Today is our final day at work before we take a holiday. With no mulled wine and mince pies available, and temperatures over 30°C in the south of Ghana (this week we’ve been working from the VSO office in Accra) and soaring close to 40°C back in Tamale, it doesn’t feel exactly Christmassy. So in non-traditional style, we’re heading to the southwest coast of the country to spend the holiday on the beach.
As I think back to last Christmas, it feels like an understatement to say that a lot has happened in a year. We’ve gone from hectic jobs in London, to incredibly hectic volunteering in Greece, and then to Ghana where we’re having to learn how to slow down!
I realised recently that we haven’t written about our work so much since we’ve been in Ghana. I promise that’s not because we haven’t been working. It’s just that the pace here is a little different from what we’re used to. We were warned in our pre-departure training (over and over again) that nothing would happen fast and that changes would be small. But even if we knew what to expect, it has still been an experience to adapt to the environment – working out how we can be useful and make an impact in the time that we’ll be here.
The tiring part is in fact how we motivate ourselves to keep finding new ways to get things done. The education projects that we’re working on both have big, long-term aims for change. These aspirational aims are needed as there are huge challenges facing the education system. But when you visit a school and see just how far away they are from functioning well, it can be hard to know how much one project can change. Common problems that can undermine the impact of more complex NGO initiatives include absent or demotivated teachers who might not have been paid for months, regular caning that’s putting children off from attending classes, limited or no sanitary facilities, water supply, furniture or books, and parents pulling children out of school to work on the farm or sell goods in the market.
The work in Greece was tough but we were never trying to change the system – just fill the gaps in the best way we could. Considering such a sea change needed here and asking ourselves what changes can even be tackled by NGOs in this context has been a whole different world. But that’s not to say we’re anywhere close to giving up and we’re definitely learning a lot in the process.
By now in London, I’d have worn myself out (and typically lost my voice) in the midst of pre-Christmas deadlines and Christmas parties and would be in serious need of some sleep! This break will be less about sleep and more of a rest from thinking about all of this stuff. We’ll be back in Tamale in the New Year, ready to keep learning and keep trying ever more options to get our work done.
We’ll share some pictures from our travels to Axim and Cape Coast soon. In the meantime, we wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Thank you for following what we’ve been up to in 2016!