In August this year, I spent a month travelling through Ghana volunteering with a charity called Thrive Africa! Honestly one of the most humbling, eye opening and rewarding things I've ever done!
I was with a group of 15 others, and together we stayed in Kumasi for a few days organising, acclimatising and settling in before travelling to Bolgatanga, where the general living standard was mud huts and thatch roof houses, limited access to fresh drinking water and very minimal nutrition. The local people live in dirt dirt poor living conditions (literally living in mud huts).
We were helping the caregivers of orphaned children build and work their farms (most of the children cared for are orphaned from losing their parents to HIV AIDS, and one carer looks after around 15 children, sometimes by herself!). Farming provides some food and a source of income. One day's work by all of us on her farm would normally take weeks to do the same amount on her own.
After two weeks in Bolgatanga we ventured back to Kumasi to build libraries in local schools. We cleaned out the rooms, painted and decorated them, then built bookshelves and wallshelves and packed them full of some of the books we had sorted through when we first got to Kumasi. Even though it was school holidays there was so many kids wanting to hang around with us, see what we were doing, help us, dance and play with us. It was honestly amazing.
It was also amazing seeing the joy and appreciation on their faces when their libraries were opened for them — the gift of learning and literacy means so much to these people and can make a huge difference to the choices and opportunities that they will have available in later years.
I believe a big part of volunteering is the opportunity for the volunteers to learn about the culture, beliefs, goals and environment of the people they are working alomgside. Volunteering is not about introducing western ways to developing countries and communities, rather understanding what can most effectively help a community given the culture and environment they live in. So it was with great curiosity and interest when the weekends came around and we were put into our own classroom (so to speak) to learn all about the ways of life, the natural geography and the inhabitants of Ghana (man and animals). We were given the opportunity to explore and experience more of Ghana.
On the way back from Bolgatanga we took a scenic route and found a huge waterfall where we played and swam and went "waterfalling". That was pretty awesome! We also had a few nights in a place calle Mole National Park (pronounced "Mole-aye"). Here we went on both foot and vehicle safaris and even saw an elephant about 15 metres away from us!
One thing I'll always remember is the baboons, haha!! Cheeky cheeky baboons! They would sneak into our rooms, steal our food, sunglasses and even grabbed someone's sunscreen, smelt it then threw it off a cliff, hahaha!
A definite MUST do in Ghana is to try Red Red and Fu Fu - some of the local dishes. Red Red is a bean and vegetable curry served with rice and fried plantane which I loved! And while Fu Fu is not usually recommended to travellers as it is a very heavy dish and will make most people sick, I tried some and would recommend just tasting a bit! Even just the dough — it's a thick mashed dough of root vegetables. The entire meal takes almost three hours to make, the process is amazing to watch! It's like art! You'll see families out the front of their houses bashing these vegetables together in a HUGE mortar and pestle... the men doing the mashing and the women will be constantly folding the dough to make sure it's the right consistency. They use this as a base and then add some sort of soup/stew on top and then eat it all with their hands!
I loved volunteering with Thrive Africa. I know I could not have got the experiences I did without the biggest part of it being about helping the local community. There is so much more in the area of volunteering and charity I would love to get involved in, both in Ghana and other developing countries.
There is so much more of Ghana I would love to explore, and it has really whet my appetite to adventure in and around the African continent a lot more. So I will definitely be going back!
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