Posts Tagged With: volunteer

A Ghana to Remember

Two weeks ago today, I said a tearful goodbye and left my beautiful Ghana behind. Now that my big adventure has come to a close, I want to make a list (more for me than for you, to be honest) of things I never want to forget about Ghana. After spending three months in Africa, there are about as many things that I dislike about Ghana as that I like. However, I want to remember some of the negative, too, as it all adds up to an incredible and irreplaceable ride. I don’t think I could ever go anywhere so different and so far from home without walking away with about 1,000 new impressions and experiences, and I want to capture some of those on…er, “paper,” I guess…before the memories fade away.

Things I want to remember about my Ghana experience, in no particular order:

  • Goats, chickens, roosters, sheep, lizards, and dogs wandering through the streets and through our front yard. Baby goats are SO darling. We also saw a toad once and a big, 6-inch black scorpion on another occasion. Rats and mice frequently showed up in Potter’s Village. The coolest lizards had orange heads and tails. The goats started to really grow on me, too; wouldn’t mind having one of them someday 🙂

DSCN4500

DSCN4476

DSCN5194

  • The red dirt that looks just like southern Utah
  • Trotros – a sort of minibus or large van run by a driver and a “mate” who takes money and directs stops. Unlike taxi cabs, the trotros have set, consistent prices no matter which one you catch, and honest mates who give the correct change. However, if there’s enough room for three people on a bench, they’ll fit four or five on it. The highest number of people I ever counted in one trotro was 29 (I think that particular trotro had 21 seats).
  • The way the trotro mates call the names of the places they’re going out the window, slurring everything together (“AccraAccraAccra” or “MadinaMadinaMadinaMadina” or “MadinaOldRoad” which sounds more like “MadinaDohDoh”)
  • Bargaining, constantly, every time we bought anything. The prices aren’t marked, forcing us to speak to the salesman/woman anytime we were interested in buying something. Inevitably, they would start with an “obruni price” that is much higher than reasonable, and we’d have to initially give an almost-offensive low price in order to reach a reasonable middle ground.
  • Fresh mangoes, pineapples, papaya (“pawpaw”), oranges, bananas, and plantains. The mangoes especially are to die for. Plantain trees were grown in the yard next door to the volunteer house, and mango trees were in our front yard.
  • The sound of the children singing. I am convinced there is no sound more beautiful on the earth.
  • Standing on my front porch, looking at the stars (when it wasn’t hazy) while brushing my teeth
  • Preachers on the trotros, in the markets, and along the streets. Occasionally a Ghanaian would get on the trotro, stand up, say a prayer, and then spend the next 30-60 minutes giving a very loud sermon – sometimes in English, and sometimes in a local dialect like Twi. Though the northern regions of Ghana have many Muslims, the sermons in my area were always Christian; I have wondered if the Muslims preach like this anyway. In the markets, they would have megaphones or speakers and walk around preaching. Then there are vans with megaphones affixed to the roof that drive up and down the streets preaching – or at least I assume they’re preaching. I never heard a van megaphone speaking in English. We also had a group of worshipers in the field behind our house at nighttime. They do a ritualistic chanting that we thought was in tongues until I finally walked close enough to make out English words. It was seriously one of the strangest things I’ve ever heard.
  • How loud Ghanaians are. We (the volunteers) determined that Ghanaians are trapped in a vicious cycle: they all talk really loud and attend really loud church services, parties, and funerals (which are sometimes all the same thing, it seems), and then they’re all going deaf, so everything has to be even louder. Competing with the noise level of the kids in the morning to tell them they had 10 minutes to leave for school was a bit of a nightmare with my quiet-ish voice. I really learned to project that tiny American voice of mine. We had one night when a funeral down the street (probably a 10-minute walk away) had festival-sized speakers playing music all night long, and we could hear the bass line the whole night from our bedroom. Our “lovely” neighbors talked so loud that it usually sounded like they were standing in our room.
  • The sunrise in the morning, which is so sudden that it seems like someone turned a light bulb on:
Sunrise in Dodowa

Sunrise in Dodowa

  • The “bathing line” in the mornings at Potter’s Village. This was anywhere from 3-12 of the smallest children, naked, and of course standing perfectly still and well-behaved as they waited for their turn 😉 Yeah, right. Bunch of little hooligans dancing around and beating each other while entirely nude. The chaos and nakedness seriously made me laugh every morning, no matter how stressful the day.
  • Flushing toilets using buckets, and putting our used toilet paper in a trash can instead of in the toilet. This caused the most culture shock for me when I returned to the U.S.
  • Burning trash along the roadside. There is litter everywhere, including in the rancid, sewage-filled gutters (I was convinced at one point that the smell of those gutters would probably seep into my clothing if I stood near one long enough. I also decided that if I ever fell into one of the gutters, I’d be on the next plane home.). Occasional signs tell you to “Keep Ghana Clean” with photos of putting litter in trash cans, but public trash cans are almost impossible to find. The locals do, however, burn their trash in big heaps. And I exhaled every time I walked past one. On a similar note, Ghanaians have no shame urinating in public. It’s very common to see “Do not urinate here” painted on the outsides of buildings and on fences.
  • The handshake with a snap at the end. As you slide your hands out of the handshake, both people snap using their middle finger and thumb on top of one another (so you’re snapping with your middle finger and thumb on either side of the other person’s middle finger, and vice versa). It’s awesome and took me a long time to make any noise. Even now, I think most of the successful handshakes made a snapping noise because of the Ghanaian I shook hands with, not because I perfected the trick.
  • The languages. When I came to Ghana, I was under the (mistaken) impression that Ghanaians know English. Though English is the official language of Ghana, only about 30% of the country speaks it. I lived relatively close to the capital, so most did know English in my area, but it’s still rarely their first choice. Most of the Ghanaians I asked said that they speak somewhere between 3 and 7 languages. Dodowa (the town I lived in) spoke Dangbe, and the children at Potter’s Village spoke Twi (which is a more common and well-known dialect). The languages are beautiful; I didn’t realize how “African” they sounded until I listened to it at home. They tend to drift in and out of English, so even when they were speaking local dialects, I could usually decipher the general topic of the conversation.
  • The attention from the men. At first, I was extremely amused by the forward, direct things the local men said to me right after meeting me – things like, “I love you” and “I will marry you.” The first guy who hit on me actually jumped on the back of my trotro as we pulled away, trying to get me to give my phone number to the mate so that he could pass it on. I was laughing so hard I didn’t even really answer him. After three months of constant attention, though, I was done with it. One time, near the end of my trip, I was alone in a trotro station, and I actually missed my trotro (it pulled away without me) because a random local guy wouldn’t let go of my shoulders. Needless to say, I was pretty ticked. Conclusion? The attention is oddly flattering, but it’s not worth the extra hassle of fighting off guys simply because I’m white.
  • Djembe drums. These are your typical African drums, and they sound SO cool. I witnessed drum performers on several occasions, almost always in touristy areas, and usually in conjunction with dancers, acrobats, and fire-throwers. I bought a small djembe drum and brought it home with me. Carved into it are two Adinkra (West African) symbols: happiness and unity. The head of the drum is goat skin, and there’s even a little goat hair around the edges of the drum head still – a constant reminder that it’s handmade.
  • The chocolate. Ghana exports cocoa, and I really love their local chocolate. I purchased it in several flavors, including lemon and orange. It doesn’t seem to melt despite the high temperatures (they sell it in the outdoor markets), and it has a really interesting consistency. It starts out kind of chalky, and then becomes creamy and smooth as you chew it. It is made using 100% genuine cocoa – no cocoa butter. Unfortunately, upon bringing some of the chocolate home, I have discovered that the desert climate I live in has made the chocolate taste very dry. I did see cocoa trees on several occasions, though the cocoa pods were never their ripe, yellow color.
  • The racism. Believe me, I know how strange this sounds, but I never want to forget it. If we define racism as being treated differently (often negatively) because of the color of one’s skin, then Ghana – my beautiful Ghana – is a racist nation. With 99% of the country being black, we stuck out like sore thumbs, and heads turned everywhere we went. Occasionally it bothered me, such as when a Ghanaian would call out, “obruni!” and then say something in a local dialect that we couldn’t understand, and then all their friends would laugh. We were often mocked or treated as if we were just plain stupid. However, despite the occasional frustrations, most of the time I took it as a learning experience, and I learned lessons that I can’t adequately put into words. I was able to tour Cape Coast Castle, formerly a British slave trade castle, and experience the humbling feeling of being in a place where such cruelty and misunderstanding took place. I saw the dungeons where the slaves were chained, the solitary confinement rooms, the beaches where they were loaded onto ships, and I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t find tears to shed. I had one occasion when all the volunteers were sitting in the back row of the trotro, and I thought of Rosa Parks refusing to sit at the back of the bus. I finally understood it. I understood her. On multiple occasions, I would find myself thinking, Please just let me walk through the market without being the center of attention. Please let me be unnoticed as I walk down the street so that I can quietly live my life. I was tired of it – tired of the constant attention because of my skin color, tired of speaking to every Ghanaian man I passed, tired of being mocked, tired of being asked for money or food or my watch by people who were clearly doing fine on their own. This is a lesson that will stick with me for the rest of my life: No one should be treated differently because of something (like skin color) that they cannot control. May we all be a little more tolerant, a little more accepting, a little more loving.
  • The hissing. Ghanaians hiss to get each other’s attention. It surprised me at first, especially the first time I walked through a market and heard it constantly as they tried to get my attention. However, I accepted it as part of life and actually caught myself doing it a couple of times. It works! And it’s much better than yelling to get someone’s attention, especially in crowded places.
  • Little hands covered in food, being rubbed on my arms, legs, head, and back as small children climbed on me right after eating their meals. I’ll admit, I never really got used to this. Food hands bothered me every time, no matter how dirty I already was.
  • Washing my clothes by hand with buckets and a drying line. A small load took about 1/2 hour, and doing all my clothes (basically 8 full outfits) took about 3 1/2 hours. I never fully appreciated washing machines before this trip.
Laundry day!

Laundry day!

  • The teachers still “cane” naughty children in Ghana, and the mamas at the orphanage would occasionally cane the kids there, too. A “cane” is just a thin stick, and it seems to be about the only form of discipline that works on these children. I only personally witnessed mild beatings, thank heavens. I did, however, clean some pretty bad wounds from a beating on one child’s back – something I never thought I’d do in my life. I also saw several swollen little wrists.
  • Fishermen on the beaches. This was really cool, and I was lucky enough to see it in Cape Coast and again at Kokrobite on my last weekend. We got up to watch the sunrise, and we witnessed fishing boats heading out into the ocean, like this:
Fishing boats heading into the ocean near Cape Coast

Fishing boats heading into the ocean near Cape Coast

DSCN4804

Then the next thing we know, there are about 20 men lined up along each rope on the shore, pulling in the fishing nets. I watched for a long time, and never saw the nets reach the shore. I imagine that they only pull in one net per day.

Men pulling in fishing nets

Men pulling in fishing nets

  • “Potato chips,” which we call French fries (I was definitely confused the first time, though I should’ve known better) and “yam chips,” which are fried just like French fries but are made using yams instead. By “yams,” I mean white yams, not sweet potatoes. The texture is a little different than fries made from potatoes, and the taste is sweeter. I actually really liked them.
  • Roads full of potholes. This was especially evident on the 3 1/2 hour trotro ride to the Volta Region on my weekend trip to see the monkey sanctuary and Wli waterfall. Swerving back and forth across the road to avoid potholes sometimes felt like we were living the game of Mario Kart.
  • Driving without lanes, traffic lights, or crossing signals. Of course, by “driving,” I don’t mean I actually drove. I would’ve died in about two minutes flat if I’d been personally driving on those streets. It’s really quite a miracle that I didn’t see more car accidents. I also didn’t realize I’d find myself missing traffic lights and crossing signals.
  • Buying things from the trotro or taxi windows. In each trotro station, and many times as we stopped in trotros along the streets, vendors would come up (with their goods in bowls on their heads, in truly African style) and sell things to us through the windows! This came in quite handy on multiple occasions, especially buying water and other snacks on long weekend trips.
  • Drinking water from sachets. These were probably 4″ x 6″ clear plastic water bags, each containing 500mL of water. We just bit off the corner and drank straight from the sachets. Most volunteers spill at least one bag entirely at some point during their stay.
  • The walk to church, which took me about 25 minutes each way, through the streets of Dodowa. I liked this for two reasons: (1) It gave me some alone time to think, and (2) it made me appreciate the close proximity of church at home. I think church meant even more to me when it required me to put forth some extra effort to attend. I also found myself sort of counting down to Sundays when I would be able to attend again – a little safe haven where nobody called me “obruni.” 🙂
  • Shops with religious names. Though not all shops had religious names, a good portion of them did. Similar sayings can also be seen on the rear windows of trotros and taxis. I made a list of some of them, which is a pretty good representation of the typical names you’d see: Jesus is One Carpentry, Gye Nyame Butcher’s Shop (“Gye Nyame” means “accept God” or “the supremacy of God”), By His Grace Fitting Shop, God With Us Cold Store, The Lord is My Shepherd Cold Store, The Line of Judah Aluminum, JustChrist Special Tilapia Joint, God’s Shelf Aluminum and Razor Wire, No Weapon Formed Against Thee, Anointed Hand Fast Food, God Reigns Aluminum, See What God Has Done, Trinity Oil, Supreme Genesis Investments, God’s Love Ventures, Amen Driving Institute, Super Divine Video and Photo Centre
  • The brightly-colored clothing. Men and women both wear bright, patterned clothes. The basic clothing is either (1) used, western clothing bought in the markets (basically just what you’d see in thrift stores in the States) or (2) bright, Ghanaian cloth that has been purchased by the yard and then taken to a seamstress for custom-tailored clothing. I absolutely LOVE Ghanaian clothes – and I brought several dresses and skirts home with me.
  • Ghanaians know how to do funerals right. They are Friday – Sunday, 3-day “celebrations of life” – at least if the person passed away in old age. They wear matching dresses and shirts like you would see at a wedding. They also display big, professionally-made posters all over town announcing the funeral. The posters usually have a photo of the person, basic information about him/her, and the age he/she died. It’s quite the tribute. Hearses often have sirens on them so that the funeral processions can clear the road to pass through. At least twice, I saw entire roads blocked off for funeral celebrations right in the middle of the street.
  • Football (soccer). I was lucky enough to be in Ghana during the African Cup of Nations – essentially the “football” playoffs for Africa. Ghana made it to the top four and then lost in penalty kicks to Burkina Faso. It was so exciting to be there during the games. Though I only watched one game, we always knew when one was playing because we could hear, “Gooooooooooal!” being shouted from random buildings all over. The game that I watched was the semi-final against Burkina Faso, and we crammed into a dimly lit bar full of excited Ghanaians to watch it. I don’t know much about soccer, but I know which team I’ll be cheering for from here on out 🙂
  • The feeling of visiting upscale Accra Mall. I was always conflicted between being proud of Ghana for having a place that fancy, and being disgusted with Ghana for having a place that fancy. I always had a hard time convincing myself that I was still in Africa (and the first time it made me very homesick), and then I’d walk back outside and be hit by the wave of heat and humidity and the noise of the streets of Ghana.
  • The movie theatre in Accra Mall, which I only attended once, and which was so much like home that I kept expecting to walk into a familiar parking lot afterward and get into my little red Chevy Cavalier to drive home. The catch: Ghanaians clap in movies when something good happens. And then I would get snapped back to reality and my real location.
  • The feeling of being buried in small children, even on the hottest of days when I felt like I would suffocate under their body heat. It’s quite an amazing experience to walk into Potter’s Village, sit down, and immediately have 5-6 children on my lap and gathered around me. Sometimes we’d read or play little hand games or look at pictures on my camera, but often we’d just sit and talk and laugh and sing. I love those kids, and I miss their hugs every single day.

I could probably keep going, but I feel like I have sufficiently covered most of my trip. If you’re still reading this, you get five gold stars for your perseverance! Thanks for walking down memory lane with me.

Categories: Ghana Volunteer | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Adding a Little Clay

This post is a bit late in coming, but I wanted to share some of the smaller projects I was able to complete (thanks to donations sent by wonderful people!) at Potter’s Village before I left Ghana. The Potter’s Village is so named because we are “molding” people. However, without a safe external environment, the real molding – the important, internal molding – can’t take place.

I spent much of my donation money to further the land project (see here). However, I was still left with enough funds to complete a few minor but important repair projects at the current location – to add a little “clay,” if you will, to Potter’s Village.

Reverend Asare and I discussed bringing someone in to get an estimate for the repairs. Then the next day, Reverend told me that one of the older boys knew how to make the repairs himself. So 16-year-old Emmanuel (“Ahovi”) and I took a trip to a couple little shops in Dodowa (conveniently the teachers were on strike so he didn’t have school for a few days) to purchase tools and materials.

Ahovi carrying the materials back to Potter's Village. He may or may  not have done more work than me on this... ;)

Ahovi carrying the materials back to Potter’s Village. He may or may not have done more work than me on this… 😉

Plywood, mesh screening, and metal bars for window and door repairs

Plywood, mesh screening, and metal bars for window and door repairs

With Ahovi! Sometimes I forget he's still an awkward teenage boy. haha

With Ahovi! Sometimes I forget he’s still an awkward teenage boy. haha

Here are some descriptions and photos of the projects we were able to complete!

New window screen and bars in one of the girls’ bedrooms. This became an immediate top priority not because mosquitoes were getting through the tears in the screen (which they were) but because someone slashed the screen from the outside with a knife during the night. This would not have happened if the window had had the appropriate metal bars across it. By the time I took my “before” photos, a temporary metal piece had been set across the bottom of the window to keep the girls safe while we fixed the window properly.

Before:

DSCN5052

Window from the inside, before repairs

DSCN5053

Window from the outside, before repairs

After:

Check out how he used the nails to hold in the edges of the metal bars

Check out how he used the nails to hold in the edges of the metal bars

DSCN5201

Window with a new screen and bars! He left the temporary bars in, added new bars, and re-screened the entire window.

The window screen leading from the main courtyard area into the boys’ room. This screen was very torn (and extra mutilated because children were playing with the loose strings frequently). With an increase in malaria cases in Potter’s Village, I wanted to get these screens fixed ASAP.

Before:

Window into the boys' room, before repairs

Window into the boys’ room, before repairs

Ahovi and Richmond repairing the window screen

Ahovi and Richmond repairing the window screen

After:

New window screen! Ta da!

New window screen! Ta da!

The door to the boy’s room was missing a panel.

Before:

Door to the boys' room, before repairs

Door to the boys’ room, before repairs

After:

Godwyn showing the repaired door panel

Godwyn showing the repaired door panel

The door locks. Two doors required new latches, hinges, and padlocks. I don’t have “Before” photos of these, but one of them is a door to the back bathing area, and the other is the door for the storage room with all the kitchen supplies in it.

Ahovi adding a new latch and padlock on the kitchen door

Ahovi adding a new latch and padlock on the kitchen door

Gifty showing the new latch and padlock on the back door

Gifty showing the new latch and padlock on the back door

After all these repairs, I found myself with just a bit left over. So I purchased shoes for Kojo; clothing bags for Mavis, Doris, and Yvonne (three teenage girls whose clothing bags had been torn by mice); and used the rest toward medical expenses for several children.

Kojo with his new shoes

Kojo with his new shoes

Shelf in one of the girls' rooms that shows what the clothing bags look like

Shelf in one of the girls’ rooms that shows what the clothing bags look like

New clothing bag for Mavis!

New clothing bag for Mavis!

I want to give one last HUGE thank you to my donors! These projects seem small, but every little bit helps tremendously when we’re trying to protect and care for God’s precious children.

The kids sing a song that goes like this (pardon the questionably racist line – it’s still super cute when they sing it):

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Be they yellow, black, or white
All are precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world

From J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit: “Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”

After spending so much time and energy with 100 little ones, I found myself loving them more than I could possibly imagine. And I know (as they do) that Jesus Christ, our Savior, loves them, too. Thank you so much for your support and for showing your love for them. May we all continue to spread light and goodness throughout the world in whatever capacity we can.

Categories: Ghana Volunteer | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

I Bless the Rains Down in Africa

Last Thursday, we made another trip to Kwamekrom to see the new property; check out the four acres they had cleared for farming; pay for the surveying, demarcation, and clearing; and make final negotiations to secure our ownership of the land. Thanks again to those who donated money to this project! It has been an amazing journey to witness 🙂  Note: Three acres were donated; the other ten still need to be paid for, though we are using the land for crops already.

This time, Mayerli joined us on the adventure!

Mayerli and I in the car in Kwamekrom! Very excited about the land for Potter's Village :)

Mayerli and I in the car in Kwamekrom! Very excited about the land for Potter’s Village 🙂

Let’s take a little photo tour!

Walking through the brush to get to the property. The first time we did this, I was in a skirt. Not ideal.

Walking through the brush to get to the property. The first time we did this, I was in a skirt. Not ideal.

Looking over the 4 acres that have been cleared

Looking over the 4 acres that have been cleared

Temporary markers have been placed to show the edges of our property. These will be replaced shortly with cement pillars.

Temporary markers have been placed to show the edges of our property. These will be replaced shortly with cement pillars.

A pineapple farm! I've seen several in Kwamekrom. This is one of the crops we'll grow because it can be sold for juice. Side note: I was really excited to see how pineapple grows.

A pineapple farm! I’ve seen several in Kwamekrom. This is one of the crops we’ll grow because it can be sold for juice. Side note: I was really excited to see how pineapple grows.

It started to rain on us! Road sign for Kwamekrom. I took this photo through a rainy window as our cab flew past. It's a miracle the sign was even IN the photo, let alone legible. Haha

It started to rain on us! Road sign for Kwamekrom. I took this photo through a rainy window as our cab flew past. It’s a miracle the sign was even IN the photo, let alone legible. Haha

Reverend Asare writing up the details of the agreement for the land. A little different than how we do it at home, eh? Also, by this point, there was an insane rainstorm going on outside. It was awesome timing. Bless the rains down in Africa :)

Reverend Asare writing up the details of the agreement for the land. A little different than how we do it at home, eh? Also, by this point, there was an insane rainstorm going on outside. It was awesome timing. Bless the rains down in Africa 🙂

Part of the 3 acres that will be the school and living quarters. The boundary goes "from the bamboo to the mango tree." Haha. Sometimes I really love Ghana.

Part of the 3 acres that will be the school and living quarters. The boundary goes “from the bamboo to the mango tree.” Haha. Sometimes I really love Ghana.

Cleared out to build a road to the school property

Cleared out to build a road to the school property

Kwamekrom! I don't think it's very big...

Kwamekrom! I don’t think it’s very big…

A pretty little flower on our property. Not exactly relevant, but I like it :)

A pretty little flower on our property. Not exactly relevant, but I like it 🙂

And one more for good measure:

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Categories: Ghana Volunteer | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

A Miracle

Originally I began fundraising to build a manhole and wall at the back of Potter’s Village, but circumstances have changed, and we have a much bigger, much more progressive project! I wanted to share the news with my readers.

Check out the updates on my Ghana Fundraising page here!

I’m excited about our opportunities and am so grateful that the timing was right for me to still be here. I have less than two weeks left in Ghana.

Categories: Ghana Volunteer | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Meet the Kids, Part 2

I got a lot of positive feedback from my last “Meet the Kids” post, so I’d like to introduce you to a few more of my sweet (and sometimes naughty) Ghanaians 🙂

This is Richard.

Richard

Richard

Richard is 18…I think. He told me he is 15 and then suddenly last week, he said 18. I think 18 is correct. This is unfortunate because Richard is currently being taught English, how to read and write, and basic math. When I arrived, he wasn’t being tutored at all, but thanks to a brilliant volunteer who suggested that the volunteers tutor him, he’s making some progress. I’m working with him about an hour a day on English, and we’re still working on the names and sounds of each letter. It’s very rewarding work, and he is excited to learn. Richard isn’t enrolled in school and can’t be until we get past all the basics with him. He’s a really good kid, and it’s been fun to get to know him. Every day I’m amazed how well we communicate despite the language barrier.

This is Mercy and Isabella (“Abena”).

Mercy and Abena

Mercy and Abena

When you ask Abena what her name is, she’ll say “Isabella” the way an Italian would say it. It’s so so cute. Mercy and Abena are two of our 5-year-olds. They keep us on our toes with all their energy, but they also make us laugh all the time. When Mercy sees me from a distance, she opens her eyes really wide and puckers her lips. Of course, I do it back, and then we both laugh. She also says “Eesh!” all the time. Mercy spends a lot of time on my lap. Abena probably would, too, if she could sit still that long. By the way, her given name is Isabella; Abena is a Ghanaian name which is used depending on what day of the week a person is born. My Ghanaian name, as a female born on a Monday, is Ajoa (pronounced “Adjua”).

This is Florence (“Korkor,” pronounced “Coco”).

Coco

Coco

I use her given name and her house name interchangeably, but we’ll call her Coco here. Coco is 10, and I feel like she’s a kindred spirit. She is soft-spoken and gentle, though she definitely still likes to play with the other kids. She has a tendency to let the other kids take her things without standing up for herself. When she needs something, she is hesitant to ask, which makes me want to buy everything she wants (I won’t do that, of course). I have spent a lot of time with her recently because she got malaria, and I was the one in charge of administering her four medications. This morning, she came up to me with a little bouquet of white flowers, which I am now pressing into my journal. It was a perfect surprise first thing in the morning 🙂

This is Mawuli.

Mawuli

Mawuli

This kid should win an award for his smile. He also loves to sew buttons back onto uniforms when they fall off, and he’s pretty darn good at it! Except that one time when he sewed all of them facing inward. Haha. Mawuli is almost 13 but small for his age. He’s easy-going and very funny. He has several siblings who have lived at Potter’s Village, and Richard (above) is his brother. When Richard asked to have his shorts stitched, Mawuli volunteered to do it. Then he thought about it for a second and said, “No, I won’t sew his shorts because he ate my mango!” Hahaha. Laura and I still laugh about that little transaction.

This is Gifty.

Gifty

Gifty

The oldest of three girls named Gifty at Potter’s Village, this Gifty is 13 years old. She slid under our radar for a couple weeks somehow, and then once she learned our names, she started talking to us all the time. And yet she insists on calling Laura “obruni” (“foreigner”). When Laura doesn’t answer, Gifty finally caves and calls her by her name. Sometimes she’ll tell us she has homework and then just stands around talking to us for hours (literally), procrastinating. I suppose she’s training us for when we have our own teenage daughters. Haha

This is Comfort (“Connie”).

Comfort

Comfort

Connie makes herself known to volunteers the moment they enter the orphanage for the first time. Another one of our 5-year-olds, she hangs on legs and sits on laps. But with that beautiful face and sweet disposition, none of us can tell her to get off. In Ghana, it’s offensive to compare children to animals…but if it weren’t, I’d say Connie is a little lizard. Hilarious side note: She has got to have the hairiest legs I have ever seen on a child.

This is Benedict.

Benedict

Benedict

Baby Benny is the youngest at Potter’s Village. He turned 1 on January 1st, and he took his first steps while I have been here. Benny rarely has a diaper on and is often covered in food. But every time I break down my first-world barriers and hold him anyway, I fall in love with him all over again. He is the same age as my niece and nephew back home, which makes me a bit homesick, but I love seeing his big eyes every day.

And a note to the world from my 100 kids, painted on their wall:

DSCN4498

Categories: Ghana Volunteer | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

The Projects

Hello, friends! As I’m settling down here in Ghana, I have found a couple of big projects to really help the orphanage – or, more specifically, to help these beautiful (and silly) little people:

DSCN4623

DSCN4834

DSCN4838

To view the projects in detail, please click here. You can also view the page by going to Ghana Volunteer > Ghana Fundraising at the top of my blog.

Remember, any little bit you can donate would be very appreciated. And then spread the word! If many people donate just a little, together we can make a big impact.

I leave you a beautiful thought from my friends here at Potter’s Village:

Painted on the wall at Potter's Village

Painted on the wall at Potter’s Village

Thank you for sharing in this adventure with me.

Categories: Ghana Volunteer | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

We Are Saying Thank You, Jesus

Each morning at Potter’s Village, they have a “devotion,” where they sing several religious songs, pray, and hear a spiritual message from one of the resident reverends or one of the older kids. One of the songs has been stuck in my head all day. It says, “We are saying thank you, Jesus. Thank you, my Lord.” I think those are the only words, but repeated many times.

First of all, I love starting each day with this devotional, even though I only understand half of it. I hope to learn many of their songs while I’m here. Anyway…because of this song, I’ve been contemplating the many tender mercies God has shown me since I left home – and they are many. No bug bites, no sunburn, only minor sickness, easy-going fellow volunteers, safety in crowds, running into the missionaries from my faith on Saturday so that I could find the church Sunday morning, two fellow volunteers who joined me for church even though they knew nothing about it, children who warm up quickly and show love constantly, a cook who makes popcorn (a snack I eat nearly every day at home and thought I would really miss) every morning which helps me feel at home here, a baby who contracted malaria and was able to come home from the hospital today, and many, many others. “Thank you, my Lord.”

Today I successfully and safely rode a trotro by myself to Madina and back (about 45 minutes each way). I also learned how to wash my clothes by hand…and realized what a wussy American I am when a 15 year old girl (Mawrine) took pity on me and began to help. I have only washed my underwear so far, and yet my hands are actually raw. But I’ll get it down!

At the orphanage, I spent some time having the kids read to me. Some of them are really good at it!

image

Speaking of tender mercies, three new volunteers came today, just as we were beginning to worry that we wouldn’t have enough help. They are only here for a couple of weeks more (they transferred from another orphanage placement in Ghana), but it’s great to have them!

Today I also said goodbye to seven of our teenagers who, thanks to a lot of time and dedication from one of the volunteers, are heading to senior high school (boarding school) in the morning. They are each receiving money from sponsors, which allows them to finish their education! It’s very, very cool. There are still a few who are waiting for sponsor money in order to go, but this is a great start!

Stay tuned for my experience with a Ghanaian band. It’s a great story with some fun videos. For now, goodnight!

Categories: Ghana Volunteer | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Akwaaba! You are welcome to Ghana

A gecko just climbed up the inside wall of my house. No joke. I think it’s so cool.

“Akwaaba” means “welcome” in Twi (pronounced more like Chwee). And I cannot even count the number of times I have heard it in the past few days. Ghanaians are beautiful, laid back, social people. They always say “You are welcome to Ghana.” I love it. They call foreigners “obruni,” so we hear that all the time, too, especially in the markets when they want us to spend money. haha. It’s not offensive at all–just cultural. They take the time to greet each other on the streets, especially in the small village I am in, and they all run on “Ghanaian time,” which can be anywhere from 10 minutes to 5 hours early or late. It’s going to take a long time to adjust to that.

The trip over here was LONG, and I was quite nauseous during my last flight (London to Accra) and for the first day and a half here. We worried a little that the sickness might be from the anti-malarial drugs, but the timing was wrong, so I think I was just exhausted. Anyway, I slept it off and am back to normal!

We (8 new volunteers) were picked up at the airport and driven to Eddie’s house for the first night (the man who owns Ghana Volunteer Corps Organization). I was in a taxi with a staff member and one other volunteer. The driving is crazy! They squeeze through tiny gaps in traffic, and there are no street signs, addresses, or even lanes on the road. They do, however, drive on the right side of the road instead of the left, which surprised me.

Accra, the capital, is HUGE. We’re going to see it officially tomorrow, and it will be very different from where I’m living now. I was assigned to an orphanage in Dodowa (pronounced doh doh WAH), which is supposedly “45 minutes” outside Accra, but I swear the drive took much longer than that. Ghanaian “time.” The orphanage, Potter’s Village, has 115 kids! The youngest is 1, the oldest is about 19. We don’t know exact birthdates for a lot of them, so ages are sort of a guessing game. Potter’s Village is so named because they are “molding” the children into successful people. The lady who runs the orphanage is Mama Jane (Jane Irina Adu), and she is a reverend, a teacher, an author, and a traveling speaker. She has made extraordinary educational/empowerment efforts among women in Africa, and she is truly amazing. She left her rich life to begin Potter’s Village because she believes it is the calling God has given her. Mama Jane is respected and loved by the children–and, I’m sure, by everyone else who knows her. 30 seconds in her presence would give anyone the impression that they are secure, safe, important, and loved.

The house I’m staying in is basically at the same poverty level as most of the village. We have two toilets and a “shower,” but all three require bringing buckets of water from huge barrels outside the house. I actually like the bucket showers. When I’m hot and sweaty (which I basically always am here), pouring water over me feels REALLY good.

Some things I’ve learned about Ghana:

  • Their mangos are delicious
  • They are VERY religious. I pass stores all the time with names like “Unbreakable Man Furniture,” “Jesus is One Carpentry” and “God’s Grace Salon”
  • Most Ghanaians speak in some mixture of Twi and English. The kids love teaching us Ghanaian slang (and we love learning it!)
  • Drinking water comes in little plastic 500 mL bags. It actually tastes really good, though the bags take a little getting used to.
  • Trotros are the cheapest way to get around. They are like big vans, and it’s a mixture between a taxi and a bus system. You basically just stand on the side of the road and get on the first one that is going to the place you want to go. It’s hot, crowded, and very cheap. And quite the experience 🙂
  • The roads have red dirt
  • Bucket “showering” feels really good but is essentially useless, since I am dirty within about 1 minute of stepping out of it.
  • There are random goats and chickens wandering all over through the streets
  • The humidity never goes away
  • They still cane children at school for misbehaving
  • They apparently don’t see white people very much. I’m quite a spectacle 🙂

So there you have it! Hello from beautiful Ghana!

Categories: Ghana Volunteer | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

Pink is the Color of Love

I got my Ghana orphanage placement! I will be part of IVHQ’s Pink Program (the colors just designate the different programs and don’t have much significance beyond that).

My orphanage is The Potter’s Village in Dodowa in the Greater Accra Region of Ghana–about 45 minutes from the center of the capital city, Accra.

Dodowa Map

This shows where Dodowa is located within the country.

Dodowa Map

This shows the distance from Dodowa to Accra, the capital

From my placement packet: “Potter’s Village was founded by Mrs. Jane Irene Adu in 2000 with the sole aim of fighting for the rights of women and also displaced children (orphans and needy children). Potter’s Village has been the mouthpiece of many women and children for the past several years through advocacy and education programs, counseling services, health services, vocational training for young displaced girls, adult education, literacy programs, and many more. The benefit of this organization has been of tremendous help to vulnerable women and children across the country.

“Daily activities at the orphanage include getting kids organized in the morning for school, general maintenance of the home, helping cook, cleaning of bowls, helping with assignments. Volunteers normally design their own schedule as to when they will be at the orphanage and get things done with the help of older volunteers.”

I should clarify that there’s the slightest chance my placement will change once I arrive in Ghana and meet the coordinators there. But as of now, this is the plan.

I will be living about a 5-minute walk from the orphanage in what is called a volunteer house. The volunteers live together in this house, and meals are prepared by local staff. The information I received about living conditions: “The house has three rooms, a kitchen, and eating area. Rooms are shared among volunteers with bunk beds in every room… There is an inside toilet and a shower but every volunteer must get his or her own water which is located outside for use in the shower and toilet… Electricity is available but there are frequent power cuts throughout Ghana.”

One week from today, I will be on my way!

Categories: Ghana Volunteer | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Beginnings of an African Adventure

In just over 5 weeks, I will be on a plane on my way to Ghana, Africa! A lot of people have asked how I got involved in this and why I am going, so I will tell my story here 🙂

A few months ago, I met a friend who had just returned from a 3-month humanitarian trip in Peru. Near the end of the summer, she started talking about going on another one this coming January, and I volunteered (excitedly) to join her. And so began the research. We narrowed it down to Africa or the Pacific Islands (Asian languages are intimidating), then discovered that most of the volunteer projects in the Pacific are wildlife and animal conservation projects. Working with children seemed more rewarding.

We made our decision: orphanage work in Ghana through an organization called IVHQ (see volunteerhq.org if you’re interested) for three months (12 weeks).

And then came the bomb. My friend had returned to BYU-Idaho and discovered that she had the option of switching from the inconvenient summer/fall school track to the fall/winter track. That meant she would be in school in January rather than in Ghana with me (Interesting side note: she just received an LDS mission call, so she will be on a mission rather than in school or in Ghana. Sometimes it’s funny how life works out). Anyway…I spent about a week internally debating myself, and then I decided to go anyway. Alone.

Why Ghana, you ask? Two main reasons: (1) they speak English as the official language, and (2) the LDS (Mormon) church has a pretty solid presence there, which makes me feel safer. I have heard that the people are welcoming, accepting, and very friendly. And by Africa standards, it’s a stable economy and government at the moment. IVHQ has been sending volunteers there for years and assures me that I will be placed in an orphanage where I can make a difference. I’m very excited 🙂

I leave Jan. 13th! I have officially received my passport, my visa application is in the mail, I’ve paid the program fee that will cover room and board during my stay, and I’ve purchased flights.

Also–I am quitting my job to go. Crazy, you say? Perhaps. But I’m ready for a change anyway, so this is good timing. I’m hoping that the volunteer experience will increase my marketability as a potential employee when I return. I figure if a company isn’t impressed by it, I probably won’t want to work for them anyway, right? So yes, it might be a mistake. But it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

Yesterday I received 6 very dreaded immunization shots. Bleh. I am terrified of needles. The vaccines included yellow fever (legally required), tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, polio, typhoid, and meningococcus. I was already up-to-date on influenza and MMR shots–thank heavens. I also received prescriptions for an anti-malaria antibiotic, a drug that cures yeast infections (a potential side effect of the anti-malarial pills. Fun :P), and a drug that helps with traveler’s diarrhea. This is the first time in my life that I have received prescriptions for medical problems I may or may not ever have. haha. For the record, the yellow fever vaccine is the worst. It’s been more than 24 hours and my arm still hurts. But it’s worth it!

Ghana, here I come!

Categories: Ghana Volunteer | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment