Our first day of work

Our first day of work consisted of splitting off into teams of three – one local staff member with two of us volunteers – and each visiting the two communities that we will be working with for the next six weeks. In our teams we will be setting up a play centre in one community and a reading scheme in the other, so there will hopefully be a total of six new Lively Minds centres active by the time we leave!

The first step in this process is to mobilise our communities by visiting them and reminding them about the community meetings that will be taking place that week.  This helps us to build a rapport with the communities and at each village we have a co-ordinator who helps us do this. We went to our various villages by motorbike along dusty roads, which is an amazing way to see how quickly we moved from the bustling city of Tamale to the contrasting rural surroundings.

Upon arrival, it is traditional to kneel when greeting a chief or elder to show your respect. In some villages it is customary to donate a small amount of money (around 30p) to the chief in exchange for some kola nuts, which apparently give you a bit of a natural high (equivalent of caffeine).

As well as introducing ourselves to the locals this was a great opportunity for us to look around a typical Ghanaian village. The communities vary in size, some with up to 600 people, all of which live with their extended families in homes consisting of round huts (or rooms) for the women and square huts for the men. Around the villages live goats, sheep and chicken.

During the rainy season there are vibrant crops of maize, corn and rice that are grown. Farming is the main work done at this time of year and during the dry season hunting begins. Children start helping their families from a very young age, jobs on the farm include weeding crops and looking after cattle.  Similarly, a skill that is mastered at a young age is carrying or balancing large buckets filled with food, drink, or even items of clothing on their heads. A couple of us tried this out and it is a lot harder than it looks!

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Akwaaba! (welcome)

We were greeted at Kotoka airport by Alhassan, the Lively Mind’s International Volunteer Coordinator, and then experienced our first Ghanaian taxi ride – a rickety 5 seater that managed to accommodate: the driver, two guides, three volunteers and 7 weeks’ worth of luggage each. Here we learnt the phrase, ‘in Ghana, everything is possible.’

The next day we travelled from Accra to Tamale on a 10 hour bus journey that in reality took 14, but this was a bonus as we had heard during the rainy season it could take up to 24 hours! The bus was spacious and air conditioned and allowed us to see the difference in scenery as we travelled from south to north. At times it wasn’t the comfiest of journeys as we found out through experiencing a Ghanaian dirt track full of pot holes, which made life rather bumpy for a while. However, we all agreed that using a female urinal was easier than expected and something to write home about.

We awoke to our first morning in Tamale to the 5am prayer calls, and resident chickens and goats. This alarm clock serves us well for our early starts during the week. Our first tour of Tamale introduced us to the culture we would be living in for the next six weeks; a one where cars, taxis, motorbikes, bicycles, people, chickens and goats all have right of way on the road; a one where people are friendly and welcoming; a one where it’s disrespectful to greet with your left hand, and a one where ‘Silminga’ (white person) is chanted from the excited local children everywhere we go.

The town centre’s abundant market stalls felt like a colourful maze full of unfamiliar smells and sights, for instance all of the women with their babies on their backs and their shopping on their heads. To our surprise we managed to weave our way through without causing any accidents!

One of the things that struck us most was how quickly it became dark. By seven o’clock it was pitch black but the town was still bustling with stalls selling street food, phone credit, flip flops and anything else you could need for life in Tamale. On this day we also saw how all activity stops as soon as the rain starts; justifiably so, considering we waded through a muddy river leading to our front door from the taxi drop off.

The first supermarket shop provided us with some home comforts (a tub of Mayo and some Nescafé) and a few dietary adjustments (powdered milk and many tins of beans). Our second shop was more adventurous though and we were able to attempt the making of groundnut soup with yam; a work still in progress.

So, currently we are enjoying settling into our new home and our friendly neighbours have been happy to help us learn the local language, Dagbani. However their instructions for the making of the groundnut soup must have fallen on confused ears..

First impressions in a nutshell: lively, extreme and welcoming.

Welcome to the Lively Minds Blog!

In a few weeks time 7 fantastic volunteers from the UK, Australia and America will be heading out to Tamale in Northern Ghana to spend 6 weeks working alongside our experienced local staff to set-up from scratch a community-run educational Play Scheme in a deprived rural village.

Watch this space for updates, photos and news from their trip!

If you are interested in volunteering for Lively Minds visit our website at www.livelyminds.org/volunteer to find out more!