Peter Gwilliam - General Care Projects in Ghana
Kicking Balls then Painting Walls - Sports and Care in Ghana
My Ghanaian experience by Peter Gwilliam
I arrived in Ghana on the 22nd of March 2006 full of excitement and nerves as I really wasn't too sure what to expect. When I landed, I found a land full of culture; Ghana is everything to the Ghanaian people and they're generally pretty happy whatever their situation might be, everyone is very eager to meet you, just to talk to you, as well as try and sell you the odd T-shirt or two!!
My placement was at an orphanage and school, called Peace and Love in Adenta, around 45 minutes away from the capital Accra. I was to be the new sports coach, a role which had not been filled in quite sometime; the lessons were after school, as teaching during the day was not really possible, due to the heat!! Everything was going reasonably well and the introduction of Severin a new German volunteer to my host house and Peace and Love really helped. My lessons where at 3pm, which did leave a bit of a gap in my day, many volunteers were happy to fill their days playing with the kids, which I could do for an hour or two, but doing it all day I found a little frustrating.
One day Severin and I walked into Peace and Love as we always did around 9am, to find the place much emptier than usual, then it dawned on me, the Easter holiday had started, the school children were now away for three weeks, which just left the orphans. Looking around the remarkably quiet Peace and Love I noticed three or four flash cars and a group of smartly dressed people observing the school.
It was 'Western Union Money Transfer' executives; they had paid for the building of a new group of classrooms and were there to officially open them. I initially thought this was great, Peace and Love getting new classrooms and better quality ones at that! Then some of the group's entourage, preceded to splash their big yellow banners all over the place and made the kids wear Western Union hats. It made me think "this is just another way of advertising your company!" as they stood along side the kids and smiled sweetly for the press!!
This was my turning point; I realized I could really make a difference at Peace and Love, I could help without benefiting from it personally and it could be a completely unselfish act. I spoke to Severin and Hannah (an American volunteer) and we decided to go and see if we could do anything to help the orphanage.
Hannah had spoken to me in the past about the orphans living area, saying how bad it was, (smelly, dirty and dingy) but I had never ventured inside, I just had no need to. Walking in was like stepping into a prison; it was so cramped, dingy, dirty and stank of urine. The girls had two conjoining rooms which held around 12 beds, some double and some triple bunk beds (26 beds in total), this pretty much meant that all the girls had their own bed, with a couple sharing. The boys had one small bedroom with 3 double and 3 triple bunk beds (15 beds in total) crammed into it.
The thing was 30 boys lived in the orphanage! The rest of the boys (mainly the younger ones 2-7 years) slept in the corridor outside the rooms, with no mattress, no pillow, no blanket and no fan to cool them down and because of the heat a lot of the kids would sleep naked; many of the younger ones would wet themselves at night and the other kids just had to live with it. I decided I had to do something; I was not going to be another person who would complain or sympathize about a situation and do absolutely nothing about it!
I knew I would need Projects Abroad's help to advise and hopefully help me finance the refurbishment, so I jumped straight on my phone and phoned Mircea the Ghana director. He said that he would be more than happy to help and get me some paint, brushes and maybe some new beds if needed. This was great! I was already making steps to making change!! I also managed to arrange a meeting with the orphanage director (Mama Doku), to try and negotiate getting another room for the boys.
Now Mama Doku was not an easy woman to track down; she was a TV star in Ghana (she had her own talk show!) which meant she was always very busy and only at the orphanage once or twice a week. When we had the meeting, she took what we were saying as a bit of an attack on her ability as an orphanage director, which was not what we meant to get across at all, but I could understand where she was coming from. She also thought we were making out the situation to be far worse than it actually was, so said she would meet us at the orphanage the following week to look at things herself.
When the day arrived it was also sadly Hannah's last day and she was desperate to make some progress. Mama Doku was running late so we decided to get something done, for the first job we painted the girl's horrible brown bars covering one of their windows a nice summery yellow! The sense of achievement was surprisingly large; we all knew this really was the first building block.
The meeting after a bit of a delay starting went incredibly well, Mama Doku let us look in every room we wanted and eventually we negotiated for the boys to have an unused storeroom as their second bedroom! We also got to look in a mystery store room, (which had been locked the whole time we had been there, as only Mama Doku had a key) where we found four bunk beds, (one three layered and three two layered) plus new mattresses!! This had been an amazingly successful day; we put the bed parts and mattresses in the new room to start the following day and went out that night to wish Hannah all the best and to toast our achievement!
The next month involved us putting in a serous amount of hours, we cleaned out the existing rooms painted the girls room orange and the boys sea blue (along with filling in cracks and scratches in the walls) ripped up the horrible lino covering the floor (where creatures were hiding) and rearranged the beds to create more space. We painted the girls bars yellow and the boys orange and did the door and window frames.
We were offered the help of Scott a Scottish volunteer (who was a football coach at another placement) to help us paint the ceilings white, which spread more light into the rooms and it really made a difference. We matched the new boys room (and hallway leading to it) to the current boys room, painting it blue and made arrangements for a ceiling to get fitted under the tin roof to bring down the temperature, as the room with the heat outside was like sitting in a sauna!
The majority of the painting was finished and sadly it was also Severin's time to leave, Mircea came down to visit the orphanage and was really impressed with the work that we had done, he suggested that we left our mark, claiming our achievement by doing our hand prints on the wall, so we did them in the boys room, signed our names and got all the boys to do it too.
When Severin and I finally said our goodbyes and he flew home to Germany, I knew it would not be the same being the only original volunteer left working on the project, but I was determined more than ever to get everything finished and I had around two weeks to do it. My first day back since my friend's departure was not the end of a chapter but luckily the start of a new one. I was greeted by two new volunteers from another company on my return. Rhia and Heather were two American volunteers who asked me what I did there on their arrival, so I started my hour long campaign speech as usual about what I had done and planned to do and they seemed really eager to help.
This was great news! I decided to turn the girl's room into an autumn day at sunset, with lots of flowers, birds flying and a massive handprint tree at its centrepiece. The boy's room we made into an underwater world with sunken ships, crashing waves and loads of fish! I adapted the handprints into clouds, to go with the theme and the rooms looked fantastic!!
Projects Abroad put the last of their funding towards the ceiling for the new boys room and it finally got fitted a mere two days before I was leaving. I still needed more paint for the ceiling and desperately needed a ceiling fan, to help keep the room cool at night and luckily my father came to the rescue with finance from his Rotary club back home. This just about gave Scott, Rhia, Heather and I enough time to paint the new ceiling and get a ceiling fan fitted. The last thing we did was to paint a huge Ghana flag on the wall, and as a dedication to the people that helped we painted a German flag for Severin, a Scottish flag for Scott, an American flag for Hannah, Rhia and Heather and an English flag for me.
I left Ghana still literally with paint on my hands, spending every last minute I could, trying to finish the project I had started. I left that day safe in the knowledge that I had made a difference to the orphanage and the orphan's lives. And more importantly knowing that all the children in the orphanage at Peace and Love for the first time, would have there own bed to sleep in that night.
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.