This volunteering experience was of significant mutual benefit for the Liati community and the 8 final year secondary school students from St Louis Collège, Belgium. David Atieku, ARUDMO, in consultation with us, organised all the logistics to ensure that our time in Liati passed smoothly; transfers (Accra-Liati-Accra), meals and accomodation, local transportation, weekend and evening entertainment and last but not least, all our introductions to the community leaders, school director and the local authorities.
We spent our weekday mornings teaching English, French, Social Stuies, Maths and Science in partnership with the teachers from the Liati Junior High School. The teachers prepared their classes well and gave our students clear tasks to do and a framework in which to do it. The Liati students clearly enjoyed these lessons and were very participative in a constructive manner. Amongst the St Louis students we discovered a natural teacher who is now planning on tertiary studies with the aim of a career in teaching. Super.
We spent our afternoons either planting mango trees (partly funded by our students activities in Belgium), playing football with the local kids as well as talking with people of all ages and backgrounds in the community. We felt welcome and safe at all times.
On the weekend we went to the nearby Wli Waterfall. This is a 'must see'. After a short hot walk through the forest you arrive in a natural amphitheatre. The dense forest surrounds you as you face the stunning scene of a 40m high (guesstimate) waterfall dropping into a large sandy bottomed pool where you can safely swim. To enter the pool you walk across a small grassy area covered with butterflies of all shapes and colours. Hundreds of fruitbats can be seen hanging about on the cliffs. Don't forget your swimwear!
There are many opportunities to help this community. There are the schools, the hospital ... I would recommend partnering with ARUDMO and discussing your interests and limitations. We found their assistance invaluable. We will continue to work closely with ARUDMO when we plan future volunteering experiences.
As always there were minor insignificant problems. However, a significant problem was transportation. We didn't organise our transportation well. We relied on Accra based 'companies' who have local 'representatives' but they are not under the influence or authority of either the community leaders or ARUDMO. I will never do that again. All agreements reached were broken, the drivers constantly hassled the students for money and we were always arguing. Fortunately, we have considerable travel experience and I don't think we were ripped off too badly but these situations often leave a bad taste in your mouth and can sour relations between those affected. Inrespective of the size of your group, I would recommend hiring a vehicle(s) and a driver(s) for the duration of your stay and ensuring that you have a written contract with the driver's boss or the owner of the vehicle that covers transport being available to go wherever whenever for the duration.
To finish on a happy note... The food was absolutely superb! We arrived tired and hungry, the students looked at the unfamiliar food, we heard mutterings of distress ... and then the first bite was taken. Delicious. We ate extemely well. We asked for and received fresh loaves of bread with every meal. We bought condiments with us. Cheese and fresh milk is unavailable. Tinned condensed milk makes a lovely cup of tea. We safely ate a wide variety of very well prepared seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables with every meal. Twice a day we had either fish or chicken. Bottled water was always available.
The accomodation was perfectly suited to our needs. We stayed together as a group in a house provided by ARUDMO. Individual bedrooms for the accompanying teacher and a room for the girls and one for the boys. There was electricity for the refrigerator, fans, phone and laptop rechargers... We slept in sleeping bag liners under mosquito nets. Beds were available. Toilets and baths had been placed but were without running water - work in progress. So bathing and flushing were easily achieved with buckets. Large water storage drums were provided.
We were in the middle of the community and once we had been introduced to the community by the community leaders, we had a constant flow of guests, mostly children coming to play but also curious adults.
When I think about our time in Liati, I remember laughter, beautiful views, good food, hard work, valuable work and new friends for all of us. For my students, I have seen them grow as individuals with their achievements large and small. Merci, ARUDMO.