Solvai Volunteered as Teacher in Ghana
“From the day we arrive on the planet, and blinking step into the sun, there’s more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done… It’s the ciiiirlce of liiiife. And it moves us aaaallll…”
I remember singing quietly along to my MP3 as the Boeing 767 dipped through the clouds and the orange-yellow ground came into view. Africa. I was absolutely terrified, fantastically excited, and completely overwhelmed. As I stepped off the plane, I was greeted by a wave of heat and seven brightly coloured letters that spelled “AKWAABA” on the airport wall. Ghana has a reputation for being inhabited by the world’s friendliest people, and sure enough, there was no shortage of men willing to help me with my luggage or call a taxi for me the minute I set foot into “Arrivals”. Luckily, the latter wasn’t necessary as Henry, the Lattitude representative in Ghana, was there to meet me. As we drove from the Accra airport to Adenta where Henry stays, all the nerves and fears that had been building in me over the weeks leading up to my departure evaporated. All I could do was absorb the new sights, sounds and smells, and for the first time I realized what an amazing experience this was going to be.
The first week in Ghana – orientation week at Henry’s – was surreal. Every morning I awoke to the beginning of a new adventure, and every night I fell asleep with a smile on my face. By the end of that first week I had grown so attached to Henry, to his wife Emily, to the other volunteers, and to the children in the neighbourhood, I was in tears when the time came for us to leave for our individual volunteer placements.
My Ghanaian home came to be a little pink house in the back yard of the Western Royal Montessori School in Sekondi. I lived there with my partner, Lauren, my host brother Sammy, and his sister Elizabeth. The first couple of weeks were a bit of an adjustment period. Henry had told me my first day in Ghana, “Nothing will be exactly as you expect. Be open and willing to learn.” This is the best advice I can pass on to future volunteers. The first day of teaching was trying, to say the least, but every day I learned something new and gained more confidence in myself and my abilities. The students always greeted us with bright smiles, and the shouts of “Madame!” followed us where ever we went. They were always willing to learn, even if they could at times be rowdy, and they were more than open to trying new things.
While every placement differs in subject, age group and ability of students assigned to the volunteers, Lauren and I were asked to teach Creative Arts and Library to classes one through six. Our day started at 8:00 and went to 2:30, though generally we would only teach three to four lessons a day. The headmaster of the school provided us with a curriculum to follow for Creative Arts, but we were more or less free to make up projects for the kids – this included lots of painting, drawing, singing, clay sculpting, and collage making. The children had almost all of the necessary supplies (paint brushes, poster colours, pencils, pens, sketch books, clay, etc.), but again, this differs from school to school. In Library class, we took the children to the school library (a closet filled with books mostly donated by past volunteers) to sign out books. With the older classes, we would at times assign book reports. When we weren’t teaching, we spent our time talking with the other teachers, observing other classes in session, helping out in the school kitchen, and playing with the children in creche.
In addition to teaching, I started a choir with my kids and together we had a ton of fun — though rehearsals generally consisted more of me trying to generate silence than productive music creation. I also started “Club Green”, an after-school club focused on environmental education and stewardship. On Thursdays, the students and I would collect water sachets around the school, and when we had gathered a substantial amount I took them to a recycling plant in Takoradi. A small sum of money was gathered from this, which we used to throw a mini “Club Green Party”.
Within the first few months of my placement, I knew Takoradi like the back of my hand. My hosts became my family, the neighbours became my friends, and the students and teaching became my life. From pounding fufu to eating with my hands to dancing azonto, I was fully immersed into Ghanaian culture.
And I loved every minute of it.
I joined a church in my neighbourhood a few weeks into my placement and through this I was able to make incredible friendships with the locals in my community. They were quick to pull me into the church choir where I learned not only to sing Fante songs, but to sing and dance with no shame or self-consciousness; to be fully alive and to appreciate life.
Traveling around the country at Christmas and after my placement ended was one of the highlights of my trip. Ghana may not be famed for its tourist attractions, but it has plenty to offer to those willing to look; Kumasi’s chaotic Kejetia market with its brilliant cloths, Cape Coast’s majestic castle with its chilling history, Busua’s glorious white-sand beach, Larabanga’s stick-and-mud mosque, Mole’s incredible wild life… But most of all the extreme kindness and willingness to help that Ghanaians everywhere presented. While the shouts of “Obruni!” could at times grow tiring, I never felt threatened, and never felt lost for more than a moment before someone would offer to help me find my way. Rarely was there a trotro ride where I didn’t make a new friend, and more often than not, I would meet someone happy to leave his or her plans behind and play my personal tour guide for the day.
Try as I might, there really is no way to explain what the experience in Ghana meant to me. I learned so much about myself, about a new culture, and about life. It put into perspective Western societies, and what we value. Of course there were ups and downs and pot holes in the road, but in the end, that just made everything all the better.