Ghana 2019 Report
Third volunteering trip to Ghana organised by Cirencester Deer Park School with African Adventures.
I was delighted to meet up with our Ghana 2019 team on Monday 29 April to listen to their adventures and learn of the progress our Deer Park volunteers made on the projects we initiated in 2017. I am thrilled that they all enjoyed the experience and there was no doubt that they had embraced all challenges with a great sense of team spirit. I am grateful to them and their accompanying teachers, Miss Lillington and Mr Armshaw for the significant contribution they all made to the community in Woe.
Chiquita Henson, Headteacher
On Saturday 30 March 2019, a team of 17 Year 10 pupils and two teachers, Miss Lillington and Mr Armshaw, started their journey to Ghana for an amazing volunteering trip. #Ghana2019
The 2am departure time didn’t seem to dent the good spirits of our group as we made our way to Heathrow. After a quick bit of dancing in the airport, we boarded our Turkish Airlines flight and 3½ hours later we were making a mad dash through Istanbul Airport to join our connecting flight to Accra. 6 hours later we emerged bleary eyed into the intense humidity of our first night in Africa. Walking off the plane was like walking into a sauna, our clothes immediately felt damp with sweat.
Amber’s bag was absent from baggage collection and didn’t turn up for several days. Did she sulk about it? No, she did not. She decided not to worry about something she couldn’t change. This was the first inkling we had of her superpowers.
Outside the airport, we were met by our wonderfully positive hosts, Livingstone and Bright, and before we knew it we were driving through the streets, gazing in wonder at where we found ourselves and how quickly we had left the norms of our Northern European homes behind.
Our first night was spent in a local hotel and the following morning, after stopping at the bright and shiny Accra Mall, the country’s flagship venture into modern consumerism, to take out money (and for some, eat a final Burger King), we piled back on the bus and began the final stretch of our journey, the 3 hour drive to Woe in the Volta region and our home for the next two weeks.
The small village and fishing community of Woe (pronounced Wo-ay) is located between the lagoon and the ocean, 100km to the east of Accra in the Lower Volta region, and provided us with a perfect base. Home for two weeks in Ghana was at the volunteer house in Woe. We soon settled into life in the accommodation with the sandy playground, veranda and very popular shop (selling cold drinks and biscuits).
Three years ago Headteacher Chiquita Henson and our first volunteering group visited the small rural community of Lolito where a number of families live in a traditional way based on farming - the Cirencester group were really affected by issues regarding access to water and employment, poor living conditions, health and wellbeing and pledged to help where they could. Our Ghana 2019 group received a very warm welcome, as we did everywhere we visited in Ghana, with drumming and dancing and a blessing from the priestess. The short tour around the village gave us the opportunity to make new friends, to see inside the homes of the people in Lolito but also to see the progress made on the church floor following a donation from Deer Park - the money was raised through a Non School Uniform Day in 2018.
Dedzidi School hosted Chloe, Olivia, Oscar, Mia, Molly, Tui, Isaac, Finn, Joseph, Floyd and Mr Armshaw. A short drive from our accommodation, this private school is in the process of expanding to cope with some overcrowding. We split into two groups, one spent their entire time making cement blocks to be used later in building work and the other interacted with the children, teaching and playing games.
The making of cement blocks in the baking sun may sound like a form of punishment but as we honed our technique, under the guidance of the ever patient Livingstone, we began to take great pride in the quality and quantity of our output. Chloe, Olivia, Joseph, Floyd, Oscar, Finn and occasionally Isaac wielded their shovels with determination and the fruits of our labour multiplied around us in neat rows and were left to dry in the sun at the end of each day. They were, rather surprisingly, strong enough to hold our weight the following day. Special mention should, however, be reserved for Chloe and Olivia. They were the hardcore members of the building crew and they applied themselves with relentless energy to the task. It was a privilege, and great fun, to work alongside them.
Mia, Molly, Tui, Isaac and, for most of the time, Oscar were based in the classrooms. It was exam week so the plans they’d made to teach everyday were scuppered somewhat but they took every opportunity to teach and interact with the children in the classrooms. Amongst other things, they taught English, Maths, Art and Drama using a variety of strategies all of which the children enjoyed immensely. They also spent a good amount of time interacting with the younger kids in the school, playing games, singing songs and having fun. According to our hosts, one of the most positive consequences of us being at the schools is that attendance peaks.
We all learned so much from our time at this lovely school and the headteacher Elizabeth, the staff and children were so welcoming throughout.
Rehma School hosted Ella, Fran, Olivia S, Amber, Wilbur, Jake, Billy and Miss Lillington. The school is just a 5 minute walk from the volunteer house and is a public school with approximately 350 pupils. On our first day we received a warm welcome from the entire school with an amazing display of dancing and drumming. Billy was first selected to join the dance but it wasn’t long until the entire group were up on their feet trying to learn Ghanaian moves.
Wilbur, Jake and Billy worked alongside Famous on the building project (we also had help from Amber and Joseph on a couple of days). Week One was all about brick construction, working together as a team to mix the cement and place it into the mould before drying out the bricks. Over 100 bricks were made in the first four days! The second week involved the plastering and bricklaying to prepare the perimeter wall. It was hard work in the heat but the team followed Famous’s inspirational lead and worked hard to make good progress on the task.
Ella, Olivia, Fran, Amber and Miss Lillington were based in the classroom. As it was exams week we didn’t get to teach lessons every day but the group was kept incredibly busy with teaching younger pupils, and with story telling, reading, playing games, marking exams, maths puzzles, playing hangman, lots of double double, playing guitar and even a lesson in tectonics and an inflatable globe. The energy of the Rehma pupils was phenomenal and they welcomed every opportunity to work and play with the people from Deer Park.
Lower Volta region and Wli Falls
The middle weekend in Ghana gave us the opportunity to explore a little more of the country and we headed north into the Lower Volta region and to the Wli Falls. The journey from Woe towards the Falls took approximately 5 hours, but it flew by due to our stops at various places including the monkey sanctuary where we got the opportunity to feed the mamona monkeys. The monkey sanctuary also gave us the chance to go on a short rainforest walk and see the giraffe tree and giant millipedes.
The Sunday of our adventure weekend took us to the Wli Falls, the highest waterfall in Western Africa. After a 45 minute stroll through the rainforest and information from our guide on the different plant species, we arrived at the waterfall and had a real awe and wonder moment - it was stunning. It didn't take us long to take our shoes and socks off and cool our feet down in the refreshingly cold water. We took lots of photographs and only had one leech to deal with. At the falls we also had the opportunity to see some local wildlife and the hundreds of bats that nestle in the rocks near the falls. Seeing them all in sight was quite spectacular. But it wasn't only bats that we had the chance to see - Mr Armshaw also spotted a rare green mamba snake on the walk back - a very exciting moment!
The thing that stood out to all of us in Ghana was the people. Everywhere we went we were welcomed with friendly smiles and made to feel part of the community. We met so many people over the two weeks and had so many conversations, but it wasn't until the last day that we heard Siva's story. I don't want to give anything away, as those of you going to Ghana in 2020 need to hear it first hand, but just to say that he is a truly inspirational man, who has a clear vision on how people can support each other in order to achieve their dreams. Talking of special people, we must say a huge THANK YOU to Livingstone/Stoney, who was our group leader for the two weeks; his level of energy was phenomenal and there wasn't one moment in the two weeks when he wasn't trying to create a lasting memory of Ghana for us.
Cultural experiences and food
In addition to the projects, we also took part in a range of cultural experiences. Some of these experiences were lessons led by local experts - for example our lesson in Ewe (the local language), where we found out a whole range of useful phrases, and a marriage lesson, where we found out about the traditional approach to marriage and the expectations of the bride and groom and their families.
Other cultural experiences were a lot more hands on, for example our walk to the local harbour, the visit to the lighthouse, the local church service and the visit to Anloga market. All these experiences gave us an insight into the vibrancy of Ghanaian life and it was amazing to take part in the daily activities that as tourists you don’t always get the chance to experience. The overwhelming sense was once again that of being welcomed into the community.
As in all other parts of the world, food is a massive part of any cultural experience. Ghanaian food in three words: yum, yum, yum. From the sweetest pineapple at breakfast, to the delicious Red Red or Joluf rice at lunchtime, to the flavoursome curry at dinner and lots and lots of tasty salads, GFC (Ghanaian Fried Chicken) and chips!
On the second Wednesday evening a great time was had by all, as the volunteer pupils from Cirencester Deer Park and Hampshire Collegiate schools joined forces as the 'African Adventures' team to take on the mighty local Anlo Senior School Girls Football team. Despite the tough conditions for the away team, with searing heat and a sandy pitch, the African Adventures team took the lead and at half time felt pleased with their 2-0 lead. However, in the second half the sparkle and fitness of the local team shone through and despite a hard fought game by the African Adventures team, the Anlo Girls scored three goals and were the overall victors!
Our final night was a very special occasion. We had the opportunity to wear our brand new Ghanaian outfits - made with the material we chose by a local seamstress. Dressed in our best Ghanaian attire we then had a drumming lesson - this was great fun and a final opportunity to work as a team.
It was with a heavy heart that we said our goodbyes on the Friday before making our way back to Accra and our flights home. Hearing Siva's story on the last day was a privilege and helped make a lasting impression about our two weeks in Woe.
Mia: My trip to Ghana has been the most rewarding experience of my life. You are constantly surrounded by the most welcoming people who appreciate all you are doing for them. Knowing that my two weeks here has made such a huge impact on so many lives is a feeling that I will keep with me forever. The country is beautiful, and all the experiences you are given are things you can never forget. The work you do at the schools fills you with so much happiness and gratitude for what you have, but you also realise how much of a positive impact you make for the children. Ghana is the happiest place I have ever been and I will make sure to see it again soon.
Jake: The time I have had in Ghana has been the most richly rewarding experience I have had so far. I feel extremely privileged to have been able to embrace such a different, colourful and vibrant country. During my stay in Ghana one of the most prominent aspects has been the realisation that the first thing about Ghanaian life is happiness. No matter where we went, I feel that everyone I met was incredibly kind, warm and welcoming. While work at the projects is tiring and challenging, both physically and mentally, I feel nothing can take away how amazing the reward of making a difference like we did is. This trip has been an experience I will never forget, and one I feel has changed the way I see the world. I sincerely hope I can return to Ghana, and once again experience the culture, the love and hopefully make another beneficial impact. Ghana, see you soon!
Olivia: These two weeks have been an amazing experience, however that doesn’t mean we sat around doing nothing. There was always something to do, whether we were at the project or having free time. Whilst building at Dedzidi there were many highs and lows as we met our goal of doing 5 bags of cement in a day twice; on the contrary, there were also days when you felt more tired and a little under the weather, during which you could rest more. In Ghana everyone is so welcoming, making you feel like it is where you belong, there is no stress, which makes you forget about all your troubles in England and just be happy. To be honest I would have purposely missed my flight if it was possible.
Oscar: My time at Ghana has been one of the most tiring but rewarding experiences of my life. It has opened up a whole new world to me and made me experience things that I never dreamt I would experience before, and also giving me some the most amazing moments of my life. Work on the project was very tiring and physically demanding, but it all payed off when I remember that the work that is put in is hugely benefiting everyone around me, and could make an impact on their lives. I would love to return to Ghana very soon and I shall never forget my experience in Ghana!
Olivia S: My two weeks in Ghana was one of the best times of my life. It was so different to England - the pace of life was slower and more relaxed and we were constantly hot (instead of being constantly cold). I will miss all the children I taught and all the people who helped make the experience so unforgettable. I hope that one day I can come back and relive the experience all over again!
Tui: This trip has been the best, most rewarding trip of my life. I have learnt that Ghana is a very beautiful country with the most kind and welcoming people. The work at the projects is tiring and strenuous but worth it all as you know you are making a physical difference to so many young people, just from our presence at the school. We all loved every second of the experience and helped each other through the ups and downs. I will be back so see you soon Ghana!
Fran: This has been an unforgettable experience. Since the moment we came I fell in love with the landscape, the culture and the people. When we landed at the airport we warmly welcomed by the team from African Adventures, which stopped the jet lag from kicking in. The accommodation we were staying at for the last 2 weeks was incredible, the food, shop and activities helped make the last two weeks so fun and enjoyable. The sense of welcoming and happiness that the people of Ghana presented to us was beautiful and made the last 2 weeks feel like home. Rehma was an amazing school to work at and teaching the children and watching them grow made me feel very proud to be part of their lifes. All the kids and teachers gladly let us into the community and all feelings of nervousness were shortly replaced by excitement. I have definitely got a new perspective of life and I know how fortunate I am to have such a comfortable life.
Floyd: My time in Ghana has been the most enriching time of my life so far. I loved helping the children grow and I loved helping the school grow by moulding almost 1000 bricks (I counted). The two weeks I have been here have been extremely rewarding especially at the adventure weekend. In my stay I have been able to embrace the culture as we had African clothes made especially for us. I’d hope to make another trip here again.
Joseph: My trip to Ghana was probably the most unforgettable and amazing experiences of my life. I Ioved every second and cherished every moment I was there. There was such a happy and welcoming atmosphere that you just wouldn’t get back in England. Everyone in Ghana seemed extremely happy to see us and the children at the schools were very excited and thankful. Building at Dedzedi school was tiring but rewarding, and the food and drink after a hard day made it all worth it. I loved this experience and would definitely do it again!
Billy: The time I have spent in Ghana has been amazing. I have learnt so much about how people live and their culture. I really enjoyed building at the schools because it felt that I was doing something worthwhile and meaningful. My experience at Rhema was incredible and I will truly miss the people I have met there. I still can’t quite believe that I’ve been to Ghana because I have spent so long waiting to go. Now having experienced Ghana I feel that it has turned out to be even better than I expected and if I even got the chance to go to Ghana a second time I would definitely take it and experience it again.
Amber: Ghana has been very eventful...The two weeks have flown by so quickly; however, so many unforgettable memories have been made. Teaching at the schools was really eye opening and the enthusiasm from all of the pupils and staff gave me an unbelievable sense of accomplishment. The country itself is stunning and the people are about as welcoming as it gets. I will miss pretty much everything in Ghana, from the beautiful night sky to the amazing food. To say I had a great time would be an understatement, this has been the most rewarding experience in my life and I was glad to hear that in Ghana you don’t say ”goodbye” you instead say “see you soon”.
Isaac: Going on a trip to Ghana was one of the most amazing and rewarding experiences I have ever had, I will definitely not be forgetting about it any time soon. Before going to Ghana I was not quite sure what to expect, but when I arrived I instantly felt welcomed. Throughout the whole trip you could see that the main aspect of a Ghanaian lifestyle is happiness no matter what conditions people were living in. Each day I had a great time at the projects teaching the young children at the school and in the afternoon it was great to do a different activity, one of my favourites was when we played a football match. During the adventure weekend it was amazing and extremely enjoyable. Overall I would recommend this trip to anyone thinking of going and I hope to return to Ghana one day!
Chloe: UNFORGETTABLE! This trip is an opportunity which shall stay stay with me forever. It was a real eye opener for me. It showed that even when others are less fortunate it still doesn’t change their attitudes, but also how we all should appreciate what we have more as we are so lucky! Everyone is so happy and welcoming that I felt like I had another family, making it heartbreaking to leave such an inspiring place. Additionally, the food (Red Red), the school Projects, the staff and community make the trip a really pleasant experience, which I was do again in a heartbeat. Finally, I would love to recommend a spectacular journey for anyone!
Wilbur: At first I thought that two weeks volunteering in Ghana was too long but the time passed so quickly, if I got the opportunity to go back and spend longer there I would. This trip was so amazing as we got to become with the kids at the school and the teachers who were so welcoming. The building work was very difficult and calluses have formed on my hands. I really feel like I’ve made a change in the world and that my life has had a purpose. I would love to do the whole thing again, it has been the highest point in my life so far.
Molly: The two weeks I’ve spent in Ghana has been absolutely incredible. I’ve completely fallen in love with everything about Ghana. Everyone is so welcoming and warm. Even though I was thousands of miles away from my actual home I felt a sense of home in Ghana. Teaching at Dedzidi was a life changing moment because not only was it out of my comfort zone and something that I’ve never done before but it was an amazing experience. All the kids were so lovely and it filled me with joy seeing them learn. The whole trip was very rewarding and made me feel like I had done something good in this world that helped a lot people. I hope I can come back because it was the best experience of my life!
Ella: My Ghanaian experience has been beyond amazing. I would come back in a heartbeat and the fact that we were so far away from home and my family was made so much better by the welcoming and friendly nature that everyone showed us. It’s one thing seeing photos of other people’s volunteering experiences, but being there and working with all the kids was absolutely eye-opening. We could not have done it without the African Adventures team. They were so incredibly kind and helpful, and made my time in Ghana even more unforgettable. Teaching at Rhema has shown me how privileged I am to be in education at Deer Park and I am in love with the food and the Ghanaian people. The thought that I am helping others in the world makes me very happy. This will definitely not be my last volunteering experience, but it could not have been a better first one!
Finn: I have had such an amazing and exciting trip that will stay in my memories forever. The people of Ghana have been so friendly and welcoming making this experience truly special. It’s been strange living for two whole weeks in a completely different culture away from home but relaxing into it I feel it has been really rewarding especially when teaching the students in the school and seeing how happy they where to learn and interact with us!
Mr Armshaw: I loved visiting Ghana and meeting some of the Ghanaian people! It is a vibrant country with a lot to offer and we had a rich encounter with the culture and rhythm of daily life. We worked in the humidity and baking sun and we saw the similarities and differences between our school systems. We saw how deeply religious the people are and took part in a joyously noisy Pentecostal Church service. We saw the way the traffic weaved and hawkers sold their wares by the side of the road. We saw shanty towns, bustling markets and heard some of the stories of lives lived on the tough edge. We tasted the delicious Red-Red stew and sweet plantain. We saw the beautiful waterfall at Wli and watched in awe as a thousand fruit bats took flight from the cliff face.
It was the people, though, that left the biggest impression on me. They were so warm, friendly and happy.
I don’t want to suggest it was plain sailing from start to finish, however. The change of climate, the work, health issues and, at times, the lack of sleep made it a challenging trip but our pupils were so impressive in their resilience, determination and good humour. Above all, they were supportive of each other and that made the experience a pleasure to manage.