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I came to Ghana to learn about an African culture and to experience another way of life by doing voluntary work and staying with a family. The Save the Earth Network provided me with a friendly family and two different work placements: teaching in a foster home and a week’s stay in a workcamp building a school.

Living in a family was fascinating. Everything about daily life was different from England: the way the food was cooked outside on a charcoal stove, the way parents and children interacted, the way sleeping patterns are determined by the sun.

At the foster home, with its two outdoor classrooms, I attempted to teach between 20 and 30 primary school children, who had attention spans of about two minutes. The important thing was to give them love and attention. My week in the village was a very different experience altogether. People lived in mud huts, got their water from the ground, and cooked on open fires. The village was called Timber Nkwanta, named after the junction where timber was collected from surrounding hills. It was a beautiful place.

I went to the workcamp expecting to work. However, there was more rest than work because the villagers were not ready—because it was Sunday, because people were not feeling well, because we’d run out of materials, etc. When we did eventually work, I learned a few things about bricklaying. I think the men were reluctant to let a woman, especially a white woman, do manual work, but they let me have a go at everything from mixing concrete to using the trowel on the wall. After work, we walked down to the nearest drinking spot at the junction where a disco was going on under the palm-leaf shelters. Everyone there wanted to dance with me and to make me feel welcome.

After the workcamp, Clement, a guy I knew from the foster home, offered to take me traveling. In fact, many people wanted to take me to their hometowns or to see their parents. Clement and I stayed at his university, where I had a room in the hall of residence. It was great to meet people my age and to find out about their way of life.

Now that I’m home, I’m missing the Ghanaian people: the way they held my hand while they talked to me, their hospitality and their laughter, the way they called me "sister" or Ama, my Ghanaian name. I also miss the slower, uncomplicated pace of life, and I crave fresh food.

I would recommend Ghana to anyone interested in visiting sub-Saharan Africa for the first time. Go for as long as possible; the cultural differences take time to unravel. Even after six weeks I found that I was only beginning to understand.

JANE SHARPE writes from Newcastle Upon Tyne, U.K.

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