Student stories

RHEd student volunteers in Ghana thanks to Graham Branton Endowment Fund

Katelyn Kennedy

uVolunteer – Ghana

It's hard to put words to the experiences I've had in the last four months. Volunteering in Ghana has changed the way I look at the world and enhanced my perception of myself. Taking on new challenges, adapting to diverse situations, and opening my eyes to unexpected realities has pushed me out of my comfort zone, but in turn enabled me to grow as a person. I am really thankful to have been granted the Graham Branton Endowment Fund—this co-op scholarship helped make my trip possible. 

After thirty hours of travel, I arrived in Koforidua, the city I was placed in to volunteer. My project involved teaching sports education at Kingsby Methodist Girls High School in Effidjase, along with working on development projects at the Hour of Grace Orphanage in Huhunya. The placement of these projects was enabled by uVolunteer, an organization that pairs individuals with opportunities that support and initiate self-development in Ghana. 

When I arrived at Kingsby, I expected to help out the sports department and support the girls’ education. To my surprise, I was actually placed as one of the teachers. I had over 150 students in three classes with students aged fifteen to twenty. My responsibilities entailed lesson planning, teaching, supporting the girls outside of class, and organizing and facilitating training sessions. Although it was an adjustment to stand up in front of a large group and lead classes, it was really exciting and fun. The students were eager and engaging, and I worked hard to create interactive lessons. 

Although I felt prepared to teach classes in sport education, nothing could have prepared me for my experiences at Kingsby. Classes were large, English was not always spoken, tendencies differed greatly from what I was accustomed to in Canada, and training included over 100 students with little to no equipment. My skills and knowledge were expanded and tested every day. It was very important to have good communication, be able to take charge and give direction, adjust to changes, facilitate teamwork and feel confident asking questions. Over the term, I found that I was given more responsibility in training and I was named a sport department head during regional competitions. 

It was challenging to coach track and field when many of the students had not heard of events and we had limited resources and equipment. I often thought about how much easier coaching would be if there was electricity or even a track to run on. However, it was really inspiring to see that all of our Western equipment isn't necessary to be exceptional. The girls had wonderful natural talent that was enhanced by our skill development and training. I was really proud to see improvements over the term. Although I was a teacher, I was constantly learning. My students would invite me to try traditional dishes and often teach me phrases in their local languages. It always surprised them when I could get their attention in class speaking Twi. 

At the orphanage, my responsibilities were less defined. I led care projects, did some teaching and developed sporting skills with the children. While only 37 children reside at the orphanage, almost 200 come daily from neighbouring villages to attend classroom sessions. The facilities and accommodation were poor, and it was difficult to adjust to when I began volunteering. However, the children were so happy. It warmed my heart when the three-year-olds would offer to share their limited food portions with me. Some of my fondest memories come from spending time at Hour of Grace. 

Being in Ghana was a life-changing experience. Simply walking down the street, I would be struck by the welcoming nature of people. It was not rare to be invited over for dinner after stopping to talk to a stranger. By the end of my volunteer term, many locals knew me by name and would stop me to share a chat or a dance. I was also proud to say that I could successfully navigate the marketplace and buy local foods speaking in Twi. 

I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to live and grow in Ghana. Thanks again to the Graham Branton Endowment Fund for helping to make my journey a success!

More about Exercise science, physical and health education co-op