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Volunteer work placements with children in Ghana, West Africa

Volunteering: Chrissy and West Africa's largest slum

Date Posted: 07/08/2014

My reflections on my visits to Agbogbloshie...

I have just returned from five weeks in Ghana with Partner West Africa (PWA). As a trustee of Partner West Africa, I was keen to visit Ghana to see the work being carried out there first hand. I visited many places and saw many things over the five weeks but nothing captured my attention quite like Agbogbloshie (known locally as Sodom and Gomorrah).

Agbogbloshie is the world's largest e-waste dumping site. Nations across the globe pay the Ghanaian Government to receive millions of tonnes of end-of-life hardware and hazardous waste - a by-product of industrial, electronics manufacturing processes - each year. And rising out of this sprawling wasteland is the most populous residential slum in West Africa; 40,000+ people live in just four square acres there. 

The reason so many Ghanaians are forced to live in this way - in horrific, cramped conditions with no sanitation infrastructure or clean water supply - is, quite simply, to earn a living. Residents, often children, spend their days picking through the mess so as to retrieve parts and materials that can be sold to local businesses which recycle them. These conditions directly expose the residents to all kinds of horrendous toxins and carcinogens; toxins and carcinogens which also pollute the wider area by entering the land and water table.

I had been in Africa only a day when I visited Agbogbloshie and it was a shock to say the least. Our group was there to visit Amina, a local lady who looks after small children during the day for mothers who work in the nearby market. She feeds the children and keeps them safe in a small, stuffy, airless room. The room is oppressive, dark and stifling. I have never been so hot... sweat poured in rivers down my body.

We had taken Amina some supplies, such as sacks of rice, so our visit caused something of a stir as people flocked to the house to see what was going on. And after visiting Amina we walked around the area. Rubbish was clogging the small streams that thread through the streets; goats and cows were rummaging through piles of detritus looking for food. When we arrived at Korle Lagoon I was horrified to see fires blazing all around and waste as far as the eye could see... the fire helps with the extraction of some components/materials from dumped computers. 

Despite the hardship all around, I saw no despair or sadness in the local's faces, they were just people getting on with their lives. The people we met were very friendly and the children even more so; calling out to us as we passed, waving and smiling. Some of the children even followed us as we walked around; wanting to hold our hands; wanting to give us high fives. However, when we left I was overcome by a huge sadness. How can this be? How is it possible in this day and age for people to live in such a way? How can we in the West contribute to this awful mess?

As the days passed I found myself thinking about Amina and her tiny charges a lot. Not a day would pass when I wouldn't think of them repeatedly. If it rained I wondered how the rain affected them in their ramshackle homes. If it was hot I wondered how the children were coping in that stifling and airless room. Of course, I knew before I travelled to Africa that it isn't possible to solve as many of the problems as our charity would like. However, there was one small thing I could personally do for Agbogbloshie; Amina had expressed a desire for some ceiling fans to cool the room and a television for the children to watch. I made enquiries to find out how much these things would cost locally and then my parents, my partner and I all clubbed together to buy them. We also bought 2 sacks of rice and some disposable nappies with the money we had left over.

When I arrived at Amina's a second time, to present her with the things we had purchased, it was as hot as the previous visit and in no time, I was drenched in sweat. I asked a member of the Partner West Africa team to explain to Amina why I had decided to buy these few things for her. My reason was that someone who clearly doesn't have a lot to give but is willing to share what they do have with others is someone to be admired and supported. I also don't have a lot to give, albeit more than Amina, but what I do have I wanted to share with her in the spirit of sharing that she exudes. 

I intend, from time to time and when I can afford it, to send a little money to Amina for a bag of rice or a sack of coal. I will also definitely return to Agbogbloshie when I next go back to Ghana, which will be sooner rather than later. These wonderful, warm people, and their incredibly difficult circumstances, have captured my heart. And never have I been as motivated to make sure Partner West Africa are able to offer the help and support that is required.

Author: Chrissy - PWA Volunteer

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