03 July, 2006

Charlotte tells it all 3.7.06


WOWIE, Ghana I love this place. I have been meaning to write this entry for about two months now but have not been able to get the time to sit down to write it. I guess that is a good sign about how much work there is to do out here. I have no idea how Lucie and Debbi find the time.


My name is Charlotte Rampton and I am an Africa Trust volunteer based in Kakumodo, Cape Coast. I arrived in Ghana on the 5th of April 2006. I am going to briefly (but I am very passionate about Ghana so I may go on a bit, if so I am sorry) describe my experience as a volunteer in Ghana, so far!

I am only going to be out in Ghana for three months, rather than the full six as the other three volunteers are. I could not come out in January as I intended due to my medical school applications. So when I arrived Lucie, Caroline, Matt and Debbi had already been out here for three months. It was very weird joining the team after they had been out so long, but I think that part of things all went very smoothly.



The flights out were ok. The flight from London to Milan was short and very bumpy. I thought I was going to throw up for most of it, the food was awful so I was dreading the proper meal on the next flight.

I got off the plane in a bit of a rush as I was feeling so awful. Then later in the airport when I decided that I wanted to buy some food I couldn't find my wallet. I had left it on the plane! Luckily the plane hadn't taken off yet so I went to the Alitalia desk and they managed to run and find it. I was SO lucky!

The next flight to Lagos (in Nigeria) was really good. I had booked a seat by the emergency exit in the hope that there would be more leg room, but it was the one at the front and there was a wall in front. So I had less leg room than all the other seats! Luckily the plane was really empty so I could move. I moved next to a girl from England who was going out to Nigeria to meet her boyfriend. We had a lovely chat about what we were both going to do in our various destinations. She couldn't believe that I was going to an Africa country by myself!

Then it dawned on me what I was doing ARGHHH I think that was the start of the fear. I think I had just got with things before that moment. Before I left I had so much to organize I didn’t have time to take stock of things, but the long flights gave me time to reflect on what I was about to embark on. It was definitely going to be an interesting experience!

The plane was very delayed by the time we left Milan and then it left Nigeria very late. I was starting to panic that the in-country directors and Lucie would have left the airport and that there would be nobody to meet me! Of course when I got out of the airport Lucie and Joe were there with big smiles. It was a huge relief, especially when Lucie handed me a bottle of cold water, priceless.

After visiting the Nukrumo memorial we got an STC to Cape coast. The journey was pretty long, four hours, and very hot (for someone who has just arrived from the wet UK it was). At this point I was very glad we had Charles and Joseph (the locals who help run Africa Trust from Accra) with us, they sorted everything out and made sure we didn't get ripped off as we were white. They are so friendly.

Eventually we arrived at Cape Coast then we got a taxi (these drivers are mad!) to the village where I will be staying for the next three months, it is called Kakumodo. It is a proper African village with huts and not much else. I was a bit worried that we would be based in the big city of Cape Coast and not get to grips with real African life. I didn't need to worry, we are seriously in the middle of it all! Which is a bit scary at times, but it is what I wanted.

Walking around the village is amazing. The guys who run CEJOCEP, (Center For Job Creation and Environmental Protection) who we are volunteering for, know absolutely everyone. It is a large village and normally takes about 20 minutes to walk from one side to the other, but if you walk across it in the middle of the day with Lucie or Caroline or the other people who run CEJOCEP then you have to stop every five meters to say hello to the children and adults (but mostly the children who come running at you at some speed!). They are all amazing people and so smiley.

Lucie has talked about CEJOCEP below so I will be brief. They are trying to build a school and have about a billion other projects that they want to do. For example build a training center for the village people, so that they can learn skills so that they can get work. They also want to build a clinic and zoo/botanical gardens. Basically anything that will help the community is in their plans.

I had a big welcome when I first arrived. A couple of the CEJOCEP and Africa Trust workers welcomed me. Then we went out for a drink. I was very scared about being outside at night/evening because of the mosquitoes. I think everyone goes through this initial paranoia when they first arrive in a foreign country, especially Africa. The following week Caroline and Lucie showed me around the local area.

My guided tour of the local area consisted of a visit to a local posh hotel, where we could swim in their pool and drink pineapple juice. This was great after rushing around for a couple of days in the heat. I definitely needed some relaxation time. The view along the beach of the seafront hotel was amazing.

I was very quickly falling in love with the country. I also met the chiefs of Kakumodo. I was very worried about doing this as there was so much hype surrounding the whole thing, but in actual fact it was a lot of fun. The formality made it all the more real for me. I was not so keen on drinking the gin that we had given to them as a present. It was very strong and made my eyes water!

The same evening that I met the chiefs I started feeling very ill. I am still not sure what it was, but it was most probably my body adjusting to the different environment. Being ill in such a foreign country was pretty horrid, but I got through it. I had a pretty bad first week.

As well as being ill I found out that I didn’t get into medical school. One night I was so down that I decided that I was going to go home. One of my best friends at home managed to persuade me that I should stick it out for a while. I am sooooo glad I did. I think everyone who goes aboard for a fairly substantial amount of time gets homesick, it was just bad timed for me that I got it all at once. I got through it and now I am out the other side things are a lot more positive.


Another thing that put a dampener on my first couple of weeks in Ghana was the whole controversy that surrounded what I was meant to be doing out here. I had intended to spend six months working in a third world country volunteering. As I had experience of working in a hospital I had intended to do voluntary work in hospitals.

I wanted to set up art workshops and do sort of occupational therapy style stuff on a children’s ward. As I am a passionate sports person, I thought I could use that love to create sports events at orphanages. (I didn’t want to come out here and teach as I haven’t got any experience with teaching and it wasn’t something I was passionate about). This was my plan, which I thought I had communicated this to the Africa Trust director.

However, a communication break-down somewhere along the line meant that everyone in Kakumodo thought I was coming out here to teach at CEJOCEP international school and help build the school, as Lucie and Caroline have been doing. It took me a couple of days to realize that this was the case. Initially I was very confused about what people were saying, then I got ill so things got even more confusing.

It was about a week into my time in Ghana before I could say anything to anyone about what had happened and by this time I had fallen in love with CEJOCEP and its plans. This made it all the more harder to tell Lucie, Caroline and the CEJOCEP founders that I didn’t want to work with them. In the end I found a middle ground and divided my time between all the projects. It was a very horrid experience, as I really wanted to help CEJOCEP, but I also wanted to be true to myself (and my sponsors) by doing what I had come out here to do. Luckly the CEJOCEP founders are absolutely amazing people.

They helped to find a placement in a hospital. They spent so much time trying to find contacts in one of the local hospitals, meeting and greeting them with me, sorting out all the references and NGO stuff. They were in effect helping me to spend less time helping their organistion, but still they put their heart into helping me. I can't believe how amazing they are.

They want the volunteers to be happy in their work. They understand that if we are happy we work harder and enjoy the whole experience a lot more.

We visited two hospitals. The University of Cape Coast Hospital, which is a pretty small but beautiful. The regional Hospital, which is massive but very close to where we live. I felt as if I could do more to help in the larger hospital, but as it turned out they wanted to charge me $200 just to be a volunteer. I think they have had too many "volunteers" who actually turn out to be people who just want to follow Doctors around and get a sort of “work experience” out here. I guess if I was trying to do that it is fair to charge for the extra time the nurses and doctors would use up in showing me around.

I tried to explain to the managers of the regional hospital that I wasn't coming here to follow doctors around and that I wanted to HELP the nurses. Try to make their job easier in any way I can and attempt to improve the horrid hospital experience for the patients/children, even if it involved changing bed pans all day (I am used to that!). The CEJOCEP leaders were completely against paying to volunteer and were offended that someone from their country would ask me to pay to give them my time.

In the end it all turned out ok as the university hospital were amazingly welcoming. Ever since I was handed over to one of their equivalents of a nursing auxiliary (my old job title in the UK) called Dora, it has been amazing working with them. They are so friendly and were so pleased to see someone new coming to help them. After my tour around the pretty small hospital, (about the size of the hospital I used to work in, so it was the perfect for me) I went to the children's ward to try to help out there.

It is not easy to volunteer out here, you have to push very hard to get them to let you do any work. Because I am white they have this sort of idea (I don't know how else to word this but I don't mean it literally) that you are above them, or that they want to be friendly and welcoming to you and treat you well, so they don't want you to do any hard work. It took a lot of time to explain to them that I am here to do hard work and I can cope with it! As I say it is not easy (this is a very common saying out here, as things are seriously not easy)!


About a week after I arrived the other two Africa Trust volunteers, Matt and Debbi came to Kakumodo. They were leaving their previous project as it had all turned nasty where they were working. After our two week tour of the country they were heading to a new project near Kumasi. It was great to see them again. I had only met them once before we came out.

They helped show me around some more and we went to the local tourist attraction called Kakum National Park. This forest has a rope walkway high up in the trees. It is very high, so only Matt volunteered to take me up! It was a bit scary at times, when the rope stated to shake a lot because someone else was behind me, but it was defiantly worth doing. The view from the tree tops was amazing. I also loved being in my first proper rain forest.

On Easter Sunday Lucie and I went to church. It was amazing, so colorful and their singing was so loud and full of energy. There was a huge collection twice during the six hour (!) service. This worried me a bit as I knew that all the money would go to the church, rather than poor people, which I think it should go to. But that is how things are done out here.

Another thing which I think is wrong, is that a lot of people don’t go to church as they can’t afford to donate anything, so they would rather just not go than embarrass themselves. I think this is very sad, but it’ll take a lot to change how the church does things.

On Easter Monday, Caroline, Sly, Lawrence and myself went to Brenu beach. There was a huge beach party. People from all over Ghana came to party and swim in the sea. There were so many people. It was very much like a lot of festivals I have been to at home, with young people everywhere.

On Tuesday the 18th of April we started out ten-day tour of the country. This stated
with a Tro-Tro (the only way I can describe them is a large mini bus, with two seats either side of the isle and then people sat in seats in the isle, Ghanaians defiantly like to pack people in and get their money’s worth!). We decided to sit on the back seat, which turned out to be a very bad idea, as there was hardly any leg-room. The four hour journey was very painful! But we got to Kumasi eventually.

In Kumasi we went to a lot of museums, which were very interesting. We learnt a lot about the Ashanti people and their fighting against the British Colonists. The Ghanaians were also made to fight in the war at Burma, there were loads of detailed pictures, which was very interesting.

The next day we got a STC bus (very posh coach, with air conditioning!) up to Tamale. This took seven hours, so I was very glad we took the more expensive option! Tamale did not have much to offer us, so the next day at 3am we got a Tro Tro to Mole national park. This place was amazing.

We stayed in a hotel that had a swimming pool and a view over the whole park, including the watering hole below. We sat by the pool reading and looking up at the elephants bathing in the pool. AMAZING. The next day we had to get up very early, for our early morning Safri walk. We saw elephants from about 2/3 meters away, that was awesome. They just carried on with what they were doing and took no notice of us.

We saw lots of Baboons (that had stolen my lunch the previous day and Lucie tried to fight them off), antelope, birds, crocodiles and many more animals. It was amazing doing the four hour walk and stumbling across more and more animals. Getting up close to the watering holes and seeing the elephants was one of the best things I have seen.

Then that afternoon we hired bikes (with not much of a brake so I was very fearful for our lives!) and cycled to the local village of Larabagna. This village has the oldest mosque in Ghana. The Mosque was good to look at, but the thing I enjoyed the most was wondering around the village and meeting all the villagers.

I was very shocked to find out that they did not have a clinic and then how far away the nearest one is. I really wanted to spend my time in Ghana at that village
as I loved it so much and I felt the people there needed my help more than they do in Cape Coast. But the project in Cape Coast is so amazing and has some great leaders that I couldn’t let them down.

We then spent a day on two tro-tros. We were very tried after all the traveling on dirt roads and were VERY red! We decided to stay in Bimbila for an extra day. One of the German girls who decided to travel with us had met a local nurse on the tro-tro.

He showed us around the hospital and the village. It was amazing to see the hospital, well maybe not amazing as it was so moving, but it was definitely an experience I won’t forget. The hospital was pretty empty as the nurses were on strike over pay, but the patients that were there, will be in my thoughts for a long time. I couldn’t believe how expensive the treatment is for the Ghanaians (in terms of how much they get paid it is massive), I have no idea how people afford it. Well a lot of people don’t and have to go without treatment. Which is very sad.

On Tuesday (25th) we got a tro-tro to Ho Hoe. The journey was very bumpy, but the views were amazing. We went from arid flat country to hilly/mountainous lush countryside. It was awesome. Then yesterday we went to the highest water fall in Ghana. Seeing it from the bottom was not enough for me, so we decided to climb to the top of the first waterfall and swim in the bottom of the top waterfall (this involved a lot of sweat!). The climb (literally) up was very hard and I thought we were not going to make it, but we did and it was amazing.

The next day we climbed to the top of the tallest mountain in Ghana. It didn’t take as long as the previous days climb (6hours to the top of the waterfall and 4 hours to the top of the mountain), but it was also very steep. The panoramic view from the top was worth it we could even see as far as lake Volta (there were loads of flies at the top though which made it feel horrid to stand still and enjoy the view).

We ended our tour with a trip to the beach resort of Kokrobite. This place was a great way to end our tour. It had everything, from freshly squeezed pineapple juices to cauliflower cheese (this is something I am really missing). The beach was gorgeous. The sea was great to swim in, although we did have problems with the very strong currents when Lucie got swept out to sea. Luckily my fears that I would never see her again did not come true and she came back into shore a little further down the beach.


As the hospital stuff was not sorted when we got back from our tour, I spent the next week teaching with Caroline and Lucie. My first day at school was very interesting.

I had no idea how I was going to remember all the children's names. For the first day I got them to write on sticky labels, even this was harder than I thought it would be, as some of them couldn't even do that without a lot of help. I could see this was going to be a very interesting couple of months ahead of me.

We were initially (Caroline and Lucie had been for the last three months) teaching outside as the school building had no roof. I was amazed at how hard it was to keep the children's attention, impossible even! I like to think it was because we were outside, but I guess three to six year olds are not interested in numbers for more than about five minutes.

Caroline, Lucie and I had all the children together for my first day so that I could get to know them. The next couple of days were even more interesting as the class got split in two. Caroline had the younger ones and Lucie had the older/clever ones (some of the younger children are in the older class and visa versa). I just switch between the two.

The schooling system is very different here to in the UK. Children do not go to school if their parents can't afford it. Yes, the Government schools are free, but the parents still have to pay for books, school uniform and food. Also if they send their children to school it means that they are not earning money for the family. So there are a lot of older children in the same class as the younger ones. This has taken me a long time to adjust to.

The older children should be so much cleverer than they are, it is very frustrating to see a four year old child doing here alphabet and then the six/seven year old sat next to here that can't even write most of the letters. It is very upsetting that all the children do not have equal opportunities.

I was expecting things to get a lot better in terms of behavior once the children got used to me, but it didn't really happen. It just got a little easier to tell them off when they started fighting, mostly because I was learning Fante.

We are all against using the cane, which every teacher out here uses (expect the volunteers from abroad). It is the only thing that they respect so it is very hard for us to come in and get them to behave when they know that we will never cane them. We are working along the lines of respect rather than fear. I guess looking back on things, two months on, the children are much better behaved now. We just have to look upset and disappointed with them and they try to impress / cheer us up. So it sort of works!

It didn't take me as long as I thought it would to learn their names. They all have such different personalities that you can tell who is who. I have slowly learnt how to recognise the differences between the sea of Ghanaians that I meet each day. (At first when I was meeting all the children and people in the village I had no idea whether I had met that person before or not.) It was very funny for them at times. But they have similar problems, i.e. when they see one white girl walking through the village they often shout out the wrong name. We all look the same to them, even though we are all very different.

Lawrence, one of the CEJOCEP founders, gave me my induction course. Which consisted of a weeks worth of two hour Fante (the local dialect) lessons and then a weeks worth of two hour social and culture studies lessons. These were so useful, especially the Fante lessons. It was very weird being sat at the same black board that I was teaching at that morning. Lawrence also used a very Ghanaian approach to teaching that I was not used to.

It was great being taught Fante at the same time as trying to teach the children English. I could sympathise with them so much more! Even the alphabet I found very hard and it is very similar to the English one! I am so glad I spent those days working on it, it has really paid off. I know so much more Fante because of it. Even on the way to this internet cafe I had a short conversation with the taxi driver. Then when he asked how long I have been here and I said two months, he was very impressed. When things like that happen it makes it all worth while.


My routine now is that I spend three mornings/days a week working at the hospital and then two mornings helping Caroline or Lucie teach. Then in the afternoons I help with the building of the school or anything else CEJOCEP needs me to do. I am also going to an orphanage on Sunday afternoons and playing with the children there.

I spent my first week at the hospital at the children's ward, doing not much except playing with the children and fetching and carrying stuff, but that was all they needed me to do at that time because they only had four patients most of the time! The following weeks I helped out at the anti-natal clinic, then the young babies clinic. That was great.

I spent a whole day weighing hundreds of babies. They use a Newton meter and put the babies in small flour sacks with handles attached. They were all so cute and it was great to be working hard. Even though I was knackered after it all, it felt as if I had achieved something. It is often the case out here that volunteers feel as if what they are doing is not worthwhile and they feel that what they are doing could have been easily done by someone else.

I have spoken to many volunteers who have had these thoughts, but I guess we just have to keep telling ourselves that we ARE making a difference, even if it is small. We are not going to see the difference on a day to day basis as we are so involved in it. We all just want to help people out here so much, that when we can't see the changes we get frustrated.

I also spent a day on the out-reach project, where the clinic was taken to a small village and we spent the day weighing the babies and the nurses gave the mothers and babies their jabs and a check-up. That was a great morning. It was good helping a poor community and not just those that work at the university or who can afford to pay to get to the hospital.


The work in the afternoon is pretty demanding. Making cement blocks and moving rubble out of classrooms takes a lot out of you. Doing the work myself makes me appreciate HOW much work they have done already. The boys who come and help build the school in the afternoon are not paid and do not have any reason to be there except that they want to help their community and believe in the vision of CEJOCEP. I love them all and they work SOOO hard.

The day the roof went on, was a great day. I don't think I have ever seen Sly, Teresa and Lawrence so happy. They were all so to have reached this landmark in their project. Their vision was starting to become a reality, at a very fast pace. It was going to make so much of a difference being able to teach the children inside a class room. Lawrence constructed benches for the children to sit on out of cement blocks and planks of wood. This meant that the children could have their own space to sit, not have to share chairs and have somewhere flat to put their books, rather than on their laps.

Another very good day for CEJOCEP was when their internet site finally went online www.cejocep.org
They are so excited at the idea that their organisation is now international because of the website. Have a look and see what you think, it needs some work to add more photos and to update the fact that they have got THREE volunteers from the UK!!


My time out here has not been straight forward, with all the hickups over the what I was actually doing, being sick when I first arrived, not getting into medical school, problems with not being able to access money, but it has still been very enjoyable and rewarding. Then just to make sure I had truly experience the true Africa I caught Malaria!

On the day that I went on the out-reach project I started feeling really sick, hot and had stomach cramps. I got myself home as quickly as I could, then the aches all over my body started. I thought it was just a cold or something like that. Then when Lucie came home she saw me and pointed out that it could be Malaria, this had not crossed my mind before that as I didn't feel too bad until the afternoon. Dora, my nurse friend from the hospital came round and took Lucie and I to the hospital.

I had a blood test and it confirmed the doctors suspicion that it was Malaria. It is ALWAYS Malaria out here. About 80% of the children’s ward cases are Malaria. It is a horrid disease. I was given some tablets and an injection for pain relief in my bottom (that hurts!) and sent home. It was great knowing everyone in the hospital as they treated me very quickly, didn't charge me and sent me home in the ambulance (they only use it to collect the night nurses and take patients for X-rays to the larger regional hospital, it is not used as in the UK, to collect patients, they have to make their own way to the hospital).

I don't know how people cope going to the large and very busy regional hospital. They have to queue for hours and hours to see a doctor (and many are much sicker than I was and can't even stand). Then they have the worry about whether they can afford the treatment that the doctor recommends. I hate the whole idea that people have to pay for their treatment and the fact that people don’t seek treatment because they are too poor. This really upsets me. The NHS does have its problems, but my experience out here has made me love it.

I got home and then spent the next week in bed or sitting around the house. It took me a long time to get my energy back. It was very frustrating doing nothing for a week when I know I don't have long left out here. I am a lot better now and have been back at work for two weeks now. Hopefully all the Malaria parasites are gone, but with Plasmodium (the parasite that causes malaria) it can stay in ones liver forever and come back at random moments, which is a really annoying!

The day after I feel ill Lucie collapsed, it was very scary that she got so ill. Our house was not a nice place to be for a while. We had loads of well wishers call by to see how we both were, it made us appreciate how many friends we have made out here. It made me very sad when I thought about how we are going to have to leave them all behind in not too long.


I have also managed to visit a local orphanage. I have only been twice now. It is a pretty rich orphanage as it has been set up by a family from America. However, even though they have lots of toys to play with it seems they don’t have very many people around to spend time with the children. This is where I come in. Well at least I am trying to come in. I haven’t been able to spend as much time there as I would have liked, for one reason or another.

When I do go in I have been playing rounders, cards and making lego houses with them. It is great to spend time with such amazing children. They have been through so much, but still are amazingly smiley and generous.

Since working at the hospital I have noticed that the nurses do not comply to the same infection control procedures that we do in the UK. For example they use the same thermometer for all the patients in the ward and do not wash it or their hands in-between patients. So I am planning to do an infection control awareness day. I am hoping to get some posters sent out from my old hospital in Bath and stick some of these up. Hopefully it will make a difference and reduce the number of hospital acquired infections.


Last week I went up to Kumasi, one of the major cities up north. The other two Africa Trust Volunteers are working up there, so we (Lucie, Sly and Lawrence) went up to visit them and see their project. They are working for an NGO called TACCO. Debbie is writing all about it so I won’t step on her toes. Basically they have got a great project that they are getting stuck into up there.

We also visited Lake Bosomtwe The lake is gorgeous and well worth the visit. Although on the way home we had a lot of trouble trying to get a taxi. The wait reminded me that we are in Ghana and things often don’t run smoothly! In the evening we stayed with one of Sly's friends, who took us out to dinner and bought everything. The tradition of buying everything if you invite someone out is a great one, but it does make us bankrupt sometimes! We stayed with the family. It was great sleeping on the floor with all the girls and the babies, we felt like we were really accepted.


When we got back from Kumasi, Caroline, Lucie and myself took out Sly, Lawrence, Teressa and Esther for a meal to say a huge thank you for all they have done for us and making us so welcome. It also served as a bit of a goodbye dinner before the American’s arrived. This was really sad. However, we did have a lovely meal. I loved the fact that we were all sat around the same table eating and talking. I don’t think we have all sat down to a meal together before.

It is always Teressa who does our cooking and we never get to appreciate it in front of her. She is an amazing woman. We had lots of speeches and evaluations about our time here, how it could be improved for the next volunteers. We came to the conclusion that on CEJOCEP’s part it could not be improved upon :) They are great.

We were having such a lovely evening and them my mother phoned, so I went outside the spot to phone her back as the music was way too loud inside. After a ten minute conversation we said goodbye and then I started to text my dad. When a small by came and snatched the phone from my hand. It was horrid. I ran after him shouting that I would give him money if he gave me the phone back. I was shouting so loud, but nobody came to help me. He ran into a very dark field and I had no idea whether he had other bigger boys with him, so I stopped and ran back to the spot to get Lawrence to chase after him.

We spent about two hours combing the area for the boy, but he got away. Lawrence and Sly were so angry and the boy and did everything within their power to try and find the phone, but it was gone. It was such a horrid experience, especially since I had said to Caroline the previous week that I felt safer here than I do in the UK.

It feels like such a safe country and I hate the fact that I no longer feel as safe and secure as I did before. Never mind, these things happen for a reason. My dad believes that it is because it is a lesson to teach me how to stop relying on my phone. I guess it will be very good for me to not have a phone for two weeks!


Ok So I have written an essay, I am sorry! I hope you found some of it interesting. I am sorry for any SPAG mistakes, I am a scientist! Well that is my excuse and I am sticking to it! I am feeling very sad about going home in two weeks, but I guess all good things have to come to an end at some point.


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