Sitting here in my room in the Lively Minds house in Tamale, life is calm. The bustle and stress of my normal everyday life seems to have disappeared and instead has been replaced by relative peace and the occasional sound of a goat bleating. Things seem to move at a different pace here, almost as if time has slowed down. Everything takes far longer than ‘normal’ and I’m slowly growing accustomed to waiting over an hour after I have ordered food for it to arrive. Travelling anywhere, even down the road seems to take much longer and I’ve learnt that patience is the key. This is Ghana.
I’ve been volunteering with the Lively Minds team in Ghana for about two weeks now and it has been an incredible experience. During the week we travel by motorbike (or motion-sickness inducing tro-tro) to two remote communities about an hour away from Tamale. Within these communities we are setting up a play centre to be run by the local women, and a reading scheme to take place in the local school. Arriving in these communities is an experience in itself. As soon as the kids see us, they rush out to greet us and we commonly find ourselves trapped in a throng of excited, smiling children wanting to say hello. Disentangling yourself from this commotion can be rather tricky, especially if they notice you have a camera. Endless posing for the camera ensues until one of the locals chases the kids away so we can start our work.
Working in the reading scheme can be challenging because not all the children understand English very well and prefer to speak in their native Dagbani. Despite this, it’s amazing how much you can get across through simple actions and pointing. Spending time with the children is rewarding, but my favourite part of this trip has been interacting with the women in the play centre. These women have never been to school, are illiterate, and cannot speak English, which provides certain challenges when it comes to teaching them how to teach games. Additionally, in these remote communities, the roles and opinions of women are not held in high regard and women generally don’t speak in community meetings in the presence of men. As an Australian women who has always spoken up and been listened to, I find this incredibly frustrating.
Despite these obstacles, once you remove the local men from the equation it’s amazing how much you can teach through simple gestures and pointing. The excitement in the room amongst the women is contagious, and you really do get the sense that you are doing something positive for the community. Gradually the women are coming out of their shells and starting to realise that they can be influential, important members of the community. Slowly slowly my frustration is abating as these women grow more confident and I really hope that by the end of my time here I will have seen a calculable change in these women and that they truly are more empowered than they were when we arrived.