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Published: October 8th 2011
Hello people, I haven’t written one of these in a while and I know how much you’ve all missed them so here goes.
I’ve always intended to visit Africa, and I’ve finally got round to doing it via signing up to do 9 weeks of volunteer work in Ghana. On the 7th August 2011 I flew to Accra the capital city of Ghana to start my 9 weeks of volunteer work.
The flight from Heathrow left at 9:50am and I Arrived at Accra at around 7:00pm where I was picked up in a car by SYTO (the Ghanaian company who organize the volunteer work) and taken to the Pink Hostel where me and the fellow eight volunteers would be staying during our “orientation week” in Accra.
It was an earlyish start the next morning so I was up at 7 for breakfast where I met the other seven volunteers (all female from age 18 – 23, felt a little old, ha!) for the first time. Shortly after breakfast we were on a bus going to the SYTO office for our first day of orientation which involved talks on Ghana’s culture & customs, Geography and politics. The Tuesday was
a little more exciting with the day starting at the SYTO office again with a talk on traveling and what there is to see in Ghana which got me extremely excited about the 9 weeks ahead. We also had a lesson (was like being back at school) in Twi, many Ghanaians first language (they have loads of different languages), although officially English is the national language. We learnt some of the basic words and phrases with the most useful/used being ete sen (how are you), bokoo (im cool) and obruni (white man). In the afternoon we went to La Badi beech and although it wasn't all that sunny I still managed to get burnt! On the way back to the office from the beech we went to a coffin making workshop (bit weird) where they made all sorts of personalized coffins, for e.g. a coke can coffin. On the Wednesday some of the volunteers extended there visa's, we had a little look around Accra and then in the afternoon we had a traditional drum and dance lesson. We learned a section of a local Accra dance called Fume Fume, and after played the rhythm of the dance on an African
National Cultural Market
......... with some dude trying to sell me somethng!
drum made from cow skin. This was great fun, if not a little tricky for someone with no rhythm, i don't think i was the worst however. On the final day of the orientation we had a cooking lesson where we made red red (slowly boiled beans, fried plantain, spices and a tomatoe'e type sauce). It was very nice and this dish was to become my favorite Ghanaian food over the 9 weeks. In the afternoon we had a bus tour around Accra and visited Independent Square, the Cultural Market and old Accra where we went to various places along the coast to do with the history of the slave trade. In old Accra we also visited a couple of sites who practice the old fashion methods of the bread making and metal bending industries. This tour was extremely interesting and really gave me a taste of Ghana.
Ok then, with the orientation stuff out the way, on Friday the 12th August me and a couple of the German girls, Bel and Tammy were up at 3:30am and on our way to Kumasi in the Ashanti region (kinda the center of Ghana) as this is where our different work
placements were located. We arrived at Kumasi at around midday and by 2pm the manager of the place i was going to work, Paul Darko, picked me up and we got in a taxi and headed to Baworo. Baworo was where i was going to be staying and working for the next 8 weeks and is around 10 miles away from the city and took around 40 minutes in the taxi.
Once in Baworo, Darko (the manager) immediately showed me where i would be working and took me to the Baworo ICCES Centre where he explained what the centre was and what i would be doing. I'll do the same for you now:-
ICCES stands for Integrated Community Centre for Employable Skills (64 centre's nationwide) and is a government run organisation (although its hard to believe with the lack of support the centre gets!!!!!) which teaches 16 - 21 year olds skilled trades such as Building, Carpentry, Electrical's, Dress Making and Catering. Its aimed at teenagers who cant afford or didn't get the grades for further education and school drop outs. The main objectives of the centre are:-
1. To train the youth of Ghana in trades
so that they are employable and have the skills to become self employed.
2. To combat youth unemployment in rural areas and stop children moving to the city for non existent jobs.
3. To help the development of poor, poverty stricen rural areas by having youth with skills to sustain themselves and there families.
Darko then went on to explain the problems the Baworo centre has so here are some:-
1. Not having enough room, facilities and materials to teach (there's 4 classrooms, not enough tables and chairs and 173 students).
2. Not enough beds or dorm rooms for students who board with many of them sleeping on the floor.
3. Very little support from the local community and government to try to develop/expand the centre.
Darko then explained that my main duties whilst i was there would be to help him campaign to attract new students (the new school year starts end of Sept), help organize files and save onto a computer, help with the administration of the centre and to assist him in his fight to get funding for the centre. Originally my volunteer work was meant to be building but the centre doesn't have
Cant remember the name!
the money to continue building.
After the meeting with the centre manager i was introduced to my "host family" briefly, the mum is called Madame Maggie and her daughters names are Angie (12) and Onarlia (6). I'll talk about them more later in the blog.
The next day i was invited to attend the funeral of one of the centre's students who died of malaria. This was a bit of an eye opener and culture shock early on in my stay in Barowo. The student came from a town called Agogo (around 45 mins away) and the funeral was extremely different to that of one in England. It was like a street party with loads of loud music, dancing etc but with the same amount of grief. The dead body was also out on display so people could go and pay there final respects.
I'm now going to split the blog into three, with the headings working life, home life and travel, giving a summary of each during my 8 week stay in Barowo.
During my 8 weeks working at Barowo ICCES and with the centre manager my main duties as mentioned earlier
was to assist in the administration of the centre and to work with Darko in the general running of the centre.
Due to the facilities at the centre with the computers being old and heavily virsed the role involved endless trips into Kumasi to use the internet cafe's and photo copying stations. The Ashanti Regional Director for ICCES was also based in Kumasi so we would regularly have meetings with him discussing what we were doing at the centre and ways we could be improving it. The constant trips into Kumasi was not a very comfortable daily experience with the road from Baworo to the main highway being extremely bad and the mode of transport, in a tro tro (a stupidly beat up van squeezing as many people on as possible) not being the best.
The main bulk of the work for the first 6 weeks was aimed at preparing the centre for the start on the new academic year on the 19th September. Some of the work i did included editing admission forms & the profile sheets for the centre, designing an admission poster to attract new students to the centre, designing a register for the teachers
View from the shop
and setting up templates for the termly accounts and student results to be recorded in. As well as the general administration work, me and Darko (centre manager) also worked on a proposal to the district assembly requesting there assistance to help the centre. The proposal which i presented to the chief executive of the Ejisu District Assembly included a letter explaining why the funding is needed, the centre profile and estimates for the materials needed for beds, desks and for some electrical work to be done in one of the dorm rooms. The initial response was promising but after a couple of follow up visits to see if any funding would come from it the answers we got didn't sound good with them explaining how little money they have at there disposal.
The last major task before the new term started was to go on our advertising campaign with our posters trying to attract new students. We went to a number of communities within the district plastering the posters everywhere and meeting the communities chiefs explaining why they should send there children to Baworo ICCES.
In my final two weeks of work when the students had all returned
back for the start of the new term my workload seemed to decrease somewhat as i didnt really want to teach. That said i still had to re-do a lot of the work i'd saved on to the memory stick as that to was effected by the viruses on the schools computers and had been deleted . I also helped the students for a couple of days in there practical lesson as they were doing work at Darko's house. This was because there was a death in Darko's family and they were preparing themselves for the funeral to be held at the house. I mainly helped the carpentry student dismantle and put up new windows, i.e. metal meshing and mosquito netting with wooden framing.
I really enjoyed the volunteer work at Baworo ICCES and firmly believe the centre can continue to grow and expand due to the hard work put in by Darko and the teachers. That said the centre needs to find ways to become self sufficient, and needs to try and get away from relying on donations from ex volunteers to keep the centre going. Because of this i donated a little amount to the centre and
Mosque at Barowo
..... Taken from outside me room
specifically requested that the money is used for the catering and dress making students to buy materials and produce goods to sell at a profit, creating a source of income other than just student fees (which many students cant afford to pay) and donations.
Ok then, as mentioned earlier the members of the family i was staying with were Maggie, Angie and Onarlia, Maggie's sister Akous also lived with them.Maggie and Akous would prepare breakfast for me and Akous and Angie would collect the water from the bore whole in the village for me to wash with and flush the loo with. So i had it sorted really and apart from keeping my room tidyish i had very little to do in terms of looking after myself with Dako's wife/oldest daughter also doing my washing. I stayed in a good size room with the family living in a room opposite about the same size as mine but with four of them in. There was no kitchen or living room with the cooking and eating done outside. Maggie is a teacher who teaches dress making at Bawaro ICCES as well as running a local shop (where the
family eat and prepared the meals) and being a single parent. She pretty much worked 24/7 and even when she was working in the shop she would be making school uniforms and dresses on the side for extra money so she could provide for the girls. I ended up spending a lot of the time with the family and enjoyed there company greatly playing various board games with them, trying to keep Onarlia enertained and just having general discussions with them all in English which was good!
The food Maggie and Akous prepared for me and the Ghanaian food in general was awesome. Some of the local dishes that i particuarly liked were red red (fried plantan and bean sauce), fu fu with soup (fu fu is yam and plantan pounded together) and yam with with various different sauces. I also enjoyed eating the food the local way which was to use your right hand, i have to admit eating soup with fu fu like this took a bit of getting used too.
As well as spending time with my host family i also spent a lot of time at Darko's house. He lived in kind of a
community within a community with all his brothers and family living in the same plot of land. I tended to go to his place after work and we'd discuss some of the centre's issues and how to solve them aswell as talking about life in general.
As for Baworo itself, i really liked the small rural community. All the peolple there were extremely friendly, always greeting me and asking me ete sen (how are you) followed by more Twi which i didnt understand. The children were also very freindly and every time they saw me they'd say Obruni (white man) how are you? A few of them also got to know my name and would yell out Kwadwo (monday born, people are named after the day they were born in Ghana) Ian every time i passed them.
One of the highlights of my stay at Baworo was on the day of the Adue Kese festival which is the celebration of the Ashanti's and there ancestors. This festival occurs every 40 days with the Royal family of each community visiting there respected communities and the locals going and greeting them. In Baworo the locals all gather at the queen
mothers house and the festival i went to was extra special as the chief of the community who lives in England was present. He seems to be worshiped by everyone in Baworo which must be a massive culture change from being a bus driver in London. The day was spent at the queen mothers mainly drinking schnapps, whiskey and a weird 7.5% Guinness. In the evening i got invited by the royal family to join them for dinner at the local spot (bar) which i obviously excepted. Its save to say by 7pm when the queen mother and chief were returning to Kumasi i was pretty drunk!
One thing i'll remember most about Ghana is how the people who i met were all extremely friendly, loud, animated and extremely enthusiastic about life even though many of them have very little. Its really refreshing to see and makes you realize how lucky we are and how much we take for granted like running hot water, electricity etc.
Although my time in Ghana was mainly taken up by work i had the weekends free to travel and see some of the beautiful sites the country has to offer.
In the first full weekend in Barowo i stuck to taking a look around the city of Kumasi visiting Manhiyia Palace where the Ashanti king lives, the national cultural museum and the zoo, aswell as seeing a few big Churches and statues in the city. Kumasi its self is like many other cities in the world, extremely hectic with horrendous traffic but i got to quite like it over the 8 weeks.
On the 21st August i took my first little day trip out of the city with Darko to Lake Bosomtwi which is around 35km south of Kumasi. To get to the lake was a bit of a nightmare, getting on three different tro tro's and a shared taxi (managed to get 6 passangers in, very uncomfortable) but it was worth it. The lake was very picturesque and relaxing with no other tourists or Obruni's in sight. It was nice to spend the day relaxing in the sun and spending some time swimming and watching some of the locals enjoying the water.
My first trip outside the Ashanti region was on Saturday 27th August to the Volta and Eastern regions with Bel and Tammy (the two
German girls who were also volunteering around the Kumasi area). The first destination we headed to was Wli Waterfalls in the Volta region. The journey there was a bit of a mission taking an 8 hour Metro Bus to Ho, then a 2 hour tro tro trip to Hohoe followed by an hour in a taxi to the waterfall. The journey was extremely long and a little eventful as whilst on the tro tro trip to Hohoe one of the tyres blew out and the driver had to change the tyre in torrential rain. We arrived at the waterfall at around 7pm and found somewhere to stay. We were up at 6 the next morning and walking to the waterfall through the forest without a tourist in sight. The waterfall itself was pretty impressive and after a short time there we headed back and were on the road heading towards Akosomba Dam and Lake Volta (the worlds largest man made lake) in the Eastern Region.
After a shortish Tro Tro trip we arrived and spent the first hour or so relaxing by the lake and having a drink. We then headed to a place called Aylos Bay and took a
boat tour on the Volta Lake which took us to Akosomba dam. I enjoyed the boat tour watching the locals fish and going about there every day life on the lakeside in there communities. It took around 30 minutes to get to the dam which was a pretty impressive site, purely because of the size of it. After spending a night in the lakeside hotel we were back on the road again on Monday heading back to Kumasi and back to work.
My next weekend away was to Cape Coast in the Central Region which is enriched with history regarding the slave trade aswell as having beautiful beaches. I went on this trip alone on Saturday 10th September and arrived at Cape Coast Castle at around midday. After spending a little time on the beach and walking around the castle i decided to take the tour inside. The tour was extremely interesting seeing the horrific conditions the slaves were kept in before being sold on. The slaves were kept in the Dungeons which were very small for the amount of slaves kept in them with little to no daylight. There was no sewage system in the dungeons and the
slaves would literally be sleeping in there own urine and s**t. The thing that shocked me the most was that above the dungeons they built a catholic church which had a peep hole to the dungeons so they could monitor the slaves. Doesn't sound all that religious to me! After spending a couple of hours here i got in a taxi and went to Elmina castle about 20 minutes away. I took a couple of photo's here and had a look around the town before heading to The Stumble Inn where i was staying in Elimina Bay. The beach here was lush and i spent the afternoon sunbathing/getting burnt and reading.
After a good nights sleep i was back in a taxi on Sunday and heading to Kakum National Park which is a rainforest. I got to the park before it opened but one of the guides took me on a private tour to the Canopy walkway looking over the forest. It took around 45 minutes to get to the walkway which is kind of like 7 rope bridges 40 metres above ground level in the tree tops. The views and crazy animal noices you could see and here were
amazing and would thankfully distract you from the fact you were 40 metres above ground stumbling all over the place on something which didn't seem all that stable!!! The walkway was built in 1996 i think by 2 Canadians and 6 Ghanians, I would of loved to see them built it!
On Staurday 17th Sept me, Bel and Tammy decided to go to the Northern region and to Mole National Park. This didnt exactly go to plan however. We met at the Metro Bus Station at 5am to catch a bus to Tamale (capital of northern region). Unfortunately hundreds of locals had the same idea and we found ourselves in a massive queue, well something which kind of resembled a queue anyway. After 8 hours and 3 buses coming and going we were finally at the front and they were selling tickets for a bus that had just arrived. Lots of pushing, shoving and climbing started with people desperate to get a ticket, and just as Bel was getting a ticket there was a scream and i saw her collapse. During the carnage of trying to get tickets she had got her arm stuck on the metal mesh at
Adue Kese Festival in Barowo
The queen mother and cheif being welcomed by locals
the ticket office and got pushed ripping her lower arm open. We rushed her to hospital fighting through the crowds who were still fighting to get there tickets and she had 6 stitches in her arm. We decided to leave the trip up north until the next week for obvious reasons.
So on Friday 23rd Sept we headed up to Tamale, this time booking a ticked in advance with STC Buses which cost more but was a much better service. We left Kumasi at 7am and arrived in Tamale at 1pm and found ourselves again fighting for bus tickets to get to Mole National Park. After being told there were no tickets left i managed to talk to the manager who got us 3 tickets for the 2pm Bus. This bus didn't arrive until 5 meaning we didn't get to Mole National park until 10pm, 15 hours after we left Kumasi. The next morning we were up early and were on a walking safari through the national park. The safari lasted around 2 hours and despite being early in the morning it was extremely hot. The walk alone was worth the 7 cedis (around 3 pounds) paid, walking through
all the trees, vegetation, lakes and streams. The first hour or so of the walk we saw very little in terms of wildlife, but in the second hour it was as if the animals had awoken. We saw antelopes, water buffaloes, wild boar, baboons and other monkeys, a brief glimpse of a crocodile with the highlight being seeing an African elephant up close. The safari was great fun and after walking back up to the Mole Motel (where we were staying) you could see all the amazing views of where you just walked through, seeing the landscape and wild animals. The rest of the day was spent relaxing by the pool the motel had, again situated with the most amazing views. The next day we were up at 4am and on our journey back to Kumasi. On the journey back i realized just how bad the road was from the national park to Kumasi, with an 87km journey taking around 4 hours. This was because the road was a hardened dirt track and was extremely bumpy all the way with the bus feeling like it could tip over at any point.
On my final weekend in Ghana i set
of on my own to the Brong Ahafo Region, just north of Ashanti to take a look at the Boabeng Fiema monkey sanctuary and Kintampo Waterfalls. I arrived at the sanctuary at around 11am and again found myself having a private guide as i was the only tourist there (result!!!!). The sanctuary is litearlly the two villages of Boabeng and Fiema where the locals and two species of monkey live peacfully together. The villagers see the monkeys as being sacred and no harm can be done to them. The tour itself was extremely interesting with the guide explaining what the locals use some of the 92 tree species in the forest area for and then taking me to the village to see the monkeys. The Mona Forest Monkey's are brown and white and interact closely with the locals, i saw loads of these, many in houses and on rooftops looking for any food they could steal from the houses. The second species, called the Pied Columbus Monkey are black and white and are a lot more shy, they are only found in the forest up in the tree tops. The tour ended with the guide taking me to the Monkey
Cemetary which the locals have created. The locals beleive that when the monkeys are about to die they come into the village so there bodies can be found and buried in the cemetery.
After the sanctuary i headed around 1 hour north to Kintampo where i stayed the night. On the Sunday morning i headed to Kintampo Falls which was really nice, took a few photo's and then headed back down to Kumasi.
I really enjoyed travelling around Ghana and it was a very different experiance to other places i have been. Its without doubt a beautiful country with many amazing places, animals and people to see. However to get to some of these places can be extremely difficult with some extremely bad roads and the hassle of trying to get transport to the areas. This in a way is nice as it means the country and environment hasn't had the negative effect that tourism can sometimes cause. That said i think its something the government should look at as tourism can and will help the country develop and should be promoted a lot more.
Newho there is an awful lot of waffle in there so i think
i best stop. I'm now back in Accra and fly home tonight so i shall see you all very soon.
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