a group of volunteers.
I was able to visit the village of Nzulezo, a village on stilts in the middle of a lake, to which we travelled by canoe. I also enjoyed the tree top canopy walk at Cape Coast, where we stayed in huts right next to the beach. There are lots of opportunities for travel, and although it may take quite a few hours for you to reach your destination the memories and pictures are certainly worth it!
At the start of my Ghanaian adventure, a month seemed like an incredibly long time to be away from the comfort of home. But in truth it went by very quickly as I was immersed in the local lifestyle and culture of Ghana.
I found my work to be illuminating and greatly rewarding, and despite only being in Ghana for a month I felt I was able to significantly contribute and help continue the great work that Projects Abroad is doing. For myself, this was something unique and out-of-the-ordinary from which I learned a lot. I’d fully recommend those with a taste for adventure to consider the Law & Human Rights project in Ghana.