Building in Ghana by Donal Egan
It had been a long standing desire of mine, to not only travel to West African, but in some capacity become involved in a community/development programme there, as well as immerse myself in the culture and way of life. When I finally decided to commit to it and put the time aside, I spent more than a fair amount of hours on the internet trying to source out the right experience for me.
The web seemed to be inundated with companies and charities offering various volunteer opportunities that just didn't seem to fit what I was trying to get out of it all. Finally I stumbled across Projects Abroad, and within a short time of researching their various locations and projects, I realised what exactly it was that I wanted to be a part of and where I wanted to be based. Ghana had always had a certain lure for me and I was happy to see that they had such a variety of projects there, in numerous locations across the country.
First impressions of Ghana
I was fortunate enough to be placed in Mamfe in the Akuapem Hills, where I spent two months volunteering on a local building project, constructing classrooms for a primary school along with many other volunteers. Arriving at the age of 26, I was apprehensive that the scheme might be catered for much younger volunteers, on gap years before university/work for example. However I soon realised there was a wide diversity in ages, nationalities, and backgrounds that made the whole experience that bit more special.
Arriving in the country, I was full of nerves and anticipation. I wasn´t exactly sure what to expect and soon realised that my research prior to the trip would only get me so far and you really just had to jump in the deep end and immerse yourself in it. When we touched down in Accra, two other volunteers and myself, were greeted by a Projects Abroad member of staff, and set up in a hostel for the night in the capital before travelling up to the Hills the next morning.
I always knew that Ghana was an impoverished country, but the journey through the city and up to the hills really brought the reality to light, and made me try to focus on the reasons I was there. Situated in the Eastern region, the Akuapuem Hills is a vibrant place that spans over an area of villages, towns and farmland, giving you a varied and rich experience of the country
My Host family in Ghana
On arrival I was introduced to my host family (Gerald, Cynthia and their three young children) and the house that I would call home for the next few months. Myself and the six other fantastic volunteers that I stayed with at the house, were well looked after during our time there and treated to the warm Ghanaian hospitality we had all previously been told of.
The accommodation was pretty basic but felt homely with the family and other volunteers. The constant power cuts and often infrequently running water (a luxury compared to other homes), seemed like a big problem early on, but you soon get used to the rhythm of things and embrace it as all part of the experience.
The Ghanaian food, (pros being jollof rice or banku, cons being the almost daily variations of yam or plantane) was definitely an experience to say the least and took some time to adjust to, but like most things in the country, it all added to the whole adventure. Without all these factors, I don´t think it would have felt as authentic and therefore unique. Interaction with the locals was always frequent and always a pleasure and you soon got used to the shouts of Obruni, that was for the vast majority of times meant as a cheerful greeting.
The Building Project
Ghana, like most of Africa, rises early, and with plenty to do the days always seemed full of work and activity, but with plenty of time to relax and reflect as well. We were tasked with constructing two new classrooms for one of the local schools in Mamfe.
The working day on site seemed short in comparison to back home, building from 8:00am to 12:30pm, but the sweltering heat meant that it was almost impossible to work in the afternoon. It was hands on, dirty and often tough but all the more rewarding for it, and I would happily do it again. The work ranged from making mortar and bricks, to building foundations, floors, walls, windows, doors and roofs, and with the process being so quick, it never felt like a dull day on site.
There was a certain pride in the process and with the afternoon free to spend as you wish, it never felt overwhelming. Coming from a background as an architecture student, I found it fascinating to learn and work with materials and building techniques that were so simple and cheap but more importantly very effective. The fact that it was a primary school also allowed for constant interaction with the kids during breaks, and was a particular highlight of my time there. I was particularly lucky to be involved in a scheme that allowed me to be there from inception to almost completion, therefore enjoying the fruits of our collective labour.
Weekends were free to use as you wanted and for all the time I spent there I was always travelling with other volunteers during this time, exploring the country and its many hidden gems. The 10 regions of Ghana vary so differently, each with its own richness and sights to experience.
Personal highlights included the Wli waterfalls, hectic markets of Kumasi, numerous national parks, and the chilled out atmosphere of Cape Coast, Ada Foah and Kokrobete. It allowed time to unwind, while the long journeys on the cramped little tro-tros gave you the chance to chat to locals and exchange stories.
Reflections on my volunteering experience
I left Ghana just over three months ago now, and since then, have been travelling extensively, experiencing different countries and cultures, so it is difficult not to compare them with my time in the Hills. I often find myself drifting back to my time there, and trying to understand what it was that made me so fond of this country. It is a place that has a certain warmth and pull on you that you just can´t put your finger on and has far surpassed all my expectations.
Projects Abroad has been a great avenue for me to experience all these things and I cannot praise the staff that looked after us in the Hills enough. I would strongly recommend Projects Abroad to anyone who wanted to experience something unique whilst making a real impact.