Lia Bastos - General Care Projects in Ghana
Currently I am a first year at Penn State interested in studying International Politics, I am originally from Sao Paulo, Brazil, but I’ve lived in New Jersey and London too. During senior year of high school I decided to spend my two-week spring break in Ghana doing volunteer work.
At first I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go, but while doing my research on the Projects Abroad website, Ghana caught my attention almost immediately. I believe Africa is an amazing continent with so much culture and so much to offer to its tourists, and Ghana seemed like the best choice, because of its location, its history and its safety, that counted a lot in my decision.
My First Week
I flew on a Saturday night in the beginning of April and I remember looking over the city of Accra, Ghana’s capital and thinking ‘oh my goodness am I really doing this?’ I was scared, being there without my parents or anyone, in an unknown country, but I had no reason to feel this way because it was the best experience of my life.
I was placed to work for the first week in a school with the organisation Future Leaders. My job was mainly to teach them basic maths, like adding numbers and subtracting, and some English. I had never done anything like it so I wasn’t sure how it was going to be, but it turned out just fine since I had a lot of support and the task was very easy.
On the Monday after I arrived me and this other girl who was living with me named Julie went to the school. I distinctly remember walking down the sandy pathway that led to the gates of the school and suddenly seeing all these adorable little kids running up to us yelling ‘madam, madam!’ and holding our hands or extending their little arms so we would carry them; it was the cutest thing. After walking inside the school, the kids listened to the instructions of their school day and then we sat down and called one by one to do individual work with each. The kids were all waiting anxiously to be called, they would be walking around and then trying to get our attention when the other kid left. We spent usually about half an hour with each kid, they had their ‘homework notebooks’ which we corrected and then by the end of our little session we would give them some more homework, like three addition problems and the alphabet for them to complete.
On my last day at the school, they had a dancing competition for all the students. I had brought with me some stuffed animals that I had (I was crazy about them when I was little, so I had about 30 of them) and we distributed them as prizes for the kids. It was a great experience to see the culture of Ghana, and to see the kids having a lot of fun. During the time I was there they had this hit song called “Azonto” that had a specific dance to it and all the children knew it. It was a fantastic time - the perfect way to say goodbye.
My Second Week
I was only there for a week, and the second week I worked at an orphanage. Working at the orphanage was different. We didn’t have a specific task, our job was only to entertain the kids and look after them. It felt awesome to be helping them though, because we can’t even imagine how tough their lives must be without parents.
They were all sweet kids, craving for attention, and just sitting there listening to them read you a story or watch them drawing and then turning to you with a huge smile on their faces saying ‘this is for you’ was great. In the orphanage you can work for as many hours as you want, usually I went around 9am and stayed until 2 or 3pm, when the school day is over.
I met several other girls around my age while doing my volunteer work, and we all felt the same way towards it – it is the most memorable thing you’ll probably do in your life. You can only know how it really is after you go, and I definitely recommend going because it changes who you are, and for the better. I still have my favourite pictures from the trip up on my wall; pictures with the kids, with the other volunteers. I still have everything I bought in Ghana and other things that just help me remember it, like the tickets to go to Labadi beach and MNP stubs of all the “cedis” I put on my phone. You will never regret going to Ghana for volunteer work, I can guarantee you!
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.