“Life is more than eating and fitting into new jeans.”
“All I know is, there is more than I know.”
In my quest of knowing myself and finding a meaning to life (mine), I had the opportunity to volunteer with Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO) under the UK government-sponsored program International Citizen Service (ICS) where volunteers spend 10 – 12 weeks in rural communities on educational and livelihood projects with partner organizations or NGOs.
My journey started on the Saturday morning of September 30 where I had a call from Justin Bayor, the country director of VSO Ghana who wanted me to be in Accra to join other in-country volunteers for training before the arrival of our UK counterpart. Before that, I had applied to be on placement before but couldn’t honor it due to equal opportunity. The early morning call made my journey from Takoradi to Accra. The bus journey took more than the average 5 hours because of the heavy weekend traffic at Kasoa but that didn’t deter me from going for what I vowed to complete. I arrived at the training center at quarter to six in the evening. At that time, the day’s session was about ending so I join them at the dining table where I was later allocated a room. Before the arrival of our counterparts from the UK, I shared a room with in-country volunteers Divine, Bernard, Victor, and David; these guys were awesome expect them wanting the light out before they sleep. Hahaha.
Our in-country orientations continued throughout the week where I got to know the other team members on other placements in Tepa and Nyinehini. The UK volunteers arrived on the evening of the Tuesday where I was paired with Adam- Ghanaian volunteers are paired with UK volunteers to harness cooperation and strengthen cross-cultural relationship on the field. We had sessions ranging from the realities of the program, our host homes, dealing with counterparts, and community integration among others.
To the Far away land…
“Nowhere is far when you want to go.”
I had traveled all 10 regional capitals of Ghana in 2015 on a bicycle when I was raising funds for the Ghana Cleft Foundation, a local NGO that offers free surgical corrections to children with cleft and palate lips. The night before departure to my host community was full of goodbyes to new friends made within the short period we’d been together! We, the people traveling to Jirapa made the longest journey of about 15 hours which started at 5 am. Since we woke up early for the journey, most of us wanted a space to sleep so I had to leave my seat I shared with Oliver to get more comfortable one for myself to have a pleasant ride. We traveled through the Eastern, Ashanti, Brong Ahafo, and the Northern regions before arriving in the Upper West region where we continued to Jirapa which is about an hour away from WA, the capital. The journey was long and tiring and not much to look out for because it was raining in the southern sector until we entered the northern belt.
The drive brought back a lot of memories I had when I was riding on the cold early morning in Wenchi to the hot sunny afternoon at Tuna-Sawla. Our bus broke down when we were about 40 kilometers away from WA. This was as a result of a faulty fuel filter which took the driver about 40 minutes before he figured it out the problem. It was changed when we got to Wa. Our journey to the west didn’t end in Wa but we continued to Jirapa where we spent the night at the sisters’ convent where we were later picked up by our host homes after having our in-community orientation with the stakeholders and our host homes. I honestly didn’t know what to expect since it was a different place from what I imagined and saw when I was riding across Ghana!
Nimbare – Kompore & My host home
“Home is where the heart is and find peace.”
Nimbare and Kompore are twin communities. Kompore is a branch road off the Jirapa – Tizza road and it’s about 3 kilometers away from Nimbare. There are about 700 residents in the village. Farming is the major occupation here where they grow maize, beans, millet, and rice. Most homes rear animals – pigs, guinea fowls, fowls and goats in addition to their crop farming. Few households have donkeys.
I stayed with an old widow called Madam Sapog who is about 65 years old and her granddaughter named Grace who is in class 6. Mama Sapog has 7 seven children as most of the children are in the senior high school. My host home had a very big compound which is very lively at night because that is where I help the kids with their homework. In the middle of the house laid the husband of the old lady and there also stood the big mango tree. In terms of facilities, the toilet and bathroom are outside the compound and it is a mud brick building with roofing, but despite that, it’s usually relatively clean and decent enough. The food is cooked by Grace or the children of Madam Sapog when they happen to be home. I cooked some of the food myself when I couldn’t eat what was prepared. The food was good as I had no option. Foodstuff was got on Sundays at Jirapa during the market day which relatively cheap as compared to the other days. I enjoyed the Bɛlɛbɛlɛ dish made from beans.
Language-wise, English-speaking members of the family are limited. Grace understood Twi and was able to communicate in English so she served as a link between me and her grandmother. Her uncle, Hermes who is in WA also spoke good English. The room itself wasn’t really comfortable which I found it to be a fair decent one in the community. However, the network is very bad and only exists in certain areas which differ depending on your phone and network. Inside the room has an OK signal for calls and text messages. Also standing under the mango tree around the compound also has a good network signal. Nimabre is a very lively community and the people are very welcoming. Community integration was easy when you approach them with all open mind. The town square is under a Baobab tree where they meet occasionally to talk about themselves and the village; pito is sold at almost every corner of the village and it is lively during the day.
Realities of the project…
“If you wish to know the truth, then hold no opinions.”
If someone had told me being an adult was the greatest swindle of all time, I wouldn’t have believed it and if there was too much to experience in one country, I couldn’t have believed but I had something to expect since Ghana isn’t Accra! I honestly didn’t know what to expect on this project so I went on placement with a very open mind. The realities of the project are so intense that I didn’t even anticipate! The project is like living life where every day comes with its own challenges with no user manual but you try to find solutions to the problems presented. Even though I have been to other remote villages, the realities on the ground are very much different.
The first few weeks were learning opportunity for and the rest of the team members. We had a meeting with the school authorities and the PTA with the stakeholders where we talked about our involvement and how best they can help deliver on why we were there; they welcomed as like the day the queen came to Ghana to declare independence. The beginning of the project was like a roller-coaster until the light went out, you don’t know if you are going to die or you will be saved since your head is hanging upside. Coming on the project with much expectations based on commitments, skills and the hunger to learn new things and adapt to situations came with its own challenges that will make you wish you never signed up to help, but when the positives outweigh the negatives. Sometimes things don’t go as we plan and it makes it very difficult for you to know if you making an impact when there’s no instrument or unit to measure your success or progress with the students or towards the project especially when routines are almost the same. I felt the hunger for making impact had it fair share of my disappointment I had at the beginning but I later found a way to overcome all these things.
During the project, I got to know that the kids come to school as early as half past 5 in the morning and they don’t even have to deal with traffic to get to school. These school children come to school on an empty stomach till they close at 1 – you are lucky if you are in the primary school because you will have school feeding food. I was ignorant about this development so I felt the children were not ready for what we had to offer them when we tell them to wait after school for reading clubs and other activities. When we knew about this, we redeveloped our plan where we planned to suit their time. It was when I got to know about a girl called Tiata; Tiata was the daughter of the landlord of the community but she looked different from her other siblings. This amazed me because the others looked nice and they were always in school but she was always in the house. I tried to hold a conversation with her but she was not forthcoming so I didn’t want to continue until I go to know that she was a half-sister of their other kids and her mother didn’t like it when she talked to us the volunteers. We went there during their harvesting season so she was always going to the farm and the mother didn’t allow her to go to regular school but Dagaare classes after school. This was a bit of challenge until he had a meeting with the mother which she later allowed her to be in school – to let her like coming to school, we sew uniform for her to encourage her to be in school. I pray her mother allow her to have a better education.
In addition to the realities is the cross-culture relationship of the project; most of us coming from different backgrounds sometimes makes it very difficult when adapting and making your views heard. Working as a team has added a lot to my skills especially when misunderstanding doesn’t affect team performances. When views are not communicated well, it breeds conflicts among the team and this was witnessed when I sent an early morning text to the team airing my view on a decision I agreed to. It was a bit rough but it was resolved in no time.
When things were not going as planned, talking to teammates about how I feel and seeking their views on the project and if they were feeling same and working towards my goal helped. Also talking to the students to assist achieve set goals; their feedback helped you know the impact. Don’t expect much in communities where most people are held back to their views. I noticed that that was the reason I felt I wasn’t doing much because they sometimes don’t know how to express it. If you still feel there’s no impact, talk to your team leader and ask about your progress and what they think of how you’ve done so far.
Ideas collected so far:
• Nothing happens quickly—must be patient
• Don’t be disheartened if the students can’t do as much as you expected
• Don’t always expect the timetable to be followed
• Don’t expect it to be the same as the school you went to
• Daily goals / small successes
Maybe I always looked back thinking it was better than it was. I got some scars, I have been in pain and seen things but I am here now.
THE ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITIES
There are not many economic activities opportunities in village aside their annual farming activities. Some make money when they got to market to sell their wares or Pito – locally brewed drink from millet. Because of this, the men leave the women for the southern part of the country. This also doesn’t allow the children to complete school since they have to fend for themselves. They want us to help those training opportunities so they can work after their farming season. They travel to the southern part of the country to work on people’s farm or come to the capital as head porters. During my stay in the community I had some conversation with some members where they told me, they would be glad if they had other economic opportunities that won’t let them travel to the capital. Based on our dialogues, they wanted to get skilled jobs like producing liquid and bar soaps, hairdressing or tailoring. I also noticed there was illegal mining site which is owned by the Chinese. The students go there during the vacation to make money and this affects their education in the long run.
Hope you enjoyed the read. Read the second part here.