Location: Bolgatanga, Ghana, West Africa
This month officially marks one year since I started my relentless journey to the North of Ghana. At the beginning of 2016, after fundraising over £800 for a charity called International Service, I went with a group of volunteers to work in the upper eastern region of the country for a period of three months. It was one of the craziest things I've ever decided to do and one of the most challenging experiences I've ever faced, but it opened my mind to a completely different culture and way of life, gave me friends and thickened my skin. So now, reflecting on that life changing adventure, I wanted to share my thoughts one year on from boarding the plane at Heathrow airport and venturing, into the unknown...
Before heading to Ghana, I was absolutely terrified. On the one hand, I knew exactly what I was getting myself into and I knew that it was going to be hard. On the other, I had never been to West Africa, a developing country, out of Europe even! What the Hell was I doing? I only had vague ideas of what it would look like, what the food would taste like, what the people would be like, and there was even an uncertainty if our objectives over there would be met. We had just twelve weeks to achieve on a project called Trade Aid - which is an ongoing project that aims to support craft workers in maintaining and handling business so that they can create a livelihood. We had to help these people by making sure we used our time properly and created an impact that was sustainable. This wasn't voluntourism. We weren't just going in for three months then bouncing never to worry about them again. We had to make sure that we were making an actual, real difference by creating a strategy and helping the project progress. The pressure was on.
If you'd have asked me what I thought was going to be the hardest thing before I left, I would have said the obvious stuff; the food, the heat, the fear of getting ill. All those things were hard to overcome - luckily the food didn't really bother me, and even the food I didn't like I was too polite to refuse and would just close my eyes and eat it as quickly as possible. But after 8 weeks it took its toll, and it was hard to think about the food I missed knowing all there was to eat was bland meat and rice. The heat was swealtering, you put clothes on in the morning and within ten minutes they were drenched in sweat. And the fear of illness, despite having 12 rounds of injections and taking malaria tablets everyday still filled me with a little bit of dread, especially knowing animals had rabies, your food could easily be contaminated and malaria was a big possibility.
Looking back however, the hardest thing was fitting in and simply realising that this is what you have signed up to do. Some days were so tiring and enduring, I wanted a pizza, a shower, a normal bathroom with a flushing toilet and a sink with anti-bacterial hand wash. You complain about these things, sometimes more frequently than you should, but the Ghanaians that I was living and working with simply didn't care - for them, this is life. A lot of my frustrations came from feeling like I had a lack of support (although I must say, the people I was volunteering with were spot on). I was a million miles from my boyfriend, friends, family, and nobody seemed to 'understand' how you were feeling. But then this magical thing happens, where you fit into your routine and learn the way of life and things click into place. Your project has a break through, you go out to eat and know what to order and how to eat it, the person not sure about you because they've never spoke to a tourist before tells you a story that completely changes your perspective. Things just suddenly click, and you realise that nothing has got easier - you've just got tougher.
Other days were incredibly easy without many cares - something I didn't think would be possible when I first arrived. The lifestyle is so slow and simple, that when you stand on a roof in the evening with bats swirling across a sky thats on fire, or you look up and there's the brightest and most gleaming moon you've ever seen sitting in the night, you suddenly feel it more. Time changes from slow to standstill, and little things like swimming in a lake in the hot sun, dancing with the locals or getting together to eat good food and take pictures can create some of the greatest days of your life. Having fun with just people and what's around us was for me one of the biggest eye openers, and a year on, I appreciate the life I am lucky enough to lead on this amazing planet.
Finally, a year on I still fully believe that I can help to change things instead of sitting in the sidelines believing that I'm not capable. Some days people couldn't see your progress, damn you couldn't even see your progress, you felt like you were wasting time. Then other days, you go to work with an idea in your head and start to watch it unfold. You build up the courage to speak to a crowd, and they listen to you. You hold an event, and people show up. You show someone how to do something, and they learn. Going to Ghana has instilled in me that with a bit of creativity, team work, endurance, and carrying on when others just tell you to throw the towel in (sometimes others can be that annoying voice in your head) you can make something magic happen and you can do something to change things for the better. My journey in life is not taking me back to Africa just yet, but I hope that in the future I can involve myself with an international development project again, something I didn't know if I would want to revisit after going to Ghana.
'Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.'
never miss a post from thesweetsevenfive.com