Written by Ute Katharina Droege
My name is Katharina I am 18 years old and from Hamburg, a city in the north of Germany. Since the 29th of August, I have been working as a volunteer with the Fafali Organization. But let me start one year ago. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, I was not able to start my exchange year in the US after 10th grade that is why I changed my plans and decided to do a gap year after finishing high school and before going to university. I quickly realized that I wanted to do voluntary service abroad, but there was still the question of which country. For many young people from Europe like myself, Canada, the US, Australia, or New Zeeland are the countries you go to after graduating high school.
But I saw this gap year as the ultimate chance to see something different, a culture and a way of life that is very different from the life I have lived so far in Germany. Africa was a continent to which I had no connection, so I wanted to learn more about it. After some more research, Ghana seemed to me as the “Africa for beginners” for foreigners especially from Europe, because of their safety, political situation, and their English language. So, one year ago I applied for voluntary service in Ghana with the exchange organization, AFS, without having an idea of which project I would work on, in which city I would live or who was going to be my host family.
The whole year after I applied was just for preparation. I graduated high school and finally, in August this year, I began to realize sooner than later, I would be moving to Africa. We had two preparation camps back in Germany, I went to Berlin to get my Visa and had to say goodbye to my friends, my family, and my home in Hamburg.
On 24th August, the day I had always looked forward to for so long was here. I drove to the airport with my family without really realizing that I would not be at home for at least half a year. Here it must be said that I have never been more than two weeks away from home and I have never traveled outside of Europe before. The adventure began when we walked outside the airport in Accra and felt the Ghanaian environment for the first time. Different from what I expected, it was not that muggy and hot.
When we drove through Accra’s evening traffic in a car with 14 volunteers and all our luggage, we quickly realized that even driving a car is a different experience. It was only during the orientation days with AFS that I understood that this environment will now be my new home, which meant as many emotions as I have ever felt. I found myself between a thirst for adventure and tears because I did not know how I would ever manage to build a happy life here. Of course, there were also situations that meant a culture shock for me. For example, our tour to the Makola Market in Accra. Speaking from my perspective, no preparation camp can actually prepare you to walking in the noisy market, the scorching sun, and you experiencing the different kinds of smells, everyone wants to sell you something, and some people staring at you because you look different.
On Sunday the 28th of August, I finally met my host family, it took some time to know all their names, but they welcomed me very well. From the first day, I was a real part of the family and typically in Ghana, my host mum called me Akuvi. This is my Ghanaian-Ewe name for the day I was born, in my case the female version of a Wednesday born.
The first day of work followed and I got welcomed by the very lovely team of the Fafali Organization. They welcomed me as a new member of the family, and it is true, I found my second home in this organization and its members. Because of their support I had the opportunity to make my worries about how I would ever manage to build a happy life in my new home area worries of the past.
I got directly involved and had the chance to attend two events in the community. A community gathering where ideas to develop the community were discussed by locals and an education leadership summit with the local headmasters and the teachers of the schools. There, I already saw the impact of this organization on the community, and how they involve as many people as possible to make a difference together. Every day I am learning, I hear new stories and slowly get to know what the struggles are in this community.
People come by the office and see the Fafali Organization as a helping hand for everyone and everything because there is no helping system where people from the community can go to. But one month is a very short period and it takes some, more than a month to really understand the culture and to get to know more about the people.
For two weeks now I have started the athletics group called ‘Fit for Fun’. Every Tuesday and Thursday we train with about 15 to 20 kids. By playing sportive games, and slowly getting into the athletics discipline. One more aspect Ghana taught me so far is to be creative. Accordingly, I cut some boxes to have small hurdles and in the next weeks, I will prepare tennis balls to be able to undertake the throwing disciplines. Working with kids means you have an impact from the beginning. The Fit for fun is not only about the one-hour training twice a week, it is also about the children’s social skills and everything that comes along with it. For me, they are the gateway to the community, as we seek to know their families, and the problems they encounter every day.
Also typical here in Ghana is, that whenever I walk through the community, I see children looking at me and saying the words ‘Obroni, Obroni’ which means white foreigners. I say hello to them and see their happy face. I just started my volunteer work, but I hope that with my experiences I can have a positive impact on some of these kids and their families. Every day I wake up and I am happy to start my work at the Fafali office but on Saturday mornings I cannot wait for the next week to begin. I am very thankful to be part of the Fafali team, about my tasks and I cannot wait for the upcoming months.
Thank you for reading!