Allie Fetherston - General Care Projects in Ghana
My name is Adjoa Allie and I live in Canada. I am currently majoring in a programme that is part of the Geography department at my school, while also working part-time for a pharmaceutical company. Recently I was looking for a new volunteering adventure, as I had already done so in the past, and finally decided on my lifelong dream of volunteering in Africa. After much research, I chose to work on the garden and farm that is situated in Akropong, Ghana, while also working at a day care centre.
Before leaving, I did not know what to expect, so I decided to expect conditions to be the furthest in similarity to what I know. Upon arrival, I was welcomed by the man who welcomes all volunteers: Nyame. Nyame is a very outgoing man and really welcomes you to Ghana in the best possible way, especially for a first-time visitor. He then brought me to the Accra office for the night, where I had to rip open a sachet of pure water with my teeth for the first time.
At 5am, the two other volunteers who had arrived a few hours after myself and I were brought to the Hills, where we were to stay. After bringing our belongings to our accommodations and meeting our families, we were brought on our induction. It was great meeting other volunteers during this time, as this showed us how close-knit we would become. After our lunch during the induction, we were shown how to get home and then left to our devices. I then spoke to my host father for a bit and saw how much I would grow fond of him, and how quickly!
Throughout my trip, I met many volunteers and locals, quickly growing to be very fond of each of them as well. I can honestly say that most of my current best friends worldwide were made during my short two-month stay in Ghana.
On my first Thursday, I was brought to my placement at the Projects Abroad Farm in Akropong. Upon arrival, Isaac welcomed me with open arms. He informed me of the dress code at the farm – anything you are willing to get dirty, preferably trousers, and wellingtons for shoes; nice and simple. Isaac then showed me around the farm, explaining that they had only just moved the farm from its previous location three weeks prior. He informed me of some of his plans and told me that he welcomed and encouraged any ideas I might have at any point for the development of the farm. Because of this and the plans for me to teach the school children from the school nearby, he said I would become the Farm Manager, which I was surprised at, considering my short stay. We then proceeded to do some weeding, me with the hoe and Isaac with the cutlass.
After watching me a bit, he then decided I must attempt to use the cutlass immediately, so I did after some quick instructions. Boy, is that a glorious tool! When you have never weeded using a cutlass, it really does have a feeling of novelty; I felt almost as if I was cutting my way through a forest on some adventure...except I was not among trees, I was in a field which needed weeding. After we finished working on the weeding, we drank some water and then went to get some food for the animals. To get the food, we would go to a spot with lots of fresh vegetation and we would take different plants for the different animals; enough to last them a day.
This one excursion was particularly exciting because I got to see a vulture for the first time ever! I was sad about it though for two reasons, a – I didn’t have my camera on me and b – it scared a poor little puppy! Our times of getting the food for the animals often introduced me to new aspects of Ghanaian life, such as seeing how the meat was prepared after the animal was killed and skinned, seeing how they go about fixing cars and using the parts of totalled cars that are still good, and much more.
During the dry season, I began my days at the farm by watering the plants, using the water from the water catchment system. A few of these plants had been planted either before my arrival to Ghana, or else on my days off, and others I had planted myself. While I was there, I planted groundnuts for the first time in my life (they are better off in a tropical climate) and saw them nearly to maturation. I also re-planted tomatoes, which needed more sunlight and planted some cuttings for the flowerbed.
During my days, I also spent time interacting with the schoolchildren of the school adjacent to the farm. During their breaks, the students would come and talk to us. If I was resting, they would rest with me and if I was working, they would help me. Their headmaster asked me at one point to keep talking to them, as this would help improve their English and I didn’t mind because they returned the favour by helping me to improve my Twi at the same time! They were such wonderful students to interact with.
While conversing with the students and helping to improve their English, I also tried to throw in some environmental pointers. One day, while making a short video for Projects Abroad, I taught the students the meaning of waste management and the three R’s (Reduce – Reuse – Recycle). After that point, every time I saw them, I tested their knowledge of what I had taught them and gave them more information.
Other things I did that were not from a day-to-day basis included making the signs for the different beds and working with Isaac and Ayitay to fix the fence, as someone had broken it. The farm really came along while I was there and I can’t wait to return and see how much it has progressed!
I definitely recommend future volunteers who will work at the farm do a bit of background research to have ideas for the farm. I also recommend volunteers have an idea of what they want to teach the students on the teaching days. The fun part about teaching at the farm is that it is really quite flexible; you can teach techniques for farming or environment; really, anything having to do with either of those topics! There is so much information at your disposal before you leave home that it really would be fantastic to already know what you want to do before you leave and then teach it! Also, bring your own wellingtons so you can be sure they fit, especially if you have small feet.
I also spent time working at a care placement. I worked at the Queen Esther Day Care and Prep School in Mampong. When I arrived I had not even seen the day care and I had about ten children yelling ‘Obroni! Obroni! - white person’ and nearly fighting each other to grab my hands. They clearly wanted my attention and I fell in love with all of them instantly. Once we had arrived at the school, all of the employees welcomed me and got me a chair to sit on, making sure it was in the shade. They then gave the rest of the children who had not yet seen me a chance to come touch me or welcome me or whatever they pleased. After about five or ten minutes of this, they got all the children together, while bringing me to the front and the children sang a welcome song all together. It was such a precious experience and I was so surprised that I didn’t even think to take out my camera for this! After this they asked me which age group I preferred to work with and I asked for the ones around two years old, since I know that age best, and I spent the rest of my day playing with the nursery children.
After about a week, I began teaching the K1 children. It was fun to teach them as they were very excited to learn. It was somewhat surprising to see the cane used for the first time, despite knowing it would come. I made a point never to use it. There were times when I would be teaching and the teacher would give me the cane. I used it to point and instead, I would flick the children with my forefinger if they were being bad. As they didn’t expect it, they would almost always stop and listen after laughing at what I had just done to them.
When it got colder, we played games with the children, as it wasn’t too hot to get them to do their exercise. It was so fun playing with them and dancing in circles. The children definitely love to have a good time, and love to play with the obroni!
After about a month with the K1 children, I returned to the nursery for the remainder of my stay. I often played with the crèche children to distract them from the nursery children in the next room. This helped the teacher of the nursery class to keep a bit more order. Two of the younger ones were considered to be my son and my daughter by the employees at the day care centre, as they were both stuck to me as soon as I arrived. I will never forget the time I was on my way to work and the little boy of two and a half years old entered my shared taxi with his father and as soon as he saw me, he forgot about his father and climbed right into my lap! His father talked to me after I explained where his son knew me from and he was even nice enough to pay for my taxi ride that morning!
On my last day, I got the pictures I had always been too busy to take while working and the children gave me as glorious a goodbye as the welcome I had received two months prior. It was extremely difficult not to cry as I left, as I had grown so fond of these children.
I definitely recommend future volunteers who will work with children research ideas on activities to do with the children. You don’t need to bring expensive Barbie dolls or GI Joes to make the children happy. Whenever I took out my camera, the children went crazy, both because of the flash and because they wanted to see how it turned out! Also, blowing bubbles over their heads, but low enough that they can try to catch them will make them so happy! Of course, it is also important to have educational activities, and often, simple ideas such as arts and crafts, duck-duck-goose or mini-field trips can work wonders! The best tip when it comes to activities is to come up with ideas before you leave home, so that you will already know what you want to do and you will surely think of other ideas throughout your trip. Also, try to make sure the children understand what you are teaching them, as I noticed there was a lot of memorising in the learning process and the children definitely need to understand what they are taught!
I can’t say I was ready to leave when the time came but as I had promised my job I would come back, I had to leave. I will admit that I actually cried when the plane lifted off from Accra. I can’t say that I felt homesick once during my stay, even when things went less smoothly; in those instances I wanted certain luxuries that I had omitted, not expecting what happened. Even so, I preferred not having those silly items and being somewhere that brought to me a certain delight which I had never known before. If anything, I felt and still feel homesick of Ghana. The best thing to do is not to expect anything. It is those who expect something who seem to have the most difficulty getting used to the change. If you arrive without expectations, everything should be a pleasant surprise.
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.