30km west of central Accra is a town called Kokrobite. Kokrobite’s beaches and attractive rural surroundings have attracted a fair bit of tourism, leaving it one of the major tourist destinations in Ghana. Despite the tourism, however, there exists many villages in the area which remain extremely underdeveloped, some still suffering from conflict. One such village, called Oshiyie, is home to at least 250 children who live in underprivileged conditions – many with no water or electricity, some with broken and dilapidated roofs over their head, and many who are malnourished or too sick to come to school.
Volunteer West Africa is an incredible NGO founded 4 years ago which aims to provide some of the most vulnerable children from this and similar local communities with a safe haven, where they can eat, be bathed, learn, receive healthcare and have a lot of fun. For the past two years, Volunteer West Africa’s vulnerable children’s centre has cared for and educated hundreds of the most vulnerable kids from the local communities.
Last weekend 15 of our ICS volunteers were fortunate enough to be able to take a trip to Kokrobite, and visit Volunteer West Africa to experience some of the amazing work they do for these children. Upon arrival, the ICS volunteers were greeted with welcoming smiles from the Volunteer West Africa team members, and gathered round to hear a brief about the work that takes place both in and out of the care centre operated by VWA. Matt Craig, a VWA Director, told us about the charity and its history and projects. We were introduced to Inusah, the VWA Project Manager, and several of the other staff members, and were shown to the comfortable bedrooms we would be staying in for the night. We were then led through to the garden, where the nursery and daycare centre are located, a dining table where the children eat lunch, a collection of relaxing places to chill out (including ahammock!), and lots and lots of very small, very happy children.
We watched while the group of children, who had been invited into the centre during their school holidays for a ‘fun day’ with our team gave us a rendition of many songs and chants including ‘heads, shoulders, knees and toes,’ – of course we joined in! After that, whilst the children ate lunch, we sat and basked in the sunshine and the beautiful Volunteer West Africa volunteer guesthouse for a while until it was time to leave for some seaside fun! We accompanied the VWA staff and children to the beach teamed with a goal post, some sacks and balls to play with. The beach was only a two minute walk away. Off we went: children, ICS volunteers, VWA staff and volunteers, and even some of the childrens’ parents.
Once we had all arrived safely at the beach, we (slowly but surely) formed a giant circle where we started the activities with a hilarious dancing game. One person started – hands on hips, they shook their body from side to side whilst the others in the circle sung a song (sadly I cannot remember the lyrics as they were in the local Ga language but the song was very catchy). At the end of the song the person dancing in the middle found a friend within the circle to dance in front of – the friend would also dance opposite them, and then it was their turn to go and find a friend and do the same! This game was extremely simple and very fun! It was very entertaining watching Phil and Sam awkwardly shake their hips in front of each other, a moment that got many laughs from the volunteers and staff alike! Other activities included a giant version of duck duck goose using a ball behind the back as the goose that you can throw to catch out the person you are chasing, and my personal favourite; the sack races! You may think that sack racing gets easier the older you are and the longer your legs become, as we initially thought, but you would be wrong! I had forgotten how fun (and difficult) it is to jump and land without falling flat on your face, whilst holding up a sack which only comes up to your knees. Needless to say, I stacked it just before I reached the finish line.
After the sack races, the kids scattered around to build sandcastles whilst the ‘grown ups’ engaged in a serious game of tug of war. There was no rope involved – instead each team made a line, grabbed on to each other’s waists and pulled! Sadly, my team lost repeatedly (although we only realised this at the end!), to the opposing team which was led by the VWA security man, known as ‘Big Chris’, who had the combined strength and height of all the rest of us put together! Good job it’s the taking part that counts. Other games that we learnt and the children loved: Ampe (pronounced, Ampay) – a coordination game played in Ghana involving a simple routine that you do repeatedly until you mess up! It involves clapping your hands twice, then jumping, and a simultaneous kick and clap as you come out of the jump, resulting in you landing on one leg (you can try this at home – it is harder than it sounds!)
A few hours and several destroyed sandcastles later, there were 45 extremely sandy children, some pretty sandy and mildly sunburnt volunteers still on the beach, and it was time to go back to the Volunteer West Africa Compound!
Once the kids had been washed and freed of sand back at VWA, we walked them back to their home in Oshiyie village. Walking through the village, I felt a very strong sense of community, as is very common in Ghanaian neighbourhoods. There we observed the very modest living conditions of the children, were able to meet some of their families, and witness lots of children playing in the yard, even one bathing outside in a bucket covered head to toe in soapy bubbles!
After the children had been accompanied back to their homes, we were free to relax, nap, explore the area or the beach some more and do what we liked until dinner time. So we took advantage of the comfy VWA chill out areas and made ourselves at home. When the food arrived, it was delicious! We all cosied round a large candle-lit table outside, like a big family and devoured the beans, plantain, Jollof and salad that the staff of VWA had prepared for us. (For those of you that don’t know jollof is a rice which is cooked with some magic African spices that make it turn red and taste like heaven.)
Once all our plates were clean, we all got ready to experience the Kokrobite night life. Inusah gave us a safety briefing and then took us all down to the beachside in illy the VWA Land Rover to a place called Big Milly’s Backyard. An outdoor bar with a stage where live reggae music was being played, nice little huts and seating areas made for a very chilled out enjoyable evening! Although there were plenty of Ghanaians there, the ICS UK volunteers were not used to being around so many other tourists – it felt strange at first as we definitely felt like we were away from Accra, ‘on holiday’, even though we were still technically within the city boundaries. After a long night of getting to know the VWA volunteers and staff better, and of trying but mostly failing to look cool whilst dancing to reggae, we were all well and truly exhausted. A big thanks to VWA’s Matt for picking us up in the truck to take us all home – we were very grateful not to have to pile into taxis, especially given the very precarious road conditions around Kokrobite! And also for feeding us Jollof at 2am in the morning!
The next morning was spent packing, napping, and sharing photos and finally we said our farewells to VWA and its wonderful staff. The weekend was truly inspiring – seeing development work that was altogether very different from our ICS entrepreneur experience gave us a new insight into how people are making a positive and sustainable impact in the local communites. Seeing how happy and healthy the kids were at the centre was clear evidence that the work carried out by this NGO is extremely effective and having a large impact on the childrens’ lives. It was also amazing to see how dynamic, friendly and dedicated to their jobs the staff are, and how well looked after and comfortable the VWA guesthouse is. A big thanks to everybody at VWA who made the weekend so enjoyable!
Volunteer West Africa has a website where you can learn more about what they do, the communities where they work, and the astonishing impact they are having. Check it out here: http://www.vwa-volunteerwestafrica.org/