Although we stayed in the main volunteer centre in Gyetiase (which was very comfortable all things considered), we were able to visit neighbouring villages that are taking part in the adopt a village scheme. This scheme allows an organisation or individual to sponsor a a village to buy latrines, clean water and whatever else is needed for that village, perhaps microcredit or health facilities. We went both to villages that had not yet been sponsored, and were being surveyed to see what was needed, and to villages that had already been helped. There was a huge difference.
The villages that were new to Ashanti Development were in a state of disrepair, people were poorly clothed and there was a general air of despondency. In Abutia village, their water supply dries up in the summer, meaning that they have to drink water from the main river in which, amongst other things, people wash their motorbikes. I hope they get sponsored.
In the villages who already have a donor, life is very different. In Old Damaang, one of the first villages to be adopted, the village is regenerating with new building as people who had previously left are returning. One lady told us that Ashanti Development had changed her life: now that latrines and clean water have been installed, her children no longer get sick (when previously they had been sick all the time) and microcredit has meant that she could start a business to support her family.
My husband and I went out to Gyetiase to try and help with whatever we could. When you go out, it takes a while to get your bearings. One of the first things that you realise is that although it's easy to say what needs doing in general: water, sanitation, health, education, technology, it's not so easy to see the actual concrete steps that you can take to get there. In development the skill is absolutely in the detailed on the ground management - there is very little that you can achieve by theorising.
Firstly we took the children for extra reading lessons before school started. English teaching is taken very seriously in Ghana and when children reach the Junior High School all school lessons are taught in English. However most children have been taught to read by reciting aloud, and as a result there is sometimes a disappointing lack of comprehension even for children who seem to be able to read very well.
We saw some amazing things in Ghana. The all day church services with singing and dancing that you can pop in and out of as you please were a particular highlight. But most of all I learnt a lot about how to start if you want to help make a difference - either dedicate a substatial amount of time (maybe a year or so) to go out, learn about the local conditions and try to help, or find a charity that is achieving what you want and give your money directly to that charity. Having seen Ashanti Development in action, I'm proud to count myself amongst their supporters.