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Voluntary Work Placement in Ghana

I had always wanted to travel to Africa and volunteer on my gap year, but before I left to spend three months in Ghana I was unbelievably nervous, having never travelled by myself or even been away from home for more than a few weeks before.

Everything seemed so surreal when I arrived in Accra. I spent the night at the Projects Abroad office before waking up at 3am and spending five hours on a bus to Kumasi, my home for the next three months. I remember being struck by the extreme heat and hectic atmosphere that was like nothing I had ever experienced before; it was impossible not to be excited!

My host family were very welcoming and friendly but I was still affected by culture shock for my first few weeks. Everything was so completely different to England and I felt uncertain and cut off as I didn't have another volunteer as a roommate to show me around. For this reason I think it took me longer to settle into the culture than some other volunteers, but looking back I'm glad that my experience was not always easy as I feel like I gained so much more from it that way.

Netta Beardsmore on her voluntary work placement with projects Abroad in GhanaDuring my time in Kumasi I grew to absolutely love the Ghanaian culture. Without exception the people were so friendly and helpful; everyone just wants to chat to you all the time and make sure you're ok! It never worried me if I was lost because I knew I could ask anyone for help and they would go out of their way to take me right to my destination. Everyone was always smiling and laughing which immediately puts you in such a good mood.

The transport was completely crazy but although it appeared intimidating at first I quickly learned to negotiate the tro tros (minibuses) which I used everyday. I loved it as it was one of the things that made me feel most involved in the culture: being crammed into a tiny corner of a sweaty worn out minibus - it's all part of the experience!

Kumasi is such a colourful and hectic place. It's full of people, wearing bright colours and patterns and carrying huge amounts of heavy goods on the top of their heads. Goats, sheep and chickens wander around all over the place. Wherever you go you're followed with calls of "Obruni! Obruni, what is your name/where are you going?!"  The colour of my skin attracted countless, harmless marriage proposals from Ghanaian men, caused people to wave at me as I passed and groups of children to follow me, holding my hand and chanting "Obruni"- you can never blend into the crowd!

I was volunteering in a government run orphanage called the Kumasi Children's Home. It was outside the city centre and was a big area divided into different blocks with a play area and football pitch in the middle. There was also a school and day care on the site. On my first day I was shown around each of the blocks and decided to work in the girls' section, where the children were mostly aged from babies to about 11.

All the children were so excited when I arrived and literally climbed all over me! They were so full of life and had endless energy, but were desperate for attention. I found it very difficult to deal with the fact that the children were beaten and that the older ones often beat the younger children for no apparent reason, and although I tried to stop it, it was another cultural difference that I had to try and accept.

However, most of the time working at the orphanage was an incredible experience and so much fun. It was amazing how the children had so little but were still so positive and happy. Generally I would help feed the babies when I arrived in the morning and then play with them or take them outside, as otherwise they would be left in their beds. Before I left I would help feed, bath and dress them before they went to sleep in the afternoon.

I especially enjoyed working during the Easter holidays as all the older children were off school for a few weeks; it was exhausting as I was running around all day playing with them but I had so much fun! All the children and the aunties, who were in charge, called me "Ama" (my Ghanaian name from the day of the week I was born) as they could never remember my real name! I became so attached to all the children in the 3 months I worked at the orphanage and my last day at work was so sad. I still miss them now. The experience was incredible and has definitely changed my perspective. The children had no family, no possessions and nobody to give them individual love and attention, yet they were still always laughing.

I worked at the children's home during the week but at weekends I was free to travel around the country. It was awesome to see the rest of Ghana and spend time with the other volunteers. By the time I went home I had seen every region of Ghana as I travelled nearly every weekend and did a couple of longer trips. I have so many amazing, funny and scary memories from our travels!

I saw the slave forts at Cape Coast and walked above the rainforest on the canopy walkway at Kakum National Park, saw wild elephants up close at Mole and hippos from a canoe at Bui and then again at Wechiau. I slept on a tree platform in the middle of nowhere and stayed at an eco lodge at a beautiful beach. In the Volta region I hiked for 4 hours through bat caves and saw the massive Wli waterfall, visited a monkey sanctuary and a traditional kente weaving village.

I also visited a stilt village on a huge lake and spent a week travelling to the Burkina Faso border in the north where I sat on a crocodile and visited a "witch" village for women who have been forced out of their communities after being found guilty of witchcraft. I absolutely loved travelling as I saw the different sides of the beautiful country and became closer to the friends I was going with.

Looking back on my trip to Ghana, I really did have the time of my life. It wasn't always easy but I came back feeling more confident and independent. I now appreciate things I never thought twice about having before, like hot running water and a reliable electricity supply, but I miss so many things about Ghana. The children at the orphanage really were inspiring and I made some amazing friends. I feel so lucky to have had such an unforgettable experience and I can't wait to go back!

Netta Beardsmore voluntary work placement in Ghana was arranged with Projects Abroad