Volunteer Name: Jackson Blanks
Project Location: Volta Region, Ghana
Program Dates: From Oct 15 2014 to Dec 17 2014
Volunteered at: Orphanage / Child Care
1- How was the local ABV Coordinator and the support provided in-country?
The local coordinator was incredibly helpful and friendly when I arrived. Being tired and sleep deprived, a smiling face was a most welcome pick me up. Once we had arrived in Kpando however, the busyness of his schedule often times made it difficult to meet with Edem in person. However, despite not being in constant contact, if ever i needed anything he would contact me immediately to ensure I received whatever assistance I required. Aside from Edem, Jesse was also a tremendous asset. She was better able to explain certain Ghanaian realities than Edem, and her advice was always tactful, insightful, and pragmatic; I cannot stress enough the value of pragmatic advice when in Ghana. The support system was incredible. Living with Edem's parents proved to be an incredible experience. Mr. and Mrs. were wonderful, caring people. On many occasions they told me that while in their house, they cared for all volunteers like their own children. They meant it as well, and if I needed anything, I could also have gone to them. James, Edem's brother, was also incredibly kind. I struck up a friendship with him, and he actually was there to say farewell at the airport. ABV: All the support staff work as "coordinators" if one is not available the next will be.
2- What was the most surprising thing you experienced?
Having been an exchange student in high school, I found that people tend to bond when placed overseas together. I definitely expected their to be a sense of community within the group of other volunteers. This negative attitude had a tendency to force awkward silences during meals, and ultimately prevented any positive community from forming amongst the volunteers. The other side to this is that, without an immediate group of friends, it was much easier to make local friends and spend time with them. As such, despite the fact that I was utterly shocked at the lack of camaraderie, I am ultimately glad for it. ABV: Not all the groups are the same, and sometimes it just take an extra effort to break the ice.
3- What was most difficult to experience?
If someone caned a child in the US, a plethora of legal repercussions would await. However in Ghana, it was not only accepted, but commonplace. It was incredibly difficult to watch. In the home, the matrons were not supposed to cane the children ( or at least I was under that impression ). They do it anyways, and as a result the children take to physic violence to resolve issues with each other. They see and experiance beatings, and in turn they themselves beat. It's problematic to say the least, and entirely heart wrenching to watch adorable little children scream out in pain. I introduced several non-violent alternatives to the home, and hopefully they will stay in use after I have left.
4- Any tips for future volunteers… (Clothing, travel, personal items, donations)
Bring clothing that is breathable, comfortable, and easily washed. Bring a loofa, it will serve you well. Don't bring so much sunscreen, you won't be able to wear it. Bring protein bars as you won't get much else but carbs and starches for food (though the food is delicious). Absolutely bring a charge battery for your electronics. Frequent power outages make them a necessity. Also, if you can charge your device, do it. Try to keep everything on full charge all the time. Bring a flashlight, and if you can spare the room in your bag, a small lantern. Every 6 days there is no power from 6pm - 6am, and then every 6 days there is no power from 6am - 6pm. knowing when the 6th day will be proved advantageous. Ask before you buy donations... what I brought was no longer of use by the time I arrived. Only travel if you have enough time. A weekend in Accra is doable for someone staying two weeks, but not recommended as Saturdays and Sundays are great to play soccer and drums with the children. DO see attractions in the local region, and travel to cape coast if you can spare a 4 days at minimum. Don't let taxi drivers take advantage of you. It may not seem like a big deal, but it can add up.
5- Personal Paragraph (ABV Program Testimonial):
Every 6 days there is no power from 6pm - 6am, and then every 6 days there is no power from 6am - 6pm. There are many "spots" (makeshift bars) in Kpando, but nightlife ends early. Funerals are loud, last three days, and happen en masse every 3 weeks. If you want to have a night out, funeral weekends are when you do it. It's fun, people are happy, and everyone dances like mad. Doxycycline is cheaper in Ghana than the US, but everyone I met who tried it as an anti-malarial got malaria. The Ghanaians are very friendly, and most want to be your friend, They will actually call out "yovo" witch means white person, and ask if you want to be their friend. This is especially true with girls. Yovo is a common way to call white people, and nothing negative is meant by it.
6- How would you describe your accommodation, meals, security (e: host family, on-site, shared)
The ABV program was incredible! I left with no expectations, and returned having realised every hope I could have had. The staff at ABV USA was incredibly helpful, and accommodated my timeframe perfectly. The people in Ghana were kind, and the support system was unparalleled. Of course, the most amazing part of my trip was being with the children. They are so wonderful, and they all have their own stories. I can't describe how adorable they all are, and they each made an impression on me in a different way. It was an experience I am so glad to have had, and encourage anyone interested to leave all reservations behind, pack your bag, and go.
7- What was your favorite memory of this trip?
My room was appropriately basic, but plenty comfortable. Although the room could have fit 2, I was alone in it. I stayed with a host family (Edem's family) and their compound was shared by Edem's brother, and his parents, as well as their pet monkey. The food was great. It never made me sick, or anyone else for that matter. It was a mixture of Ghanaian and western food. I enjoyed the food immensely.
8- How was the ABV USA support prior traveling?
One saturday after I brought out the Legos and toys, the children started running around with the toy cars. I remembered having a road mat for my toy cars, and so I took chalk and drew a road around the children's home courtyard. They seem to enjoy it immensely, so I added runways for the toy airplanes. Eventually I ended up running around playing with cars and airplanes in the same way I used to do as a child. Even the older children joined in, and it was good laugh for all.
9 – Are you willing to speak to other potential ABV volunteers?
The ABV USA staff was incredibly helpful. Even on short notice you all were able to accommodate my schedule and get me to Ghana. The help you all offered was definitely appreciated, and all necessary preparation were presented in an organized and thought out way. Plus y'all were super friendly! Even though international travel can be hectic and stressful, I felt like there was always someone I could call. That and the fact that there was actually someone I could always call made my parents feel more comfortable as well.
10 – Are you willing to speak to other potential ABV volunteers?