It’s hard to explain the experience of volunteering in Ghana at The Kokrobite Chiltern Centre. If I close my eyes and try to recall my time there all I see are children’s smiling faces. Lots and lots of children who generally didn’t have any shoes or toys and who probably hadn’t eaten a proper meal that day but who had the biggest and best smiles I have ever seen.
I am a writer and I live in London. I travelled to Ghana last December to do storytelling workshops with children in the Government school in Kokrobite. I suppose I was like a lot of Londoners at that time of year, stressed, deadline-manic, toxic, when I arrived. But I definitely wasn’t like that when I returned home.
My experience in Ghana had a huge effect on me and it’s quite tricky to explain why. Bear with me while I try:
The experience of any volunteer is humbling I suspect but in Ghana at The Kokrobite Chiltern Centre this sensation is amplified because the hosts, Jane and Martial Zohoungbogbo are such selfless individuals. Quite literally every moment of their waking day revolves around their work with local children and their passionate belief in the value of education. I was quite literally gob smacked when I realized what this entailed.
They meet all the children at 6.30am, to give them their chop money (lunch money) so that they can purchase food that day. It has to be done each day and given to the children directly otherwise the parents may take it and the children not see it. They check that they are wearing shoes (shoes for feet that keep growing are a problem here for impoverished parents, often children are sent to school in an a pair of adults trainers stuffed with socks, this can be quite uncomfortable for a five year old). They check they have exercise books, a pencil, rubber, and ruler (the simplest things, like paper and pens are so scarce in the schools here, quite often children in classes share one pencil between three of them) They see them off to school, then go and chase the children that weren’t there at 6.30am. Quite often a parent will have decided they should help them at home, or by making money, we try to explain to them the importance of education. Martial is the world’s best truant officer!
A lot of their work is with the parents, supporting them and encouraging them to support their children. Then they spend a lot of time visiting the schools, checking the pupils progress but also checking the school is functioning properly. They’ve recently helped a school build a block of toilets (very exciting!) They also place volunteers in schools to work on specific projects in order to improve the level of education offered and provide professional development opportunities for the teachers. There’s more! They even open their home to local children on Saturdays for breakfast, play and educational activities.
I was running a series of Creative Writing and Oral Storytelling Workshops while I was there. I loved every moment. I soon realized that you never quite know what will happen in Ghana. One day I found myself unexpectedly teaching Maths because the teacher of the class had malaria and was slumped over his desk waiting for his medication to work. There was usually a challenge to overcome, not least the lack of pencils and desks. The most basic of materials were often scarce, or lacking, but the children were always resourceful, lively and keen to learn.
There are so many enterprises a volunteer could pursue out there, carpentry for those broken desks, teaching English, in fact any specialist class, skill or craft would be hugely welcomed. Jane and Martial believe that with education comes choice. When they started working with the children they asked some of the children what they wanted to do when they were older. All the boys said ‘fisherman’ all the girls ‘hairdresser’. Now, after 7 years of Martial and Jane’s work, when I asked them the same question one girl said ‘lawyer’ and many said ‘doctors’. I must admit I’m already planning my next trip and won’t rest until I have a published author amongst them!
If you are reading this and umm-ing and ahh-ing over whether or not to volunteer in Ghana, umm and ahh no more and go and book your ticket. Ghana is beautiful; the Kokrobite beach has to be seen to be believed. It is vibrant, the wild colourful fabrics, the shake that booty drums. It is quirky, how many pineapples does that lady have on her head? Can I really buy toilet paper when I am in a traffic jam?
You will fall in love with Ghana, meet some marvelous people and do some very valuable work. Do it!