Meet Your New Ghanaian Family

Living with a Ghanaian family meant that my new daily life was, unsurprisingly, completely different to how it had been in England. Food was cooked on a charcoal stove, sleeping patterns were determined by the sun, the family interacted with each other completely differently, and I had to master the intricate art of the bucket shower. My host family (especially Mama Molly) really went out of their way to include me in family gatherings and every aspect of their lives.

I had gone to work in an orphanage just outside Cape Coast. The children ranged in age from one to eighteen years old, and came from a variety of backgrounds. Some had been orphaned by Malaria, others by AIDS, while others had been forced to live on the streets when their parents became too poor to look after them. The whole place was full of different personalities, and some days I would persevere to spend every waking hour at the orphanage because I didn't want to miss a moment.

The children suffered a range of ailments, so for a few hours every day I would administer first aid. This entailed carting them, one strapped to my back while simultaneously trying to keep a group of others in order, to the nearest hospital. The nursery children had no formally educated teacher, so I would also spend a portion of every morning teaching basic English, using a slate at the front of the orphanage. One of the boys had spent six years of his life kept indoors. At the age of seven he couldn't count as high as ten and knew only the letter 'S' in the alphabet. I soon cobbled together some homemade number and letter cards, and it didn't take him long before his numeracy and literacy began to improve. Toward the end of my placement he would run in to greet me every morning shouting "Sister Faye, Sister Faye! 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7...' on his fingers. I don't think I've ever felt so proud.

Sex education

The teenage girls at the orphanage had never had a mother figure or anyone to advise them. Throughout my time there I spent many hours delivering informal sex education and advice on the trials of puberty. One of my favourite pastimes was sitting under a tree to shelter from the blistering heat and reading to the children. They were so eager to learn and absorb everything. I started using any free time to help the older children with their homework, or sit around the coal stove making jollof rice.

We lived within a mile of the coast, but I was shocked to discover that many of the children had never been to the beach, let alone learned to swim. On a few occasions, along with a Ghanaian friend armed with local oranges and coconuts, I took the children on day trips to the local beach. It was fantastic to see their apprehensive expressions collapse into screams of excitement. 

It was the same when the new play equipment I had welded in Cape Coast arrived at the orphanage. When they saw the swings, seesaw, and roundabout the children ran up and hugged me so hard that we fell together into the dirt.

Time to yourself

While I spent as much time as possible with the children, I was lucky enough to meet several other volunteers who could provide me with a much-needed fix of the West. Toward the end of my trip a fellow volunteer and I embarked on a two-week expedition around Ghana. It gave us an opportunity to get away from the towns and explore the rural areas of the country. We stayed in mud hut communities, slept in the heart of West Africa's largest rainforest, and trekked an elephant safari. 

Each day was a new adventure. It felt like I was once again pushing my personal limits. Whether it was navigating the Ghanaian tro-tros (shared minibus taxis), speaking to over 200 people about AIDS/HIV awareness, or learning how to barter for street food, I could feel myself developing as a person.

But the greatest challenge were the children at the orphanage. No matter how much time I spent in their company it never felt like it was enough. I became so attached to them that leaving to return to my life in England was the hardest part of all. When the children presented me with a collage of their handprints and messages I was completely overwhelmed.

Get involved

Teaching & Projects Abroad have care placements in 17 destinations. Whether volunteers wish to work in a home for children with learning disabilities in Sri Lanka or spend time with the street children of Nepal, every care placement gives you the opportunity to make a difference to the lives of so many children. Without the interaction, love, and attention of volunteers, these children have very little.