Paige Baumgartner - Care & Community in Ghana
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to visit every continent. Having travelled a lot with my family, I have seen much of Europe, the United States, and the Caribbean Islands. At sixteen, I wanted to do more than just explore the world, I wanted to experience it. I decided that one cannot truly embrace the culture of another country, unless fully immersed.
Preparing for my trip
Ghana is said to be an African country rich in culture and home to some of the friendliest people in the world, making it the perfect place for me. I had enough money saved up from work and I was ready to make a difference in the world, the summer after I turned seventeen.
I braved through my series of needles as I read all the support material provided by Projects Abroad. As it was my first time travelling alone, this pre-departure support was extremely helpful! So in the middle of July, I left all technology behind and set off for my adventure in Cape Coast, Ghana.
First impressions of Ghana
When I stepped onto the tarmac in Accra I was greeted with a blast of heat and the word “akwaaba” (welcome). While trying to squeeze through people to get to my bag on the luggage carrousel a young boy asked me “that is your bag?” I nodded and smiled. Although he was smaller than the bag itself, he grabbed it and brought it to me. At that moment I knew it was true, Ghana is home to some of the nicest, friendliest people.
That night I arrived at my host mother’s house, who greeted me with open arms. I had been worried about my dietary restrictions, being a vegetarian, but she was extremely accommodating. In the morning we were often served what resembled porridge. It was the cause for our motto “the bottom of the bowl is the goal” – simply put, if you can eat enough of it to see the bottom of the bowl, you’ve done a good job. The rest of our meals though, were absolutely delicious. The food was full of flavours, especially plantains and a stew called red red.
My 2 Week Special placement
Every day Charlie, our supervisor, would greet us with a smiling face and a tro-tro to take us to our placement. Mornings were spent painting Saint Michael’s Catholic Primary School. While painting the school I would watch the children in their classrooms and playing out in the field, imaging what school must be like in Ghana. I also spent time talking with other volunteers, making life-long friends.
When we could not reach the high sections of the school, our supervisor went into the forest with a machete and cut down a tree branch to use as a pole on our rollers. When we had to use the bathroom we had the option between what became known as “the human litter box” (a pile of rocks in a three walled cubical) or the “toilet” (a small outhouse type building with a hole in the ground). Being “down to earth” and “one with nature” is what I loved about Africa.
Working at the school allowed me to experience what life was like for a Ghanaian child. Although painting in the blistering heat could get tiring, it was all worth it in the end. The kids loved the job we did, and loved all the donations we made to their school. One of my favourite parts of the trip was putting my hand print and signing my name on the actual school before leaving. Although I couldn’t stay in Ghana, part of me will always be there!
Enjoying break times
During breaks we would play with the kids. Along with teaching them some of our games, they taught us some of theirs. I still have the tune of their version of “Stella Ella Olla” stuck in my head. They would teach us Fante, and we would teach them some English. Being tone deaf, I knew I am a terrible singer; but one of the girls asked me to sing for her, so I did. She clapped and cheered, despite my awful voice. Every day when we left the school the children would chase after our tro-tro and try to come with us – I truly felt like a celebrity on a tour bus.
One of the moments which made the entire project worth my time, was when a young girl at the school had been crying, and came up to me. She understood English, but could not speak it. I held her in my arms and to see her stop crying made my day.
The girls at the school challenged us to a football match. We were in flip-flops, expecting to have been teaching that day, but the volunteers accepted. We put our sandals aside and ran around in the dry prickly grass barefoot, in the heat and humidity. Although I don’t play football, I had an amazing time and was even able to get the ball a few times.
At the school we also got to do some teaching. One day we did arts and crafts projects with the kids. We taught them how to make different animals, so they would get the visual image of the English name for each animal. Being petit, I was able to sit on the small school benches with the children and help them colour, and talk to them, really getting to know what their lives were like.
The care work
The care portion of our project was spent at the Children’s Home of Hope, an orphanage in Cape Coast. We played games such as basketball (without a backboard) and football with the community children. The smiles and laughter of the children as they beat us in almost every game was a highlight of my trip.
The children taught me how to carry a bucket of water on my head; the bucket was full at the bottom of the hill and half empty by the time we got up the hill. Needless to say, among other things, I have a new found appreciation for water conservation. Even doing chores with the children was a joy. Washing dishes, doing laundry by hand and watching the kids make fufu were a few of the things I did.
During the evenings, the other volunteers and I would play card games, chat, explore markets, go to the beach and go to quiz nights at the head office. On the weekend we went to the Safari Beach Lodge. We swam, mainly playing in the surf and laid on the beach all day to relax and rejuvenate.
My trip to Ghana was not what I expected it to be, it was so much more. Not only did I explore Cape Coast, I experienced the culture, made a difference in the community and made life-long friends. Whenever I am upset, I look at pictures from my trip and I am overwhelmed with happy memories.
Ghanaian’s are some of the happiest people, yet many of them have very little. This trip put life into perspective for me, which I will never forget! From the day I returned home, I missed every part of Ghana, even the “toilets”.
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.