Oh goodness, I don't know where to begin. Thanks to IVHQ and Emerging Voices Colombia, I've had the best experience of my life yet. To be honest, I had doubts and hesitations. I had never traveled out of the country before, but the process was extremely efficient & I was taken care of the minute that I landed. All of my doubts were gone. I did the teaching English project for one week. Through this experience, I had the chance to interact with the most kind children I've ever met in my entire life. I met new friends from all walks of life, and in my downtime, I got to hike and explore the city. Best experience ever. If you are having any doubts at all, I will say that you should not be the least bit worried. Emerging Voices Colombia will take care of you & make you feel right at home! Colombian people are so kind & welcoming. I miss it so much! I'd do it all over again!
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International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ)
International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ) is the trusted volunteer organization, providing safe, quality and extremely affordable volunteering placements in developing countries all over the world. Each year they place over 5000 volunteers abroad and have a wide range of volunteering opportunities in Kenya, Kenya - Maasai, Ghana, Uganda, South Africa, Nepal, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Costa Rica, Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Brazil, Peru - Lima, Peru - Cusco, Morocco, Ecuador, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Bali and Thailand.
I set aside my scrubs, white coat, and books, and packed my luggage with Frisbee, soccer ball, drawing pads, chalks, and crayons. I was so excited to meet the hopeful little ones, and I couldn’t wait to teach them how to write, draw, and play ball. After all, I once dreamt of becoming a preschool teacher, but I never thought that one day, I would still get the chance to live that dream even if I took a different path to become a doctor. Yes, I was a grade school teacher in Ghana, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had in my life!
I spent the 10-hour flight from New York City to Accra trying to get some sleep as I was tired and sleep-deprived for the past few days leading to my departure. It was my first time traveling to Ghana, and also my first time to see Africa. As the plane approached Kotoka International Airport, I gazed at the view from my window, and I immediately noticed how the land looked so red and vibrant. Right there and then, I knew that I was about to encounter something different and special. I was right.
George found me at the airport, and he gave me a warm welcome hug. All of a sudden, I felt safe and right at home even if all I had were a few names and contact numbers on a small piece of paper, which served as my “first-aid kit” at that time, and the trust that I will find the right person that will lead me to the right place. While on our way to the IVHQ house, George and I briefly talked about the Country’s economy, and how kids rarely get into senior high school because they are compelled to find a job at a very young age to help their families. Basically, I was trying to get a general sense of the economic situation, and in my mind I was thinking that in a struggling country where having food on the plate is the main priority everyday, education will definitely have to take the backseat no matter how important it is. Inside a cab and under the sweltering heat of the sun, those were my thoughts exactly.
We arrived at the volunteer house in Madina, and I met the rest of the IVHQ team-Edward and his wife Erin, Benedict, Evans, Francis, and Ruth. To me, they are more than just a team of individuals who work together, but a family that is committed to helping their country in their own capacity. I was truly impressed. They took care of me, and like welcoming a new member to a growing family, they attended to my every concern, and prepared me for my teaching mission in the Purple program. After going over some basic Twi lessons, safety precautions, and a lot of pep talk, Benedict (my coordinator for the Purple program) and I went on a two-hour journey to Frankadua- the charming little town that has touched my heart from the very moment I disembarked from the tro-tro and set foot on the ground.
I was holding back my tears as young school children came rushing to hug me and ask for my name. They looked thrilled and overjoyed, and that moment felt surreal. It was indescribable. I knew that a strong bond had already been formed in that first few minutes of being in the company of those children. I went straight to the volunteers’ quarters, and there I met the most beautiful people from different parts of the world, who are definitely some of the most amazing souls I’ve ever crossed paths with in my life. I had another family in an instant. Benedict finally had to travel back to Accra, and my own little story in Frankadua began.
I knew that I was up against time, and that I only had a week to perform magic, but I never thought of it as a disadvantage. I took it as a challenge instead. I was assigned to handle a class of fourth grade students, and I was tasked to teach Science, Math, English, and Creative Arts. Everyday for a week, I would be teaching from 8:00 to 2:00 pm. During breaks and unexpected gaps, I would jump over to the first grade class to teach drawing and painting. After the regular class, I would hold evening tutorials that would stretch from 3:00 to 5:00 pm. Then, I would run straight to the soccer field to teach and play Frisbee with the kids until dusk. Every single day that I was there, there’s no other way that I could define “a day well-spent.” Although exhausted, the thoughts of meeting my class again on the following day made me excited as I crawled underneath my mosquito net to sleep at night.
On my first day of teaching, there was this boy in the class who appeared older than the rest of the students. He would always sit at the back, and he was always hesitant to participate in discussion. He performed poorly in English exercise, and I was alarmed when I saw for myself that he could not read. I then made it my personal goal to enable him to read by the end of my stay. I asked one of the teachers to accompany me to this student’s house, which was a good 15-minute-walk from the school. I asked his mother if I could barrow his son everyday for the entire week so I can closely supervise his reading. She was so pleased that she even sent her younger daughter with her older son for tutorials. That same afternoon, I figured that the reason for his poor reading was because he didn’t even know his ABC’s. So my goal was changed altogether- I wanted him to learn the ABC’s. I thought it was going to be simple. I was wrong.
He was struggling and so was I. We would repeatedly write and recite ABC’s at least 8 times every afternoon. I almost thought that it was hopeless. But how would you give up on someone who, despite the lack of talent, would persistently start from the beginning with the aim of becoming better with every try? After three days, he mastered the alphabet, and we progressed to basic reading. I vividly remember that afternoon because I was in tears as I walking back to the volunteer’s house. This boy’s perseverance met my intentions to teach him half way, and we won the battle! For that alone, my whole trip was already well worth it. He may not be the brightest student in class, but I would forever remember him as the one who didn’t give up, and sometimes in life, it’s all that matters to get you from point A to point B. I was an accomplished teacher because he made me one.
My 9 days in Frankadua gave me a new pair of eyes to view the world with. I learned to appreciate more the provisions I had in the Philippines while I was growing up, and the kind of education I am receiving now here in the United States. I realized the value of little things that you normally take for granted-like the mere fact of having a clean, potable water at the comfort of your own homes is more than enough to say that life is kinder to you than to some. My little experiences everyday have exposed my consciousness to the reality that most of the problems we have in the civilized world are nothing as compared to the struggles of the children there, whose talents and dreams are not enough to secure them a bright future without a massive dose of miracle and luck. Living in Frankadua has made me retreat to nature for my basic needs and comfort. Also, I rediscovered how a sincere and meaningful conversation could bring different cultures closer together. As I immersed myself into the community, I wasn’t only given the opportunity to contribute, but the whole process made me a better, and more grateful person.
Like what I’ve always been told when I was young, “Nothing that is worth having comes easy”, and the same is true about coming to Ghana. The preparation was tedious and I had to go through the painful process of securing a Ghana visa, receiving several vaccines that rendered my arms swollen for a few days, taking anti-malarial medications before, during, and after the trip, and the constant need to spray mosquito repellent. I couldn’t be any more thankful that my IVHQ-Ghana family had always been there for me since the preparatory stage, educating and helping me in every step of the way. Even if there were a real risk of getting sick, I would definitely go through the whole process again because the beauty of experiencing Ghana is just priceless.
Here at five thousand miles away, I still think of my students at the end of the day. Several years from now, they would be grown-ups who would take their own paths and fulfill their purpose in life. Also several years from now, I know I would be remembering my first trip to Ghana, how it led me to meet great people- the IVHQ-Ghana family and my fellow volunteers, the dedicated school teachers, and every friend I made along the way, how it made me appreciate life even more, and how my experiences there proved that every goal is attainable once you set your heart and mind into it.
Desmond Tutu, a south African social rights activist once said, “Do your little bit of good wherever you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” These words perfectly describe my story in Ghana, and as I came back to reality in New York, I told myself that one day I will definitely return to my home in that side of the world.
In Frankadua, my name had evolved from “Yavoo” to “Katte” to “Madam Katte”, which accurately painted the person I became during my short stay there- from a complete stranger to some foreigner named Katte to a proud teacher of these life’s little fighters. I smiled as I looked at the photographs from my journey, remembering the warm afternoon glow in the soccer field with the beautiful West Africa sun setting in the backdrop, while the faint sound of the trumpets blended perfectly with the children’s innocent laughter. I will never forget how Ghana made me feel.
This was by far the best experience I have ever had in my entire life. It was life changing for me in the best way. The people are so nice and the culture is beautiful. Africa is gorgeous and the Program made me feel very safe. I will be returning back next summer 2014. The children are also amazing kids and they are one of the main reasons I am returning next summer! I would highly recommend this program! Thank you IVHQ!
From the beginning to the end of my trip, I did not have one negative experience with the program I was volunteering for. All of my "pre-trip" questions were answered in a timely manner and I felt as prepared as I could when I left for Ghana. All of the staff was incredibly welcoming and accommodating at the volunteer house. We went through orientation which helped to prepare us for our initial volunteer sites. I was placed at the Scarlet program and couldn't have had a better experience. Although I was only there for one week, I bonded so well with the staff, other volunteers, and especially all of the kids. Although this was one of the placements with the most need, I looked forward to "hanging" out with the kids and getting to know their vibrant personalities and generous hearts. Outside of the orphanage, the people there are all so incredibly nice and welcoming. Overall I had a great experience and am definitely planning to return next summer. I do advise joining the IVHQ Ghana Facebook group to be able to talk to past volunteers if you have questions and are worried about how to prepare. This was such a great experience; I loved every second of it!!
In December of 2012 I was lucky enough to be able to volunteer in an orphanage through IVHQ. This was a truly amazing experience that I would recommend to anyone looking to do this type of work. I was there for two weeks; which after spending time there was not nearly long enough! Of course there it is normal to be nervous when going to a completely new place with a new culture, but Ghanian people are extremely friendly and willing to help you with anything you may need; especially the individuals who run the IVHQ-Ghana portion of the program. When you first arrive they are there to pick you up and they make you feel instantly at ease. All of the staff members show extreme concern for your safety and care. I cannot explain how much compassion we were shown during our time there. After a short stay in the volunteer house you are then sent off to your program sites. You are assigned to your program based on your interests which is another great aspect of IVHQ Ghana. The children you work with are absolutely amazing. The connections you make with everyone you meet will have a lasting impact. When you return home you will have a completely new perspective on your life. I took this trip over 6 months ago and I still think about the people and the children almost every day. If you are even considering volunteering abroad this is the way to go!
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