Desk Officer Dave recently visited Project Trust’s volunteers in Ghana. Here are five things he learned on the visit:

Sustainable volunteering produces great benefits 

This is my second year as Ghana Desk Officer and I saw great example of the benefits delivered to a project which has hosted consecutive years of volunteers. In one project I visited the volunteers last year had helped established a library in the school. The new volunteers are keen to get as much teaching time as possible, and are using the library to run extra lessons for children with very basic levels of English. The volunteers taught the lesson I observed through lots of none-verbal communication, lots of participation, lots of games, and you could tell they’ve really taken on board the idea of suiting a lesson plan to the learning environment they were working in. When you see volunteers take on board lots of things we introduced them to on the training course it’s really exciting.

A sense of community is very important in rural Ghana 

One of the key things I took from this visit was a better understanding of the importance of community leaders in Ghanaian villages. I met chiefs and headmasters in every village I visited but also education directors, assemblymen, elders and members of school PTAs. The chief is an inherited title, and in some villages there can be three, four or five chiefs, they’ve got a prominent role in the communities settling disputes and often deciding how land is used whilst local assemblymen are quite distinct but are also very important in the development of the community and the interests of the wider area. Having several links and contacts at our projects really helps with communication and in helps ensure the projects run well for the communities and for our volunteers.

Sarah volunteering as a teacher in Ghana

Sarah volunteering as a teacher in Ghana

The power of community reports 

I took one of last year’s volunteers’ community reports back to the village they’d volunteered in. She’d made a children’s book about different perspectives on life in the village including a child’s view of school life, a child’s thoughts on raising the Ghanaian flag and the perspective of living with a disability in the community. When I showed it to the people in the community the reaction was breathtaking: everyone loved it. The people in the village really appreciated the time and effort that had gone into making the report, whilst being really impressed at the depth of knowledge about life in the community the volunteer had shown. The people in the village’s reaction to the report really emphasised the connection our volunteers create with the communities they live in.

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You can’t rely on English in Ghana

Ghana is officially an English speaking country, but there are more than 80 tribal groups the country with many different characteristic languages or dialects and identities. In the Volta region, where most of our volunteers are, the main language is Ewe, although there are a few projects which speak Lolobi as well. Many of the teachers and often the prominent figures in the community will have good English but the majority of students and the majority of people in the communities won’t. Finding ways to communicate, and picking up local languages, are crucial to adapting to being a Ghana volunteer.

One of the first things the volunteers learn is the system of greetings, which is quite complex. It doesn’t just depend on the time of day but in what setting you meeting them, who they are and your relationship to them. There can be six or seven interchanges in a normal greeting. For example my formal introductions to some of the chiefs would involve me asking them about their extended family and how things were going in the wider area, before we were able to speak about business. The volunteers have been in Ghana for a few months now, and are starting to get beyond the basics, but it is a long journey. At the end of the year they’ll look back at the challenges they faced and will be amazed at how far they’ve progressed.

Ghana volunteers are a hardy bunch

The volunteer experience in Ghana is rural and very community-based. Volunteers have to adapt to a basic standard of living; there’s no running water, lots of power cuts and lots of insect and bugs  around the houses they’re living in. Successful Ghana volunteers are the ones who accept a more back-to-basics lifestyle, have bags of initiative and enthusiasm and become very adaptable over the course of the year.