project review

My Ghanaian Experience

Review submitted by Emily Hutchings
Review date 26 Jul 2010


Sitting in Hans Cottage Cafe, a picturesque setting by a beautiful lake surrounded by green vegetation and the chattering of tiny birds, three weeks of volunteering work seems a world away. The thirteen of us have spent an amazing weekend in Cape Coast visiting one of the remaining British castles, the National Park (braving the canopy walk) and the fabulous Monkey Sanctuary, and animal rescue sanctuary owned and funded by a passionate Dutch couple. Visits to various restaurants for some good food along with some drinks and dancing has provided some much needed chill out time and some time to reminisce about our experiences and to think about the coming week.

Ghana is certainly a mixed bag of tricks, and whilst I would say I’ve had an incredible and life-shaping experience, the country and the culture are not for the faint hearted. In the voluntary work that I’ve so far completed, I do feel that I’ve made a difference. Three days entertaining children in a deaf school allowed the children interaction with a stranger who could not speak their language and who proved rather slow at picking it up, an experience they will have to face everyday when they leave school and enter the wider world. It acquainted me with a wonderful, rich and completely unexpected world of communication through gesture, body language and expression that I will never forget.

Two weeks of teaching at an incredible primary school have been nothing but rewarding. Everyone in the school was incredibly welcoming and highly appreciative of all volunteers (even providing us with absolutely delicious lunch daily). Our primary goal was to teach English and I’ve been amazed at the number of ways you can accomplish this; through games, discussions, or even in their syllabus-based lessons on Science, Creative Arts, Maths and English. The children are friendly and well-behaved, but what surprised me is how enthusiastically they lap up new knowledge and adore it whenever you simply speak to them. We organised a first-aid demonstration and the children who want to be doctors and nurses approached us to tell us how grateful they were for the chance we’d given them to improve their medical knowledge. I even caught one girl in my class writing an essay of notes!

What I’ve struggled with the most is the Ghanaian attitude towards foreigners, especially white Westerners. To Ghanaians we are obviously anomalies within their culture, and an obruni (white person) is frequently addressed as such, whether in greeting, or trade – prices for an obruni are normally much much higher than for a Ghanaian. Groups of children trailing you in the street calling you “obruni” gives literal meaning to the phrase “sticking out like a sore thumb”.  Furthermore it is frustratingly difficult to get a straight answer out of a Ghanaian. The best experience was visiting the Tourist Information office – “What time does the National Park open on Sundays?” we asked, “You come back on Monday” was the helpful response! However, the Ghanaian culture is so laid back that a lot of these encounters can be simply put down to the fact that in contrast to British culture, Ghanaians do not run to fixed time or schedules. Everything happens in its own time and its own way, and nobody is particularly surprised by the absence of their companions (even at places of work where their occupation is teaching or tour-guiding).

Overall I’ve had an incredibly well-rounded and 100% worthwhile experience of Ghanaian culture, attitudes and relations, and I believe that my presence as a volunteer has made a difference to the lives of the students. With a week to go before we leave, I can’t say I’m not looking forward to a warm shower, my own bedroom and a toilet that both flushes and that you can put toilet paper down, but I’m going to make the most of my time left here and what I can get out of my next placement at the local hospital in the knowledge that I’ll return home with many brilliant and interesting memories.

Read more about the Ghana Orphanage, Teaching & Community Health project.