Volunteering Abroad | Guest Post

Have you ever thought of working while you travel abroad? Or what about volunteering abroad? Today the lovely Astrid is sharing her experiences with volunteering abroad in Ghana.

You can get in touch with Astrid by email: astrid.halliday@gmail.com

Hi there! My name’s Astrid and I’m just starting out in my journalism career sharing my thoughts and experiences on travel, Uni, volunteering and mental health.

I struggled to set up a WordPress site and had all sorts of problems which went way over my head so I decided to postpone it and start writing for sites which would also improve my writing along the way and help me build a portfolio and which already have a friendly audience!

Volunteering Abroad

Guest post by: Astrid

A Tentative Step Into Volunteering

I first discovered volunteering in 2013 and discovered it by accident after a friend’s recommendation. I had never considered it as a serious option as I figured it would be just like normal teaching at home with lots of rules and text books to follow. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

My first placement was in a primary school in Eastern Ghana and it was a world away from schools in the UK. To start with previous volunteers had built the school themselves using mud bricks!

There were only two full time teachers at the time of my visit who were busy preparing the eldest children for high school so we took responsibility of the rest of the school between us. I usually shared a class with another volunteer, Ellie, teaching between 25 and 40 children for 5 hours a day with a break in the middle. It was no mean feat without any teaching experience or training other than watching other volunteers on my first day.

Every day we left the volunteer house with shopper bags overflowing with felt tips, paper, printed sheets, chalk, games, flashcards, puzzles, glue and everything else we needed for the day and all brought from home as we had been advised to. The local Ghanaian shops only sold the most basic equipment which were of the worst quality. We found pencils that didn’t draw a line, sticky tape which was missing the ‘stick’ and glue which was essentially gooey water.

However, what pleasantly surprised me was the complete freedom at the school to teach whatever we wanted. I have never taught in the UK, but I have friends who are teachers and said they didn’t have the same creative freedom here as I did in Ghana. But we were careful in Ghana not to get in the way of giving them a basic education, so we started each day with basic Maths and writing before moving on to the fun stuff.

Sharing Interests & Talents With The Children

Whilst most of the volunteer group filled the afternoon with art or sport (it was difficult to get the children out of the classroom to play, they lived their lives outdoors and they loved the shade and comfort of a school classroom), a small number of volunteers shared their interests. A student nurse taught emergency first aid, a retired careers teacher explained what was available for the children in Ghana if they studied hard and a ballet teacher prepared the children for an end of week presentation to the parents.

Seeing the others make use of their skills even if they had never taught before gave me the confidence to dig a bit deeper myself. There was no rule book saying what adults had to teach 8 year olds and what they would or wouldn’t be interested in.

In my last week I bit the bullet. I love the water so we organised for twenty children to have some swimming lessons. I knew volunteers had taken them for a splash around but why not teach the children properly?

We hired a minivan and driver and hired the pool of the hotel in town. It was one of the best experiences of my life. To start with the day before we had to make sure the children all had something to wear as no one had a swimming costume, the boys were okay in shorts but the girls had to wear shorts and T-shirts. It was hectic but so worth it and a practical skill too as many children lived near the lake but only the more confident boys could swim. I regretted not planning it before I travelled as I could have taken swimming aids but it’s hard to know until you get out there.

I also had a go at an art activity although I am no artist, but I wondered how the children would react to drawing a still life rather than the usual painting and colouring with bright colours. I spread a sheet over a table for a table cloth and placed items from the volunteer house and lying around the school for the children to copy. They seemed to enjoy the concentration and even though I can’t draw in the slightest I joined in too which they enjoyed. There were a couple who clearly had a talent – artists in the making!

I felt more engaged sharing my passion with the children and I think the children can pick up on it. I met a teacher from the UK who said she never felt as free to enjoy teaching as she did in Ghana that summer.

Learn more about volunteering abroad?

There are lots of organisations which send volunteers to schools in Ghana but most place their volunteers in the capital city of Accra. I could only find one, Original Volunteers (https://www.originalvolunteers.co.uk), which worked in Eastern Ghana, it seemed to be the poorest part of the country.

If anyone wants to make a trip anywhere in rural Ghana in a school and is not sure what hobbies or interests they might be able to make use of, I would be happy to help advise. 🙂 But if anyone is looking for where they have a chance to make use of their skills, I would definitely recommend a rural school!

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