I have just returned from my trip to Lawra in the Upper West region of Ghana. I returned the day the snow came to Hungerford so it was quite a contrast to the 33 degrees I had enjoyed for the past 3 weeks. However being cocooned at home for the weekend looking out at the beautiful white countryside helped me to reflect on my experience of volunteering for ATE.

My first thought was to say a big thank you to ATE for giving me the opportunity to volunteer for their charity. The idea of volunteering for a charity in rural northwest Ghana had not been anywhere on my agenda six months ago. It was really truly a unique opportunity and experience!

The second thought was that Kate (my co volunteer) and I should congratulate ourselves for a very successful partnership that developed over the three weeks in Ghana. We did not know each other that well before we set off but we were almost joined at the hip for the entire trip. We became good travelling companions and together with Kate’s leadership provided a new library at Karbo Primary School in Lawra.

The travelling to and from Lawra must have a mention!! We travelled from Accra on the overnight bus to Lawra. The journey was 15 hours long with only four comfort stops. And the comfort stops were not at service stations with facilities!! Instead the choice was in the busy bus station at Kamasi with no obvious urinals or at the side of the road in the dusty countryside. We did however enjoy ‘executive seats’ so were relatively comfortable but we were serenaded all night with very loud music or Nigerian soap operas!! On our return bus journey we had an armed guard sitting beside us and a herd of goats in the luggage storage!!

The highlights for me were home visiting two disabled children who ATE were supporting to attend school. Without ATE, these children and many more would not be receiving an education. The two children I met were keen to go to school and ATE made this possible. Paulina was to attend her local primary school the next day and ATE visited the family to make sure everything was in place to support her. Namwinmalme who is 8 years old was due to go to boarding school the next day too. He is deaf but with ATE’s support he will be attending a school for the deaf in the town of Wa.

I also visited 5 dry season farms who ATE support. Two of the farms were in a very remote area with very little access to water. The farms were fenced and the villagers tend the land together to grow onions, bean leaves, tomatoes and cabbages. I witnessed a real community spirit as there were men, women and children working together on the land to provide food for their families. They also sold the excess vegetables and were planning to extend their farms.

The provision of the library at Karbo Primary School was a great success. Kate and I worked tirelessly for most of our time in Lawra. The library was repainted, new shelves were made and all the existing books were sorted into piles of suitable and non suitable, fiction and non fiction. The books that were to be kept were all cleaned, reclassified and recorded. The children at the school were a delight. One day we were ambushed by 20 kindergarten children! Some older children came everyday to see our progress and they were really keen to help. The library is now a bright, light space with an excellent range of non fiction, fiction and picture books for all the children to enjoy.

ATE support a group of about 50 mothers and their disabled children in the rural community of Dowine. The mothers and their children meet monthly and I was asked to develop and implement a theme for their next meeting. The theme was nutrition and I researched the subject thoroughly, as well as how to deliver it, at home before I left for the trip so I was prepared! The access to nutritional food for the families of Dowine is so limited. The main source of food is maize and the idea of the workshop was to bring to the mothers’ attention the benefits of eating foods with greater nutritional benefits such as eggs, bananas, oranges, ground nuts, iodised salt and moringa. Moringa is known as the ‘miracle tree’ in Ghana as it is a drought resistant plant and provides excellent vitamins such as vitamin C and iron. ATE will be providing each family with a moringa sapling in the very near future.

On a personal note I was so impressed by the strength of the mothers at this workshop. Once the group had assembled they broke out into singing, clapping and dancing and we all joined in!! You could feel the support the mothers have for each other and how the coming together on a monthly basis empowers the mothers to support their children in very difficult circumstances. I must add that although I was speaking about eating more nutritional food, I was very aware that this is very difficult to attain due to the extreme poverty of the area, access to market and the limited foods available.

The last mission that I shall mention is the buying of fabric and taking the fabric to Theresa (a seamstress that ATE supported with a grant and business skills training) to make into items that can be sold back in the UK from the ATE office. It was fun to locate two fabric stalls in Lawra and choose fantastic colourful fabrics and negotiate prices. I also bargained for remnants of fabric. ATE support 84 small business owners through their small business development programme, from weavers, pot makers, egg and banana sellers as well as seamstresses. I took my fabric to Theresa and placed an order for aprons, tote bags and pencils cases. It was fun to see the finished products and now they are available for sale in the ATE office on the Square in Ramsbury, Wiltshire, to provide funds to support ATE’s work in Ghana.

To conclude, thank you again to everyone at ATE, in the UK and in Lawra, for making my trip and contribution to volunteering a possibility. Everyday I experienced something new! And I was able to push my own boundaries and discover things about myself as well as giving myself to help projects that ATE support. I came away with a real feeling of hope and saw change happening in so many ways.