leila jamal

I was fortunate that Christiane and Genevieve took the time to answer many of my questions about VEG and Ho in the months leading up to my placement. Although their detailed descriptions of VEG’s various projects made me look forward increasingly to my stay, I found it difficult to envision the cultural and practical context in which the organization works, and I had trouble imagining the size and infrastructure of Ho and its surroundings. As such, I tried hard not to develop a rigid set of expectations prior to my arrival.

While I was relatively successful at keeping an open mind, I could not prevent myself from being worried about certain things. Given my lack of knowledge about the community in which I was going to work, I doubted whether I’d really be helpful. My time in Ho was to be so short that I wondered whether anyone would really have an incentive to teach me things or invest time in getting to know me. In a nutshell, I was concerned that as an outsider, my contribution would be superficial or cosmetic in some way.

I was therefore happy to be roped into daily life at the Lady Volta Resource Centre on my very first morning in Ho, so that I could stop thinking these things and start getting involved. To my surprise, Genevieve had even set aside an individual work space for me at the office. I was shown a draft of the SDA After-School Programme on my first day, and I was invited to offer feedback, ask questions, and make suggestions at any juncture.

In my first few days at the Centre, when Genevieve was away on business in Accra, I spent time getting to know Emily and Kenneth, who were very tolerant of my initial barrage of mundane questions. I remember feeling hesitant about jumping in on a project that they had been working on for a long time prior to my arrival, as I did not want to engender feelings of animosity between us. However, as we got to know each other, we grew more comfortable offering each other criticism, and we arrived at the mutual recognition of each others’ complementary strengths and weaknesses in terms of idea generation. While I strove to render the programme more colourful by including gimmicks and games to it, Kenneth and Emily would reason out loud as to whether my ideas were practical or relevant.

One of the most rewarding parts of working at the centre was to see Emily and Kenneth grow more confident in the programme as they collaborated with various outsiders throughout its development. Despite the number of volunteers that helped out along the way, they maintained daily stewardship of the programme and gave it a distinct character and continuity, two things which I believe are crucial to working productively with youth.

The collaborative process was further enriched when Ariana joined our team and by the input of other volunteers on our practice runs before the debut of each week’s programme. Genevieve did an outstanding job of balancing her managerial responsibilities while overseeing and contributing to the development of the programme itself, and she was usually the one to untangle its unwieldy limbs at the very last minute if we had trouble doing so ourselves (this was usually the case.)

The actual sessions with the children demanded me to adapt in a number of ways. For one thing, I had never worked with young people whose educational background was so religious in nature. The students were wary of admitting it when they did not understand me, and I initially found their facial expressions difficult to read. My sense of humour differed substantially from theirs, so that I could not rely on humour as an educational tool.

Yet before long, two widespread attributes revealed themselves among the children, which superseded the obstacles mentioned above. The first was their genuine curiosity in the subject matter of the programme. For the most part, it was clear that we were giving the students information which they truly wanted to have. Not long after the first week, they were asking so many questions that the sessions ran beyond the time we had allocated for them. The volume and sensitive nature of their questions indicated the dire need for wider access to information about RSH and it made me very pleased to see that programme attendance remained high throughout my time at the LVRC.

The second was their clear enjoyment at being in an institutional environment that was not school or church. Many of the students were shy, some were even sullen, but I never got the impression that any of them truly resented being there. I caught one girl in particular, who refused to answer any of my questions in the sessions and who seemed “too cool” to participate, showing off her LVRC badge and her AIDS ribbon to a group of girls in the street several days after our session. A secondary effect of the after-school programme has been to publicize the LVRC as an inclusive environment, and in my short time in Ho, I was thrilled to see its daily volume of visitors increase as word about the LVRC spread.

As the demands on the LVRC grow and as volunteers come and go, it is clear that the staff will face new challenges. Documentation of everything that has been done this summer will be essential for future programme development, and I think it will be important for each staff member to devote time at the end of the programme to take stock of what they might do differently a second time around. If I were to experience my volunteer placement over again, I would work harder on my communication skills so as to be better understood by the children. One of my many frustrations about leaving after such a short period of time is that I felt I had only just started to get better at that aspect of the work (small small.) I also feel that I might have organized my time better so that my various other pursuits (weekend travel, observation of other projects) might not have cut into my time at the LVRC as much.

As evidenced by the verbose monologue I appear to be writing, I went from feeling marginally useful to being deeply invested in what I believe has been a hugely worthwhile body of work at the LVRC this summer. As I left, I was pleased to witness plans to conduct outreach work in Tanyigbe and Saviefe, to see new volunteers breathe fresh life into later sessions of the SDA programme, to see kids from the Vinyo Performance Group visiting the Centre, and to see the proud looks on Emily and Kenneth’s faces when it was time to erect a reminder notice that the LVRC opens at 11am and not earlier, because there were usually kids waiting at the door when they arrived in the morning at 10. They, and particularly Genevieve, have an immense amount to be proud of and I look forward to hearing more about the growth and development of the LVRC going forward in the years to come!