Volunteer Experiences at Westminster School

Wendy Bourget

Wendy started working the very moment she had been introduced. Though the school wanted her to teach in the senior classes, she made it clear that her interest is with the kids so she taught in the Nursery, Kindergartens and the lower primary.

She is ever willing to help students whom she described as “slow learners”. She always selected these students and sat with them and taught them herself whiles the others were being taught by their teachers.

She also did an incredible work at the school library. She worked hand in hand with the school librarian to sort out all the books in the library. She used colours to placed all the books in sections so that whenever a student picked a book he will know where to place it back. Wendy also taught the students how to read and motivated them to read a lot.

Imke Matuszewski

I met some amazing people who live a very different life from mine. I'd like to think that I am well travelled and so these differences were not strictly new to me. However experiencing bucket shower, washing clothes by hand, eating by hand and living with very restricted electricity made me think and re-think various aspects of both our ways of life.

I had interesting discussions with the teachers about religion, and although some of our opinions diverged I felt that we both liked to hear about it, and sympathise with, each other's world views.

Nick Wood

Whilst I had teaching experience from a year spent in France directly before I came to Ghana, don't let it put you off if you haven't taught before. The school will ease you in. Not that there's anything to brace yourself for - I found the students here to be even more well behaved than in my other experiences.

They are a bright, fun bunch of people, eager to learn - both about their subjects in school, but also about you. 

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Roger Hambly

Roger Hambly, an Australian Law practitioner, arrived in Ghana on 13th of October 2011 to volunteer as a teacher at Westminster School. Roger has practiced law for twenty years in Australia and has made his mind to stop practicing law and rather be a teacher.

"Teaching at Westminster has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. From the time Eric greeted me as I hopped off the bus in Fumesua until the day the teachers and students farewelled me 6 weeks later, I felt extremely welcome at Westminster School. All the staff were professional, approachable and very willing to help. They treated me as a colleague from day one, even though I was not an experienced teacher".

Mary Kathlene Crawford

Mary Kate came as a volunteer teacher from the 6th of October 2009 and left for the United States on the 6th of March 2010. She was hardworking, dedicated and disciplined. She was a source of encouragement and inspiration to the entire school body. Her teaching skills during class presentation will be missed dearly.

Mary Kate was outgoing and mixed freely with people; her absence in the school brings sadness to all especially the students, teachers and all families she lived with whilst in Ghana. To MK, the entire Management and Administrative body of Westminster says thank you for your contribution to enhance English language and Mathematics in the school.

Michael Ericco, Adam Jones and Sinead Lily Millwood

The three medical students - Michael Ericco, Adam Jones and Sinead Lily Millwood have each written up their experience of the school, the children, the teachers and Ghana.

Adam Jones - Ghana is said to be the gateway to Africa, and having never visited the continent before, this was true for me. When I got off the plane I had no idea what to expect, but I soon experienced the welcoming, generous and helpful nature of Ghanaians.

Teaching at the school has been fun and rewarding. The children were very keen to learn, not just about Science, English or Maths, but about us and where we come from. They were equally excited to teach us about themselves, about Ghana and their music and dancing!

We were also able to give the children and teachers lessons (and a test!) on health and first aid, which I particularly enjoyed and I hope, will be helpful in the future. It was a pleasure giving out certificates on the last day of school to acknowledge those who had remembered our lessons well.

Michael Ericco - This was my first visit to Africa and facing the unknown initially filled my mind with uncertainty.

However the moment I stepped off the plane all my worries were put to rest, as everyone I met throughout my time in Ghana was extremely welcoming and friendly. I spent two thoroughly enjoyable weeks at Westminster school teaching a number of subjects including English, Science and Maths. Not having had any previous teaching experience made this a daunting task, but the childrens' enthusiasm and willingness to learn made my job much easier.

My evenings were spent at the school's boarding house which gave me the opportunity to get to know some of the older students of the school, who also resided around the same area. I was pleasantly surprised by the level of interest an "obruni" (white man) had evoked amongst the children, which helped me to instantly settle in to this new environment. 

Sinead Lily Millwood - I don't know what I expected from my first visit to Ghana, but the care and hospitality we have enjoyed has been better than any hotel. A volunteer's day in the Yeboah household runs something like this:

Wake up at 5.30am, ready to leave at 6 in one of the purple school buses with the boarders who also live at the house. It is a 10 minute ride to the school to drop off the boarders and then an hour or so drive around the villages within a 10 mile radius to pick up all of the children. It takes about 3 journeys per bus (there are 3), to and from the school to collect all of the children, easily spotted by their bright purple uniforms on the roadside. This is usually completed by around 8am and then we had breakfast in the office together, everyone was surprised by how much white people enjoy drinking tea.

We had a lot of freedom to choose which classes and what subject we wanted to teach and the class teachers often helped us out. Having had no experience of teaching before I was a little nervous and un-natural to begin with, however as the children began to get used to my english accent I found I could converse a lot more easily. They taught me as much as I hope I taught them, and they delighted in my very limited and badly pronounced knowledge of the local language Twi. Lunch is at 12.30pm and was varied most days so that we could get used to the African dishes slowly. School finishes at 3pm but it takes another hour and half for the buses to drop all of the children home and come back to pick us and the boarders up. In this time we often taught the older children, or helped them revise for their imminent exams. 

Notes from Ashanti town...

Three Months as a Volunteer Teacher

I have spent three months volunteering at Westminster Comprehensive School. The school itself is impressive. It's a good functional building, has a well-stocked library, computers on hand, and the class sizes are around 30 pupils in each. The teaching staff is a lot younger than I expected - but this gives the place an energetic, can-do feel to it. I taught English and Social Studies in J.H.S. I would go through the text books/syllabus and the subject teacher and I would decide which topics I should take - for example, as an International Relations student at university, I loved the opportunity to be able to take lessons on the UN and the British Commonwealth in Social Studies classes.

The schedule for a volunteer is very flexible. At the start of my time here I was given free choice on which subjects I wished to teach. Not only that, but towards the end of my time here, I was allowed to take a few days off school when needed, in order to travel for extended weekends - giving me the opportunity to go to places that I otherwise wouldn't have been able to visit.

Whilst I had teaching experience from a year spent in France directly before I came to Ghana, don't let it put you off if you haven't taught before. The school will ease you in. Not that there's anything to brace yourself for - I found the students here to be even more well behaved than in my other experiences. They are a bright, fun bunch of people, eager to learn - both about their subjects in school, but also about you.

School Discipline

As for discipline, the issue of caning is brought up a lot by volunteers - it's embedded in the school system here in Ghana. But fear not! You won't be forced into having to do it! I never caned, but more importantly, there was never an incident where I thought a student needed to be disciplined, at least with nothing more serious than a gentle word to calm down! At the most, they'll get noisy - generally because someone has made a joke (or, on unfortunate occasions, a smell!) - so you laugh with them, and it's easy to settle them down and get on with the lesson.

The style of learning is very different to that which I'm used to. There is a tendency to learn by rote - you'll hear plenty of textbook definitions whilst you're here! I wanted to try and get them to really think about the topics they were studying rather than simply learning what to say from out of a book. So I tried to put an emphasis on using their own opinions and for them to come up with their own solutions when writing about pressing issues (ie. AIDS, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, corruption etc).

A typical school day consists of leaving the boarding house at 06.00 and doing rounds on the minibus to pick up students in the nearby towns and villages. School itself starts at 08.30, there's a mid-morning break, and lunch starts at 12.15. After afternoon lessons, school finishes at 15.00 (14.00 on Fridays!) so there's a bit of free time at the end of the day as well. It's a good routine that never once seemed to drag. When you're teaching, planning and marking during the day, it's always a rewarding feeling to have contributed in some way.

At the time of writing, we've nearly reached the exam period - the syllabus is finished and there's a week or so of revision before the students sit an exam for each subject. The revision lessons allow us to offer any useful advice and I've used them to try to explain the necessity of 'exam technique'. The ability to share the time allowed proportionally to the marks on offer, the importance of checking work at the end of the exam and so on. Despite the fact that I loathe doing these things myself in exams at university, it's a nice perk of being 'on the other side of the desk', that I can offer the advice, without necessarily having to subject myself to it!

All in all, I've learnt an awful lot from my three months at Westminster Comprehensive. I've made a lot of friends, I've gained a lot of experience, and I've had a wonderful insight into life and work in Ghana. To anyone interested in throwing themselves into something 'different', in working in a school and in experiencing life in a Ghana, I would whole-heartedly recommend a stint here in Fumesua. 

Nick's blog - Notes from Ashanti town

"For the next three months I'll be working at a school in Fumesua in the Ashanti region of Ghana.

As would be the case, Fumesua is just about the only part of Ghana that Google Earth has decided isn't really worth the effort. But any keen geographers out there can momentarily put down their felt-tips and check out Kumasi - the second largest city in Ghana - and have a squint for some vague, blurry and pixelated settlements about 15km to the east, on the Accra-Kumasi road...."

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