16th September 2019

My first time volunteering abroad

Claire Pitaluga

Volunteering abroad has been a life-long ambition of mine. After following Louise’s Instagram for months on end and having continuously watched her up to date videos of her recent travels, I felt more and more convinced that volunteering in an impoverished country like Ghana was something that I really wanted to do. It was then when I decided to inform Louise that I was very keen in being a part of her charity and wished to join a potential project that was on the pipeline. Fortunately for me, many others felt the same way and also shared their interest of volunteering with Louise. She therefore decided to VLOG one of her most recent trips to Maranatha which connected with many of us on an emotional level. As a result of showcasing her experience on this particular visit to Ghana, Louise received an overwhelming response on social media which encouraged her to reach out to the general public and began to think about next year’s project.

On the 20th December Louise decided to host a meeting where she briefed all of the potential volunteers about what was required from us if we wanted to be a part of her project. Here is where she told us that her aim was to expand on a school that she had already built in Maranatha, and build a library. She also made us all aware of the amount of preparation that was required once we committed, like for example, fundraise a large sum of money between all of us, arrange our vaccinations, flights and visas among other important duties. The organisation gave us the option of going to Ghana for either two weeks or a full month however, since it was my first time volunteering, I felt like going for two weeks was a sensible thing to do.

Telling my parents that I was planning to go to Ghana to volunteer in a few months time was not an easy task. They wanted to know every single detail, who I was going with, for how long I was going for, why did I have to go so far away and why Ghana? It took quite some time to convince them that it has been organised by someone that had been plenty of other times, that the place we were going to was safe and that I was going with a large group of volunteers. Having said this I was so adamant about going that I pretty much left them without a choice but to let me go. 

Once my flights were booked, my visa was sorted and my vaccinations had been done I began to feel extremely excited yet very anxious as I hadn’t the slightest idea of what to expect. I began to collect clothes that had been donated by generous individuals as well as toys that were no longer being used. As well as this I started to think about different teaching strategies that I could carry out when teaching in Ghana and came up with various reward systems in order to promote positive reinforcement. I therefore packed a large amount of sweets so that I could reward children when they attempted to answer a question. If I’m honest I think I actually packed more for the children than clothes for myself.  

Arriving to Accra at night was breath-taking. The lights of a beautiful city illuminated the sky creating a beautiful scene. Despite our late arrival time we were welcomed by a group of musicians which were singing and dancing along to typical Ghanaian music. This warm welcoming set very high expectations of the friendly members of the community we were about to meet and the people of Ghana did not disappoint. Every single member of the community that we met in Accra welcomed us with open arms and treated us as if we were one of their own. 

On arrival we were greeted by loving children at Maranatha beach camp who were very curious to know learn names. They were extremely eager to help with our luggage and did everything possible to instantly make us feel a part of their community. It was fascinating to see how children of such a young age had so much love to offer yet had such little to their name. Any little thing offered to the children like for example a balloon or a blank page to colour seemed as if it was the greatest thing they’d ever seen. This is what made me realise my blessings and how much is often taken for granted. I regularly replayed these scenarios in my head and thought about how my younger cousins for instance would react if I were to give them a balloon or even a blank page to colour. Both reactions would be incomparable without a doubt. 

As a future teacher, my passion for children is immense. I had the privilege of combining my two favourite things together, children and teaching and was able to teach on several occasions. Teaching in extreme weather conditions, controlling class sizes of around 50 children and dealing with their excitement of having a new teacher was not an easy task however it was all part of the experience which I very much enjoyed. Apart from spending class time with the children, weekends were when I had the chance to spend more hours with them. I loved teaching them new games such as ‘duck duck goose’ and ‘down by the river’ as I knew that they were then able to carry out these activities once we were gone. Apart from us being the ones to teach them new games, the children often enjoyed being the teacher and taught us a few of their traditional games too. 

Although the children thoroughly enjoyed spending time with the volunteers, it was somewhat tricky to do so throughout the week as we would be in the building sight every day until around 5pm. It would be wrong to sugar coat the amount of work that went into building the library. The labour was tough, very tough. We went from carrying pans after pans after pans of sand on our heads, to fetching buckets of water from the river, to making cement with our bare hands, layered concrete blocks one by one and finally painted the whole building yellow. I don’t think any one of us can say any bit of it was easy. However what I can say is that we did everything possible to make the work enjoyable for us all. All of the volunteers put 100% of their efforts into making Louise’s dream a reality and worked tirelessly to finish it within the time frame given, and we did it! 

Once the library was build it was time to say goodbye to all of the lovely people we met along the way. Saying goodbye to the children was probably one of the hardest challenges I had ever faced. Not knowing whether I would be given the opportunity to return was what pained me the most however, I was hopeful that I would be back one day. It was beautiful to see how the children comforted us when we were the ones leaving them behind. None of them wanted to see us upset or crying, they all maintained a great big smile throughout and felt blessed to have had the opportunity of being with us. 

Although the community of Kewunor and Azizanya is small, they hold more love than in any other place I have met. I never thought I could love how I loved in the space of two weeks and I am so grateful to have been given this opportunity. I definitely left a peace of my heart behind and I cannot wait to return next year.