Ghana – The first week

I won’t lie. The first day was very intimidating. It could be the uber long hours on the plane or the adrenaline rush of being so far away from everyone and everything. I missed the comfort of home, family and friends. But I was prepared for all the hardships and I was determined to do what I came here for. I finished my first week of volunteering in Ghana and I feel like I have been here for a long time.

Asempanye is a small rural town that is half an hour drive from the main town.

Koforidua and almost two hours drive from the main city Accra. Asempanye does not have access of basic facilities such as Internet, shops, banks, hospitals or restaurants that I (We) have been taking for granted. The main job of the local people are farming and hunting. The project I am involved in is called One Wish Africa. Volunteers help in construction of Women Empowerment Centre. I chose Construction because I wanted to get emerged in local culture and experience their ways of living and doing things around.

It is usually four in the morning, when the rooster crows. I like to get up early because I like taking morning walk towards the local communal well to fetch water for the morning chores. It is there when I get to meet local women and young children who come to fetch water too. There is a specific way of carrying water. You have to carry it on top of your head and balance it with your hands. The well is 10 minutes away from where I live and every time when I go to fetch water just to have shower, it reminds me of Sydney.

After breakfast, volunteers start work. Construction is a hardcore manual labor. We need to fetch rainwater that is five minutes walk down a sloppy hill. So far, I must have made almost 100 trips to get water for the cement. It is an excruciating pain if you are not used to it. Balancing the water bucket on your head with your two hands is a difficult business and makes your arm and neck sore. After fetching enough water for the day, we need to prepare cements and sand for plaster and floor. Working under scorching Ghana heat, it is important to get yourself hydrated because one sweats like a river. The next morning, I had a sore back and blisters on my hand, it reminded me of Sydney.

The locals only have three meals per day-­‐ breakfast, lunch at noon and brunch in the evening. More often than not, the meals are made from local produce, fresh from the farm. I have tried some local meals such as fufu, zolo, rice balls with peanut soup and many more that has been an absolute delight. But there are times when I crave for Tim Tams or Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk, it reminds me of Sydney.

Television is a privilege and locals cannot afford one. We went to a local pub to watch football match between Ghana and Egypt. There was a television in a cage. Despite warm beer and over crowded room by local men and boys, it was a fun night. After the game, we had to walk half an hour to get back home, it reminded me of Sydney.

This rural town amazes me. They have so little yet so much. The locals are very friendly. The children are always cheerful. They are self-­‐sustained. They grow in their farm and hunt animals for food. The children do not have fancy playthings but they are content with their handmade toys. The community is very close and has high level of trust among them. There have not been any instances of robbery or theft and children can play safely in the environment. However, I noticed that women do not have same privileges as men in the town. They are only expected to do ‘household tasks’. Also, I learnt that community thinks it is acceptable for husband to assault his wife if need be. I feel that the empowerment centre we are working on, will help women learn skills which will make them independent and not tolerate any kind of abuse by the husband or the community at large.

The project will help women in the rural area to learn skills such as baking and sewing that will help them to earn living. It will also help educate community about HIV AIDS.

In the past week, I have experienced so much. We painted a house that was built by former volunteers for Grandma and had house warming celebration in a Ghanaian style. The whole community cheered, sang and danced all night long. We are working on a house that will be used as women empowerment centre. I have seen how local drinks are brewed, how local meals are prepared and how broom, ropes and baskets are weaved from local trees. I have been to the local farms and ate local fruits such as popo and coco. I have walked through the jungle to hunt for rats and crab with local kids and dogs. I have learnt how to carry water on your head, hand wash clothes and have bucket shower. And, Yes. All the time, it reminded me of Sydney. Not because I was complaining. But, because, it made me realize how I had been taking things for granted. The experience so far has been life changing. Today, I appreciate and value more of what I have in my life. I cannot wait to experience more in my last week of volunteering in Ghana.

– Sumnima, travelling on an International Volunteer HQ program in Ghana in Summer 2013/14

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