Wow! What an experience!! It is safe to say once I graduated university, I was unsure on what I wanted to do next. But I have always wanted to go travelling and exploring however it had not worked out before. But when I saw the Future Stars charity (https://www.futurestarscharity.org.uk/) it seemed the perfect opportunity. After speaking to Future Star’s Director Simon, it confirmed to me that I had to grab this opportunity and go to Ghana.
My adventure began with a comfortable flight across to Ghana (unlike some of the volunteers I met – PS don’t fly TAP). I was warmly greeted at the airport by King and Richmond. Immediately quashing any nerves or doubts and instantly making me feel at home. I arrived at night so the next day my true adventures began. I was given a tour of the local area which helped me to establish my bearings, the nearest shops and facilities. My volunteering experience had truly begun attending my first football session too.
I have always loved football and only recently got involved with the coaching side in the last few years. I knew that this was the perfect opportunity to use some of the skills I have gained whilst continuing to develop as a coach and make a difference.
Typically, my day would begin by coaching the New Life Academy boys alongside Mickey. These boys are very talented and all dream to become footballers one day. It was very enjoyable making tough sessions that would challenge them and help them to improve and develop. I also got the opportunity to attend some of the matches and help prepare them for games and offer advice. The boys are incredibly grateful for all the sessions and all the support and advice they can get which was very rewarding to see. I know that all the boys have the ability and determination to one day become professional and with New Life and the support in place I am sure that the opportunities will continue to grow the boys.
I loved my time coaching the boys and it was extremely valuable for me as a coach as it made me think about my sessions and the focus and I can’t wait to return and hear where their footballing adventure takes them.
In the afternoon, my focus would turn to the Street to School programme where I was mainly coaching the U13s. This was a very different experience to the morning and the focus was very much on keeping them engaged and providing fun sessions with less emphasis on the technical aspects. The boys are very much appreciative of everything I did, and it was always great seeing them play as they always have smiles on their faces. The boys have incredible amounts of energy and have a great love for the game. All the coaches certainly have their hands full and I can certainly see the amount of work they invest into the children.
I was also lucky to manage a team against the British High Commission which was another great experience albeit it was very hard to select the team as everyone wanted to play. But once we arrived, the kids absolutely loved it and it was a great day.
Alongside the football coaching I also got involved with the teaching projects on offer during my time in Ghana. Whilst I was out there it was the summer holidays. However, every day the children would come to the volunteers house and I would give some mini lessons for the children. It was great to helping them to learn and it certainly would not be the case in England! It was great getting to know the kids on a deeper level and doing activities with them also. It even involved playing FIFA with Jesse and mini golf with Bright, Nathaniel and Jesse alongside the other volunteers. These kids and many others made the experience what it was, and I will never forget them and the impact they made on me.
When School began, I also got the opportunity to attend the Future leaders school. It is impressive to see how much work that has gone into the new building and helping to improve the learning conditions for the children from everyone. I enjoyed spending time with the younger children learning their ABCs and basic numeracy skills. I also attended one of Akwaaba’s after school clubs. It is safe to say I have never been as tired as I have after those few hours. They have bundles of energy, so we organised fun games for everyone to play. It was chaotic and full of enjoyment albeit with a few broken chairs!
I would also like to say how great a country Ghana is. When deciding where to travel/volunteer in the world it can be a difficult decision. I knew little about Ghana other than a few people commending it on its friendly nature. I can 100% vouch for that and say that Ghanaians are truly happy people who have a great love for life even when resources are limited. Although I would add that they certainly operate on an African time as people never arrive on time although that is one thing you quickly learn and adapt to. The weather is warm but not too warm and showers were very infrequent during my time in Ghana. It is a great country where you always feel safe and at home.
The food is also great, being vegetarian I luckily had a free pass away from all the wild and wacky meats they eat. The best thing is the ‘bicycle men’ who sell doughnuts and fan ices which are great snacks throughout the day for less than 20p. The food at the house cooked by Loretta is also a perfect balance as it allows you to experience local cuisine such as Jollof, Red Red and plantain. It was some of the most flavoursome food that I have ever tasted and even after many attempts I still cannot get close to replicating any of it!
Akwaaba provided me with the opportunity to explore Ghana and see many of the wonders it has. I was lucky enough to visit the Volta region climbing the highest mountain in Ghana and see one of the most spectacular water falls in addition to having monkeys close and personal! I also got the chance to explore one of the lesser known areas in the east – Nzulezo Stilt Village. This was truly special to see how a community can survive and thrive with such limited resources. The community were very welcoming, and it was impressive to see the level of resourcefulness in the village. Plus, the beaches there are idyllic and empty. In addition to these trips, there is the opportunity to visit Elephants in the North or visit the historical Cape coast learning about the past of Ghana. This is to name of the same trips available; Ghana has countless travel opportunities for weekends and the hospitality from Jordan, King & Richmond cannot be praised highly enough.
I would like to say a massive thank you to everyone I met out in Ghana who made my experience truly unforgettable. I got to meet some great people; Ian from the British High Commission, Mickey and Mo from New Life FC, all the coaches at Street to School and all the Future Stars coaches along with many more wonderful people. I would also like to say a special thank you to Simon & Titus for facilitating the experience and helping to make the experience an incredible one (including scoring against Titus!).
But lastly and most importantly of all I would like to say a HUGE thank you to everyone at Akwaaba (Jordan, King, Richmond & Loretta) you made the experience what it was. It was truly incredible filled with incredible opportunities for me to use my skills and make a real difference whilst also allowing me to experience Ghana and explore the great travel opportunities it has to offer. I cannot wait to return to see everyone again and am already planning my next trip.
For anyone in doubt about volunteering abroad; DO IT and choose Akwaaba Volunteers for a truly unforgettable experience.
Leo Draude – August 2019 – September 2019