Gap Year | Volunteering in Ghana |

Ghana Post main image

After having my HSC year full of essay-writing and continuous study, I was ready for a year off. My next question was, “Where do I go?” The answer was anywhere that was not Sydney! After much research, I found my answer: three months living with a host family and teaching at a local school in Ghana, West Africa (and yes this was as different from Sydney as you can get).

Following 20 hours of flight time, I found myself in Accra, the capital city of Ghana, feeling scared and hesitant as the realisation dawned that I had left everything familiar to me behind (there was no electricity or working toilets where I was headed). But as I walked outside, I saw what could only be described as a sunset straight out of The Lion King, and it was then that I knew everything as a volunteer would be fine. Soon after this comforting thought, I was tackled to the point where I almost fell over by an African women who  in between the hugging, jumping and excitement I discovered was my in-country agent, Tina. She quickly properly introduced herself as “my big black Africa mumma” and I knew this was the beginning of one hell of a gap year adventure.

I spent three months as a volunteer living with a host family in a small village called Swedru. My host father George happened to be the Governor of the town, and each week would teach me many of his life lessons. One of these life lessons was how to connect an extra wire to the neighbours cable to “borrow” their electricity when needed. My mother and sisters where filled with an equal amount of passion, whether it involved catching chickens from the backyard or patiently teaching me how to carry water on my head properly. One of my best memories with my host family was that every Tuesday night we would turn our living room into a make shift club, pull out my iPod speakers, dance to Beyonce and learn to dance African-style.

Aside from the experience of living within the local community and becoming a part of everyday life, as a volunteer I also had the chance to teach at the local school. To say it was challenging wouldn’t quite cover it. Walking into the school on the first day, I was immediately surrounded by hundreds of screaming African children that pinched me just to make sure someone so white could still be living. I’ll never forget that day. I soon settled in to teaching the year 4 class, however they where still learning the basics such as the alphabet and simple math. Everyday was different: sometimes the children would bring their siblings to class because their parents would suddenly have to leave to the next town to buy a cow or goat.

This was when I realised just how extremely lucky I have been to grow up in Australia, where I would not spontaneously need to purchase a cow, or where my parents would happily provide me with shoes and lunch everyday. The children of Africa are some of the most content and happy with there lives, they’re always wanting to learn and yet have next to nothing. It was so humbling to witness. One of my fondest memories from school was when every Friday the kids would go collect the drums and sticks from outside and prepare for their day of dance and singing. This was literally a day of bashing sticks to the ground, clapping hands, and moving to the rhythm they created. Everyone gets involved dancing around the palm trees and the water well.

Many people always ask me “Didn’t you get bored?” and my answer is, “I get bored sitting here in Sydney at home.” Being surrounded by TVs, cars, the internet and all these other outlets that could provide entertainment is one thing, but on my gap year, it was amazing how having nothing was the most entertaining thing of all. Your imagination comes alive and you get involved with everyone. Our host sister taught us how to cut sugar canes and we often went for walks around the village which would end up in chasing a group of kids playing tip or helping a local sell his fruit.

I was a volunteer in a group of ten girls and every weekend we would travel around Ghana whether it was to the coast, where we would swim and relax at the Rastafarian beach. We slept in a tree house, canoed along a river singing Disney songs and saw a village built on stilts coming up out of the water, and paid the equivalent of a Australian dollar to sit on the back of a live crocodile…. No I defiantly never got bored in Ghana.

Written by Katie Parris-Veale

Here’s her video of her Ghana gap year.