Months of fundraising, quiz nights, vaccinations, plane tickets, planning, research and eager anticipation apexed as two teachers and seven sixth form students gathered, with spirits in sync with the date – 4th July – at Heathrow airport ready to embark on 30 days of adventure teaching in Ghana. Our destination, Future Leaders UCC was one with which we have all been familiar with throughout our school careers, the prospect of going now a reality, we feel it is important to reflect on the magnanimous service it provides that, prior to first-hand experience of the socio-geographical challenges it faces, is often find easy to remain with just a cursory understanding of. The centre, in its seventeen years since being established under a mango tree, has branched out to provide invaluable education for over one hundred underprivileged children in the area, and was humbling to be involved with.
At 8:30 every morning, the drums would burst through the warm, humid air, assembly had begun. An excited crowd of school children, in their striped uniform, huddled into lines and would belt out hymns and melodies with outstanding energy and beaming smiles – many arriving two hours earlier in feverish enthusiasm for the day, before marching to their classrooms to begin. Teaching and assisting till 2:00, we came across a variety of characters and personalities. There was Nana and Ernestina in nursery who were fiercely sassy and independent, Abu and Chrystabelle with their concentrated intelligence, cheeky David and Junior, Eric and Samuel excelling in sport, the hilarious Georgina and smallest of all, the sweet yet deadly serious Eugene. Despite this eclectic mix of kids, they all had some things in common: all were incredibly grateful for the opportunity offered to them by the UCC – putting shame to the way our own free education is taken for granted, all both work hard and enjoy learning, all were utterly accepting of each other, despite different ages, backgrounds and dispositions, and above all, all were a pleasure to work with and are now sorely missed!
During school, we would often do one-on-one sessions with members of the overflowing nursery class, however we soon gained enough confidence to run our own sessions in reading, maths, science and Miss Dignon even teaching French. SunayaParkash, who took on the task of teaching Upper Nursery by herself said “It was fantastic to see the kids develop and flourish, whilst building up strong personal bonds with them and then being able to tailor what we do to suit their strengths, areas to work on and methods of learning.” After school, we ran various after school sessions in crafts, for example making a mango tree from decorated templates of their hands, and sports, including football, races and games. These were buzzing and lively events (- sometimes chaotic!), but hugely rewarding to see them enjoying themselves to that extent.
However there was a far darker backdrop behind these smiling, running kids. The education system in Ghana is such that often the education of girls and younger siblings would be sacrificed due to the school fees of the oldest male child. This tragically is a widespread issue across all the impoverished towns and villages of Ghana, where there aren’t organisations such as the UCC to offer free education, safety and food. The sights we saw of a country stricken by Beveridge’s giants probed reflection on equality and made us question on a fundamental level how our world can be so unfair, as Amelia Wilkinson put it: “Seeing these people working so hard to then earn so little for their families is heart-breaking. It highlights just how important out own welfare system is to safeguarding from extreme inequality at home – the fantastic institutions of free education, healthcare and the benefits system that we have would benefit so many here and simply cannot be taken for granted.” Seeing people our own age without the opportunities we have, for the simple reason that they were born in a different place, to a different family, was a poignant experience and intensely reflective, truly humbling and even causing outrage that inequality on this scale is allowed to exist at all.
However, we left with a certain sense of hope, a new school building is underway, a microfinance project to help small business of the families at the school to tackle the root of their problem –poverty – is growing in success and we left behind various donations of clothes and other items, feeling like we had made a difference at the very least by just making these kids happy! All who went agree the experience enriched our awareness of another culture, opened our eyes to appreciate our privilege and fuelled our desire to help those in need, and left us thankful for the fantastic links to the UCC that enabled the unforgettable experience!
FOR PROSPECTIVE VOLUNTEERS
The opportunity to teach at the UCC in Ghana never fails to provide: an unprecedented and invaluable insight into a completely unfamiliar culture, development of communication skills, confidence and the ability to interact with the kids and teachers alike, whilst allowing for humbling and crucial reflection on the inequality our world faces, and the role we are able to play in our position of privilege. However clichéd this sounds – it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to become a better person, and help others in the process!