Melanie Dane - General Care Projects in Ghana
I lived in Ghana for 3 months from February to May 2008, and now in August I still can’t stop telling stories from my trip every single day.
Before arriving at Accra airport I had no idea what to expect as it was the first travelling I’d done and knew no one who had done anything similar before, but when I landed and met Nyame at the airport, I couldn’t have been given a warmer welcome. We got to house in Accra at about 11pm, and was absolutely shattered and just expected to fall straight asleep, but there was another girl already in the room. This turned out to be Caroline, who would be my room mate and working with me for the next three months. At first I was nervous about spending so much time with one person, but then I had no idea that she would become as close as a sister to me and a really special friend lasting long after we both left.
After a few hours of sweaty sleep, Eric met Caroline and I to take us to Kumasi on the bus, where we were then met by Michael and Gabby, the Project Abroad coordinators in that region to be taken to our new family. Comfort and John, our host parents were amazing. I couldn’t say one thing about them I didn’t love. Right from the start they treated Caroline and I like their own children, and before long I saw them as my second parents, not just a host. Comfort and I became extremely close, having snuggle time in the evenings and cooking dinner together. We all went to church on a Sunday which was a different experience, as I’m not religious and so it was all very new to me, but really interesting to be a part of the whole community, and feel like I belonged.
One thing that took a lot of getting used to and I’m not sure if I ever fully did, was the constant attention you receive mostly from the children for being white. Everyday walking down our road to and from the house shouts of “Obruni, what is your name? How are you?” Obruni being Twi (the local language) for white person. It was never bad attention, just constant, and eventually the whole village new my name and instead of obruni would shout “MEL” and by the time Caroline and I got to the house, we would have a following of children sharing our sweets and lunch and practising their English.
The transport in Ghana is a whole experience in itself! The most common method is the tro tro. This is basically a small van or minibus with bodged seats screwed in and as many people crammed in as possible plus countless baskets of fruit and occasionally the odd chicken. Many times I had children sitting on my knees to make extra space, and on long journeys the shoulder of the person next to you is normally free for a good lean! If you’re not comfortable with being squished into a small space with a lot of people, there are taxis any time, any where and they are still cheap.
On the Monday, after having the weekend to get to know my new family, Gabby met Caroline and I to take us to our placement at Kumasi Children’s Home where Michael, our other supervisor was waiting. I didn‘t remember meeting him at the bus station so proceeded to embarrass myself by going to shake his hand and say “hi I‘m Mel“ just to be replied with a confused look and “I know, I met you on Friday“.
The first thing to hit me when I got there were the absolutely gorgeous children coming at us from all directions to say hello with huge smiles and wonderful laughter. It was a sound I shall never forget, and will always make me happy when I think about it. From that day on at the Children’s Home I had the most amazing time hanging out with all those fantastic little ones. The work was sometimes tiring, especially in the heat during the first couple of weeks, but I soon slipped into a routine and got used to constantly being sweaty.
The day would start at around 8.30am with getting the 4 boys, Bob, Ghadafi, Nhsyira and Sechi out of their cots and getting straight on with breakfast. After that it was nappy time (yuk!) this took me a little while to get the hang of, as the nappies were folded towels with a plastic cover so it was a bit like nappy origami! Once the smelly jobs were finished, it was fun time! Playing all morning. I love being around children, and after but a few days around the boys I felt so close to them and truly loved them and still do even after being home for 3 months. Once their playing was finished it was lunch time, followed by bath time. Wow was that difficult sometimes! Trying to keep 4 boys on the potty while we rotated them through the bath and then putting on clean nappies! We got it going well though most days with a bit of a production line. One person watching the boys on the pots, one washing them in the bath, then two on nappy duty. But occasionally if not all the volunteers were in and it was just a couple of us working it could be a bit of a handful, and once I had to manage the whole day alone!
It doesn’t take long working at the Children’s Home before the children are so comfortable with being around you, and you just become a walking cuddle, or a way to show off how hard they can hit a high five to their friends!
We had a great support team in Kumasi based around Michael and Gabby, our two supervisors. These guys were great and became real friends of mine, along with a couple of their friends Joel and Laud, all of whom I’m still in touch with on a regular basis, and miss dearly. I could count on them if I ever had a question I needed answering or a problem I needed solving. We had regular meetings twice a week with all the volunteers and Michael and Gabby which were always fun, even when Gabby tried to give us a quiz!
When working for three months or over, you’re entitled to 2 weeks travel time to take off work. These two weeks could be a great opportunity as there is so much of Ghana worth seeing. On our weekends we did quite a bit of travelling to the monkey sanctuary in Boabeng Fienna, Mole National Park, or just relaxing by the pool at a local hotel. Mole was amazing, we did two safari trips, one in the morning on foot and one in the afternoon on jeep. Both times we got to see crocodiles, cob, boars and yes…elephants! The elephants made the trip for me as I’m fascinated by them, so to be standing 20 feet away from two fully grown females was breath taking.
For my two weeks of travelling Caroline, Rahel and myself did a coast tour hopping from beach to beach starting in Accra stopping at Cape Coast, Elmina, Dix Cove and finally Beyin right in the West. We all had an amazing time. At the Green Turtle Lodge in Dix Cove there weren’t enough rooms in the dormitory on the first night so we had to camp on the beach. I thought this was amazing as I love camping and I couldn’t think of anywhere better to do so, on clean white sand under palm trees with the sound of the crashing waves lulling you to sleep (but remember your mosquito spray or else you will get eaten!).
I went to work in the orphanage thinking I had all this extra love to give and wanted to take it somewhere I thought it would be needed. But what I found when I got there was that these children at the Home would give me more love and comfort than I could ever have dreamed, I came away with so much more than I could have given.
I went to Ghana with no knowledge other than one woman at the check in desk at Heathrow who was born there who said “within a few days you will be made to feel more at home and welcome than you probably do here” and after coming back to England I still believe that Ghana is not just a country I visited but a second home.
So if you’re plan is to visit Ghana, be prepared to either not want to come home, or be finding ways to get back there as soon as possible when you do.
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.