Josh Mickelburgh, UK based History Teacher shares his experiences of three weeks volunteering in Ghana.
Towards the end of my first year as a History teacher in a thriving and extremely busy secondary school in East London I inevitably began to think about the summer holidays and what I would do with my six weeks of ‘freedom’.
After much consideration it came down to two choices; spend a couple of weeks on a beach doing very little but reading and eating/drinking far too much or volunteering abroad for a month. Driven by my own personal interest in social justice and education and aware of the work of Sabre through a friend from my University days; I took the plunge and signed up for a 3 week programme of volunteering here in Elmina with the Sabre Charitable Trust.
One of my primary motives for going into teaching was to give pupils from all socio-economic backgrounds the opportunity to fulfil their potential. As my departure date drew ever closer, I became increasingly excited about the prospect of working with both aspects of the Brighter Futures programme (the Transformational Teaching Training team and the Building Better Schools team) to see exactly how the opportunity for an outstanding Kindergarten education was being developed in a country vastly different from my own.
I had never been to sub-Saharan Africa, let alone Ghana, before and I was very unsure of what to expect. As an individual I have been extremely lucky to visit many different countries, however this has always been from the ‘safety’ of a hotel room on a package holiday. Therefore, the opportunity to live and volunteer in Ghana for the best part of a month was going to be a completely alien experience to what I was used to. However, it took all of 24 hours for any concerns or fears that I held to completely vanish amongst the friendliness of the Ghanaian people. It is a real testimony to Ghana that through all the hustle and bustle of everyday life (Ghana is an incredibly vibrant place) the people display a resilience, thoughtfulness and generosity unlike anything I have experienced abroad before.
After swiftly settling into my new surroundings I began to work with the teacher training team whom I spent the first two weeks of my trip with. Whilst volunteering within this aspect of the programme I was extremely lucky to be invited to attend several Kindergarten graduations where it was clear to see the impact that Sabre had had on the schools they had been working with. Not only were the buildings amazing but the positive attitude of both pupils and parents towards Kindergarten education was a real breath of fresh air from what I am used to in the UK. After the inevitable end of graduation week I was then based in the office helping to review and develop teaching resources with the teachers themselves which gave me a fascinating insight into what does and doesn’t work in a Ghanaian classroom; an experience that certainly gave me a lot to think about in relation to my own teaching practise.
Following my two weeks with the teacher training team I then spent a few days volunteering on the construction site of a new Sabre built Kindergarten school in Cape Coast, OLA Kindergarten Centre of Excellence, where I was astounded at the complexity and thoughtfulness that goes into the design of Sabre schools which in turn provides an outstanding learning environment for the people that matter the most; the pupils. After ‘getting my hands dirty’ for a few days it was really rewarding to know that I left a small but long-lasting legacy in helping to construct this new school.
Away from these volunteering highlights, my trip has also provided me with an opportunity to experience Ghanaian culture first hand as well as visit lots of places that have huge historical and cultural significance. It would be extremely difficult to describe all these in detail but as a History teacher special mention has to be given to my visit to Cape Coast Castle, a quite beautiful building but one that harbours a distinctly chilling story of Trans-Atlantic slavery. Aside from this, seeing Elephants in person at Mole National Park in the Northern Region was an equally defining moment of my trip.
Sadly my time in Ghana is now drawing to a close. It is difficult to put into words how much I have learnt since being in this wonderful country. For sure, it has reaffirmed and developed my understanding that social and cultural factors should be no obstacle to education and subsequently to a brighter future. However, I have also learnt many life-long lessons about myself, the world that I live in and the people that I share that world with. I wanted to avoid using any clichés but it has truly been a ‘life-changing experience’ and the mark that the Ghanaian people and culture has left will be life-long for sure.