I found Elghana in 2008, as people find so many things these days, through a Google search. I don’t remember the search terms, I don’t remember the other programs that I looked at, but I do remember running downstairs to my wife and saying, “I think I’ve found the program!”
I had won a grant to fund travel that would enrich my classroom, and I wanted to teach in Ghana where I’d briefly visited two years earlier. I liked that Elghana sponsored homestays, and the cost was within my budget. I remember eagerly awaiting each email that I received in preparation for my departure; detailed information was provided, and I became used to what had been an unfamiliar name Agyapong Gyamfi, the Projects Director of the organization. There were so many questions: How much clothing to bring and what kind? What kind of immunizations do I need? Should I bring a gift for my host family? Do I need a mosquito net? yes; The necessary practical ones were sufficiently answered, and I took off with a suitcase and a rucksack for my month in Kumasi.
An Elghana representative was there as promised to meet me at the airport (Each time I was in transit I was sheparded along by someone from Elghana; this is a comforting feature of their support.). After a night in a hotel in Accra I went by bus to Kumasi where I was introduced to a welcoming family. Everyone was curious about me and eager to make me feel at home. (They chose an American action movie to watch the first night, a fine attempt to make connection, though it is not a genre of film that I am drawn to!) I was served abundant, tasty food, and each day after work I was happy to go home for relaxation and company. I had a room to myself that was a refuge that I could spend time in when necessary, though usually I preferred the living room or the front balcony where we would talk, iron, and watch passersby below.
After an initial weekend of settling I began my teaching. I was very uncertain at first about this; though I am a veteran teacher, I felt like a beginner: What exactly will I teach? What will the skill and interest levels of the students be? I will I fit into the culture of the school? How will I be received, and how will I do? As each day passed my comfort increased; when it was time to leave I felt like I was just reaching my stride. The students were very intent on their work; I was consistently impressed both by what they could do and their diligence in doing it. I was stretched and learned more in that month than perhaps any other. I was humbled by the hospitality that I received.
An outstanding supplement to my placement in Kumasi was two trips that Elghana organized for its volunteers on weekends. It was interesting and enjoyable for me to meet others who had traveled to Ghana; in many placements volunteers work with groups, and I was on my own (which I liked). The first excursion took us to Elmina Castle and Kakum National Park. This castle was one where captives were held before being sent to the Americas. It was wrenching for me to stand where these others had before. The Park, features a canopy walk that takes you high over the forest floor. Our second trip was north to the Mole Game Reserve and the Boabeng-Flema Monkey Sanctuary. Elephants and monkeys: very exciting! Besides seeing the large mammals, though, it was instructive to drive far from the city and get a quick glimpse of life there.
I heartily recommend volunteering through Elghana!