Marissa Frank - Care & Community in Ghana
I always knew that I wanted to volunteer abroad and for my high school graduation, my parents finally decided that I could go. I had heard that Ghana was rich in culture and their friendliness was contagious, so naturally I knew that was where I was meant to go. But with this exciting new opportunity came a lot of nerves. I would be going across the world by myself into a country where I couldn't speak their language, didn't know their customs and had no idea what to expect. Still, I was excited about the possibilities.
Arriving in Ghana
When I stepped off the plane after a ten hour flight, I immediately felt the friendliness I had heard so much about. The airport staff was quick to say "Welcome to Ghana" and flash their bright smiles. I was met by a group of other volunteers and Projects Abroad staff who made us feel at ease, teaching us the basic handshakes and greetings in Ghana while we waited for our tro-tro; a bus taxi that would bring us to our host families house. I was soon to realise that all of those nerves I had anticipated washed away and I knew that I had made the right choice in coming to Ghana.
Living in the Hills
When I arrived at our host family's house, my nerves were again at ease as I saw how friendly and welcoming the family was. Between both of the parents, the three children and the house help, everyone made sure we felt comfortable and at home. They were quick to help us adjust to Ghanaian culture, showing us how to drink water from a bag, which I never thought I would come to miss, or helping us put up our mosquito net.
Before arriving, I was apprehensive about the food that I would be eating, but I was happily surprised at how much I enjoyed the traditional Ghanaian food. We ate a lot of ’jollof’ rice, chicken, plantains and yam chips. But my favourite was noodle day, my group would get so excited when we would come home for lunch and see noodles on the table. The Ghanaian pineapples were amazing as well; our supervisor would always bring us to the local market so we can stock up on them.
Living with 10 other volunteers, there was never a dull moment. We were always playing games or telling jokes. The other girls were from all over the world, so not only did I get to learn about the Ghanaian culture while I was there; I also got to learn about Norway, England, France and Canada. The 11 of us became like a family in those two weeks, we got to know each other so well and we were so comfortable with each other. We got to experience so much together that we really have become my sisters.
Our Care project
For the care portion of our project, we worked at Adom Day Care in Akrapong, which is run by Auntie Tina, whose enthusiasm and love for the children is infectious. Every day, we were greeted by dozens of children screaming "Auntie, Auntie!" behind the closed gate awaiting our return, followed by a swarm of hugs, big smiles and loud laughter. It was impossible not to fall in love with them.
Every day we were there, we got to know the children better and better. Even though most of them can't speak English very well, we always found a way to communicate with them. Singing and dancing quickly became part of our daily routine, followed by an inventive craft for the children.
Our Community project
In the afternoon, we spent time at Christian Unity Primary School, or C.U.P.S. Our job was to paint the school, both the outside and all of the classrooms. But our work there became so much more than painting. When we arrived, we were greeted by the welcoming school staff and children putting their heads out of the classroom wondering who we were and why we were here.
During our time at C.U.P.S. we worked hard, but we also got the opportunity to talk with all of the students, some of which who were our age. They wanted to know what it was like to live in our respective countries, as did we. Students would hang out around the school after classes were out to talk to us and watch us paint.
During our breaks, they would help us improve our Twi (the language they speak there) and teach us Ghanaian songs and games. But perhaps the most memorable experience of being at the school was on the last day when all of the parents and teachers presented us with our own traditional African dresses, which we were sure to wear the next day.
When we were not lounging around the house playing UNO or Mafia with our volunteer group, we also had a lot of activities with all of the group placed in the Hills, from playing against a Ghanaian soccer team, to learning how to African dance, or going to a local bead market, there was always something for us to do.
It was nice to be able to meet people from other groups as well and compare our different projects. On the weekend, we travelled to Cape Coast, which was nice to see another part of Ghana. We toured the slave castle and watched an African dancing performance. We stayed in a hotel that night, which had hot showers! The next day, we went to a national park to go on a canopy walk, which was one of the coolest experiences and really exemplifies the natural beauty in Ghana.
Saying goodbye to Ghana was one of the hardest things that I ever had to do. In two short weeks, I fell in love with the country. There were a lot of tears as I said goodbye to everyone. The children will forever have a place in my heart. My supervisor Nat, who was the best supervisor and friend I could have asked for. Our host family became like a second family. And most of all the volunteers, who became like sisters to me.
Being back in the states, I find myself wondering what time it is back in Ghana or what my new friends are doing, how my host family is and what songs the children are singing now. While I was there, I was told that the first country you volunteer in will always have a special place in your heart. And now, after my trip, I have realised how right that advice was. Ghana will always have a special place in my heart and I am so blessed to have been given the opportunity to have the two weeks of a lifetime.
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.