Leonardo Dantas - Human Rights in Ghana
“Welcome to Ghana. You will find out we are a very strange country, but after just a few days, you will never want to leave”. These were the first words I heard after taking my first steps outside Accra’s airport and they could not have been truer.
I stayed in Ghana’s capital for six weeks, volunteering at Projects Abroad’s Human Rights Office during my gap year after high school. I can proudly say this was one of the most meaningful and fulfilling experiences of my life.
Living in Ghana
I lived with a wonderful host family together with four other volunteers. My host family was made up of ten family members who always listened to any of our complaints and made sure we were always comfortable. The volunteers always sat down together for breakfast and dinner and we lived in shared rooms so socializing was never a problem.
Working from 8:30am to 4:00pm, I needed to get a shared taxi and a tro-tro (public transportation that looks like a van) to get to work, which took around 30 to 40 minutes since my house was in a more isolated neighbourhood. I never felt threatened or afraid to walk in the streets.
From the busy market centres to the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods, the amount of information is overwhelming everywhere you look. In every street, people sell their products in small tents and wooden houses, offering from acrylic paintings to incredible woodwork or their traditional Ghanaian clothing. One of the most important parts of buying, however, is bargaining and Ghanaians love to bargain. Sometimes simply a suggestion was enough to secure a lower price. At other times, negotiating a price was an extremely demanding process. Getting the best price was always a mixture of fun and excitement that added to my experience in the end.
When it came to food, the Ghanaian culinary experience presented me with peculiar dishes and unique tastes that I later learned to enjoy. The massive presence of rice, beans, fruits, and spices in their diet combined into a mixture of smells and textures that is difficult to describe, but that is definitely worth trying.
However, living in Ghana cannot be explained without talking about the Ghanaians themselves. They are one of the most peaceful, sympathetic, friendly, and welcoming cultures I have experienced. Whether I was lost in the middle of the night trying to find my way home, interested in finding a specific item in the market, or simply waiting for my tro-tro at a bus stop, Ghanaians were always polite and willing to help.
My Human Rights placement
With an incredibly attentive staff, the Projects Abroad Human Rights Office (PAHRO) was the highlight of my stay in Ghana. It offered a collaborative environment for the volunteers and gave us total liberty on how we approached our projects.
For example, the volunteers who stayed with me focused on educational projects that taught teenagers and children about human rights. From a discussion group of 12 people to an entire middle school class with 50 students, we proposed interactive activities that talked about child labour, sexual abuse, human rights treaties, and even bullying.
Besides these teaching experiences, we were also involved in interviews about human rights awareness throughout the community, in panels about the current Ghanaian politics, and in reading sections with children from the Accra’s Muslim neighbourhood.
With a very busy and exciting schedule, we usually engaged in one project a day, either during the morning or during the afternoon, and spent the rest of the day planning the next project or making reports about previous projects. As an enthusiast for education, I have to say my involvement in this type of project was particularly meaningful and significant for me, and seeing the interest of the teens in what we had to say made it even more special.
My overall experience
Outside work, I got the chance to explore Accra and hang out with the other volunteers. We travelled to the nearby cities during the weekends and visited the parks, villages, and locations that make this country so special.
About the Projects Abroad staff, I can only say that they were also always proactive and helpful, promoting at least one social activity per week and getting constantly in touch with the volunteers.
I definitely recommend this programme and hope any volunteer will love this experience as much as I have.