Kayla Fattell - Care & Community in Ghana
To all the future volunteers of Ghana,
Before I embarked off to Ghana in Africa, I was on the Projects Abroad website 24/7. I read every single volunteer story, even the ones to countries I had no intention of visiting. I looked at all the pictures, searched for itineraries and constantly checked the Facebook pages to see if new volunteers had joined.
This was a huge decision for me to make; I am not an outdoorsy kind of girl, I have never been camping, and I still call my little brother into the room to kill any bugs that are crawling around. To give you a slight idea of the kind of person I usually am at home, I had to go out and buy new trainers, athletic shorts and t-shirts to pack because I had none. Nonetheless, I made up my mind and in March of 2013 I sent in my first payment that would start the craziest experience of my life.
Leaving for Africa
When my friends and family heard the news, they were shocked. “Kayla... to Africa?” they would say. But I let them call me crazy because I was too excited for anyone to change my mind. I arrived at the airport with two of my best friends from home who would be taking this trip with me, Ashley and Nick, said goodbye to my mum and once security checked my passport, it became official. The twelve hour flight flew by and when I stepped off the plane in Accra, the humidity hit and I couldn't help but smile.
I still find myself rendered speechless when asked about my trip. Of course adjectives come to mind; unbelievable, unimaginable and breath-taking. Following this I then usually launch into a detailed story about showering with cold water from a bucket while a snail crawled up the wall. Finally, I finish off beaming about little Gladys, who became my shadow every afternoon as we spent hours singing songs at her day-care.
Sometimes I get lost in what I’m saying and the funny stories always spill out. I talk about when I got sick and how I went to a pharmacy to buy medicine. I tell them about the friends I made; Jonathan, a boy from France who knew very little English and how for fourteen days it felt like an on-going game of charades, Elise and Emily, two girls who I still talk to every single day and cannot imagine living without, Thomas and Jamie, British boys who were so completely different, yet each one made me smile with every conversation we had.
I still think of my host mother, Mercy, often and how she genuinely cared about us all. One evening she made us Fufu plantain, a dish very similar to a crepe or pancake, and we loved it. From all of our praise, she then made it three more times within our stay just to make us all happy.
Living in Ghana
Living in Akropong - Akuapem hills had its beautiful sights. Driving up the mountain to get to our home from the airport was breath-taking. Everything is so green, so lush, almost with a feel of paradise to it all. The buildings, although mostly broken-down, are beautiful in a run-down sort of way. They have character; you can tell just from the outside that each one, along with every family inside, has a story.
I am still very thankful that I was able to see other parts of Ghana during my visit. For a weekend, we travelled to Cape Coast, saw the beach, and even though it is the same ocean as back home, it’s cool to say I touched the water in Africa. We took a tour of the Castle, went out to dinner, and slept in a hotel (with running water and Wi Fi!).
The next day we visited Kakum National Park and took the canopy walk, which was the scariest, yet most amazing thing I have ever done in my entire life. They say if you’re afraid, not to look down, but trust me, look down - it’s worth it to see the treetops below you.
My Volunteer Placement
When we returned home (Mercy’s house had begun to feel like home to us), we continued to paint our usual school building in the morning and then went to Evergreen Blossom Academy in the afternoons to see the children who were always joyfully awaiting our arrival.
On certain days we went to the bead or wood market, sometimes we would walk around the town as a group ourselves, and other days we would nap or watch movies on the iPad.
Every evening, though, after dinner, we ended with a few rounds of cards at the table and then all 13 of us would pile into one bedroom to sit up talking. These are some of my favourite memories from the entire trip; when Josien and Eline let us try a traditional dessert from the Netherlands, when Jamie told us about the crazy dreams he’d had, or when we listened to everybody’s favourite songs.
On our very last night together, we all signed each other’s journals and promised not to read them until we were on the planes back home; I still hold those notes very close to me and often read them when I miss the friends I have made.
The story of when I stepped off the aeroplane back in the United States always makes me smile. I hadn’t showered in days, I was wearing a t-shirt covered in paint, and my hair was wild around my shoulders. My sister and dad were waiting for me and as I ran up to give them hugs, they looked shocked. Later, when he retold the story to family and friends, my dad would say he did not even recognise me, that I was a completely different person. Inside and out, I had changed; and most definitely for the better.
Word eventually got out. I live in a very small town and the story of my volunteer work spread, and it even made it into our local newspaper. However, walking down the street, you would not be able to single me out as the girl who went to Africa. There is no blinking sign above my head announcing that yes; I am the high school student who took malaria pills, the one with yellow fever and typhoid vaccinations coursing her body. However, if you look closely the clues are there. There is a ring from a bead market permanently on my finger, a Cedi tucked away in my wallet for safekeeping.
This trip is the biggest thing I have ever done in my life thus far. It was the first time I ever left the country, the first time I travelled alone. If someone were to write a book about me or paint a picture, this would be the longest chapter, the most colourful. It is the most amazing, most rewarding thing you can do in your life; I doubt any future experience will be able to top it and I recommend travelling and volunteering abroad to everybody; to open up horizons, to challenge yourself, to do things you never thought you would ever be capable of doing.
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.