My trip to Ghana was the worst and the best trip I ever took. I visited Teshie to volunteer for a short time and for the first two days I was adamant I was going home as soon as I could. But over the two weeks I was there I fell in love with the place and its people. Ghanaians are some of the most hospitable people I’ve ever met.
My trip started by waiting in a massive customs line inside a really humid airport. I remember someone sneezing and the man behind me shouting “ebola!” and everyone started laughing. That was such a bizarre introduction to the country. I cleared customs then went outside to locate the person who was picking me up. I was expecting to see one of the western women I’d been interacting with when booking the trip but instead was met by 3 African men holding a sign with my first name on. It was pretty intimidating but I figured I was in Africa so I went with them. The main volunteer coordinator Eben introduced himself and led us, in the dark, into a taxi with a massive crack across the windscreen. I was so out of my comfort zone I was finding it funny.
When we got to the volunteer house everything was pitch black. Eben told me that the government shut off electricity regularly to save money and right now was one of those times. He showed me round the house using the light from his phone and introduced me to some of the other volunteers.
I felt so overwhelmed. It was 30 something degrees and no electricity meant no fans. I was given some (very warm) drinking water in a plastic bag before heading to my dorm bed which had no sheets. I couldn’t even contact anyone back home to tell them I’d arrived. After crying and panicking for a while I finally fell asleep. But I was woken a few hours later by one of the other volunteers screaming that a cockroach had just run over her face. I wrapped my whole body and head up in the mattress cover and told myself I’d rather be too hot than touched by cockroaches. I honestly don’t know what I was expecting in Africa but it was too much to take in and I felt so out of my depth.
I felt a bit more comfortable the next day when I was able to see everything in the daylight. I got to know the house staff as well as some of the 65 kids living next door to us. These kids were part of a football academy which was run by the organisation I was volunteering for.
The day after, I was taken along to my volunteer placement which was in a local school. The owner Billa is one of the most inspiring people I have ever met. He told me the story of how he started the school under a mango tree, how he had grown up in severe poverty but turned his life around for the better. I cried as he told me how badly he was treated for trying to help others when he had no qualifications to teach.
He introduced me to a 15 year old boy he had taken in. The boy was autistic and his parents had abandoned him. They had kept him in a cage for most of his life because they believed his autism was from the devil and that he was evil. I will always remember that boy’s smile and how much he inspired me. That he could still smile despite all that had happened to him. And that Billa could bring happiness and hope from such a depressing situation. Billa now has over 150 children attending his school and has helped over 70 get into European and American universities.
Meeting Billa reminded me of why I came to Ghana and each day got easier for me. Helping children to learn each day made me feel so happy that I began to embrace the living situation. Being constantly surrounded by people who chose happiness despite their circumstances inspired me so much. I realised how lucky and blessed I’ve been in life and that things can always get better no matter how hopeless they seem.