Oliver Birch - General Care Projects in Ghana
It was January 2009, I was in England and it was New Years. I was spending valuable time with my family and friends when the idea struck me of volunteering abroad, despite never having heard of Projects Abroad I wanted to try something new, an experience that would both enhance me and my abilities. My idea was vague and in need of a solution but I just couldn’t find insight at the time.
It was then after I had started my second semester in school when a couple of friends of mine were talking about going with Projects Abroad to work overseas for volunteer work. I told them immediately that I wanted to be part of the team that would go. We were having trouble finding a location but we knew from the beginning that our minds and hearts were only directed towards African countries as none of us had ever been there and we had always pondered on the idea of venturing to an exotic, profound and cultural place in Africa.
We had three conspicuous “country” choices, they were: Togo, Ghana and Ethiopia. After having discussed in detail the placements and trips in each country with our parents and a member of Projects Abroad staff in London, we came to an accord that Ghana was the most eye-striking and convenient choice for us.
We made final arrangements and started working on our “fundraising” ideas. We were split into groups of three and each group came up with an idea or two of raising money to sponsor our trip. My group came up with the idea of selling drinks and grilled cheese at school each Tuesday for about four months. During these months we still had time to think of what placement we definitely wanted, and we came to an agreement that “Care and Community” was the best fit option for us.
Teaching was out of the picture as it would be unjust and not as convenient for both the children and us volunteers, knowing that two weeks was just too diminutive for teaching. Care and Community really did strike us because we thought it was just the right time-span and the placement seemed really interesting. We made a final conformity and told Projects Abroad our choice. A member of Projects Abroad staff then came to our school for a final meeting with our parents and ourselves about the weekend trips and final arrangements/changes before our final rendezvous in Heathrow Airport.
My placement was at an orphanage and a school, in a place called Abura (about a 3 hour drive from Accra Airport) and 10 minutes from the main beach in Cape Coast. My duty (along with five other students) was to paint the outside of a school in Abura village during the mornings and in the afternoons our duties were to assist, help and entertain the children of New Life Orphanage, located in the Central Region (15 minute drive from Abura village).
Though the orphanage is well taken care of, and the children seem to be in good health they still lack what many children of their age need; personal attention. We made sure the children were always doing something that stimulated their actions, knowledge and understanding of different activities. We did several different things with the children of New Life. We started off with “Arts and Craft” which was a great way of discovering the children’s abilities to identify, recognise and explain patterns, animals and other things thus afterwards helping them express their ideas onto cardboard and A4 paper with the use of colourful pens and markers.
After we moved on to more motivational activities such as “volleyball, tennis and last but definitely not least: football. Before I continue talking about New Life I must state that Ghana is one of the most football loving countries in Africa. They breathe, love and cherish football more than most countries in the world.
Upon arrival we also noticed how many football pitches were laying around, most were in bad and dingy condition but they all resembled the same sport which as far as we know has no boundaries, anyone can participate and play: “Come play with us!” was said by a man called Joe who was waving and gesturing to us to come play when we were walking past a football pitch near our host’s home. There was a bunch of guys playing football and the game seemed intense and passionate but they still invited us over. He then told us “Black or White, we’re all the same, we’re all equal so come and play with us friends”, it’s one quote I will not forget as this one quote sums up the whole community and culture of Cape Coast . The Ghanaian people were remarkably friendly whether they were trying to sell you T-shirts or just trying to get to know you they still possessed the same friendly attitude towards you. We never felt threatened when we went venturing around the town without anyone from Projects Abroad with us, it was completely safe the whole time.
After we had finished activities with the children of New Life we were picked up by a taxi driver (which was prearranged by Projects Abroad) and taken back to our houses. We ate relatively early upon arrival after the orphanage but we could always eat despite the early times! After eating dinner we had no plans for the rest of the night so we would often meet up with other volunteers at a place called Oasis (a bar by the beach) and just talk about our daily encounters and activities.
During the weekends (we had 3) we went to Kakum National Park (which consisted of a nature walk and a canopy walk!, Green Turtle Lodge (a very relaxing beach resort) and the last weekend we stayed in Cape Coast to see Barack Obama. He was first in Accra visiting a Slave Castle and later that afternoon he would fly into Cape Coast to visit the Cape Coast Slave Fort. The weekend trips were really fun and were a major contribution to the amount of fun I experienced.
We left on the 13th of July, looking forward to coming back to our homes but also sad that it was over as what happened is a one in a lifetime experience; we will possess the experiences forever. There are many other things I haven’t talked about but that’s good as it will let you try new things and follow your own path down the road. Nevertheless, I thank Projects Abroad, the Ghanaian people, volunteers, family, friends and whoever else made it possible for me to experience such a fantastic trip.
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.