We are finally coming to the end of our colourful, crazy, fantastic, difficult, wonderful programme in Ghana.
The past twelve weeks have brought a huge range of experiences, and I want to reflect on the lessons I will take with me when I return to the UK.
1) I have learned about resilience
Personally, I have been challenged in ways I never anticipated. I knew it would be hot in Ghana, but I had no idea how much the climate would affect me. I knew the food would be new, but I didn’t realise how much I would miss food from the UK. I knew people would live their lives in different ways, and I knew I would have to adapt, but I didn’t know how hard this could be in the context of such a long period.
However, as we reach the end of our stay here, I am sad to be leaving the sunny days. I will miss many of the dishes I have discovered, from plantain and red red (beans), to FanYogo (strawberry frozen yoghurt). I have grown to love our host home, with the mango tree and bougainvillea growing over the compound walls.
I have learned about the importance of positivity and persistence. I have learned to take advice from people who know better, and to approach new situations with an open mind.
2) I have learned about tolerance
When I set off for Ghana, I was boarding a plane with a group of 17 other UK volunteers I barely knew. When I arrived with Ghana, I met another 18 Ghanaian volunteers who were entirely new. I was paired with Francis, my Ghanaian counterpart, and put in a host home with two other volunteers, including Stella with whom I have shared a room for 3 months. Between the UK volunteers we have a broad range of personalities, backgrounds, and experience; with the Ghanaian volunteers, the range is even broader.
Over 3 months, I am so lucky to have been able to spend time with so many interesting people. I am grateful that they have shared their stories with me, and have been fascinated to learn the different ways that they see the world. Ghana has lived up to its reputation for hospitality, and I am hopeful that I have found friends for many years to come.
I have learned about patience. I have learned how important it is to listen. I now know that it is still possible for people who hold fundamentally different opinions to have strong friendships.
3) I have learned about privilege
In Ghana, I have been faced with completely different values, opinions, and lifestyles, and much of this is down to its status as a developing economy. I have seen people living in poverty, without access to clean water or education. I have experienced restrictions in terms of resources like electricity. I have learned about the deep scars left by the slave trade and colonial history, and the suffering which continues as a result of corrupt politicians and exploitation from international corporations.
Here, people tend to eat every part of every animal. People take great care of their possessions, and repair them before replacing them. Children often work alongside their parents to support the household, even when they attend school during the day. Religion is an incredibly strong force, giving believers hope for their futures. People help strangers on the street, and share good fortune with their neighbours.
I have learned about my own privilege. I have learned the importance of using my power as a consumer to support ethical business and fair trade. I have gained perspective on the West’s disposable consumerist culture, and the damage it wreaks on society and the environment.
4) I have learned about opportunity
A key part of the programme has been our work with businesses. There have been issues in this area which will hopefully be resolved for future cycles, and I have seen a number of businesses from a number of angles, and learning a huge amount about the unique challenges in the Ghanaian market, from poor infrastructure to high utility costs.
However, I have also learned about the opportunities. I have been able to spend time in a business which was set up by a Ghanaian woman from nothing, and which now provides employment and training for women and young people in rural areas. I have worked with an NGO which is single-handedly revolutionising Ghanaian attitudes to recycling. I have seen the huge opportunity which is out there, and the enterprising spirits of many Ghanaian business owners.
I have learned that few things are impossible, and that many things can be achieved with a combination of courage and hard work. I have been inspired by the innovation and strength of people who have found their own path under challenging conditions.
These are not necessarily the lessons I expected to learn from my time on a placement with Challenges Worldwide International Citizen Service (ICS); however, I know how valuable they are, and I will take them with me as I journey home.