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
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.
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
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.
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
A wise woman once said to me, ‘It’s the mountains you climb in your head that are the hardest.’ I was sitting on the edge of a bed, hyperventilating into a paper bag. It sounds like a scene from a film: bare, apricot-coloured room, Tinerhir, Morocco, 2010, 17-year-old girl has first panic attack. But it was a reality.
The wise woman was our group counsellor, Liz. I was on my first real adventure away from my family. I’d been on girls’ holidays before, but this was different. We had already spent a week in the high Atlas Mountains south of Marrakesh, acclimatising ourselves with hikes to waterfalls followed by nights sleeping under the stars and being woken by the 4am call to prayer from the village across the valley. The following night we didn’t sleep at all but lay on the roof of the hotel listening to the sounds of a wedding floating across the valley until 4am. After that, we had spent a day hiking to the base camp at the foot of Jebel Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa at 4,167 meters. We began our ascent before dawn the following day, and we reached the metal pyramid at the mountain’s summit just in time to be attacked by an onslaught of hailstones. This was followed by a dramatic descent, our guide having left us. It rained the entire way, and our group leader did his best to keep up the dampened spirits of the twenty teenage girls he had to lead down the mountain. Needless to say we all made it in the end, albeit tired, soggy and with little sense of humour remaining as we crossed over the little stream at the foot of the mountain and were welcomed back to base camp with hot chocolate and warm food.
We reached the metal pyramid at the mountain’s summit just in time to be attacked by an onslaught of hailstones
You might be wondering how I had survived all of this before the panic attack arrived. Truth be told, there had already been a few hairy moments but nothing like the paper bag incident. Continue reading
Claire and I are in Grahamstown, a university town in inland Eastern Cape. We have planned our trip so that we catch some of the Grahamstown National Arts Festival: this is two weeks during which this student town is overrun by artists, musicians, performers and others of a dramatic inclination, during South Africa’s largest arts festival. (Travel tip: add some flair to your travel itinerary by planning around local festivals). Specifically, on this particular morning (our first and only full day at the festival), Claire is out and about soaking up jazz performances… and I am spending my fun-money buying throat lozenges, vitamin C, pain killers, and tissues at the local pharmacy. After four weeks on the road, my body has thrown in the towel, to the extent that our travel medical kit is not sufficient.
When planning our trip, Claire and I envisioned Grahamstown being our ‘party stop’, an interlude of drinking, night-life and catching up with mates to break the chill-factor of the Eastern Cape (and four weeks of just each other for company). In reality, I determinedly haul myself to the selection of shows we had planned to see, in between which I abandon Claire to her partying and opt to sleep off a debilitating cocktail of medication, congestion and fever instead. Not so much the plan. But, few journeys ever go 100% according to plan and the trick (I learned) is to be able to absorb the unexpected (i.e. travel with enough extra cash to heavily self-medicate if you need to!) The most I can say about Grahamstown is that it has a very well-stocked pharmacy. Thankfully.
Pulling out of Grahamstown two nights after pulling into it, Claire and I enter our last and perhaps quietest few days of travel together. We loop through the purple and green landscape, dotted with red aloes, towards Hogsback — a whimsical town in the Eastern Cape mountains whose surrounding forests are said to have inspired parts of Tolkein’s Middle Earth. There, we spend two days snuggling in front of the fire and drinking sherry at the Away with the Fairies Backpackers (fantastic!) We also spend a peaceful afternoon looking for waterfalls and fairies along one of the gentler forest trails, followed by a soak in the backpacker’s outdoor, cliff-top bath with a view.