My Gap Year in Ghana
I’ve always known I wanted to do a Gap Year, but I never wanted to just travel by myself or stay at home and work, so volunteering with Lattitude was a really great way to combine both work and travel, while also doing something useful and helping others.
Africa has been on the bucket list for a long time but I’ve always been wary of the fact that it is quite dangerous, so it was really awesome to see it as an option for volunteering because I knew I would be in a small, safe village. A gap year in Ghana specifically stood out to me because of the way past Lattitude volunteers had described it. Travel within Ghana is so easy, which means they were able to travel each weekend, to each other’s placements and all over the country, plus it has the coast and so much beautiful scenery.
Although Ghana is relatively developed compared to a lot of other African countries, it’s still very clearly quite poor. The main road connecting villages is paved, but the rest is simply dirt and dust. Houses are small and often the whole family will sleep in the same room. It’s a much more intimate experience because everyone lives so close to each other and therefore knows each other. The thing I love most about Ghana is the people. It’s such a relaxed and happy lifestyle, and everybody is always laughing. As well as that, the country is amazing. The beaches and scenery are completely different to anything back at home and it’s so interesting to see.
My placement is in a small town called Gomoa ABEA, which is made up of 4 little villages. The lifestyle is very slow and relaxed, everybody is insanely friendly and always wants to know your name or where you’re from or why you’re in Ghana. Everyone will invite you to eat dinner with them or carry your things to your house, and the children always run up and grab our hands and give us hugs, it’s just the happiest environment to be in.
At my placement, we go to a primary school from 8am until 12. We started off observing classes and then started teaching a bit, and now we are painting the library and will hopefully raise enough money to paint the rest of the school too. After 12 we go to a daycare in another village which is specifically made for underprivileged children. We help them with their homework and play with them during break times, and are also fundraising to do some construction work to expand the daycare and add upper primary classrooms.
After the daycare we rest for a few hours and then go and play sport for a charity organisation which funds underprivileged kids to go to school for free. We play either football, volleyball or handball with different groups and are always trying to get more children to join each sport so they can be supported for school, and we also use the sport as a way to raise awareness to the children about the relevant social issues in Ghana such as teenage pregnancy, access to education, mental health awareness, and other problems within the smaller communities.
As well as this work, we are helping out with the organisation of free health screenings in the different communities, and are planning to start visiting different communities to do needs assessments, so we can see if there is anything we can improve about each community.
At home our host family lets us take care of ourselves which is great. We cook our own breakfast and help out with dinner, clean our own dishes, do laundry, sweep and clean our room, and so on. We have a host mother who is retired and stays home most of the day, and a host father who works as a teacher. Their daughter, son, son’s wife and son’s child also live with us, and they’re all so friendly and helpful.
Me and Meg share a pretty big room, we have 2 beds and 2 chairs, and we hung up a washing line between two windows so that we could hang our clothes up on something. We have flushing toilets where all you need to do is bring a little bucket of water into the bathroom with you, and a working pipe as a shower, but because of limited water supply we use the pipe to fill a bucket and then bucket shower.
Everything is smaller than back at home but I love it. We still live very comfortably while at the same time challenging ourselves, and it has definitely made me realise how privileged I am at home and has made me appreciate small things which I never thought of as special before.
There are a lot of differences between Ghana and home and it was a bit difficult at the start since we didn’t really know how everything worked, but it was very easy to cope with all of the changes by just getting into it as much as possible. As long as we looked at the differences in a positive way (eg cold showers are so much more refreshing than warm ones) it made it very easy to become comfortable. As well as that, it was relatively easy for me to deal with any problems by just telling myself that I was only here for 6 months, everything I was struggling with was very temporary, and that it would be over so soon that I would miss it, which helped me a lot and made me appreciate the differences even more, plus I enjoy working with the children a lot so being around them would always brighten my mood.
My best moment so far was at the end of my second lesson, I had just finished teaching class 4 how to add fractions, which is a concept they’d been struggling with for a few days. As soon as the kids understood how to do it they got very excited, and at the end of class they started cheering and gave me a standing ovation. They were singing and dancing and screaming, and all came up to hug me as I was leaving. That was by far one of my favourite moments, and it was so amazing to see them reacting so happily and gratefully to what I had taught them.
The teaching has really helped me change and develop as well. It has made me become a lot more loud and confident, and I can feel myself becoming a lot more mature and independent as I’m getting used to living by myself and having to take care of my own washing, sweeping, buying toiletries etc. I’m becoming a lot more talkative as well, which I absolutely love since everyone in the village always wants to talk. I’m more involved in the community and just becoming so much happier to live in this village than I was living at home.
Ghana has made me realise that I love people, especially children, and that I really want to have a job where I help those who need it the most. After Ghana I want to study something along the lines of developmental studies, environmental studies or international relations to help me get a similar job, and I definitely want to come back in the very near future.
Volunteering is a great way to make friends and see a new country while also feeling good because you are helping people. I personally think that community work is the best placement as we can choose different work and specifically focus on doing what individual communities need. It’s amazing and makes us feel so good because we are genuinely changing lives and getting kids educated, meaning they can get a well-paying job and support a family, which they wouldn’t have been able to do without an education. I highly recommend any sort of volunteering, especially in Ghana!