Each week we feature testimonials from our amazing volunteers. This week, meet Colm O’Regan, a Water Brigades volunteer to Ghana from Dublin City University.
Taking part in a voluntary program to help less developed communities was always something which I had wanted to do, but realistically I never thought I would have the time or opportunity. This was until I saw a poster in college one day for a water brigade to Ghana with Global Brigades. I was interested to find out more and so I went to an information meeting along with a small number of other potential brigaders. After hearing all about global brigades, the work they do and how I could help, I was onboard and immediately began brainstorming for fundraisers.
It was hard to comprehend exactly what it would be like to meet and work with the locals in the community of Srafa Aboano. The locals of the community were extremely welcoming and friendly which showed me just how important and critical our brigade was to these people. When you experience something like this and meet these people it really puts things into perspective.
When we first arrived to Srafa Aboano I was amazed at how these people were able to survive with so little and how happy these people were. Throughout the week in the community we worked closely with two families and learned about how they live and the great sense of community that they share. The families were 20 and 16 people strong each and completely embraced all of us. We were shown where they gather water, go to school, go to the toilet, eat, sleep, pray, give birth, play and much more. These people opened their community and lives to us and shared their homes, concerns and ambitions with us. They spoke to us about their problems and what they would like to see from global brigades in future brigades.
I have many great memories and moments from the brigade, however one which stands out from the first moment I stepped off of the bus into Srafa Aboano. As we approached the community we could hear chants and drums getting louder and louder. We were met by a crowd of local men who sang, danced and paraded us through the village. Meanwhile as we stepped off the bus a dozen or so children swarmed around us to greet us and hold our hands. The joy and excitement in these children from just seeing us was overwhelming. They were all fighting for our attention calling out “Obruni Obruni!” (Meaning foreigner), “what is your name?”, “How old are you?” and wanting us to hold their hands and pick them up. 5 minutes after arriving we found ourselves being paraded through the village through song and dance while we each had anywhere between 2 and 6 children holding our hands. To see how much our brigade meant to these people was a once in a life time experience which I will never forget.
I often heard how people spoke about being on similar voluntary programs abroad and people speaking of how amazing the experience was and how it effected them, and to be honest I thought “that’s great for you but I don’t think it will impact me that much”. I was wrong though, the experience was much more than I expected and really did put things into perspective for me. When you see a community like this, it makes you question your own priorities at home and shows you that material things are just distractions to more important things in your life such as family, friends and community. One thing I noticed in the community was that there were no walls, fences or locks on doors. Everyone seemed to walk freely into one another’s homes and with no fear of theft.
The project itself is also a great way to help develop skills which can be applied to college work and other areas of your life. For example, communication, team work and interpersonal skills are all very important and utilised during the project. One of the great things about the global brigades program is that we went house to house in groups of two to speak with locals and find out as much as we can about their lives, what they want us to do and any other information which may be relevant. The construction of the systems was also a huge team effort among brigaders and in collaboration with the locals. This all helps with improving communication, coordination and management skills which are vital skills required for college and professional work on return home.
Another thing worth a mention is that everyone on the brigade became very good friends by the end of the 10 days and there were some great social aspects to the trip. We had the opportunity to play football with the local children, teach in the local schools and even have a party in our lodge (yes, there is alcohol available).We also took a trip to the rainforest to walk across rope bridges through the canopy and visit some historical locations in Cape Coast. I would highly recommend for everyone to take part in a global brigade program at some stage. The coordinators from global brigade were extremely helpful, friendly and professional. At no point during the brigade did I feel in danger or forced to do anything I wasn’t comfortable with. Taking part in one of these brigades should certainly be done sooner rather than later and my only regret is that I didn’t do one earlier.