An Accidental Adventure for Martin Fawley
I never intended to do volunteer work in Ghana. It wasn’t even close to being on my list of things to do. But life has a funny way of opening new and interesting doors when you least expect it and quite often choosing to go through them can lead you to places you never imagined visiting. A chance invitation to Berlin in October 2016 from some friends who were going over to watch their friend run the Berlin marathon led to me meeting Emma. Watching her run 26 miles, 25 of which were done with a torn calf, in under 5 hours was in itself inspirational, but when you hear the back story of the formation of the Helen Hodgkins Trust, you can’t help but be drawn into the emotional content of Emma’s story.
So here I was, a year later, having taken a career break and become more involved in the charity, setting foot on Ghanaian soil for the first time. What is immediately apparent is that nothing quite works in Ghana, from the pot-holed roads, the rag-tag collection of cars and trucks, to the oven in the volunteer house, all were broken to some degree. But somehow, despite these obstacles, it all does kind of work and that is indubitably down to the spirit, generosity and outlook of the Ghanaian people.
The story was the same in every community we visited - no clean water supply, families spending hours every day collecting water contaminated with all sorts of bugs and diseases, no electricity, scarce access to medical facilities, limited teaching facilities. The stories we heard were at times heartbreaking, listening to how communities in extremely rural areas often have to watch their loved ones die because they can’t reach a medical facility, and even if they could, wouldn’t be able to afford the treatment. Seeing the poverty, the lack of possessions and amenities makes you really appreciate the environment we were fortunate enough to be born into and puts a lot of things into perspective.
But on the flip side, there were many heart warming moments too. Dancing with the tribal elders and school children at the opening of the Petia borehole, seeing the joy and excitement it brought to them, running a football tournament for 4 local academies and seeing the delight when we presented them with their football kits and medals, running around and playing with the children at Leads Community School. Despite all of the issues and problems they have, their capacity for just having a good time is unbounded.
It was on my ninth day in Ghana that I finally cracked. That morning we opened a borehole in the Obomeng community that I had helped to build and an old lady came up to me and was saying how grateful she was and that we had given life to their village. Later in the day during an outreach project at Kyereban, I gave a young boy wearing a raggedy old Argentina football shirt a Bath Rugby shirt that had been donated by one of my friends. I watched him walk away clutching it tightly to his chest, as if it were the most precious item in the world, then I watched dumbstruck as he gave it to his little brother.
The utter selflessness of that act nearly broke me - a child with nothing, making sure his younger brother was provided for ahead of himself, was breathtaking. I wonder how many kids in the first world could learn a lesson from that. But it was on hearing Frank’s story, when my emotions got the better of me and I’m not ashamed to say I had a good old cry. You can’t help but be affected by the onslaught of visual and oral reminders of the world these people live in and how different it is from our own. You can watch Frank's story here:
Are we just scratching the surface of a much wider problem? Undoubtedly, yes. But by giving these communities the means to improve their social, economic and educational status, we are hopefully starting the snowball at the top of a hill that turns into an avalanche. Every pound really does help and it is only through people like Emma and charities such as the Helen Hodgkins Trust that we can begin to make a real difference. Will I go back to Ghana? Definitely. What started as a weekend jolly to Berlin has turned into something that has brought me a massive amount of perspective and satisfaction. This is only the beginning, there is much more work to do.