‘Work for a cause, not for applause. Live life to express, not to impress. Don’t strive to make your presence noticed, just make your absence felt.’
All my life, I have been guided by this principle! It has always been my dream to contribute somehow to help people smile, so it was a happy moment when I was told I had been selected to participate in the seventh cycle of the Challenges Worldwide run International Citizen Service (ICS) volunteering programme. Even though I was looking forward to it, I was a little bit sceptical. There were so many ‘what ifs’ going through my mind. However, I managed to ignore them albeit not easily, packed my bags and headed off to the venue for the pre-departure training and in-country orientation.
I arrived on the Saturday morning literally bursting with joy. I couldn’t believe that I was finally here to participate in such a programme. The feeling was indescribable! It was a mixture of joy and trepidation – joy because I was realising a dream that I had been nursing for ages, and trepidation because I did not know what to expect. I had moved out of my comfort zone to live a totally different life in an unfamiliar environment. On arriving at the forecourt of Suma Court Hotel, I felt a bit relieved. After a few hellos, I settled down and tried to calm my nerves with a bottle of mineral water.
Soon enough, the other in-country volunteers turned up in their numbers – good to know I wasn’t alone in how I felt. We exchanged a few ayekoos, that is to say, ‘good to see you’ in Twi, a major local Ghanaian dialect. We discussed various issues – some pointless and others of utmost importance. As I was being led to my allocated room with the other volunteers, my mind wandered again. Admittedly it was childish but I could not shake off the feeling of nervousness. I decided there and then to rest my troubled head and hope to annihilate the ominous thoughts that were filling my head. Surprisingly, I woke up refreshed and ready to face any challenges head-on!
In-country training started right after lunch and it was intense. The training was very engaging with little breaks inbetween sessions. It looked like everyone enjoyed the games – energisers as we were told they were called, and we sort of looked forward to them. One of my favourite energisers was the part that demanded concentration, coordination, and cooperation by hitting my hands on my lap, clicking my fingers together while saying, ‘Concentration is the game, keep the rhythm if you can’ repeatedly. Needless to say though, I never managed to win – not even once! It was during one of the training days that we were told that the UK volunteers would be joining us very soon.
The UK volunteers landed on the shores of Ghana and headed straight for Suma Court to meet up with us. While they were on their way, we were busily fine-tuning our voices, dance steps and drumming skills. Honestly, we had little time to rehearse for anything complicated and decided to surprise them with gyama – a local Ghanaian singing accompanied by rhythmic drumming and sometimes dance moves. I was totally enjoying myself and looked forward to welcoming our friends from the other side of the world. They arrived at the forecourt of Suma and we had already begun the singing- we sang our hearts out. As we did, they brought out their phones as if commanded by an unseen director, and began taking pictures and videos of what was happening. That was strange to us, more so because in Ghana, when people are singing gyama, people just join in and sing but don’t take pictures. I guessed that was because it was such a new experience to them. Mission one accomplished! I was needless to say happy. We took them to their various rooms and had chatted a bit and boy do they ask questions! The first group of UK volunteers I had the privilege of speaking to were Olly Jackson, a happy-go-lucky guy, and then there was Mirav Shah, quite different in his own way! As I led them to our shared rooms, I could not help but think how interesting the next few days would be.
After the UK volunteers had settled in, it was time to introduce them to the beautiful land of Ghana. The programme included a cultural night where, as presenter, I did my best to enlighten them on various aspects of the Ghanaian culture. It was shocking to me that they did not know that we had several languages in Ghana- but surprisingly they learnt much faster how to dance the azonto. However, what I looked forward to was the cultural night from the UK volunteers. I was sceptical – I mean I knew or thought I knew all there was to know about England and by extension the UK. I knew England loves cricket, football, has the Queen as the head of state, is part of the UK and Great Britain- but I realised I was so wrong it was not even funny! It was nerve racking, educational, and fun. So far so good! I learned about cockney and about the fact that there were various signs and gestures that meant nothing to them although in Ghana they may warrant a one-way ticket to the guillotine. Whereas it is considered downright rude and disrespectful in Ghana to use your left hand to receive something, for the UK volunteers, that was fine and they were often left wondering why the fuss. I got a proper education on what a full English breakfast is and each time I was told about it, it left my mouth watering as I tried in vain to imagine how satiating it would be. Luckily, I got to try it – an English breakfast; it was not a full one as some of the food items were not available, but it was tasty, just as I had imagined it.
As we became familiarised with our counterparts, I could not help but be fascinated – fascinated because there was so much to know that it is better left experience. One crucial point that I observed was that in as much as there were differences, the differences were just skin deep. The time came eventually to depart to our various host homes where hopefully, we would be able to help our various companies grow and live a lasting positive mark on the lives of the business and their owners.