I chose this program for several reasons. Firstly I wanted to take the group to an area where they could make a direct positive impact through volunteering to teach and build, whilst, at the same time giving them and the children they met the opportunity to really get to know and understand the issues that both parties have. Because, I believe that volunteering not only helps directly, but it is also a key part in breaking down boundaries and cultural barriers and in making globalization a truly positive effort. I also wanted to visit sub-Saharan Africa to see the history, culture and environment of a beautiful part of the world with so much to offer.
Why did you choose this program?
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
African Adventures were superb. They organized the flights, in-country support, briefings and insurances for us. We organized the fundraising.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
Make sure that you are well-prepared, well in advance of going; learn as much as you can about the country and people you're going to see, learn some of the language, study the geography, understand the politics and economics of the country and learn about cultural differences.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
Working days start at 0700 with breakfast in the warm sunrise. Then you spend about six hours teaching, building or supporting a local school or project. You're very much immersed in the culture and society during the day. At about 1400, the work finishes and the beach, lagoon or market calls. The sun goes down quickly at about 1830, so dinner is eaten outside about then. the evenings are spent chatting, relaxing, playing cards, around a fire, playing drums or just watching the African sky.
Every weekend there's the opportunity to visit another part of the country - we visited Cape Coast and the mountains in the East of the country - and both weekends were absolutely superb.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it and/or how did your views on the issue change?
I worried about taking a group of young people into a different environment that was way outside their normal and comfortable environment. I needn't have worried - it takes a day or so to adjust and, thereafter, we settled into a routine and pace of life that was comfortable, stress-free and fascinating. Of course I worried about medical issues - but again, I needn't have worried.
Separately, and not a fear but a concern, was my thoughts about volunteering before I left the UK. I struggled with the idea that it was patronizing and arrogant to take ten people to teach African children. But I realized that actually, the experience is very much a two-way street and that my group learnt as much, if not more, than the children and adults they met in Africa. Volunteering is about developing understanding and breaking down barriers on a global scale; in a small way it's an absolutely key part of bringing communities from across the globe together and that is, generally, exceptionally positive. It's also about developing a real understanding of the issues that developing countries face and the problems that most people face on a daily basis. And that can only be a positive understanding for young people brought up in the relatives privileged west.
What am I going to get out of this trip?
The list is almost too long to mention all of the benefits, but here we go:
- I spent three weeks in an extraordinary, dynamic and beautiful country that most people have never been to and I learnt more about sub-Saharan Africa than I ever thought I could in three weeks.
- I've seen and done things that most people will never see or do.
- I spent my summer holiday doing something that is incredibly positive, rewarding and satisfying - so much better than lying on beach, wasting time!
- I met some extraordinary people.
- I helped build a school.
- I felt really relaxed and satisfied when I came back.