The GHEI Experience

print 11SO SOME people think you need to go to a Third World country, like Ghana, for a few months to a year to make a difference to the country or the people. However, the Ghana Health and Education Initiative (GHEI) runs short term projects that have a lasting effect on the village and volunteers who go on them. In just 17 days I felt like I had started to understand their culture, on some level, as well as being able to feel that I had been able to make a difference, even if it was only to the lives of a handful of girls.

I was working on a Girls’ Empowerment Camp for girls who had just finished Junior High School. Their ages ranged from 16 to 18 depending on their life events depended on when many of the girls where able to finish their compulsory education. The camp was designed so the girls were given life skills and education to ensure that they could have the best possible lives for themselves. We had five set sessions where they were taught business and money management; family planning; safe sex; self confidence; and leadership.

We then had another five sessions in which we were able to get to know each other better and teach each other about our lives – I even got to teach the girls tag rugby. These sessions included cooking a dish from each culture; the girls cooked us fried rice with shito (a spicy sauce in Ghanian food) and we made them fruit salad with chocolate fondue. One of these sessions enabled us to do home visits where we got to see the girls’ houses and meet their families.

From the moment we got to Humjibre you could tell how much the group of six western women meant to the village. Everyone wanted to greet us and talk to us. Even the village elders were excited about the camp, so much so that the Queen Mother (the most powerful woman in the village) gave a speech about how important empowering girls was at a welcome presentation that was held for us. Furthermore, we were able to meet all of the village elders when we were invited to go to the palace. We also met the parents of the girls, who thanked us for teaching them these life skills and just how proud they were of their daughters for taking part within the camp, even if it did affect some of their responsibilities at home for a bit.

Looking back on my time in Humjibre, even when teaching the girls was harder than I thought it would be, I feel like I have made a difference by going, even if it was only for 17 days. I would be lying if I said that teaching these life skills was easy. Even though the official language of Ghana is English – and it’s taught in school – most of the girls were not fluent in it. GHEI gave us Twi lessons – which is the unofficial language of Ghana, even though it isn’t spoken across the whole country. The language barrier did create a bit of an issue; luckily, some of the locals who worked for GHEI where able to translate for us when things got difficult.

Moreover, the trips that we were able to go on in the mornings whilst the girls where farming gave us more of an insight into their lives. It has also made me question how we should help countries like Ghana; just giving them money, like some charities, which has been criticised as ‘poverty porn’, is never going to help. However, grassroots organisations like GHEI can truly make a difference. Just 10 days helped a handful of girls to understand money management. The culture in Ghana is more family and community orientated compared to the more individualist culture that we seem to have adopted in the UK. We realised money isn’t that important.

Some of you may be thinking: “A month without internet or phone signal? I won’t know what to do with myself!” Personally, I found it easy; without these things it meant I could focus on what I had gone out to do instead of what was going on at home. For the time I was out there I phoned my family three times and only for 10 to 15 minutes each time, pretty much to tell them that I was alive and what I had been up to. And this was perfect: I was able to get to know the villagers better as well as feeling like I was a part of the community by the time I left, which would never have happened if I had access to the outside world 24/7.

I suffered more from reverse culture shock – this is where you find it hard to fit back into your own culture. When I landed back in the UK and turned my phone on I found the 20 texts and the endless Facebook notifications and emails more overwhelming than not being able to access them. I’ve now been back for just over two months and I’m still finding it hard to adjust back to some things like replying to my texts as soon as my phone goes off and checking Facebook as much as I used to.

For me, this is the way I want to stay; it may annoy friends and family but, if you are talking to someone in the flesh, is it really unfair to make the person on the other end of technology wait over the person you are meant to be spending time with? That part of me is still trying to adjust back to the culture here in the UK.