My volunteer experience involved four days of teaching KG1 and KG2 (5-7 yr olds) students in a school in Kokrobite. Having no background in teaching or of interacting with children of that age, I had no idea what to expect! I led lessons in English, Maths and Creative Arts and enjoyed thinking up creative ways to capture the kids imagination and keep their attention as had a class of between 35 and 40, depending on who turned up.

It was certainly an enlightening and eye opening experience. Often, these children only have one school uniform outfit for the week and can sometimes see rips and tears in their shirts and trousers or some days children will be missing shoes. One boy in my class wore football boots all week as he didn’t have any other trainers. I had to bring my own scrap paper, pens and learning materials (lent to the school by Jane and Martial, the Chiltern Centre founder) to use as my class didn’t otherwise have much to use. The kids were bright and intelligent and enthusiastic in class. They love to draw and get creative and really enjoyed singing and dancing, often teaching me local songs and rhymes that they had learnt. These kids are totally eager to learn. Going to school is a privilege over here which is refreshing! Originally, my class of almost 40, were sitting in the same class as they children in the year above, of which there were also around 40! Can you imagine 80 children in one small classroom with two separate teachers?! Luckily the weather was good most days so I took my class out into a shaded outdoor space with a blackboard and taught them there which was much easier, except for when the monsoon came and almost drenched the children!

“The children love to draw and get creative and really enjoyed singing and dancing…”

The teacher who usually leads my class was not only fairly old and would prefer to eat and sleep through lessons but also had some rather old school methods which included use of a cane to get the children to be quiet, or often to strike the children. She found it odd that someone could get attention and achieve order without it but I hope eventually could see that a cane was not appropriate. Hopefully the new generation of teachers in Ghana will learn this also.

Being a teacher is certainly a challenge at times, having patience and learning to keep so many children interested and inspired all day but as long as you put thought and planning into the lessons and make it interactive and varied, these children respond extremely well. It was such a joy and at times rather emotional for me to see the impact you can have on these children and how eager they are to learn and further themselves, even at such a young age.

My experience of teaching in Ghana will stay with me for life and I would gladly return. The children’s smiles are so genuine and their bubbly personalities are infectious. They were all such a joy and it feels so worthwhile to see the children progressing and grasping what they are learning. I would advise you to come prepared with basic learning equipment like colouring pens, pencils and paper. Ghana’s education system still has a way to go in terms of teaching standards, basic equipment provision and facilities but importantly, the children are there, eager and willing to learn and that’s fundamental to their progress.

Things to see/do in Ghana outside of volunteer hours
Ghana is a beautiful country, hot and very tropical and a totally different culture to what we are used to. I would definitely recommend getting out of Kokrobite if you get the time and seeing more of Ghana. Here are just a few ideas:

Cape Coast
A 2-3 hour drive depending on traffic, will take you to Cape Coast. Here you can visit the Cape Coast or Elmina castles where you can learn about the history of Ghana’s slave trading with Europe and the America’s. It’s incredibly moving and thought provoking to see the slave dungeons and door of no return that millions of African’s were sent through, literally never to return to their home country. It’s a history that has shaped the world we live in today and shouldn’t be missed. A guided tour cost the UK equivalent of 2.50.

Kakum National Park
Not too far from Cape Coast you will find Kakum National Park, a vast rainforest. You can take guided nature tours to learn about different plants and trees and their uses and medicinal qualities and learn about the different animal and bird species (monkeys, bongo, forest elephants etc) although don’t expect to spot too many animals as the large numbers of tourists drive them further into the forest. Just watch out for ants nests, I can tell you from personal experience that you should avoid standing on these! The highlight (literally) is the Canopy walk, walking 40m above ground level through the trees on rope bridges. Very safe but feels exciting and perhaps like you are staring in your own Indiana Jones movie – highly recommend it! The park opens at 8am but if like us, you would prefer your own personal tour of the park, arrive after 6am to have a more private and more intimate experience. Both tours cost us a total equivalent of 10 pounds, including charge for early entry.

“like you are staring in your own Indiana Jones movie”

We stayed in Hans Cottage the night before and can highly recommend it. Accomodation is basic and abit tired but you can sit out by the pool and its cheap. The selling point is that the restaurant is surrounded by crocodiles! We spotted a few, including a fairly big one on the bank by the restaurant. At first we stood at a distance but with supervision of a worker, eventually developed the courage (or stupidity) to get close enough to actually touch it. Great experience!

Solo Forest and Wetland Canoe Trip
Solo Forest is in Borteano, just a 20 minute drive from Kokrobite and with the wetland canoe trip, this will make a great half day excursion. We got up at 6am to go to Sole forest as this is the best chance of spotting monkeys. Did see a couple but also enjoyed our rastafarian guide and ‘keeper of the forest’, Commiente who taught us about the forest as a whole and the importance the protective forest ‘spirit’ which locals very much believe in. Next up, Commiente led us on a canoe trip, where we spotted crabs and fish (more lizard type amphibians in our opinion) on trees, which rather excites our guide.

Ghana’s capital city. Approx 1.5- 2hrs drive depending on traffic. I went to the national arts centre where there are many stalls selling African arts and crafts. Interesting to see the capital although I found it very very busy and crowded and you will be pestered to buy everything! Personally I preferred the laid back scene of the smaller villages but certainly worth trying out. Can get a taxi or if feeling brave take the trotro, basically overpacked minibuses, driven at high speed. You may have to share your seat with some livestock or a local’s fish stock/groceries but for 30p, its an option!

Overall, a trip to Ghana is a guaranteed experience of a lifetime. I can safely say it was one of, if not the best ever trips I have ever taken, and I’ve taken a few! It was my first taste of Africa and first time volunteering and could not have asked for more. The people are so friendly and welcoming and grateful for the support. I will miss walking through the village and being greeted and waved at by the children and adults alike. Make no mistake, Ghana is a third world country, many people live here in mud shacks with just one room for a family and everyday is a struggle to feed themselves but they are the warmest, happiest people I have ever experienced and they really make the whole experience.

In Ghana, you can wake up and eat freshly picked pineapple, mango’s and more for breakfast. Can laze at the beaches, surrounded by palm trees and drink eat fresh coconuts and enjoy the tropical lifestyle like never before. But you can also learn about the serious side of life in Africa and learn that sometimes, life is easy and happy when it’s simple. Time barely exists here and culture is rich and plentiful. I am returning to the UK, enlightened, thankful and inspired. Thank you Ghana, its been a real voyage of discovery. I will be back ….

Julia, 2010