A Partner West Africa News Story
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Field trips to Ghanaian schools
Field trips to Ghanaian schools
Ghanaian students receive projects from their partner schools
Students did a fashion show to teach their international peers about Ghanaian clothing
The partner school sent information about their town
Volunteers help the students complete partnership projects

The Ethical Importance of the International Schools Partnerships Programme

Date Posted: 15/09/2017

At the heart of every volunteering experience is the desire to help. It’s a desire that I believe most people feel at one point or another in their lives, the moment when you recognise the ease of your own life relative to the obstacles in another’s.

At the heart of every volunteering experience is the desire to help. It’s a desire that I believe most people feel at one point or another in their lives, the moment when you recognise the ease of your own life relative to the obstacles in another’s. But not everyone can act on this desire due to restrictions in time, money, and circumstance. I was in the final year of my degree when I decided that I not only truly wanted to volunteer, but that I could. I had one last free summer, savings from the past summers’ work, and the support of my university’s enrichment programme, meaning I had the time and money needed to volunteer overseas. After a long search for the perfect placement I applied to volunteer for three weeks with Partner West Africa, splitting my time between helping hold oral hygiene workshops and aiding in the International School Partnership Programme (ISPP). Whilst the benefits of the oral hygiene workshops were immediately clear as many of the children didn’t own toothbrushes or toothpaste and had no formal education on the issue, the ethical significance of the ISPP didn’t hit me until later.

The ISPP involves exchanging letters and presentations between students in Ghana and the UK, detailing everything from their day-to-day lives and aspects of their culture to their health systems and the illnesses they face. I was in a classroom in Opeikuma, a rural village in the Central region of Ghana, discussing with students the sort of questions they might want to ask their partner school in Scotland on the topic of health and disease. During our chat, the students told me that every single one of them had suffered from malaria at least once in their lifetime. When I visited the travel clinic before my placement, I only had a vague idea of what malaria was and I picked up my prescription for fifty-five doxycycline tablets without ever really grasping how prevalent and dangerous a disease it is. It became very clear how little I had known about life in Ghana before arriving and how the ISPP could overcome this by connecting students.

I began to wonder what I would have wanted to ask a Ghanaian student if I’d had the opportunity to in school, and what I would have wanted to tell them about England. I didn’t learn much about Africa growing up, beyond what I saw on television, and I realised I held many misconceptions. Some of these misconceptions began to correct themselves through talking to people who had been to Africa, watching documentaries and reading books. But it was through talking to the students I worked with, and everyone else I met during my stay, that I feel like I really started to begin to understand what life is like in modern day Ghana, something I hadn’t necessarily set out or expected to gain. Similarly, when students exchange letters, videos and drawings they will experience the same sort of connection that I did.

So, for me, the most meaningful lesson I learnt whilst volunteering was about the ethical importance of the International School Partnership Programme and its ability to overcome prejudice. As I said earlier, not everyone can travel overseas to volunteer and even fewer western teens will have travelled to Africa, or African teens to the UK. Through this separation, misconceptions and prejudices can breed. That is, we often form hasty opinions of one another based on limited information without ever really tapping into what life means for the other. However, the ISPP works to bridge this gap, giving insight into one another’s lives, highlighting the similarities and differences, and breaking down prejudices through sharing knowledge. This is the truly significant thing that the ISPP achieves. Through opening a dialogue between partnered schools and capturing their thoughts and feelings in their own words, the ISPP can help provide students with the beginnings of a global-awareness, building a future that’s more empathetic. This empathy will stay with the children involved, both Ghanaian and British, and shape how they continue to interact with the rest of the world.

 

Find out more about the International Schools Partnership Programme here. Partner West Africa provides volunteering opportunities throughout the year as well as group cultural exchange field trips ideally suited to youth groups, schools and colleges. Both the individual volunteering and group trips are planned around the needs of the programme and your particular knowledge, skills and interests so that activities can take many forms. Read a case study about a school cultural exchange trip and about Juliet, the author of this article’s, testimony about her time volunteering.

Author: Juliet - PWA Volunteer

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