Sharon Quigley, Graduate Structural Engineer in AECOM’s Dublin office tells us about her two weeks volunteering in Ghana.

“I have wanted to carry out volunteer construction work for some time so when I heard about  AECOM’s partnership with Sabre Trust, a programme which focuses on building better schools in Ghana, I was eager to get involved. I studied Structural Engineering in university and am currently working as a Graduate Structural Engineer in AECOM’s Dublin office. I had previously carried out teaching volunteer work in Tanzania while at university which I thoroughly enjoyed. Since then I have been looking for a volunteering opportunity where I could combine my passion for volunteering with the construction engineering field that I am working in, and this trip with Sabre Trust was a perfect opportunity to do that.

This trip was my first time to Ghana, however just like my previous travels in Africa, I immediately felt at home and welcomed by the local people on arrival. I spent the majority of my trip working on the Holy Child Kindergarten Site in Fijai near Takoradi, which was in the final stages of construction. I carried out a variety of physical work on site which included painting the classroom walls, helping the site carpenters size and fix the internal cladding, assisting in the building of classroom furniture and digging a hole for a septic tank behind the school toilets. I really enjoyed working with the team on site, learning the local Fante language, and getting an insight into Ghanaian customs and culture; I felt a part of the community by the end of my trip.

One of the days myself and Andrey Smirnov, another volunteer from AECOM, had the opportunity to travel to Nzema and carry out a survey of a potential new site. We were assessing the suitability of the site for Sabre’s next school building project. I really enjoyed traveling to this location and carrying out the surveying as I felt we had the opportunity to apply engineering concepts we had learnt in college to help the Sabre Trust. We met the local chief of the community during our visit and got to sample some fresh coconut juice.

I was very impressed by the organisation of the team on the Holy Child Kindergarten site as well as the Sabre Trust. The guys on site worked really hard carrying out tough physical labour in hot conditions and were keen to learn more construction skills from each other during the project. The site managers Alfred and Michael worked with limited resources, keeping track of all materials on site while also having to deal with issues such as frequent power cuts in the area.

One of my favourite aspects was walking to site every morning, which allowed me get a quick sneak peek look at the local peoples’ morning activities – there was always a variety of activity going on, women collecting water and carrying it on their head, people selling fruit, children walking to school, goats and roosters wandering around. On my route I passed through the campus of the Holy Child Teacher Training College. Teachers training at this college will later teach at the Kindergarten site that I was working on when construction is finished. The secondary school I attended in Dublin, Ireland was also called Holy Child School with the same school crest and I really liked this coincidental link.

I would recommend anyone to travel to Ghana and work with Sabre Trust. While I was a little nervous heading out on this trip alone, pushing yourself outside your comfort zone can be a wonderfully exciting and rewarding experience when you go for it. I was worried a 2 week trip was too short a time to make an impact, but as an African proverb says – “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent a night with a mosquito!” The Sabre Trust is a well-established organisation that is contributing to long term sustainable development in Ghana. I think it’s a great opportunity for AECOM professionals to gain some first time volunteering experience and have an introduction to the wonderful continent of Africa.”