Mariachiara Ficarelli - Care & Community in Ghana
It was another rainy day in Seattle, Washington and I was casually flipping through the pages of travel guides. I do not know whether it was the desire to escape to a sun-drenched elsewhere or to finally see one of the countries whose pictures I knew so well but in that moment I decided I would spend my last summer as a student abroad.
As most parents of seventeen year-old girls are not too keen on the idea of allowing their daughter to travel to a foreign country alone, I knew that Projects Abroad would be the perfect solution. When I stumbled across their webpage online, I could not contain my excitement. Projects Abroad would not only allow me to fulfil my dream of travelling, but it would also offer the possibility of community service, one of my favourite things to do at home, all in a structured trip.
And so a couple of months later I found myself boarding a flight to Accra, Ghana. As I exited the airport, I saw a sign saying Projects Abroad and I was instantly introduced to the driver that would deliver me safely to the hostel in Accra where I would spend the night before leaving for Cape Coast. Our guide gave us a big bottle of water and our Ghanaian name based on the day of the week you are born (mine is Yaa) and then I got to meet the other volunteers on the same project. I immediately felt at home.
Volunteering in Ghana
During my placement, I lived in the heart of one of the biggest markets of Cape Coast with fourteen other volunteers. Every morning we would wake up at 5am in order to find running water in the shower. Some days we were not so lucky and we had to grab our buckets and fill them with water outside and then wash. I never thought I could find such happiness in showering with a bucket, but the rush that one finds in pouring a litre of cold water over one’s head in sweltering heat is incomparable.
We would then have a quick breakfast with bread and hot tea before boarding the minivan that would take us to our work placement at St Anthony’s Anglican School. Working with the children was undoubtedly the best part of my trip.
As soon as I stepped into the classroom, the children would all stand up and say “Good morning Madam” and then they would start laughing and rushing to hug us. The older and more confident children asked us if we would “take their friendship” and then they would want our phone numbers. Their liveliness touched me to an extent indescribable in words.
During a typical day, we would stay in the classrooms until lunchtime focusing part of the time on the environment and how to recycle, and the remaining time on arts and crafts. At recess, I was taught so many clapping and jumping games that when it was our lunchtime, I would be exhausted. Luckily, the spicy Red-Red we had at lunch would revitalise us for what was probably the hardest part of the day; painting. Although on some days I would wish to never touch a paintbrush again, I can say that looking at the finished building shining a radiant blue and white against the red soil, all that work had been completely worth it.
My favourite evenings in Cape Coast were the social nights when we got to meet up with people that were on different projects. One night, we all went out for pizza. It was a hot, sticky night and we ate our pizza sitting outside under a little tin roof.
All of a sudden it started raining. Yet, this rain was not like normal rain, it was more like a constant waterfall. I remember sitting there, listening to the rain hit the tin roof feeling so happy to have decided on going to Ghana. That same night, we got to our host house to find that there was no electricity. The only natural thing to do was play a massive hide-and-seek game with torches.
I will never forget my last two days in Cape Coast. We got home one day from the school to find a funeral ceremony being hosted a few metres from our front door. We were all curious at first about learning more about the Ghanaian culture, but as the hours passed we learnt that the deafening music was not temporary, but would rather be played for the whole night and the following day. I can say that the music was what characterises the Ghanaian people for me best.
Just like music, Ghanaians are always upbeat and warm. They will greet you with a smile and make you feel special. When I got back to Seattle, I opened my inbox and the first email I saw was a message from the principal of St Anthony’s (the school I had worked at) asking if I had gotten home safely. I felt touched to know how much they cared even if we had only been there two weeks.
My biggest regret is not having stayed in Ghana longer. The smiling faces, spicy food and beautiful country still call me back. I really hope to have a similar opportunity again.
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.