Volunteering with International Service: Ghana

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Gha-na-na what's my name?

If someone had said to me 12 months ago that I would be going to Africa with a group of people I had never met before, to do voluntary work with International Service and live with a host family for 3 months, I would have most likely laughed them right out of the room.

Travelling to West Africa, essentially on my own, really pushed my comfort zone. Yet here I am, 12 months down the line, having recently returned from Ghana. Although it was one of the most daunting experiences my life, I am so glad that I went. It has been one of the best things I have ever done, if not one of the best things I’ll ever do.

I made the decision to volunteer with International Service when I stumbled across their website while randomly searching for ‘free overseas voluntary work’ (emphasis on the ‘free’ bit). I knew immediately that it was something that I should do. Not only did it satisfy my desire to travel with minimal expense, but I also strongly believed in their mission statement. Unfortunately, not many people have heard of International Service so for any readers who do not know, International Service is a human rights-based charity, working to protect and promote the rights of some of the most marginalised people across the world.

Not really sure of what to expect or what I would be doing, I got to work with my application. Within a week I had received a response and an invitation to an assessment day. And that was it, I was at the beginning of my International Service journey. Initially I had some difficulty in explaining to people what I would actually be doing. When asked I would always respond with a vague ‘Oh you know, teaching I guess.’ Not knowing really fuelled my anxiety about going, but as time wore on and the departure date approached, it became more apparent: I was to be working on a project which aimed to get more girls into school. This would involve teaching English in schools, running sexual health classes, going into communities to educate the local people on the importance of school, and various other activities.

A sexual health advert from the Ghana AIDS Commission © Erik Cleves Kristensen

A sexual health advert from the Ghana AIDS Commission © Erik Cleves Kristensen

Ghana truly surprised me and exceeded all of my expectations. First I must dispel any pre-existing stereotypes people may have of Africa. The image portrayed in the media sometimes presents Africa as a harsh, desolate place full of sadness, and while my experience of Africa is limited, Ghana certainly challenges these images. A country full of colour, dance, music and vibrancy, Ghana and its people enamoured me. Continue reading

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Gha-na-na What’s My Name: Part Two

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Gha-na-na what's my name?

One of the things that hit me the hardest about being in Ghana was the relaxed attitudes towards education. Within Ghana, education is not compulsory nor is it affordable. Seeing young children who ought to be in school out selling items at the market was a far too common occurrence. For the most part, it was young girls who were out of school.

After a bit of probing, I found out that boy’s education was prioritised, mainly because of the gendered stereotypes that are so entrenched within Ghanaian culture. It is the responsibility of the girls to take care of all of the domestic tasks on behalf of the family so that one day they will make the perfect wife who will know how to care for her husband. The expectations placed on young girls, to me, seemed unreasonable. Girls’ education should not be neglected and it should be considered of equal importance to that of boys. Yet this is not necessarily the case.

'Seeing young children who ought to be in school out selling items at the market was a far too common occurrence' photo © Gavin Edmondstone

‘Seeing young children who ought to be in school out selling items at the market was a far too common occurrence’ photo © Gavin Edmondstone

Gender is not the only barrier to education. Low family incomes and lack of funding also play a massive part in low school attendance. Whilst out in the community of Kpunduli, I met a woman who could not afford to send either of her two teenage daughters to school.  Instead, she sent them to Accra, the capital, to earn a living at a popular hotel carrying guests’ luggage. It is a saddening and sobering thought to know that without formal education, the employment that these girls have obtained will possibly be the best employment they can gain. Yet this situation is not an unfamiliar one — many parents cannot afford to pay school fees. Continue reading

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Take Me to Church: An Insight Into a Ghanaian Church Service

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Gha-na-na what's my name?

I still vividly remember the first time I attended church in Ghana and, although it wasn’t entirely through choice, it is something I Continue reading

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