When I was seventeen I had the opportunity to go to Ghana for two weeks, that short time changed my perspective on life. A spectrum of experiences from the joy of waking up and seeing the smiles of beautiful children to standing in silence in an underground dungeon which was once full of slaves confined to darkness, a place where you can still feel the despair and sorrow lingering.
Staying in an Orphanage
I started my journey to Ghana alone but once I landed in Accra, the capital city, I met the girls I would be sharing this experience with. Some from America and others who were also from England, we laughed about things like ‘fanny packs’ and ‘bum bags’ and how our versions of English occasionally had very different meanings.
When we went to find an internet café to tell our parents we had arrived safely, we soon got the attention of a crowd of young boys, they all started shouting ‘will you marry me, what is your name?’. It tickled me that they would propose before asking our names. My first time out of Europe, Africa was exciting, alive and colourful. The air had a different thickness and everything was bright and colourful.
We then journeyed to rural Ghana, to the orphanage where we would be staying, we arrived at night and crept under our mosquito nets, wondering what tomorrow had in store for us. I stayed awake most of the night, worrying about the giant spiders I had heard so much about.
When we woke up we were ambushed by sixty or more smiling orphans, all of them were just as excited to see us as we were them. After meeting everyone and playing with the children, we all then took it in turns to shower outside in the small cubical next to the stone hut we were staying in.
This was my first bucket shower. I had to collect water from the well and then methodically wash my body with it, and in that same bucket I washed my clothes. I struggled with the weight of the bucket full of water and noticing that I was wobbling and dropping most of the water on the ground, one of the young boys too it from my hand and swiftly popped it on his head and walked to the cubical with ease. I was ashamed at my weakness and touched by his kindness.
We spend our days playing with the children and fixing up the classrooms which the orphanage used to teach the orphans and other local children. The classrooms were simple and make of planks of wood, many of which had fallen off, so we hammered them back on and painted the place white. After this, we tried our hand at teaching the youngest children about hygiene.
The son of the owner of the orphanage came to us one day and announced he wanted to marry an American lady with very small eyes. I had mixed feelings about him and his father, I once looked through one of the children’s school books to see what lessons they were being taught, on one page in the spidery handwriting on an eight year old it said ‘white people are good because they have money, people with money are good, I pray that [owner of the orphanage] will become very rich’.
I heard from other volunteers that any gifts to the children were often taken away and sold, and the children were made to pray at five in the morning, praying for the owner to become very rich and if they didn’t they were punished. To further tarnish my opinion of him, he also made his wife sleep outside on the floor whilst he slept comfortably in his bed. All this aside, he had taken these children in and they were fed, clothed and given an education, the owner was doing good work nevertheless. I tried to calm my sensibilities by concentrating on all the good he has done.
The children had been rescued from destitution and given a safe place to live, their beautiful smiles, laughter and kindness will always stay with me.
I will forever wonder whether the son got his American wife with very small eyes…
Next time: The Slave Castle