Bawjiase Orphanage

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April 24th 2010
Published: January 31st 2012
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Trucking over, I began a whole new adventure: Volunteering. After a few days hanging with some of the stragglers from the overlanding group in Accra, I got to the IVHQ volunteer house in Medina, which was a bit of a shock to the system, after being with my tent and bunk mate Asher for a month, and constantly having people about, to have nothing much to do and no one to speak to, seemed odd, and lonely. It's crazy to think, in those first few days after the truck, I was thinking about not going to the orphanage at all. After having a great month travelling, that was all I wanted to keep doing. Keep moving, maybe to Togo or Benin, I wasn’t sure, but the thought of staying in the same place for three whole weeks seemed too much. But hey, I thought, I need to give it a try. Good decision.

My first day in Bawjiase, the village I was to be staying in for the next month, was a Sunday, so we went to the beach/rasta/party town of Kokrobite where I met all the volunteers: Two American girls called Evan and Phoebe, a fellow Brit- Dan, a crazy German called Patricia, and Bjørn from Norway. The rest of what became our group came about a week later- Gunnar and Michelle, from New York, Aza from Kazakhstan, and Brandy, from Philadelphia. Again, it was the people that made the experience so great, and we were so incredibly lucky that our little group was so awesome. So many other people I met who volunteered elsewhere in Ghana, though they enjoyed their time, didn't have nearly as much fun as we did. That day we just chilled on the beach, I ate more lobster and then we came back to the Christian Refuge Orphanage in Bawjiase, and the kids, for Monday morning.

The kids are nothing short of fantastic. Having grown up in the orphanage all their lives, they're used to the coming and going of various volunteers, and whilst you might expect that to be unsettling, it just seems to mean that they warm to people very quickly. They'll almost immediately come over and lounge on you in whatever way feels comfortable. Ask you your name, tell you theirs, show off their counting skills, and hug. Never, in all my life, have I met a more talented group of huggers.

They’ve all had a tough time, whatever their stories. Some lost their parents in tribal wars, some parents drowned, some just didn’t have the money to look after them, the youngest, baby Leah, was just found in a bush with nothing but a blanket and her birth certificate. But they’re so much fun, they pretty much love anything that poses a threat to their health, mainly being thrown around, hunting chickens bigger than they are, eating razor blades, that sort of thing. They range from six months (Leah) to about fourteen, though exact dates and birthdays are all pretty sketchy, and with all ages in between. The less said about the couple running the orphanage the better at this point. We weren't all that sure where any of the money or even the food was going to half the time, and it was frustrating that it rarely felt like we were working together for the same cause. Though there were good people, and many of the men and women working there were great and really cared about the kids, it was just sometimes difficult to know who were the good guys and who were the bad.

Bawjiase is quite a small, very friendly town, we were living about half an hour away from the market in a really quiet part, out of the way of everything, we were the only white people around, and our house was referred to as the Obruni (foreigner, or white person) house. There’s a lot of greeness around, and I did a bit of work on the farm, pretty much just weeding and stuff, which is another half hour walk away through palm trees and long grass which is beautiful, especially at 6.30am when it's best to go, before the heat sets in.

We went away somewhere every weekend, the second one we went to Basoa, another beautiful beach, way more chilled and quiet than Kokrobite, where I was super cool as usual and spent the evenings where everyone else was out drinking and socialising, lying around with my book (Three Cups of Tea – Greg Mortenson, best book ever, read it. So inspiring). I got to get a surf in, plus a ton of body surfing, I ate more lobster, got some pretty nice photos, made some nice friends, Brandy and I got super burnt sitting on a boat in the middle of the sea for hours, it was a really good weekend.

Next was a trip to Accra for one of the volunteer leader’s wedding (and the hen/stag parties, and more calzone). It was, um, odd… The wedding itself was presented by two women who were just improvising on the spot and didn’t seem to know the couple’s last names, they sang ‘if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands’ and then talked about the brides wedding day panties. It was also very long, very hot, and Ghanaian’s have this thing that if a stereo can go so loud, it should go so loud, regardless of distortion. We all needed a hard earned nap afterwards before the party that night, which would have been alright had it not been for the 400 Ghanaian men rubbing themselves up against the twenty white chicks there (it happens), thankfully Dan was very good at going around claiming to be everyone’s fiancée (which didn’t work so well with one guy who when he heard Dan and Evan were supposedly married and Evan was pregnant with her first child (she was not), the guy asked if he could marry it
The gang, after a night at action spotThe gang, after a night at action spotThe gang, after a night at action spot

(L-R) Francis, Evan, Bjorn, (local guy we met at the bar that Bjorn switched shirts with), Dan, Me, Issac, Brandy
if it was a girl. So. Not. Cool.) I also got stalked by a man called Samson who kept asking if I believed in love at first sight and wanted me to meet his mum so she could tell me how he’s always wanted to marry a white girl. So romantic.

Days were chilled, pranks were played (mainly on Evan and Phoebe), we napped in front of the fans, brushed our teeth outside with the chickens and goats, tried to understand the crazy lady next door, life was slow, but good. I'd walk to down to the village every day, and in the evenings we'd sometimes go to Action Spot, our local, with Issac and Francis, good local guys who helped at the orphanage, which was always a good night out. Bjørn had a laptop so we could watch movies (the kids love Bruce Lee), and, of course, spent plenty of time with the kids, a thirty second walk down a little path, at the orphanage. Sometimes we'd attempt teaching, but mostly we 'd just play.

The day I was supposed to leave to go home, did not work out. I went to the airport to hear about the Volcano in Iceland, and that all the flights had been cancelled. I had my name and number scribbled on some scrap paper and got told good luck. I was with Aza, who had flown with a decent airline (my airline, Afrique Air, has since gone bust and the same flight I was meant to be on crashed into the ocean a few weeks later) and got put up in the fanciest hotel I've ever seen. The staff there were confused as to why I could not only not afford the 250 quid a night there, but even the cheap hotel down the road for a mere hundred. I ended up putting my head down at the volunteer house at about midnight after a stressful couple of hours, grateful that I wasn't sleeping rough in Accra.

Next day I headed to the beach at Kokrobite to meet the others, who were there for the weekend, and stayed a few days in the sun, sand and waves. There were other people there who'd had flights cancelled, who were complaining about not being able to get home. I did not have that problem. I was thanking my lucky stars(/volcanoes) that I was still in Ghana. I got to go back to the orphanage for a few days more, before another stint in Kokrobite, where I'd become friends with an English guy who ran a backpackers, (who knew Matt, one of the truck drivers- small world, hey?) who was good company. I got some music lessons from a couple of rasta guys, and even got to spend a little more time with the kids, who came down to the beach on a field trip. Splashing around with them in the waves was loads of fun.

I tried a further two times to go home, both of which failed. By that time I was supposed to be in South Africa (I was only planning on having a week at home before setting off again) and ended up getting a flight straight there, via Cairo. In the meantime, I got to see Al from the truck again, who was back in Accra after another run of the same trip, before finally getting my flight, and, very sadly, leaving Ghana for real.

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27th February 2012

Great Stories
I really enjoyed reading your story about the orphanages. We taught English at a few in Thailand and the kids really were amazing. I couldn't help but notice you read three cups of tea. Have you heard all of the news about Greg after the Sixty Minutes story broke. It was such a major let down to find out that much of the book was untrue - and how much money and fame have changed him. I was so sad when I heard about it.
27th February 2012

Glad you enjoyed it, I loved Thailand, I\'d love to go back and do some teaching over there sometime. I have heard of the controversy over the book, and maybe I\'m trying to bury my head in the sand, but it doesn\'t change my feelings towards what he\'s done. I\'m not that fussed if the book wasn\'t 100% accurate, some of my favourite books (like Shantaram) were partially fictional, but the essence of the story is still true. I don\'t like that he supposedly bad mouthed various people and tribes that actually apparently treated him very well, and it would be nice to think that every penny of the donations all went directly to the schools, but that\'s just not feasible... People seem to forget that despite being a charity, the CAI is also a business, and it has to make profit to continue running. I\'ve also never found an article that actually goes into any detail about where he\'s supposed to be spending all the money he\'s accused of embezzling, it\'s always such wishy washy accusations without any numbers attached, that always leave me with the feeling that the so-called investigators are grasping at straws, and that the vast, vast majority of the money DOES go towards the work the CAI does in Central Asia, whether that be directly to building schools, or building up the company and increasing their productivity in the areas. I, personally, would just expect him to use a small portion of his money to support his family, and give them the best he can, especially considering how much of the time he\'s away and how hard he works, I know I would. People are also so keen to point out that about 15 schools that were built are empty and not receiving funds... Well... What about the other 100+ that are? Even Krakauer who wrote the \'3 cups of deceit\' book admits there are uncountable women and children who have benefitted from his work. Sorry this has turned into a bit of an essay, but I always feel that people (not you- journalists and other writers and such) so enjoy taking down people who are well thought of, the media love a fall from grace, and everybody seems so happy to join the mob and turn against him. Essentially: I do not feel that anything that\'s been said about him changes the amazing work he\'s dedicated himself to. But if you (or any one else reading!) have any articles or whatnot that you think I should read, that give more facts and less suggestions, that would change my mind, I\'d be really interested to read them. :)
29th February 2012

No I understand completely, I really feel in love with that book and the stories, and I agree that nothing can ever change the great work he's done in the past. The thing I think that made me feel really just a bit disillusioned was when I heard that he uses CAI donations to fund his book tours (which granted raises awareness for his cause), but that of the millions of dollars he has made off of the book, very little of it has went to the CAI. At the very least, I wish he would not use CAI money to fund tours which enhance his private wealth. I fully understand him wanting comfort for his family after all their years of hardship, but that much comfort just doesn't sound to me like the Greg Mortenson I read about. I wish he would have come out and addressed some of those allegations rather than refusing to speak with 60 Minutes. I also understand that the CAI is a business, but it only needs to make money to continue it's work and pay the board members, staff and Greg himself. It is not a business that is responsible to shareholders, however, so it's not as if they have to continually post quarterly gains of x% either. Either way, I came to the point originally because I enjoyed your blog. I really identified with the way you spoke about the insensitivity of many of the tourists, but that feeling in the back of your mind that "maybe we are part of that same problem," or at least that is how I read it. I hope you continue writing because people are obviously enjoying what you do. Take care.
4th March 2012

Hmmm, yeah, fair points there. Thanks Dan, really appreciate that, so stoked you're enjoying reading. I'll try to keep 'em coming regularly :)

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