Sarah Grant (England - Cambridge University) September 2010.  Education Project Volunteer

Post date: Jan 09, 2011 1:19:35 PM

Sarah Grant (England - Cambridge University) September 2010.  Education Project Volunteer

I spent September 2010 volunteering with VPWA as a teacher and had such a fantastic experience that I would like to share it with other people. I originally chose VPWA because they seemed a good value, grassroots organisation. For many people the concept of paying to volunteer seems strange but with VPWA you are able to see exactly what your money is used for. Included in the cost are things which make your trip easier such as the airport pick-up and drop-off and a sim card. Some of the fee goes towards your accommodation and food but lots of it is used in a very innovative micro-finance project working with women’s groups. VPWA is a small NGO but this makes the whole time very special as you do feel like you are part of a big family.

My trip

I actually spent the first month travelling around West Africa with two friends before I went back to Ghana to volunteer. I would definitely recommend factoring in as much time as possible to travel, even if it is only a week to see some of Ghana. I was a little bit unusual because I travelled up through Burkina Faso and Mali and then back down Ghana. We had some incredible experiences and highlights included; seeing elephants in Mole National Park (Ghana), Camel trekking and sleeping in the Sahel under the stars (Burkina Faso) and walking in Dogon Country (Mali). We grew to love (sort of) the many hours spent waiting for local transport to fill up and the interesting border crossing experiences but these are things you learn from and help you become more patient people!


These skills were very useful when I came to start my volunteer project because you have to learn to respect the local culture and traditions and not expect things to happen exactly when you want them to! Arriving at the house felt like luxury to me after a month spent backpacking. There were showers and I could finally attempt to get my clothes clean (with Lizzie’s help). It was also nice to settle into my room and the house. I lived in a house with four “lads” who Hayford had told me would make me very happy! I survived this apparently tactical placing and really enjoyed the banter, although the other house on the complex was just next door when I needed to escape. It was great fun living with so many other volunteers from different backgrounds and nationalities and we soon got into our evening routine.

I would get back from school in the afternoon around 3pm and then I would do any preparing for the next day’s lessons or some reading. In the late afternoon a few of us would go running around the town which sometimes involved very young children following us in bare feet and making it look easy while we sweated away. After a refreshing shower we would all sit down together to enjoy the food which Lizzie had prepared for us. She was a great cook and I loved eating the traditional Ghanaian food, in particular red-red (a bean dish), yams and fried plantain. Later in the evenings we would sit and chat at the house or go to one of the local bars (well really a little hut on the side of the road with some very loud Ghanaian music!) 

The teaching

I had spent 3 ½ months on my Gap year teaching in Tanzania which did give me the confidence for teaching but the school

were supportive. This was a totally different experience because this time I wasn’t teaching classes of 80 children but around 15 and I was teaching social studies as well as English. I found it just as challenging teaching smaller classes because now it was easy to see who wasn’t listening and who didn’t understand. I chose to teach social studies as I am currently studying geography and education but I was very lucky there was a text book as I would have been out of my depth in certain areas especially Ghanaian history!!! Many of the children were very enthusiastic and we had some very lively debates and discussions, including whether there was a second planet inside earth and whether I thought it was a good thing that Britain had colonised Ghana!

I was pretty much left to myself to decide what I taught and when I taught which was a bit frustrating at times. It was the beginning of term so things were a bit slow to get started but a timetable would have helped! I did have many interesting discussions about the future of the school with the new director.It was a shame that I wasn’t able to stay longer in the school but I think in the time I was there I was able to share some new ideas with the children and they were so much fun to teach. One of the highlights has to be watching a chicken get dissected during a science lesson.  

The Ghanaian experience

There are so many things about Ghana that I really miss and it really is a great country to have explored. I think it is only

through staying in one place and really getting to know the locals that you experience the true Ghanaian spirit. Little things that I miss include the food; plantain chips and fan yogurt (people walk around with little carts selling yogurt and ice cream in plastic sachets), being able to buy food out of the window, shared taxis and the infamous tro tro (a mini van which will try to squash as many people as possible into it and is nowhere near road-worthy). However, it is such a cheap form of transport and you can have some great conversations on them. These usually involve being told that the Ghanaian man you are talking to would like to marry you are he would like a white wife! By staying in one place for awhile we were able to really get to know the music and had great fun dancing with the locals who are all such good dancers. I was told at a wedding that I should actually listen to the beat of the music and then dance to it- I was highly offended!!! The Ghanaian wedding which we were very fortunate to be invited to was amazing and brilliant to be a part of, although I am sure the other guests were just being polite after they heard the rendition of The Beatles “All you need is love”, organised at very short notice, which we performed. 


As well as allowing extra time if possible to travel, you should definitely make the most of weekends to go off on trips. My main advice is come ready to be as patient as possible as this will come in very useful. Don’t worry if you haven’t been travelling or to Africa before, there were plenty of people who hadn’t and this wasn’t a problem. With VPWA you are given a briefing and a tour of Accra to help you settle in and Hayford is around if there are any big problems. Also there is a really good system where the volunteer who has been there the longest, has the title of the senior one and is able to help you out with anything. The nice thing about Accra is that there are some very western parts so if you really need to find any luxury home comforts, there are plenty of places set up for expats. Pokuase doesn’t have as many so I was definitely glad that I had my bar of emergency chocolate with me. Other good things to bring are as many books/balls/toys for the children especially as you may be allowed two bags.


I would like to thank Hayford and VPWA for giving me a great volunteering experience and I would recommend them to anyone.