We arrived here in Tamale, Northern Ghana three weeks ago and so much has happened since we have been here so I will try to write a little of what we have been up too.
Myself and the other seven volunteers are staying in a house in the little village of Fuo, next to SSNIT, a suburb of Tamale. It is quite far from the majority of our placements which are past the centre of town, and we have to get two taxis to get to work every day. The taxis often leave much to be desired as should be expected in a developing country, but we all cram into them every day. To get to the taxis we walk past the mud huts and goats of our village, the villagers calling out to us 'sillyminger' (white person) or desba ('good morning) with smiles and waves. The culture here is to greet everyone who approaches you and so it is a very warm feeling walking through the village smiling at people and having conversations. The old man at the side of the road tending his crops, the young school boy riding his bicycle on his way to school, a group of girls giggling because theyve seen a white person in their village for perhaps the first time, the woman at the side of the road selling egg bread or cooked maize. All while dodging the dust, goat poo, motorcycles and potential muddy puddles that come our way!
Tamale is a welcoming and friendly place. There have been many challenges, lack of cooking gas in the first week which was resolved, trying to build a fire when it randomly pours with torrential rain, the feeling of being in a westernised house (albeit built by a ghanaian) while some of those around us live in mud huts, with straw and their animals roaming free. It didnt feel right at first but what was pointed out was that we couldnt have successfully got through our experience without certain facilities. I feel privileged to be living in this village and seeing another way of life- even though it can feel uncomfortable. A volunteer in a previous year mentioned that one feels like a celebrity as a white person here and this is true. Children in particular get very excited to see you, and you are highly visible, however adapted you feel to the culture around you.
We began our placements after touring central Tamale and acquainting ourselves with the area and a couple of NGOs. I am working at Gigdev 'Girls Growth and Development', which takes impoverished girls, some who have had to drop out of school because of teen pregnancy, some who went to the South of the country looking for work but ended up doing menial tasks, known here as 'Kayaye' and others who come from difficult backgrounds. Gigdev is a sustainable development organisation promoting self-help, education and women and child rights. It focuses on the marginalised in society, providing them with vocational skills such as dressmaking and hairdressing, so they can start their own businesses and get out of poverty. The hope for the 'Kayaye' girls is that they will stay in the Northern region and give back to their local communities rather than go off for a fruitless search for work down South in Accra.
I am working at Gigdev as a literacy, numeracy and IT teacher for women aged between 15 and 25. I also worked in the nursery for the womens children 'Kiddicare' for three weeks until it closed for the summer, assisting the teachers and looking after the children. This was an eye opening experience because I came into contact with the first usage of the cane here. It shocked me that children so young were being caned but this is the disciplinary system here, and it was the same in the UK up to 50 years ago. One cannot intervene but I did feel the teacher caning felt that they had to justify it to me continously, as they know the cane is now banned in England. The teachers were lovely women however and we shared some interesting and amusing moments, singing African songs while the three year olds come up to dance one by one, swaying from side to side, teaching the children maths (more difficult than it sounds with poor resources), and playing with the children in the playground and sorting out their fights and scrapes! Not to mention becoming known as the 'hello' girls because Rachel Franklin (who is also working at Gigdev) and I were shouted at with 'hello, hello hello' and jumped on by the children as soon as we entered! This again brought home the novelty of being a white, new person here but the children genuinely grew to like us and I will miss them!
I am finding teaching the women at Gigdev so rewarding, and I hope they are benefiting even on a small level. To be able to teach and build relationships with women around my age (i am 22!) and of a different culture, is very special and something I will treasure for the rest of my life. It is so interesting to see their reaction to what I teach them, whether that be a song as it was today, or reading, english verbs, to fractions.... which confused them at first but they soon picked up. I wish however I had more time to teach them and not only one hour a day!
I have also been taking part in an after school club at Morning Star school, a school for orphans and poorer children in the community. This has been an amazing experience and also a wake up call. Morning Star is a school in little shacks, with no electric lighting, blackboards and small wooden desks. There are incredibly basic resources. The after school club has been wonderful, we run it for an hour and a half every afternoon on a week day and the children can choose between sport, drama, art, reading, maths or whatever we decide to run on the day. I have been largely involved with playing drama games with the children and they are currently working on two plays- 'Teen Pregnancy' (which warns about the dangers of it- this is a big problem amongst the poor in the North, and was suggested by the children themselves!) and 'The Wicked Stepmother', a more traditional fairy story with african elements. It has been great building a relationship with the children, seeing them get so excited when we teach them a new game or when I see how much a child loves to act, it makes me happy- we have found genuine acting talent! :).
However, despite the good side, there have been wake up calls as stated. For example, the children asking me for water throughout the club because they don't have any and they become dehydrated (temperatures get up to 40 degrees here) and one child becoming so hungry they started eating a plant leaf. I felt so torn... on the one hand, your heart wants to give the child food and on the other you know that if you do, the expectation will always be there.. and the 40 or so other children will want food too. A difficult conundrum, one that some of us face on a daily basis and I'm sure will write more about on the blog here.
Ghana is eyeopening, enriching, challenging, difficult and amazing all in one. There is so much to write about- the boys playing football in the village, going to an African wedding, our excursion to a Tamale nightclub for our friends birthdays.... and the list goes on....
Love to all back at home.