When Gemma went to Ghana


Meet Gemma.  She’s been on a volunteering trip to Ghana…and is here to share her story with us.  And it’s a good one!  Not forgetting the longest blog post I have ever written!  High five to Gemma for that one.  I have known Gemma all her life.  We used to be next door neighbours and Gemma was the first {and maybe the only ?!} non-family member we trusted to look after our babies.  I had to laugh when I listened back to the recording I made when we got together.  I actually said to her “I’m not sure if your mam knows this story…but I dropped your brother when you were babies…” {she’s a twin, if you don’t know}…I mean, who says that?!  Or more importantly…who does that?!  Gemma also knows how to plan a good  hen weekend, just ask her mam.  She’s an all round good egg.  Anyway, Ghana!  Here’s her story.

ghana 14

How did it come about?

Well, I’ve always wanted to do something like this. When I was 15 years old, someone came into our school and did a presentation on volunteering and how you can do it abroad and to put this on your CV when trying for Universities. From this I had this fantastic idea of visiting orphanages in Asia. Obviously that wasn’t very realistic. As all of my friends were away at University and I was in University {studying Youth and Community Work} but at home, I basically felt that, as I was working too, my student loan was being wasted, so that’s when I decided to do something with the money. I wanted to add something to my ‘Uni days at home’, instead of just being ‘at home’. 

Did you go through a charity? And did you have to raise funds etc?

I went through a company called ‘Original Volunteers’. {Find out all about it on their website}. I paid them a joining fee to register, booked it all through them and they invoiced me for accommodation and airport pick up. I booked the flights and informed them when I was arriving etc.

snowdonI also decided to raise funds, for the items I wanted to take with me, by walking up Snowdon {pictured above}. I managed to raise £400 and used this money to buy paint, pens, skipping ropes, bubbles, frizbees, balls, balloons etc. for the kids. I used the rest to buy waterpumps while I was out there. I also bought sports day equipment so that we could have a sports day with the kids, sticker books and loom bands, which they didn’t quite get the hang of, so I made my classroom a loom band each on my last day there. Obviously, I took a welsh flag for them too!

welsh flag

So what work did you do while you were out there?

I did two weeks of teaching in the school in the community village {8am til 12pm, in the afternoon they would be taught in their own language} and a week and a half of conservation work…although I’m not sure why I thought I could do that, because I was really bad at it! But I mainly taught them English and Maths but also did a lot of art lessons as they haven’t got the right equipment to teach them those sort of lessons. But whatever we taught them, we made sure it was creative. I always prepared for the day’s lessons the previous evening. There were local people living with us making sure we got off to the right projects in the morning and every Sunday there would be a house meeting.


The schools out there have got teachers, but unfortunately, the teachers are illiterate {couldn’t spell or didn’t know the names of the week correctly}, so when they’re teaching the kids, they are teaching them wrong. We were told that we needed to correct this, but obviously in a nice way. So we’d watch them for a day and a half to see how they taught and take it from there.


We held a sport day while we were out there, which the kids absolutely loved! There was a girl there within our team from Pwllheli, and she bought one of the those colourful parachutes out with her and we played games with that too.


Some afternoons we would do house visits. This is where we would go and see local families and speak to them, get to know them and see what we could do for them. There was one family where the Grandparent was looking after the children as their mother {his daughter} had disappeared. He was really old, ill with cancer and ever so fragile. There was nothing they could do for him as they simply didn’t have the resources out there. So we’d go there, make him comfortable and give him paracetamol etc.

Freds story

And there was Fred and his family. Fred would make and sell his own bracelets for 5 cedi. Fred was one of 7 children {with another on the way} and he was making more money on the bracelets than his mam was in a week. And being young he didn’t realise the value of money and was spending it on rubbish, basically. So we decided to give him some advice. We told him with every bracelet he sold, keep one cedi for himself and put the other 4 in a pot. At the end of the week, we’d take him shopping into town to get supplies for him and his family to show him what other things and uses he could buy. Once he realised what he was able to provide for his family, he was loving it. Through this we got to know the family and learnt that his mum wanted to have her own hut to make her own bread and sell it. Since coming home, I have heard that Fred and his family have managed to save enough money to buy the wood and one of the volunteers out there {who is a carpenter} is going to build the hut for them!

*Can we all just take a moment to appreciate this story, please.

Done? Ok, let’s carry on.*

We would visit the really poor villages, too. On the way we’d stop and get food, worming tablets for the kids, drinks etc. and get there and just give it all to the villagers. That was the best bit for me. At one village we visited, we asked them what could they benefit from? As they only had one toilet for the whole village, which was just a hole in the floor, their request was for a private toilet. And as far as I am aware, that is being sorted out for them.

Everyone had a child that they connected with. While she was out there, Gemma was known as ‘Madame Welsh’ by one 3 year old.

Do you need any qualifications to be able to do this type of work?

No. It helps that they’re English is ace and we taught them through the medium of English.

Did you know any of the people you were going with or get a chance to meet them before you left for Ghana?

I went with one of my friends who I was in school with. But as for everyone else going on the same trip, I had never met them before. I did get to chat with a few who were going on the facebook “buddy page” which is set up specifically to inform you who you are travelling with.


What was your ‘home’ like while you were there?

We lived on top of a mountain in a rainforest. On the internet it sounded great, wi-fi, toilets, showers etc. but the reality was no wi-fi, no running water, toilet but no water and a shower was a bucket of water from outside! We only had electric for a couple of days, because in Ghana, once they use too much electric it just blows because they can’t cope with it all. While we were there it was the World Cup, so if Ghana were playing that evening, they would save all of their electricity for the game. Being there for that was such good fun, the atmosphere was great! There were four volunteer houses all together and we’d all go to one and watch the game together.

Did you work weekends too, or were they for you to do whatever you wanted?

The weekends were ours, so we made sure we did something every weekend. Because we lived in the middle of nowhere, doing something on the weekend meant we had to travel for around ten hours on a Friday evening to get somewhere. And then the same to get back on Sunday evening. We’d go shopping as there were stalls set up everywhere. I got myself some Ghanaian trousers {which I recently wore on our reunion trip in Liverpool}, a drum, paintings, bag etc. You could get custom made clothes, where you would choose your material, get measured up for whatever item of clothing you wanted and it would be yours for around £4 in our money! The roads were awful. So bad and bumpy, so bad at times that it make me feel really sick. The truck they sent would hold 12 people, but the minimum in each one would be 17!

{hmm…sounds like the old days heading out to Ruthin on a Saturday night to me!}…


Speaking of ‘sick’, did you get homesick?

Yeah, I did. But it was worth it at the same time. I’d just kind of pull myself together and tell myself “Come on, you’re in Africa! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, just get on with it!”

Would you go again?

I would do it again, but not in Ghana. As much as I loved it, I feel that I’ve done that and so if I was to get the opportunity to do it again, I’d go somewhere like Thailand…where I would also like to do the ‘touristy thing’.

What have you taken/learnt from your experience?

The little things, like a shower! Before I went, I really wanted a new car and I’d only had my current one for 6 months. But now I’m thinking I’m not going to buy a new one until I have run this one to the ground! I thought this ‘lesson’ would only last a few weeks, but I still think the same. The worth of things, you know? The whole trip was just a massive eye opener! Also, the Ghanaians are soo laid back! Seriously! Like when we were making our way back to the airport, which was a 3 hour drive, our taxi guy told us he just wanted to make a quick stop to see his mate. It turns out he wanted to stop to sort his mate’s car out! 45 minutes we waited for him! And we waited 2 hours for a meal in a restaurant one evening too! It’s not a bad thing though really, and we didn’t see any sort of trouble whatsoever while we were there.


Would you encourage/recommend others to do this type of work?

Definitely, but your heart has got to be in it. Don’t go there expecting a holiday! You’ve got to be mentally prepared. It’s tiring, the mozzies drive you mad and you do miss home.

You’re recently had a reunion with those that you went with. What was it like to see everyone again and in totally different circumstances?

I was worried that it was going to be awkward maybe, but I shouldn’t have worried at all. These people, these friends that I’m sure I will be friends forever with, I have gone through things with these people that I will probably never go through with my best friends! They see the best and the worst of you – it really is an emotional rollercoaster out there. It amazed me how close you can get to some people when you are thrown into situations like this with them. In Ghana, we all had different issues/worries we were dealing with at home and yet there, they all seemed to vanish. Whether that had something to do with those issues being irrelevant when you are in somewhere like Ghana, I don’t know. But, I suppose, we were so focused on the job we had to do out there, that we didn’t have time to think of other things. And when we had our reunion in Liverpool, the same issues/worries disappeared again! It was such a nice feeling. Just a great feeling amongst everyone there. Friends forever, definitely. I’m trying to arrange a trip in January too, for us all to get together.


Now, I’ve got to mention your Mam, otherwise she won’t be happy at all…but how was she with the whole idea of you going to Ghana?

She wasn’t too happy about it when I booked it, but soon got used to the idea. There were a few tears when I left her at the airport! She was in on my plan to surprise Alun {boyfriend} when I got home. I text him to say there would be a Special Delivery arriving at his on the Sunday, which was going to be me! Little did I know that she was in on his plan to surprise me at the airport too! I should’ve guessed when she texted me saying “Make sure you look nice” and I was all like, “I’ve been travelling for hours, look a mess etc. etc.!” She told me it was for the pictures…so when I got back to the airport, we were hugging, crying etc. She had instructions to meet me at the airport with some pop, a packet of crisps and a chocolate bar, she greeted me with two of these items. And then Alun came round the corner with my chocolate bar!

See?  I told you it was a good one!  And a huge thanks to Gemma for telling us all about it, what a star!

2 thoughts on “When Gemma went to Ghana

  1. What a fab experience for Gemma and it’s so true the way it changes your live in little ways. Even now not a week goes by when I’m not earthed by our trip to Accra, you appreciate things so much more x

Leave a Reply to mascara & mud Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.