Educating Ghana

Part of my role in Ghana is to help in the implementation of a project that aims to improve teaching standards in state-funded schools. Earlier this month I visited 10 of the schools taking part to see how they are getting on. I want to tell you a bit about the project, why it’s needed, and some of the challenges I saw on my visits.

In the north of Ghana, where I am based, many children, particularly in rural public schools, never learn to read. Just look at the literacy rates in those regions below.1 The north is poorer and less developed but efforts to improve the quality of education are one way in which this imbalance can be addressed for the future.

The three northern regions are: Northern, Upper West and Upper East.

The three northern regions are: Northern, Upper West and Upper East.

Our project is called “Teacher Empowerment through Support and Technology (TEST)”. Education technology specialists OLE Ghana2 have built a website3 for teachers which is full of high quality teaching materials, instructions on how to teach reading and lesson plans. The website is also a place for teachers to get support and advice from colleagues and experts. To help teachers make the best use of these resources we have supplied schools with tablets and projectors.

To get a sense of how people were getting on, we observed reading lessons being taught to grade 6 (ages 10/11). In one school, the teacher used the digital projector to put a story up on the classroom wall. It was a nicely illustrated book and the children were certainly captivated by the images and text. What concerned us though, was many of the pupils didn’t seem to actively participate in the lesson – only two out of the 40 or so pupils volunteered to read out loud.

After the lesson observations, we would run sessions with the teachers asking them to brainstorm activities they could use to teach children to read. In school after school, the same ideas were put forward – writing the letters on the board, saying the sounds of the letters, getting the pupils to repeat. What is known as teaching by rote. Unfortunately, this technique ends up leaving many children behind. We introduced the teachers to more interactive methods of teaching children to read and showed them how they could access helpful resources on the TEST website.

Teaching Vocab

A teacher using the projector to introduce new vocabulary to his class

I don’t want to sound like I am being overtly critical of teachers here. They work in difficult conditions, for low pay and sometimes without any training or qualifications. New teachers can have it even tougher – on the way to one school we gave a newly qualified teacher a lift to a main road. She told us that she hadn’t been paid yet, although she’d started work 3 months ago. It is a common and disheartening problem.

Teachers face many other difficulties (such as big classes, poor leadership, sick or hungry children, lack of reliable electrical power, water supply issues). The result is that it is genuinely tough to teach effectively in such an environment. Only the most resilient and talented teachers can thrive. For many others, it can be hard to stay motivated. During our visits, OLE Ghana would give impassioned pep talks. Being Ghanaians and understanding the culture and the context, they were able to say things that really resonated with the teachers. There is high hope that we can really inspire teachers with this project – but it is going to take a lot of work and a lot more field visits.

Kofi Essien of OLE Ghana inspiring the teachers

Kofi Essien of OLE Ghana inspiring the teachers

Supplying schools with tablets and projectors is the easy part of this project, but changing people’s mindset and improving people’s motivation is a huge challenge. The first year of the project ends in August – by that time, we hope to see the beginnings of change happening in our schools. Little signs that teachers are starting to take a more proactive approach to their lesson planning, professional development and classroom management. I hope to write more in the future about the project’s progress.

Work: Same but different

Here, I am working as a Communications Advisor for VSO Ghana. In many ways, it’s a normal job – most days, Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm, you can find me getting on with relatively normal tasks, working at my laptop in an office (somewhere I have come to appreciate for being the only place we go that has wifi and air conditioning!).

Over the next 6 months, I’m mainly going to be training small, local NGOs, gathering case studies and stories, and conducting research. Some long field trips on bumpy roads to visit school projects are coming up, and will definitely be a change from my previous tame travels to Birmingham or Nottingham for work meetings. The logistics of working on rural school projects aside though, I hadn’t really been able to picture the reality of ‘doing’ communications in another country until we got here.

There’s the language barrier – English is an official language here but a second language for most –, the different social and political context, and the fact that the issues that are the most interesting and important to people here are alien to me. And then there’s the way the Ghanaian media works…

There aren’t expectations for me to be making any kind of media splash in my role. But it’d be an added bonus if the opportunity came up. After days spent refining press releases, quotes and headlines in the UK to create campaigns that have everything you need to get a charity in the news – the unique position, the big statistic, the perfect spokespeople, the personal stories… – I wanted to know what makes it in print here.

I found this:

(Although bear in mind this is a completely unscientific review and I still haven’t seen a copy of the apparently most highly circulated state-owned paper anywhere!)

Man builds school

screenshot_20161108-185408

Tooth extraction is bad says an unnamed dentist, on the front page

News Tooth Extraction is Bad

 

And (surely news), an actor (who has nothing to do with juice or politics) saying he does not care about a short-lived craze for people to take photos of themselves with a juice carton to show support for a certain politician.

News Kalypo

Of course, we have silly news in the UK too – the last story would’ve probably made it in some alternative way if the person were famous enough. Nonetheless the style, content and type of news seem worlds apart:

  • I’ve never seen headlines so simple!
  • Religious leaders or famous ‘prophets’ are key spokespeople on all issues and events.
  • And who said you have to give a story balance? Or provide evidence to back up a claim? In this case (a view from the opposition political party), no need to even to add quotation marks.

One thing stays constant whatever country you’re in though – elections obscure everything else! Following hot on the heels of the US, it’s election season here. That means that’s all there is to news until polling day on 7 December, and probably for a good while after. Even if I did get my head around the inner workings of Ghanaian media, I’m pretty certain that press coverage for any of the VSO education programmes won’t be happening just yet.

Friday night plans? Not much, just burning some rubbish.

There are quite a lot of simple things that we never thought much about until they weren’t there. One of these is rubbish collection. It’s so easy – you put rubbish and recycling in bins and it gets taken away every week or two.

Here we have found that to be a bit more complicated. Tamale is strewn with litter, particularly on dusty paths behind houses or uninhabited stretches of land. Mainly it’s the empty plastic bags that everything from water to bean stew and fried yam are served in, but occasionally they’re joined by smashed up toilets or piles of filled bin bags.

When we first arrived we asked our neighbour about local rubbish collection only to hear that the company that used to collect doesn’t really come round anymore. The other options: burn it, or take it ‘over that way’ (an unofficial dumping ground between some houses and a school).

We took our time to do anything about it. Neither option felt quite right for people used to recycling bins and food waste collection. But after 3+ weeks here, we couldn’t leave it any longer. Friday evening was rubbish burning time!

Not the nicest of bonfires

Not the nicest of bonfires

Turns out when you don’t have any matches, only a stove and some old candles left by a former volunteer, it’s not so quick to get a fire to light and stay lit. And when your rubbish includes everything from onion peel to glass bottles and tuna tins, it’s not so easy to get it to burn. But we got there, pretty much – luckily without accidentally setting fire to our house or overgrown garden, only creating some strange fumes in the process.

Rubbish burning outfit

An ‘interesting’ rubbish burning outfit

We’re still trying to avoid rubbish burning being added to our weekly list of chores if we can. The hand washing, ironing and constant sweeping up of dust and dead bugs is enough to keep us busy. We’ve got a new lead on a potential rubbish collection company from a shopkeeper on our road now. It’d be considered a luxury – the company’s monthly charge costing the equivalent of a day and a half of our volunteer allowance – but with any luck we might not have to dedicate future Friday nights to this kind of fun.

“Good morning! You are welcome.”

We arrived in Ghana on Sunday 2nd October, stepping off the plane into a humid Accra airport. It’s been just over 2 weeks since then and we’ve started to settle in, get our heads around our jobs, understand some of the quirks or our new life here, and (sort of) get used to/accept the heat!

Our first few days were spent at an induction in Accra at VSO Ghana’s head office, learning about everything from how we’ll receive our monthly volunteer living allowance of around £135 each, to which beaches are most common for muggings, to how marriages and funerals work here. With a driver taking us everywhere we needed to go, it was hard to get a sense of the city, but we were quick to learn about the capital’s traffic congestion problems! And our medical session at the local clinic provided a quick introduction to one of the very common questions asked of foreigners – our conversation with the doctor covered the perils of malaria, typhoid and cholera, and whether or not we go to church, of course.

After just a few days in the south, we flew up to Tamale in the Northern Region of Ghana where we will be living. Being joined on the plane by the entire Ghanaian national football team made for an interesting welcome to our new home town – our drive from the airport to our house was as part of a procession of fans celebrating the team’s (and of course our…?) arrival in the city.

We will have plenty of time, and blogs, to tell you about our work, the city of Tamale and the lifestyle here – Tom, just a week after arriving, said that “the word ‘luxury’ has already been totally redefined.” But for now, I wanted to share a little about our new home. (More photos to be added to this post soon.)

Our house

Our house

Our accommodation has been provided for us by VSO, and the thing that’s definitely not lacking is space. For the first (and possibly last, if we keep choosing not to get normal, paying jobs) time, we are living in a 3 bedroom, 2 sitting room, 2 bathroom, detached house with lots of outdoor space. We have power – mostly – and running water – so far, our back up tank has kept us going when the mains are off. But it’s hard to describe the place as anything other than basic.

The high perimeter wall spiked with broken glass bottles, concrete floors and bars on the windows give the place a somewhat prison-like feel, while the ‘back garden’ is more of a wasteland with a burnt patch where you can set fire to rubbish. We have a mismatched array of old furniture and kitchen utensils, and plenty of open water waste pipes and gaps in the roof and windows to let in all the insects and geckos. All of that aside, it is quickly becoming home, with much of our weekends so far spent in our front sitting room – the one with the fan!

Our street

Our walk to work, along the main road out of town

We’re based 30 minutes’ walk or a quick, 20-pence-each shared taxi ride from the centre of Tamale. And luckily, with just a 15 minute walk to our new workplace at VSO Ghana’s regional office, we don’t have anything like the lengthy Accra commute to navigate and can set off for work each morning at 7:45. Greetings (a huge part of Ghanaian culture) are expected from almost everyone you pass, so our walk is accompanied by a regular “Good morning! You are welcome.” from the people on our route.

Life here will still take quite a bit of getting used to. Being told that we are welcome here every single day will definitely help that along though.

It’s not about us

The most common question I’ve been asked since our time volunteering with refugees ended has been something along the lines of: Was it difficult for you? How did you deal with it emotionally? Wasn’t it hard to see all the things you saw?

I completely understand why people are asking, and it’s really, really nice of everyone to care about our wellbeing. But it keeps surprising me that that question comes up first, rather than a question about the people we were there to support.

Volunteers do visibly struggle with burnout and the challenging environment in which they are working. It’s not easy and the work is never done, so everyone (myself and Tom included) has a tendency to skip that break or that weekend rest and keep going. As the crisis continues and donor fatigue sets in, while the living conditions and health of refugees deteriorate, that pressure is only getting worse for volunteers on the ground.

That said, Tom and I managed pretty well and, even if we worked like crazy at times, we kept each other in check. It’s surprising how quickly a situation becomes normal to you. The sights, smells and bad conditions in camps or unofficial settlements were all relative after a while – one place has a few portaloos and a tap so it’s better than the other with no sanitation; yes, this camp has wild boar but at least it doesn’t have a snake infestation or forest fires threatening to burn down the tents.

The things that got me most were not the conditions, but those off-hand comments that remind you how things could have been if your passport had a different country name written on its front cover. When I was asked how I got to Greece and explained that we drove there, the frustration of a refugee that she was treated so differently – that I’d been easily let through so many countries that denied her passage – was clear. And the young girl at the port who asked me where I lived and when I replied “an apartment in Athens”, triple-checked that I had a real roof not a tent before making a roof shape with her arms above her head just in case she’d misunderstood my English.

Before we left Greece, families that we’d got to know well treated us to coffee or dinners in their basic ‘homes’ – we sat cross-legged on the floor and were offered so much more food than we could eat. And then we were gone, travelling (freely and with only a cursory glance at our passports by staff at the ferry port) through Italy, leaving behind everything that they were forced to keep dealing with for many more months.

It's very easy for us to get away

It’s very easy for us to get away! Photograph by John O’Nolan, Flickr.

We kept an eye on what was going on – checking posts on the Athens Facebook group, worrying about whether the medication we’d left for a young boy with kidney failure would be enough, or if anyone would keep taking fruit and vegetables to the Hotel Oniro squat when we were gone – and we still keep in touch with those we can. But we could rest and distance ourselves from it after a time, in a way that refugees just can’t.

We are really grateful for everyone who has read about our time as volunteers and asked questions to understand more. There is one final important lesson that I’d like to pass on. I heard it repeated regularly by volunteers and it helps explain my surprise at your most common question to us:

For many volunteers, the mantra is ‘it’s not about us’ – whatever we are feeling, however tired we are, however difficult it might be to hear another story of suffering and separation, it is nowhere near as hard on us as those who’ve fled their homes because of war or insecurity.

We’ll stop writing about the refugee crisis for a while, and will focus future blogs on our time in Ghana (we’ve been here almost two weeks now). But wherever we are, we definitely won’t forget our experiences and the challenges that refugees continue to face in Athens, Calais and elsewhere. We know that other long-term volunteers will keep doing what they can to provide support and improve conditions. But it is only with a significant political change that I can see any end in sight for this crisis – it’s time Governments learnt that mantra too and got on with providing practical solutions to these problems!

If you’re interested in continuing to follow what’s happening on the ground, we recommend these pages and groups on Facebook: Care4Calais4, One Human Race2, and Athens Immigrant and Refugee Support Group3. If you’re thinking about volunteering yourself and want to ask us any questions about it, please do get in touch.

Reflections on the Calais Jungle

With the demolition of Calais Jungle set to start in just a few days (if the statements from French authorities are put into action4), we thought it was about time we let you know a bit more about the camp.

Our volunteering there was brief owing to the need to send our passports to the Ghanaian embassy in preparation for our impending move to Ghana. With less time to get to know the surroundings and be creative in working to meet specific needs, we focused our attention on donating and distributing aid – working with the charity Care4Calais2 who run warehousing and essential aid distribution alongside some great advocacy efforts from their longer-term team.

Volunteer meeting at the Care4Calais warehouse - photograph by Julia Johnson at www.lensculture.com/julia-johnson

Break time at the Care4Calais warehouse. Photograph by Julia Johnson www.lensculture.com/julia-johnson

Calais is so close to home yet its refugee and migrant settlement, currently housing an estimated 10,000 people, is like a completely different world.

Here are just 3 things that struck me during our time there:

  • Bad living conditions will have long-term effects
    We have all seen pictures of the camp, flooded and cold. We saw that flooding happen – within 10 minutes of a heavy rain shower, water was rising and gushing into tents with nowhere to drain away. But the bad conditions are worse than I realised. The settlement is on an old asbestos dumping ground, meaning that residents’ future health could be seriously affected even after they have (hopefully!) been able to settle elsewhere.
  • Donor fatigue is real
    We used the remainder of the money you all kindly donated to our fundraiser to deliver items to Calais. We set off from London with a car loaded full of rice, tinned tomatoes, tea and toiletries. That one full car, however, was just a small drop of what is needed when NGOs are trying to feed 10,000+ people. The sense of donor fatigue and diminishing resources was a real worry for those I spoke to.

    A car full of donations for Calais

    A car’s worth of donations for Calais

  • There are so many fences but no end in sight
    Fences surround the sprawling camp – not just one fence, but a slightly smaller fence, followed by a gap filled with razor wire, followed by a bigger fence. And then, because that’s not solved the problem, the UK Government and French authorities are working together to build a big wall. The real issue though is that there is no sense of a true solution for this place. The French Government wants to move everyone on, but people don’t want to go, and the demolitions are unlikely to change that. Not because the Jungle is a good place to be, but because leaving for many seems like giving up on any hope.

    The fences of Calais Jungle, photograph by MalachyBrowne (Flickr)

    The fences of Calais Jungle. Photograph by Malachy Browne (Flickr)

If you can donate anything to support those in the Calais camp please do. A list of priority items needed3 is kept up to date by Care4Calais and includes rucksacks to enable individuals to move their belongings if they need to. Or you could donate a small amount to top up the credit of an unaccompanied minors’ phone 4, helping them to keep in touch with family and friends if they are displaced during the upheaval.

Whether or not the camp is cleared, the people there are in for a long wait for a secure home and support will continue to be needed until that happens.

Our Final Challenge in Athens – The Orange House

Back in June shortly after we arrived in Athens, I’d spent a few days volunteering at a new project called The Orange House. 5 Based in a former shop in the anarchist area of Athens, they were hoping to refurbish their building in order to provide much needed accommodation and support for vulnerable refugee groups, such as unaccompanied minors and people from the LGBT community. It was a big job for skilled tradesmen, so once my limited DIY skills had been exhausted, I moved on to other things.

Refurbishment: during and after

Refurbishment: during and after

Skipping forward about 6 weeks, Faye and I settled down one evening after another tiring day and I saw a message flash up from Marina, the director of The Orange House. She told me that the house was now open: residents were beginning to move in, activities were being planned and a team of volunteers were helping to run things. Like many new projects, with lots of work but without a full-time professional team, things were getting a little stretched. Marina asked if Faye and I could come in each morning to help delegate tasks, and provide a bit more of a management structure, so that other volunteers could feel more confident and empowered to get on with their day. Thinking it would fit in nicely with our other commitments, we agreed.

A few days later, we started at the Orange House. We got to know the existing volunteers and residents and explained who we were and why we were there. We then delegated some tasks and left for our afternoon volunteer commitment. As the week went on, our responsibilities quickly escalated. Marina (who already had a full-time job) had to go away for a week and a long-term volunteer, with responsibilities for the rota, social work and covering a significant number of the nightshifts, decided to end her involvement in the project at short-notice. Suddenly, we found ourselves pretty much managing the on-the-ground running of the project. We had great support from the volunteers, as well as Marina, and two board members, Aida and Barbara, based in North America, but coming in for a few hours each morning was no longer an option. We still made it to our afternoon volunteering at the squat, but it would be straight back to the Orange House after.

The Orange House

The Orange House – can you guess where the project got its name from?

It was exhausting, but rewarding. We had many challenges but we were able to use some of our project and people management skills to make improvements to how things worked – it was the first time we’d spent hours on end sitting at computers since we quit our jobs! We fixed some issues with the rota, recruited more volunteers for the unpopular nightshift, started giving new volunteers a detailed induction and used more transparent methods of prioritising, delegating and tracking outstanding jobs and tasks. We also worked hard to encouraged a positive attitude – which is vital in any job, but especially in the demanding environment of the Greek refugee crisis. There were many notable moments during our time with the project, both positive and negative, which will stay with us. Here is just one story that stands out:

Because the project provided support and a safe space for unaccompanied minors, a couple of the volunteers were tasked with contacting a teenager, J (not his real name), to see if he was okay and to ask if he wanted to drop by for a cup of tea. He was one of a number of people the project would check-up on.

Later that day, whilst Faye and I were at our regular afternoon commitment, we had a call from one of the volunteers. She’d been in contact with J by Facebook messenger, and he was in some difficulty. He’d travelled to an agricultural region about 90 minutes north of Athens to do some farm work on the promise of a ‘short-term, easy way’ to get himself a little money. He’d worked for a month, but the farmers didn’t pay him. That day he’d returned to the farm and was demanding pay, but it sounded like he wasn’t going to get any and it also sounded like he didn’t have any way to leave. We were concerned for his safety and sought the advice of a charity specialising in forced labour situations involving children. They took over and coordinated a rescue with the local police force. We thought perhaps we could pick up J the next day to bring him back to Athens. But late that evening, we had another call from the charity, who told us that the police were treating J has an adult who had been caught carrying out illegal work. They were going to detain him until he could be deported back to Afghanistan. Apparently J’s Greek papers (issued to refugees on arrival) stated that he was an adult. We felt awful – we had initiated the rescue and now the victim of exploitation was being detained by the police.

After a bad night’s sleep, we returned to the Orange House and called a group of lawyers providing free advocacy to refugees. They contacted the police station and reassured us on two counts a) deportation takes months, so he was not in any immediate risk and b) they had successfully prevented deportation in similar cases before. We were relieved, but things weren’t over yet. J was still in detention and his phone had been confiscated. We contacted the police and were told we could visit, so the next morning we drove out of Athens and up to the police station with some food and juice for J and accompanied by a translator called Sayed – one of the many Afghan translators who’d worked for the British military, later forced to flee his country after threats from the Taliban. At the police station, only one of us and the translator were allowed to enter, so Faye and Sayed went in. I didn’t see the conditions, but Faye recounted how terrible they were: dirty, overcrowded and hot. J’s mood and demeanor quickly improved when he saw Faye and Sayed and heard that we were working to get him released. He explained that his Greek papers did say he was an adult, because like many minors traveling alone, he’d lied about his age when first arriving in Greece. This was for a simple reason – he wanted to be able to travel freely in order to continue his journey north (without the interference of the authorities). But like most refugees in Greece, he became trapped when the borders closed. His Afghan ID did have his correct age, so it was a matter of getting the police to translate it from Farsi, recognise this mistake and let him go.

It took a frustrating amount of time – the workload of the lawyers in Greece is huge – but J was eventually released after 3 weeks (by this time, we’d left Athens) and is doing well. There are many things shocking about this case, not least the response of the police and the charity set up to support victims of forced labour*, but the thing that stands out for me is the thought of what would have happened if The Orange House hadn’t been looking out for J – would he have been left in that police cell for months? Would he have been deported? The case reinforced the need for projects like The Orange House, staffed by people who show genuine humanity and compassion. The incident forced us to examine our own actions too: in retrospect, it is likely that we would have more seriously considered attempting to pick-up J ourselves, even though we know all the risks.

We were only the managers of the Orange House for about 14 days, but so much happened in that short space of time it felt like a lot longer. It came at the end of our two months in Greece, and pretty much finished us off, both physically and emotionally. We were spent and it was time for us to leave: with great sadness at saying goodbye to all the people we’d met, but also relief: we needed to sleep and we need to decompress.

After sharing a few reflections on our brief time in Calais in September, in our final Greece themed blog, Faye will write about leaving Athens and look back on our volunteer experience as a whole.

You can read more about the Orange House on their Facebook page and website. They are in constant need of donations to support their vital work.

https://www.facebook.com/zaatarngo

http://zaatarngo.org 

* we have decided not to name the forced labour charity, because although we disagreed with its response in this instance, it is just one case out of many and may not be reflective of their overall work or approach. We did provide them with feedback.

July in Athens: Plans change and then they change again

Our time in Athens was neatly divided by a return to England for a wedding. The second half (post-wedding trip) didn’t go to plan to begin with, but ultimately ended in a very rewarding experience, managing volunteers at a project called the Orange House. I will write about this in a next blog, but for now, this is a tale of how our plans didn’t quite pan out.

Before we left for England at the end of June, the Schoolbox Project I’d been working with came to an end 2 and Faye had pretty much completed a website she was building for AMURTEL. 2 We were still providing support to several families on an ad hoc basis, but our regular commitments that took up the most time had run their course.

Searching for something new, we applied for positions with Movement on the Ground (MOTG) who were running children’s activities at the camp called Skaramangas, about 30 minutes drive from Athens. Our first, introductory day was really interesting (in a good way). There were 100s of children and MOTG seemed to have a well structured set of activities and relatively good facilities (a large circus tent and a playground). We left the camp at about 8pm, as the sun was low in the sky, looking forward to starting with MOTG properly later in the week, if a bit daunted by how exhausting it was going to be, especially in a concrete-covered camp that radiated the heat of the Greek summer. It was going to take up all of our time: 6 days of 12+ hour shifts in a row, with a rest day on Sunday.

Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. Several hours after we left on our first day, the camp experienced a serious disturbance involving a large group of young male residents. Several experienced volunteers who were staying late were caught up in what was described as a mini-riot, between members of the Syrian and Yazidi communities. Some refugees were hurt and some of the isoboxes (caravan type living spaces) were damaged.

One of the problems for people in this situation is that there really isn’t much for them to do. Long hot days in difficult conditions, combined with poor treatment, the uncertainty of what the future holds, the separation from family and friends, and the lack of money, meaningful work or positive focus in life all take their toll on people’s state of mind. It affects everyone, but young single men – often traveling without their families – are perhaps the most likely to act out their frustrations with violence or trouble-making.  The riot combined with several other security issues prompted MOTG to suspend activities at the camp. So we were left looking for new ways to contribute to the crisis.

We had a soft spot for the squats of Athens, which were mainly located in or near Exarchia – the anarchist area. They had their significant problems – lack of food, sanitation, and at times leadership and space – but they usually had a more relaxed atmosphere, particularly compared to some of the unofficial camps. They afforded the refugees a bit more dignity and I think this contributed to the more stable environment. The squats lacked any official support, so we thought we would spend more time helping them however we could.

Firstly, with our car and donation money to spend, we bought food and supplies for a relatively new squat, called Hotel Oniro. For example, we bought enough plates, mugs and glasses for every resident and about 10 kgs of spices: the chef was so pleased, as he had been struggling to add flavour to the staple donated foods of couscous, pasta and rice.

Secondly, we decided to help run some activities for the young people at Hotel Oniro. They didn’t have much communal space and had to be quiet in the squat so as not to disturb the neighbours, but there was a nearby park. A small group of Spanish volunteers were also running activities in the afternoon, so we joined forces. We mainly did English lessons and our Spanish friends concentrated on arts and crafts. Each afternoon, we would meet at the hotel and usually take about 20 kids to the park for lessons, activities and then play. It was important for the kids to use up some energy and get out of the hotel for a bit. One of the kids at the hotel, Samer, had previously been living at the port with his father where he was regular visitor to the Schoolbox Project: it was great to see a familiar face, and I was glad they had found a nicer place to live.

Dedicating the afternoons to Hotel Oniro, gave us time in the mornings to continue our other work: supporting individual families with specific needs, working with another squat to help with food supply issues and spending donated money on aid. Once again, we seemed to have found our niche, but once again it was about to change dramatically.

Part two of this blog coming soon…

[Note: Yes, we are in Ghana now and will get to that soon, once we’ve caught up on a few stories from Athens.]

Help for Hire

Dying for a night off from the kids? Shirts need ironing? Got an outstanding DIY job you can’t face finishing? Filthy car? Household chores piling up? Why toil away when you can pay someone else to do it and support a good cause at the same time! That’s right – Faye and I are willing to do the things you don’t want to do. All money will go to Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), a fantastic charity, who have been working to eradicate poverty for almost 60 years. You can read more about what we’re doing here.

Faye washing up all of your dishes

Faye washing up all of your dishes (Tom will dry and put away)

Below you will see a list of the kind of things we are willing to do with some suggested prices. However, we are open to ideas. If you need something doing, we are probably willing to do it!  We will be in the UK until Sunday 2nd October. If that’s too soon, you can always pay a 100% deposit and we promise to complete our tasks when we come back in May 2017.

Service Suggested Donation
Clothes ironing £1 per item
Babysitting for an evening £30
Packed lunch prepared for 5 days £35
Cleaning your car £10 (£15 including inside)
Cleaning your house £30
Walking your dog £10
Painting and decorating / DIY Negotiable
Mowing the lawn £15
Waiting in for a delivery (can be combined with cleaning) £10
Deep cleaning of oven, Fridge, Freezer £10
Chef for the evening £15 per person
Feeding your pets whilst you’re away Negotiable

Book us by either contacting one of us by your preferred method, or if you don’t know us personally, just put a comment on the blog with your contact details and what you want doing (we won’t publish the comment, so your information won’t be public).

Tom ironing all of your clothes with tiny ironing board

Tom ironing all of your clothes with a tiny ironing board

An unexpected detour: next stop Ghana

For two people who have a tendency to plan to meticulous excess, our time away has been an exercise in letting things just happen. In Greece, nothing would ever take place in the way, or at the time, we expected. Everything is in constant flux, with projects, camps and activities opening, shutting and changing completely from one day to the next. Can’t move whatever it is you’re doing 10 miles down the road at no notice, you’re not going to be much use when the tents and people suddenly move on!

In Athens, with nobody telling us where we needed to be and when, we embraced the lack of planning. Interesting projects and ways in which we could be useful always turned up just at the point at which we weren’t sure what we might be doing the next day. And it’s in that vein that we wanted to let you know about a pretty unexpected change of plans for the rest of our time away.

Detour sign

As many of you know, we considered a number of options before deciding to spend time volunteering with refugees. One of the alternative plans involved applying for roles with VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) but these didn’t come through… well, until now!

In the last 3 weeks, we have been offered a very big and very sudden change of plans. VSO has found us both roles in Northern Ghana and, after plenty of consideration, we decided to go ahead and take them.

Subject to references, visas, medical checks and a whole lot of admin and training we’ll now be living in Tamale from October for around 7 months, working to support the development and accessibility of education in the region. Tom will be implementing an IT programme in schools to give teachers access to better resources; I will be getting involved in communications, fundraising and research for a different education project focused on maintaining school attendance of adolescent girls and disabled pupils.

ghana-and-ghana-in-africaIt’s with real sadness that we won’t be going back to doing more voluntary work in support of refugees now. It was a tiring and difficult experience at times, but something that we have been so glad to be part of and an area we hope to stay involved in even if we can’t be working on the ground. It’s also with excitement that we now get ourselves ready to head out to Ghana – knowing that for the whole time in Greece, it was the projects we never ever planned to get involved in that turned out to be the best!

For those of you who kindly donated to our fund, there is some remaining money received after we left Athens, which we promise will be spent as soon as possible on projects working with refugees. We hope to make a short aid trip out to France in the coming weeks if we can. We will also pass some donations on to a few of the amazing organisations we were associated with in Greece.

Now (sorry!) we need to ask you for money again. To help VSO to get us trained up, sent out and supported in our new roles, we need your help. We know so many of you have already been incredibly generous in supporting what we’ve been doing so far. But if you can donate to help us reach our target of £1600 for VSO, we would be forever grateful!

A few more blogs on our time in Athens will follow in the next few weeks. After that, we hope you’re looking forward to hearing news from Ghana.