Grace Wheeler - Human Rights in Ghana
I came to Accra, Ghana for one of my last terms at university. I was close to completing a dual degree in International Studies and Anthropology but I felt I was lacking practical experience. After an extensive amount of research I decided on Projects Abroad for a Law & Human Rights placement. As it turned out that was the easy part!
Deciding on country proved to be more difficult. I finally chose Ghana based on my dream to live in and experience Africa. After a week in Ghana I knew I made the right decision and after 3 months it was tough to leave.
My Law & Human Rights Placement
I spent three months at the Law & Human Rights office in Accra, Ghana. I was lucky to live with a host family that was only a 15 minute walk from the office even if our household rooster did not think I needed the extra sleep.
My time during the last three months at PAHO (Projects Abroad Human Rights Office) was dynamic. One of the benefits to a long stay in Ghana was that I was able to see projects run from start to finish. I was involved with several projects and had the opportunity to be lead volunteer on three projects.
My first two days at PAHO required me to be actively involved in outreaches from the start. My first day I came in early to the office and went with one of my supervisors to Bentum (a village on the outskirts of Accra) for a fact-finding mission. I felt a little unprepared for that day as there had been no chance to have my orientation before the visit, however it turned out to be an effective way to see the logistics of the projects I would be working on.
My supervisor helped me conduct interviews with various members of the community and in this one day in the village I was able to see the enormity of the obstacles PAHO faces when creating a new project and the potential for these projects to have a lasting impact. This trip was my “crash course” to Ghana and proved to be as helpful as the orientation I received the next day.
Throughout my time there I was part of Human Rights Focal Teacher’s Training, School Advocacy, the Slum Project, the Social Welfare Facilities (Osu Boy’s Remand and Girl’s Correctional), and Human Rights Clubs at Accra High.
I was fortunate to join PAHO just as the teacher’s training sessions were beginning in Tema, a fishing community with numerous schools. The ride to Tema was the initiation for any new volunteer on the project. Some days it could take almost an hour on a tro (local minibus) and then another taxi ride to the school through some of the more unpleasant smells of fish. When we arrived at each school the students were excited to see us and we always had a welcoming committee of students to take your hand and lead you to the teachers.
Two volunteers and I went to a different school in Tema every Thursday and spoke with teachers about alternative methods of punishment and classroom management for a couple hours. I thoroughly enjoyed Human Rights Focal as a way to see the school system in Ghana as well as share some of our school experiences with teachers. It was important for the project to begin the dialogue about children’s rights. The teachers in our seminars were engaged and committed to the welfare of their students. This project laid the groundwork for future projects with teachers in Tema.
The boys at the remand centre easily became my favourite project. I went to the remand centre twice a week and had various lessons with the boys. Some of the boys were in the remand centre for the entirety of my time there. By the end of my time it nice to see how far they had come in some of their skills as well their confidence. I enjoyed my time there more and more with each week as the boys began to trust me and by the end they were more engaged in the classes.
Most of the boys were still quite young so I began playing a game with them the last bit of our Friday session. After I tried Bingo with them, however, no game compared. Bingo quickly became synonymous with “Grace is coming today”. On Bingo day I would stop at a stand on the way to work and pick up some sweets for my Bingo winners. By the end of my stay the woman who owned the stand was convinced I ate entirely too much candy.
Human Rights Clubs started a couple weeks into my placement and was one of my favourite projects. We came up with 5 different topics and debated one every Friday. We tried to create a combination of topics that were both in Ghana and in the world as well. There was an initial concern expressed that the students would not be interested in something that was not happening in Ghana, however, the debate on the situation in Syria proved to be one of the most explosive.
My first week there I was quite surprised by the students at Accra High. They are an engaged and well-informed group of students. They all completed thorough background research on the topics before the meetings. They were active participants in every meeting often times to the extent that they had to be given time limits for speeches. Human Rights Clubs became a project that I looked forward to every week because we had such an interested and involved group.
I thoroughly enjoyed the outreach aspect of the office. I believe that practical field experience is one of the strong points in PAHO.
Leisure time in Ghana
During my 3 months in Ghana I met many volunteers who helped make my experience so great. On nights when we lost electricity we would head to the local spot bar for a while and other nights were spent with my housemates and our host family’s children. One of our house favourites was the soap opera “Eva Luna” a telenovela set in Venezuela.
The volunteers that have been in Ghana before you arrive become your lifeline the first week. My housemate brought me all over Accra to buy things I needed and introduced me to all of the other volunteers and her Ghanaian friends. My very first night she invited me to the beach reggae party. I was tired and overwhelmed but she convinced me to come anyways. She knew that you needed to get out in the city and become more comfortable with your surroundings sooner rather than later.
Being in Ghana for three months gave me the opportunity to travel to many of the popular sites. I went to Cape Coast, Beyin and Nzulezo, Tamale, Wli, and Mole National Park. On these trips we toured a slave castle, went on a canopy walk, visited a monkey sanctuary, hiked into the highest waterfall in West Africa, toured a village built on stilts, went on safari and got closer to elephants than we were supposed to, and visited the oldest mosque in West Africa.
For other weekends Kokrobite was a great beach outside of Accra to visit for a more relaxing weekend and a great reggae night on Saturdays. Travelling through Ghana by bus was certainly the slower way with the roads being more rugged than we expected yet we were able to see so much of the country through our travels and experience the blaring Nigerian movies all the way to Mole Park in the north.
After 3 months in Ghana I have more stories than I can even remember. I will never forget the little song the garbage trucks played to remind people to put their bins out. How the Italian restaurant in Kokrobite made the best pancakes I’ve ever eaten. Sometimes just a day at the pool in LaPalm could be so relaxing and leave you with such sunburn that would take the week to heal until you got burned again the next weekend.
The tro rides that never failed to disappoint with the amount of people they managed to fit on board and the speed at which they cruised over the unpaved roads. And of the Fan Ice ice cream which cost just pence and often became an after work necessity.
My time in Ghana flew by and it was hard to leave. During my time in Ghana there was a new experience every day and I learned so many things from how to properly barter for a taxi to how to create seminars for teachers that were relevant and effective. My time in Ghana was improved even more by the amazing people I got to work and travel with. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about my time in Ghana and wish I could go back soon.