Madeleine Friga - General Care Projects in Ghana
All my life I have danced comfortably across the familiar landscape in which I was raised. Now, inhaling, I smell the unfamiliar: the heavy scent of rain building in the clouds, the musty smell of dust that coats my arms with red powder, and the sharp odor of burning rubbish.
My host family in Ghana
I am standing in front of my new home for the first time. Expected to walk right in and meet my new life. The rusted red gate in front of me marks the passage into the place I will be living for the next four months. As I step slowly forward my eyes travel to the faded white writing at the top of the gate. It reads: “Surely your goodness and mercy will follow me, all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the lord, forever” Psalm 23.
This comforts my uneasy stomach and with that message I enter my home in Hohoe, Ghana. “You are welcome” says my host Father as he emerges from the house. He looks weathered and kind. At first I am surprised by the way he has greeted me. It may just sound like a collection of words, an expression which is thrown about meaninglessly, but somehow I know that it is more; that I will truly be welcome in this home, in this town and in this life.
Getting to know Ghanaian culture
I wake up early on the first Sunday after I arrive in Ghana. I put on my best flowered skirt and pretty top. Today I am visiting my Host Fathers church, an experience in which I do not know what to expect.
The first thing I realise is that I am underdressed. The woman look like spectacular birds, with long styled dresses made of shining fabrics of every description. The men wear fabulous matching shirts and pants with lace patterns and sequined details. I know I will not understand a single word of the service, because none of it is conducted in English but soon realise the words don’t even matter, because the energy of these people is all I need.
My Teaching placement
The following day is my first day at the Eugemot Orphanage in which I have been placed. I open the door of my taxi and am instantly enveloped into a little crowd of brown hands, faces and bodies as the children greet me for the first time. They ask my name and about my family back home, all screaming over each other, clambering to reach me. Over time I will get to know each of these faces, hold all the babies, make bracelets with all the little girls and play football with the older kids.
I am taken to the back of the orphanage where I find a wooden structure full of kids staring ahead looking miserable. This is school, or so I am told. I step into a section of the structure where the kids are sleeping on their arms or staring off into space. One of the staff tells me that they have no teacher for this class, but he hopes that I will step in.
The kids in the classroom that I have just entered sit on chipped blue benches, bare footed on the cement floor covered in orange dust. There are no brightly coloured school supplies and not even a teacher can be found. It doesn't matter that I am not an educated teacher, it is simply enough to be a native English speaker.
Becoming a teacher
At the end of my first whirlwind day of teaching a boy from my class taps me on the shoulder. He proceeds to tell me that I didn’t teach correctly. I feel my heart dropping. In this moment it doesn’t matter how proud my friends and family back home are of me for travelling to Ghana to give to the children there. It only matters what this nine year old boy thinks of me.
“What do you mean?” I ask him.
“I mean, all we did was play. You’re not supposed to have fun in school.”
I continue teaching every day for the next four months. My relationships develop with my little students and I find myself relaxing in front of them, comfortable with my new role. There is nothing for me to criticise about these nine children. Their education so far has failed them, but they have not given up.
The sun is blinding on the day I say goodbye to the orphanage. I write 60 letters. I buy sweets and snacks for every child. There is no opportune moment to say goodbye. My kids hang onto me all day; orbiting around me as if I am the sun. But to them, the sun is a constant, the one thing they can always rely on, because in Ghana the sun will always shine down on them.
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.