Thomas MacPherson - Law & Human Rights in Ghana
In 2012, I was a volunteer at the Projects Abroad Human Rights Office in Accra, Ghana, for the months of May and June. Although I was extremely nervous before I arrived - about living with complete strangers in an entirely different culture and society from that that I was used to in England, I had some of the best experiences of my life in Ghana.
Why I decided to volunteer in Ghana
I decided to volunteer in Ghana for a number of reasons. I knew I wanted to go to sub-Saharan Africa more than anywhere else in the world, having heard from friends and family who had been to various countries there, great things about its people and cultures.
The second reason I chose Ghana specifically is the fact that English is the official language there, and is the language I speak best. My final reason is that Ghana is one of few countries where Projects Abroad offers volunteer work in the area of Human Rights, which is something I am very interested in and hope to work more on in the future.
My impressions of Accra and Ghana
I first noticed the wonderful heat of Ghana, as soon as I stepped off the plane. I was pleased to discover that this heat would be with me for my whole time there, since Ghana is so close to the equator. The difference in wealth between Ghana and England, where I come from, was also immediately obvious.
But what struck me most about Ghana was the friendliness of the people there. Many people there make an effort to make foreigners feel comfortable in their country. People would often ask 'How are you?' when I was just walking down the street, and I was told countless times to 'feel free', which was something that was easy to do in such a friendly culture, where the people also have a great sense of humour.
One more thing that surprised me about Ghana was it's breathtaking landscape. Much of the country is generally incredibly green and I enjoyed long bus journeys through the countryside, taking in the views of the landscape with its beautiful trees and small villages of mud huts, no matter how uncomfortable the seating arrangements were.
Staying with a host family in Accra
In Accra I lived in the house of a lady called Theresa and her house-helper, Akos. Both of them were so friendly and tolerant, and made me feel extremely comfortable in the house, just as I do in my own home in England. It was great to live with real Ghanaians to experience aspects of the Ghanaian culture, such as the food. There were always at least three other Projects Abroad volunteers living in the house, and we were fed a variety of Ghanaian dishes. My personal favourite was red-red, which is a bean stew served with fried plantain.
My placement at the Projects Abroad Human Rights Office
My Law & Human Rights placement was extremely fulfilling. I was nervous before my first day as I did not know exactly what work I would be doing. When I had my induction and learnt that I would be doing presentations and lessons for communities and schools, I got excited, although I was still very nervous as I had never been good at public speaking. I quickly got used to doing these presentations and really enjoyed them.
It was great to be on a placement that involved travelling to different parts of Ghana, and my most memorable experiences working on the project came between the 21st and 26th of May when all the Projects Abroad Human Rights volunteers in Ghana were in Kete-Krachi, a small town on Lake Volta. This was part of our anti-child trafficking campaign and we were working in cooperation with PACODEP (Partners in Community Development Programme), a Ghanaian NGO focused specifically on fighting child trafficking.
I was able to visit the children in 'The Village of Life', a home and school for children who have been trafficked and rescued from their 'master' or who have escaped their 'masters'. This was my most memorable experience in my whole two months in Ghana. I spent some of my time there helping the children to read English, and I will never forget their friendly nature and the appreciation they showed towards everyone who was there to help them, despite the traumatic experiences they have already been through.
Travelling around Ghana after my placement
Some of my most memorable moments from Ghana came during my travels. I was able to spend a week travelling the country at the end of my placement. I went travelling with three other volunteers northwards. Although we had to drastically change our plans when we reached Akosombo port and found that the weekly ferry journey up Lake Volta was not happening because the boat's engine was broken, we had an amazing week.
We experienced some breathtaking scenery at Shai Hills, on the safari in Mole National Park, and at Butu waterfalls. We also had the opportunity to touch crocodiles in Paga, and experienced some more extreme Ghanaian friendliness when we arrived at a guest house in Tumu in the middle of the night, during a power-cut, to find that the guest house was full. The owner of the guesthouse allowed us to sleep in the spare room of her house, and refused to accept the price it would have cost to stay in her guest house.
I was extremely sad when I left Ghana. In Ghana I became extremely comfortable with Ghanaian culture and their laid-back way of life, I met many interesting volunteers from all over the world, and I gained unforgettable work experience.