Seven days, one notebook, one head torch, one camera, eight rehydration sachets and a new way to spend a holiday

By Charlotte Norton

We stopped behind a van with a sign across the back stating, ‘I hate no one’. We had arrived. I was in Ghana, equipped with a head torch, tropical insect repellents and rehydration sachets, prepared for the lack of street light, mosquitos and the engulfing blanket of heat.

A man called Kweku picked us up from the airport, driving us through the night to High Life beats. We passed bustling food stalls alive with energy, and spontaneous raves by the boots of cars, until we reached a remote village on the south coast.

I’m Charlotte, I’m 31. I’m not having a quarter life crisis (or by now a third of a life crisis). I don’t want to quit my job, or take a long time out for a sabbatical, and I’m not ready to have kids, but I felt an urge to do something; I didn’t know what. I talked endlessly to my friends, and concluded that I wanted to challenge myself, putting my skills to good use. I hadn’t taken a gap year post University, and with the years that past, I felt that now I have something to offer.

I found a skilled volunteer placement in Ghana, with the Sabre Charitable Trust who build sustainable schools and implement new ways of teaching for four and five year olds. With my background in Communications, I worked with them to develop a plan to tell their story.

To set the scene, in Ghana over a quarter of four and five-year-old children are not attending school. Almost half of all the teachers for this age group have never received any formal training. There are only enough workbooks for one between three children, there are only enough desks and chairs for half of the pupils, over half the schools have no access to drinking water, and just under half don’t have toilets*.

Visiting construction sites, we met local labourers in their first jobs, excited for their children to start learning at the school they’d built. At schools, teachers explained how they had grown up not attending school, or learning in concrete empty classrooms with strict repetitive teaching, still prevalent in parts of Ghana today. With the Sabre program, upcycling is key; bottle tops are collected for maths, old shoe racks made into book shelves and song and dance fill the children with confidence.
The Ghanaian way of life has left an impression on me. Now we are back I am working with them to communicate their stories of change.

One thing is for sure; I will forever be a learner.

For more information on Sabre Trust and their Volunteering opportunities visit Sabretrust.org

To fundraise for Sabre’s #stepsforchange campaign, challenge yourself with a run, walk or dance, and your distance will go towards the Steps to Ghana target of 4,912 miles. For more details, contact trust@sabretrust.org or visit Sabretrust.org/fundraise

Approximate Cost of a one-week Sabre Trust Volunteer Trip: 1,799 Euro / £1,495

• Flight: 902 Euro / £750
• Registration fee / in country costs (includes trip logistics, pre-travel support, accommodation, airport transfers, local travel, breakfast and dinner, 24-hour in country support): 542 Euro / £450 (additional weeks charged at 180 Euro / £150 per week)
• Ghana Visa: 60 Euro / £50 (apply 3-8 weeks before travel)
• International Child Protection Certificate: 72 Euro / £60 (apply 3 weeks before travel)
• Travel Insurance: 42 Euro / £35 (organise 5 weeks before travel)
• Spending money (mobile phone credit, bagged water, snacks etc): 72 Euro / £60
• Yellow Fever Vaccination (certificate needed to enter Ghana): 60 Euro / £50 (depending on which vaccinations you already have, you may need others, which will cost extra. Consult your GP 8 weeks in advance)
• Anti-Malaria tablets: 24 Euro / £20
• Travel kit (sun lotion, insect repellent, hand sanitiser): 24 Euro / £20

When searching for a volunteer placement, it is useful to ask the following questions:
• What are your specialist skills, and is there a role suited to you?
• Is the length of time you are going for suited to what you are going to do?
• How have previous volunteers made a difference on their placements?
• How is the charity working with local communities, and how is your placement helping them?
• Is the work they are doing sustainable?
• What does the money you pay go towards?

Photography: Manda Simmons

*Ministry of Education, Ghana, 2013