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Published: July 28th 2009
Spot the Aburoni
Me and some of the orphans
This is a long one, you may wish to digest it in portions
It had been 14 years since I flew out of Nairobi. I had spent 3 months travelling through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique Swaziland and South Africa, probably the greatest travel experience of my life. Anita and I had talked about doing voluntary work, in Africa, before we left Aotearoa nearly 18 months ago but we had not made any set plans. We had spent 3 months, in London, trying to find employment in Europe during the summer months without success and given we did not want to return to a Kiwi winter, we returned to our orginal plan of voluntary work. After checking out several organisations we settled on IVHQ, unknown to us and ironically a NZ organisation. The website was informative and the price better than most. It has become big business and it is very expensive to do voluntary work but for $1000 US we chose an 8 week placement in Ghana. Ghana seemed a stable, safer option than other African countries and they spoke English. I had always wanted to return to Africa and Ghana being a different part of the
This is the man street in Nkwanta
continent helped us decide. Anita was keen and the thought of giving to others appealed to us. I wasn't sure about working with children but Anita was keen and so we went for it.
Unlike the rest of my blogs, this will be written over the next two months whilst my memory is fresh although some of my opinions may change as they mature with the aid of time and reflection. It is presently day 4 and we have been 24 hours at our placement at “Gods Eye Orphanage” in Nkwanta, which is in the Volta Region, about 8 hours North of the capital of Accra. It is a very humid 30 degrees and we are taking an afternoon break after spending time with the children. I'm sure our 8 weeks will be challenging as a range of emotions sweep over us. But first lets go back to London.
May 30th on our way to Gatwick airport, I had been a little bit casual with my planning and had not checked the train schedule, so carrying 3 bags each (we had bought things for the orphanage plus the laptop) we got off the underground and headed to St
The first 14 volunteers at "Gods Eye"
Pancras only to find trains do not leave for Gatwick from there on Saturdays. Back to the underground, change lines to London Bridge ( I should have known better). We arrived 3 hours before departure to find a very long line of Ghanaians queuing to check in. Man, it reminded me of Auckland and the queues of Polynesians flying home to visit family, all loaded up with kilos and kilos of luggage. That eased our worries about our baggage being over the limit. When we reached check in, one of our bags ripped (the old one filled with gifts). I managed to get it sealed with commercial glad wrap. Customs decided to give both of us the once over, even taking a swab of our bags then testing for drugs. Apart from leaving 1 hour late the flight was uneventful however when we we arrived in Ghana customs also decided to give me the once over. I had been told to tell them I was here on a holiday and not to mention I was doing voluntary work. I think they must have picked up some irregularities. Anyway after many questions they allowed me through and the voluntary organisation was
6-30am at the orphanage: bath time
there waiting to pick us up.
Soon as I got off the plane I could feel the sweat seeping from my body and on the drive to our accommodation it was very apparent that Africa hadn't changed much. The sights, smells, the contrasts and poor infrastructure were the same even though I was thousands of miles from my previous African experiences. (After 2 months in Ghana, I believe it is years behind East African countries) My two day evaluation of Accra is that it is another big, dirty/dusty city with poverty apparent on every street corner. The compound we stayed in was locked. There was spikes coming out of the walls and the the staff preferred to escort us out of the compound. I felt like a caged animal and was happy to be heading for Nkwanta as soon as possible. So Monday at 6pm we caught an air conditioned bus, with no room for our luggage, so we loaded it into the aisles and headed north. The distances is not too far, 350km, but the roads up with the worst I have experienced and we arrived at our destination at 1-30am.
If we thought we were off
Assisting with the cooking, all on an open fire.
to bed, sorry no way, the staff and children at the orphanage had stayed up to greet us and greet us African style. And what a welcome! The music blasted out joyously. African Christian music and 70 children as black as midnight with bright eyes and huge smiles, sang and danced with us. At 3-30am we hit the sack only to be woken 3 hours later as the music started again as the excited children rose in preparation for a new day. We are the 1st volunteers to help at this orphanage and they ain't had many “white fellas” living in Nkwanta, so we are quite a novelty.
In the months leading up to the placement I wondered many times what it would be like, what we would do, are we really doing any good, why am I really doing this, where we would stay. Even though you try not to have any expectations you do. I thought having been to Africa before I would have some idea. How treacherous the memory is. How could I even equate travelling between several African countries, experiencing wildlife, culture and endless bars with living and working in a small West African community.
The Hanging Village
Karin and Kofi pose for a shot with the hanging village as a backdrop
I had conveniently forgotten the never ending dust and grime and how it sticks to your constantly sweating body. Five minutes after a shower, the feeling of freshness is a distant memory.
I had imaged Anita and I staying in a basic room with a host family, nothing flash, a bed, a fan, a mosquito net. Having breakfast early, maybe 7am. Walk to the orphanage, help with some chores, spend some time with the kids, maybe a few more chores until lunchtime, go home for lunch, do any of my domestic chores, relax a little, go back about 3pm, stay until 5pm the head back to our host family. I had imagined I might learn to play my harmonica or perhaps do some stretching and yoga. YEAH RIGHT, let me tell you the reality of it all. Anita and I have a room in the orphanage, it looks like the children have been moved out to accommodate us and were moved to a hall area that we have to walk through to get to bed. Our room has a double bed, the 70 kids sleep on concrete floor with flax mats for a mattress, no pillows. We have no
Trying to get the kids to line up orderly for their food was a nightmare
furniture and had to buy and put up a mosquito net. We are, at times, woken with the coughs and cries of the children. Our bathroom is off the hallway in which they sleep, a bucket and ladle, our toilet out in the yard, a long drop of course with large cockroaches included. The night time temperature drops 2 degrees, that makes a warm 27 most nights. Oh and we don't have a fan, we only two fans for three rooms and we missed out. It is lucky I am so buggered at night I sleep like a dead man. I'm in bed by nine and up at 6. So what does our day consist of, and remember its only been three days?
We get up at 6am and at 6-30 start washing, drying, creaming the children and then treating the kids sores, then its helping the woman with breakfast (rice porridge if they are lucky) and dishes afterwards. We then go next door (the female volunteer quarters) and have breakfast at 8ish. Our breakfast is usually, bread, sometimes porridge and less often fruit, sometimes if we are lucky, hot water for tea or coffee. We drink lots of
State Highway One
Off to the local pub in the rain:no tarsel or footpaths in this part of the country
water which comes in small sealed plastic bags (500mls). We have a Ghanaian woman (Lizzy), who prepares our food. After breakfast,at 9, we head back to help with any chores (chopping wood, fetching water from the river, sweeping the yard, mountains for washing done by hand) or to go down to the school and assist in the classroom. Then about noon we have lunch and chill, do our domestics, shower or sleep, whatever. At 4ish we return to help out or play with the children until our dinner. It is always hot, so although we are constantly on the move, the pace is slow. For the last two days we have been taken around Nkwanta to visit all the dignities, the Mayor, the Judge, the district Counsellors and the MP for the area. I think the Orphanage is showing us off and trying to make a case for funding. There is a lot a politicking and back rubbing. They say it will also help ensure our safety because we have the support of all the important people of the community. Its really not unlike politics in NZ communities.
I thought I may be able to disassociate from my emotions
Fifty to a room
We had to step over the chidren sleeping outside our room
but is is difficult, the sadness of the children's stories, the anger of misinformation passed on to us, the love in the eyes of the children and their never ending affection, the frustration of not been able to do enough and the selfishness of wanting better accommodation or material goods to make my life more comfortable whilst here (the voice of poor me). Being a direct communicator and having honesty as a important value, I find the indirect African way of dealing with issues difficult. At times I feel tearful, often hot and tired, sometimes homesick.
First weekend in Nkwanta, first adventure. The director of the orphanage had arranged for us to go and visit a village in the mountains known as the “hanging village” real name Shari Village, named because the housing is built on the side of the mountain and appears to hang on the side. One of the beauty's of this area is that on one side there is a mountain range that is also the border of Togo. After visiting the village we were then to go to a waterfall for a swim, this was to be followed by a night in the Kyabobo National
Anita assisting the staff with the clothes washing
Park, an area surrounded by fence to keep the wild animals in for viewing. We were to be ready by 8am. At 9am we were still sitting waiting, the excuses included “they are cleaning the bus”, “it has broken down etc. etc. At 10-30am we found the bus had been double booked and we would need to get another bus. At 11-30 an old Hi-Ace van arrives, it is a wreck. Eighteen of us crammed into and I mean cram you could not move, the petrol tank smelt like it was inside the vehicle and when we stalled the 1st time and the driver reached around to pump more petrol through it confirmed it was. When the van stalled the second time 10 metres down the road I decided I had had enough I reached for the door handle to discover there was no way to open the door, one of the other women started to panic and when someone finally opened the door we all decided enough was enough. Just after 12 noon the next van arrived and after a bite of lunch we headed to the National Park. Fifteen minutes later we arrived, yes it was only 15
Anita carries Isha, African style, back from the hospital
minutes away. We spent an uneventful, but enjoyable afternoon/evening without sighting anything more than a peacock and the hoof print of an Antelope. It was nice just to get away from the children and our hosts who want to ensure our safety 24/7.
To date the placement has been really intense. The night before the trip we had suffered from a lack of sleep because the children awoke at 4am chatting and fighting, screaming and crying. Anita decided she could not cope sleeping in the room, at the orphanage, any more and has moved next door to the girls house. As I mentioned earlier our room is off the children's sleeping quarters. The previous night we had been locked out, with this we discovered that we are locked in with the children every evening, sometimes with no staff and often candles burning, there is also loose live wiring (1 of our guys got a shock). It is a disaster waiting to happen. Anita has struggled with the children crying in the night, there is very little air, no toilets and some of the children are sick with fevers and other ailments. It really is a death trap and we
Off to work with her Sewing machine
are seen as “medical experts” by the staff.
Anyway back to the adventure. The next day we got off to an early start by Ghanaian standards, in a reasonably safe bus and headed for the hanging village. The roads are really bad and on any journey you are lucky to average more than 20km an hour. The roads have a constant procession of women walking with baskets on their heads and babies on their backs, men on bicycles or children who wave excitedly as we pass. After about 30 minutes we reached as far as the bus could take us and for the next 40 minutes walked up to the village. It was very scenic with a variety of fauna and flora and the cooling sound of running water. I wouldn't say the village was spectacular but it was unique for Africa. We were then required to met with the village elders to get permission to visit the waterfall and take photos. It very much reminded me of Maori process with all the formalities and as the elder member I have become the formalities spokesperson for the group and my knowledge of Tikanga Maori assists me to make an
Compulsory Couple shot
Anita and I pose, hot and sweaty, after a 40 minute hike to the hanging village
good impression for our group. My waiata (song) has also been a hit. To cut a long story short we were aloud to visit the village and take pictures but refused permission to see or swim at the waterfall. We swam in a shallow stream which was refreshing if not satisfying. I was doubly disappointed to again be refused permission on the second occasion we visited. Its a bloody hot walk in 30 degree temperatures but my disappointment was lessened by the recognition and equally warm welcome. I was invited to take snuff and drink alcohol with the elders .
Nine days down 51 to go and June the 8th our 13th anniversary, who would have thought! I woke up fresh and went over to the house to say good morning to Anita, who is now sharing a bed with Rachel (23 year old Aussie girl) and a room with 11 others females. I still sleep in the compound with the children, accommodation continues to be problematic. Getting to my room at night is heartbreaking. I counted 50 bodies plus, lying on mats on a concrete floor. I have to step over to get to my door. I think
Some of the boys help out with the dishes.
the rooms about 15x10.
Daily life continues to be dished up with large doses of chaos, unpredictability and uncertainty. I have put some structure and routine into my day to day living to help me cope. The rains have come and bought cooler temperatures and the amount of dust has reduced, both a blessing.
Meal times for the kids are unpredictable and chaotic, trying to get them to form a single line, impossible. They push, shove and fight for position although there is enough food for everyone. Portions are small and it's very difficult to maintain order. When the call for seconds comes the chaos intensifies with more fighting, pushing and bullying. Believe me these children are hungry, not starving but very hungry. I have witnessed on more than one occasions up to 12 children fighting over the pot. Some days they have to skip lunch because there is no food. I'm not sure if or how they get funding but it appears to be a day to day struggle. Sometimes there are only two meals a day and the children are often sitting around crying for food.
As for our food, its OK, a bit bland
Some of Anita's favorite girls help unplait her corn rows
and monotonous with smallish potions (compared to what we are used to), but OK. There is a rotation of yams, spaghetti and rice cooked in various ways with either peanut or tomato based sauce. Small pieces of scrawny chicken are added and occasionally eggs. Very seldom is food fried. Fruits are bananas, pineapples and heaps of mangos. Hot drinks are a treat because all the water has to be heated by fire and put in flasks that lose heat very quickly. Drinking water comes in 500ml sealed plastic bags we call C cups because they resemble breast implants. At night and some afternoons we head to the Community Centre across the road. We call it “The Sanctuary” because we feel it is an escape from the orphanage, Large bottles of cold beer (lager or Guinness) and Fanta (orange, lemon, cocktail) are served for $1-60 and 50c. Its nice to sit back and relax and share our everyday struggles with life in Ghana. I am in bed, knackered by 9-30 most nights.
So let's talk about the locals who are very friendly and welcoming. When we walk to Nkwanta (20 min down a dirt road full of potholes: state highway
Our lovely PA (cook and cleaner) takes a afternoon nap
1). They greet us, in both English and Twi, they ask us how we are and try to be helpful although at times no matter what the question the answer is always yes. We have managed to pick up some of the greetings but sometimes get confused with our responses however it is always laughed off. What is difficult is remembering names. I'm sorry but with my eyesight they do look similar and we have met so many people. I am often embarrassed because a lot of locals always say “ Do you remember me?” and I don't recognise them. The staff at “Gods Eye” are brilliant, they work from dusk till dawn and we have it from a good source that they have not been paid for 4 months. I need to qualify the previous statement by telling you they are very unorganised and do not work hard, a lot of time is spent sitting around talking, but I guess that's the African way. The people tend to be reactive rather than proactive so that they seldom plan ahead. They wait for soap to run out before buying more or the water drum to be empty before sending us or the children to the river for more water. They have teams for cooking, bathing, washing and teaching and seldom assist each other. One of our roles is to assist them with the chores. So for instance washing clothes: we sit in the yard, under a tree, there are 4 bowls/buckets. We sit in a line and the clothes start in bowl one for the first wash, the woman hand washes and passes on to the second woman and so along the chain the clothes go until they get to the rinsing bucket where there are rinsed, rung and hung on a barbed wire fence (that's my job because I'm not thorough enough to be further up the chain). Water is recycled down the chain so it is not wasted. There is a pile of dirty clothes every day because it is so dusty or muddy, grass is scarce. The wash powder is a block of soap, this soap is also used for bathing the children, the dishes, everything. Washing takes till about lunch time however if it rains or we run out of soap it can backlog for a couple of days. Washing dishes consists of a bowl of cold water for washing and one for rinsing, you soap your cloth and away you go. Cooking for the 70+ orphans is done on an open wood fire: a large pot is placed over the fire with the main dish (porridge, banku, fufu, yam, cassava). Every thing is cooked on one open fire, our food is cooked on a smaller fire next to the children. Although we have bought extra spoons and bowls we continue to run short.
As I mentioned previously the children are delightful. For hungry children with nothing, most of the time they are very content and seldom complain. Even after 5 weeks they still rush to greet us every time we go to the compound. When we walk past they yell out our names and wave, the staff are equally pleased to see us everyday. Its funny even though volunteers come and go they just take it in their stride. However as with any institution there are many problems. The lack of organisation, funding and the status of the children that live at the orphanage. It's a bit puzzling because some of the children appear to have family around the area, some go home!!!!! in the weekend and not all appear to be true orphans. You can see some are better fed and have nicer clothes than others. Hard to fathom out really. This adds to the mental stress because,at times, it makes me question the worth of the work we have volunteered for.
With 30 days behind us and 26 left to go, yesterday I hit a brick wall. There have been some ongoing minor issues that finally got to me. Its funny and I think I have mentioned already but I have to remind myself that I am living a different culture and I need to adapt and stop thinking about myself but I having difficulty coping with a constant stream of lies and/or “lost in translations”. There never seem to be any money and our attempts to find out how the orphanage is funded, what happens with the money we pay and who is accountable for what, draws up a blank every time. The reason this is frustrating is because it appears money put aside for us seems to disappear. We run out of drinking water regularly and the quality and quantity of food put on our table diminishes as the end of the weekend nears. On a couple of occasions we have missed a meal and a couple of breakfasts have consisted of either a loaf of bread (between 7) or 12 bananas (between 12). I guess what makes it more of an issue is that the food is a little monotonous, breakfast is generally porridge or bread and lunch and dinner either yam, rice or noddles with a peanut or tomato based sauce. There is always plenty of the carbs but light on the sauce. It is substantial but boring/bland. We pay $100 US a week for board so its kinda frustrating and our food would cost less than $15US a week so where does the money go???!!!!!!. As well as the food/water issue living with the other volunteers has its difficulties. 90% of them are under 21 and this is the first time they have been out of their country, mainly the States and many are between college and University. So Anita and I are living with between 5 and 10 teenagers whose work ethics are just developing and sense of irresponsibility is well developed. As parents we all know that teenagers “know everything”, constantly crave food and are quick to find excuses to cop out of work. Don't get me wrong they are great kids and obvious mature enough to volunteer but living with them 24/7 is testing for me. I guess also the constant dust in these hot humid conditions is irritating, oh how I will appreciate tar sealed roads and footpaths on my return to civilisation. Although Anita and I are able to rescue small amounts of personal time, sleeping in different rooms and sharing the main space with the constant stream of volunteers means we do not always have space to discuss things privately. Other frustrations that I won't bore you with includes: the terrible roads and unsafe transport make it unpleasant to get around and see the rest of Ghana, no supermarket in Nkwanta and inadequate internet making it hard to keep in touch with family friends and the news of the world. Our host family does have a TV but the one channel plays football (I saw the All Whites playing in SA) and the news mainly local, some international. I heard of Michael Jacksons death only 4 days after the event! The TV stopped working after 4 weeks but on the positive note after 3 weeks the host family has invited me to share a room in their house so I moved out of the orphanage and have a double bed to myself in a room with one other guy. Anita feels much better as she worried about me being alone at the orphanage with my deteriorating eyesight.
Well 11 July, Barrack Obama is in the country and only two weeks to go. I am really looking forward to coming home and think about it constantly. We have had an influx of new volunteers arrive, most under 20, pleasant but lacking experience in living in conditions akin to camping and the motivation to get into a daily routine. However I can't blame them they are just kids. Breakfasts continues to be a problem because the director of the orphanage seems to be a financial cripple and the amount of food we have depends on how much money he has left. Breakfast today was a loaf of bread between 15 with no butter. We can easy afford to head up the road and supplement our diet with fruit or home-made doughnuts but we continue to be aggrieved because of the fee we have paid. However I continue to fight with my conscience about my selfishness and the reality of the orphans needs and how we are used to having so much. You know, its not like we are starving. In fact I spoke out of turn to the rest of the volunteers the other day. They spend all there time buying junk food (even when we are well feed) and in the other breath criticize the orphanage for only feeding the children twice a day. It often seems to me they are missing the point of being here and for them it is one big adventure with no moral/ethical learnings. As I write I feel that at times I struggle living with the immaturity of some of the younger volunteers. Having said that however, there have been 3 young people from Minnesota that have put a lot of time and energy into the children and have used there time he here constructively. On a positive note the weather has cooled considerably. It's still hot (25+) and humid but the tropical thunderstorms have bought a refreshing change and the big bonus is that it keeps the dust down. I'm not sure I would cope in the hot dry months, the dust combined with the sweat is my worst enemy.
The medical side of caring for the children continues to challenge us. Anita has taken a leading role in ensuring we make and maintain contact with the local hospitals and there staff. She continues to battle to ensure the children are looked after. There is a mountain of bureaucracy and the orphanage staff are not very cooperative. A couple of examples come to mind; one of the practises had been to place hot rocks on open wounds and another to bathe sores in near boiling water, this practise is not conjunctive to healing. We land up dealing with burns. Despite the hospital matron asking orphanage staff to stop the practise we heard a child screaming the other day and upon investigation Anita found the head honcho of the Ghana Volunteer Corps bathing the wound in very hot water. When Anita intervened they laughed (5 staff members)at her protests and very nearly wore the hot water as she flung it on the ground in anger. Yesterday a boy with a head injury complained of a sore head. We treated the wound, cleaning it first with alcohol. An hour later the boy started to scream and a maggot appeared out of the his wound. Two maggots appeared out of tow heads that day. I believe we are winning but it is a constant battle because of the crowded sleeping conditions, the swarms of flies that eat at the open wounds, the humidity that breeds infection and the never-ending dust and dirt.
Well five more sleeps and we will be heading back to London to finalise our departure home via Hong Kong and Australia. And so to answer the two questions that I imagine people will be asking; “Do you think you made a difference?” and “Was it worthwhile and would I recommend it to others?” Needless to say these questions have been with us since we came to Ghana nearly 8 weeks ago and the answers are not simple.
TONY: From the ancient civilisation of Italy to the just as old civilisation of Ghana, wow what a difference. I have loved the friendliness and honesty of the people, of course. the children (in measured amounts) the mangos, the relaxed way of life, the food and exercise that has kept me fit, strong and tanned, the warm climate and cold beers. I hated the dust, the bad roads, the lack wild life and the chaotic, reactive culture of the orphanage. I always tell myself its been worthwhile and that I have made some difference to the lives of the orphans but I'm sure some of that is to justify my decision to spend 2 months and nearly $4000 (NZ) to be here. I ask myself a question with an easy answer: Are the children worse or better off for my presence and the answer is that some would have benefited and none would be worse off. So the next question is to what degree. I have been able to show the kids love and affection by holding them, hugging them, playing with them and nurturing them when they have been sad and/or sick. I have laughed with them laughing at me and at their own funny attics. With the other volunteers I have help provide a smidgen of hope, pleasure and consistency in their uncertain lives. Hopefully I have been a male role model demonstrating that there are people from a far who care in some sort of way and some of these qualities may somehow make a difference as they continue to struggle against the odds in making a future for themselves. I would be foolish to believe I was more than a cup of water in a 44 gallon drum however if volunteers continues to add a cup to the drum there is hope. As far as the orphanage is concerned I have merely given the staff a break from their mundane routine. What the orphanage really needs is help in setting up efficient administration and financial oversight and accountability and I'm not sure “Gods Eye” is open to that at present and until it is, making improvements to this orphanage will be severely limited. So yes I feel I have made some difference and feel proud that I have been able to give some of my time to those less fortunate than myself but I have probably gained as much as I have given (feel free to ask). It has demonstrated how loved I have been by my parents, siblings, family, children, friends and how fortunate my life is. My mother also used to tell me how lucky I was and when I didn't eat my food “think of all the starving children n Africa”. I can confirm 50 years later there are still starving people in Africa and in fact being here has, in many aspects, been like going back 50 years in time. Would I recommend voluntary work to others: Yes and No. It has been a great experience but there are too many unanswered questions and inconsistencies with regard the cost of volunteering. IHVQ is one of the cheaper options when it comes to voluntary organisations but I would love to see the books of both IHVQ and its Ghana agent, Volunteer Corps to better understand how the money is spent. Like many overseas organisations the majority of the money appears to go the wages of administering the organisation itself.
A grandfather walks with his young grandson alone the beach, one morning, deep in discussion about everything and nothing. The grandson looks up and sees a section of the beach covered in thousands of starfish washed up from the nights tide. As the grandfather walks he picks up random starfish and throws them back into he sea. His grandson turns to him and says “Grand dad, there are too many to save, throwing a few back won't make any difference” “It will for some” he responds.
ANITA'S sideswipe: Eight weeks in Nkwanta, at “Gods Eye Orphanage. WE MADE IT!
The locals in Nkwanta have been very welcoming and have greeted us warmly every time we walked up to town (20 minutes away). This has been very heart warming and the most loveliest thing about Ghanaians. It seems opening an orphanage in Ghana does not require trained staff, health and safety checks, running water or guaranteed funding, as we would have to do before hand in our western societies. Despite all the limitations and cramped conditions at Gods Eye Orphanage the children in main are happy and delightful (most of the time anyway). Some of the children appear to be paying guests and are attending “Boarding School”. Oh man these parents must be in a tight comer to leave their children in this setting. Sadly the “School” seems to be of little educational value and the teachers in the main lacking in resources and experience.
My constant struggle is my intrinsic need to find the truth in regard to where the funding has come from and who is in actual fact an orphan, in terms of my personal definition of the word. The dictionary states “a child whose parents are dead”.
International Volunteer Head Quarters ( a New Zealand Volunteer Company) and the affiliated Ghanaian associates Edward Adeli of Volunteer Corps do not seem to have done many checks about Gods Eye Orphanage before we arrived. We were in the first group of volunteers to work at this orphanage. Volunteers organisations seem to be big business nowadays. The volunteers we have spent our time with are in the main students aged 17 to early twenties that have been encouraged to do service by there respective churches or in some cases to enhance their CV or to increase their chance of getting into their desired training institutions.
I am glad Tony and I have achieved our idea/goal/dream. We have talked about the idea for a few years. However given my background at Probation I am used to seeking evidence and facts to back up personal statements. I have been continually frustrated by the lack of congruence. Tony puts this down to the local cultural ways of operating/communicating. The constant reverence to god and their behaviour is often at odds. In my view anyway. I guess I feel we have been a bit of a disappointment to the staff at Gods Eye. I think they expected oburoni's (white people) with sacks of cash, limited intelligence and a willingness to hand cash as soon as they informed us of their wish list. And then I arrived. A hard working gal who asks lots of questions and who has to earn every penny she has ever spent and who came “to give service”!
I am not sure I would recommend volunteering at this particular establishment or the IVHQ (NZ) organisation. Maybe the old adage of “You get what you pay for” is true in our case as IVHQ as they were substantially cheaper than most of most other volunteer companies. Now did I make a difference ? A Canadian girl that has just spent two weeks here and she felt she had. I do not feel I have made a difference at all. I have comforted, hugged, dressed sores, washed clothes and dishes but in the end I leave these children just as I have found them lacking in future prospects and surviving day to day. At times I have questioned where GOD fits into their lives.
Well my last day in Nkwanta was busy and eventful. I had finally achieved my personal goal and that commenced by a couple of the original volunteers, Karen and Matthew, and that was to ensure that every child at the orphanage had access to the public health service. This meant several trips to the National Health Insurance Office and networking which various locals and health professionals. This translated to lots of walking to the two hospitals. Achieving this felt good.
My last day was so uplifting. Firstly the twins I had taken a shine to take out my corn rolls ( a series of head plats). Then I walked up to the hospital with C to get her leg sores dressed. While there I again attempted to pay an outstanding account for the washer women's (Dina) sickly child. He was unable to access further medical treatment until the account was paid. This was my 2nd attempt to pay the account. The hospital could not find the file! I walked back to the orphanage (40 min) to find that the account was outstanding at St Joseph Hospital, 1 hrs walk away. Dina said “Lets go now”! I was not sure how I would fit this in & wished I never started the idea. After lunch 12.30pm I walked up to the seamstress to collect a dress I had ordered at 8.30am that morning (AMAZING ha!). I saw a push-bike and asked the seamstress if she knew who owned it. She said yes and asked the guy if I could use it but he was on his way somewhere. I started walking up the road towards St Joseph when the seamstress ran after me, she pointed out a guy on a bicycle who she had sent off to ask his brother if he would take me to St Joseph on his motorbike. Before you knew it I was being transported to the hospital by a lovely young man named Emanuel, on the back of his motorcycle. No helmet & thousands of large potholes on the road. I asked him to drive slowly. He was so respectful. My own son would have wanted to give me a thrill seeking ride. He drove me there, took me to the accounts office, also agreed to take me back to the seamstresses, wait while I got my dress & then drive me back to the orphanage! He refused any offer of money. This could never happen in London and is unlikely to happen in NZ. So heart-warming I got back to the orphanage with much fanfare and the children calling out “Madam Anita”. I was in time to have my hair put back into corn rolls & pack. The staff came over to see me at the volunteer accommodation throughout the afternoon. All with sincere sadness in their eyes. Seems they enjoyed my direct “kick ass “ style & willingness to work hard along side them. Latter on all of the children came over to our house to say goodbye to the five of us who were leaving. A lot of them looked sad and tearful. As we walked up to the bus at 6.30pm (20 minutes) the locals once again called out my name and shouted out their farewells. Continually asking “when will you return?”. How do they know me? This was my final chance to feel like a movie star or royalty.
Thanks Nkwanta for your heart felt welcome & hospitality. I leave with many happy memories. I did not feel overly sad to be going. 2 months was long enough & at times it felt too long. However that time frame allowed me to complete my personal mission & become part of the community. I AM ON MY WAY HOME YEE HAAAA!!!!!
Another bonus. When I put on my trousers to travel on the bus last night I realised I have lost my “Heathrow Injection” . Shallow I know but I feel fit and healthy. So hard work, lots of dust, a limited diet & sauna like humidity seems to agree with me! See you all soon...............
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