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16.10.2008 General News

Volunteers gain valuable experience

By The Statesman

"The first time I met Florence, a little girl at one of the Children's Home in Accra the capital city of Ghana, she was looked very sad and apathetic.

I cared for her as much as possible and tried to give a lot of love to her. I will never forget the moment when she suddenly began to smile - it was like something happened to her, as if she was reawakened to life.

This is one of the precious moments 22-year old Yvonne has experienced during her three-month long stay at an orphanage in Ghana.

After studying social work and graduating from university, the young German woman decided to pack her bags and travel outside the home environment to gain some experience abroad.

She is just one of the many volunteer workers who brave the storm and find themselves on new continents with completely different cultures, and work there.

In Africa, Ghana is a very popular choice for volunteers, due to its safety, the peaceful community and the great diversity of natural beauty.

 There are many organisations which offer volunteer programmes for young people from 18 to 30 years who want to spend an interesting as well as instructive time in Ghana.

Beside the big sector of social work, consisting of teaching and caring for children or helping disadvantaged people, students are also enabled to take unpaid internships in other professional fields like medicine, journalism, radio, marketing, sports, or hotel business.

 The international organisation, Projects Abroad, registered a growing number of over 800 volunteers in 2008 who spent some free working months in Ghana, often combined with travelling around on the weekends.

During their time they are either staying with a Ghanaian family or together with other interns at hostels.

Yvonne, who travelled with the small German organisation Mavila Praktikum, lives in a nice little apartment on the outskirts of Accra, where she already met other German volunteer workers such as Katja, 24, who works at the same orphanage.

They both soon noticed that the circumstances at the Children's Home are not comparable to German standards: The orphanage lacks hygiene and equipment; furthermore there is not enough education about important topics like diseases.

Even though there are many volunteers working at the Children"s Home, they have not the power to beat the big problems like poverty or the fatal diseases some children have to suffer from.

But nevertheless they are able to make some difference in an orphan's life - supplementing the work of staff members by paying attention and caring for them.

'Volunteers are very important and helpful for us,' Agnes Abolimpoh, headmistress and caseworker of the OSU Children's Home in Accra, states.

'They assist the caregivers by feeding, bathing, teaching, playing, dressing or changing the diapers of the children.'

 According to her, every helping hand is needed and is a big relief for the staff, who lack the resources to attend to the emotional needs of every child on their own.

Moreover, some volunteers are trained social workers who understand the children even better than the caregivers.

Apart from all the positive impacts, Agnes Abolimpoh also mentions a few negative experiences.

'Some volunteers pamper the kids too much - they misunderstand the methods of the caregivers and refuse to accept the different culture.'

A problem which is not unfamiliar to Yvonne and Katja, who first had to grapple with the dissimilar ways of education at the orphanage, which seem a bit more rough than they experienced at home.

Accepting or at least respecting these attributes of the completely new culture is the key to succeed with voluntary work.

Finally, going abroad as a volunteer is a huge enrichment for the development of personality.

The young students are confronted with whole new situations they have to handle, and are challenged with new conditions, completely different from the situations at home.

Often they need to build up a huge amount of autonomy, since their familiar surroundings are so far away.

So of course, going abroad and doing voluntary work is not always easy, but it can give so much in return.

In the end it is a great opportunity to get involved with the national life and to broaden one's horizon by gaining very precious and important experience and memories, which will last for a lifetime.