Why would someone want to volunteer to work in a developing country? Itís not for the money. To volunteer usually means to work for free and often involves paying for the opportunity. Could it be as Dr. Albert Schweitzer said, "Those among you who will be truly happy are those who sought and found how to serve."

At Aba House a big part of our program are volunteers and I find that that there are as many reasons as there are volunteers. Your reason for volunteering is important because it can make the difference between a wonderful experience and an unhappy one. Most of our volunteers are fantastic and want to come back. One might think that thereís a correlation between age, experience and maturity in the making of a good volunteer, but that's not necessarily true. Some young people blossom when given the opportunity and some older people canít handle the adjustment to new circumstances.

Letís talk about a fantastic volunteer. Carol, from Britain came to Aba House to work with children before completing her degree in education. She opened herself to new experiences and was able to adjust to a culture completely different from her own. For example, GMT (Ghana Maybe Time) is just too much for some visitors. It means using time as a reference and has nothing to do with being on time. Carol always rushed to get to her students and was always the only one on time, but at least she saw the humor in the situation.

One day I wandered by as she was teaching some students how to make a family tree. "Clever way to discuss families", I thought to myself. A few days later I was invited to a performance of Hamlet by these same children. Carol had used the family tree to introduce Shakespeare to children in an African fishing village. I can guarantee that this was a first.

This brings us back to why volunteer in a developing country. For me, the main reason would be to experience a new culture, not as a tourist looking in, but as an accepted member of the community. The volunteer can interact with locals on a very personal level. Carol was able to chat with the students and their parents about all sorts of things that they wouldnít discuss with a passing visitor. There is a wonderful feeling of accomplishment when you connect positively with others and feel that you have contributed something constructive to their life. The volunteer has to be truly happy to be sharing knowledge and skills to those who do not have easy access to them. A sense of humor helps. An outsider is fair game, especially with children. They would teach Carol how to say something in their language and when she came to practice on us, she would find that they didnít always give her the real meaning.

At Aba House we are happy to accept volunteers, mostly in July and August. Since we are a small, pretty much self funded non-profit, there is a fee involved. Volunteers are met at the airport and brought to stay at our cultural center in a fishing village in a suburb of Accra. Everyday local children of all ages come to interact with visitors. We believe that everyone is both a student and a teacher. Our mission is to make the Aba House kids outrageously creative through whatever skills the volunteers have to offer.

If you are interested in volunteering the first step is to contact us and give a short bio and let us know what your skills are. If youíd like to volunteer, but need guidance we will work with you to decide how you can best contribute to our program. We do an orientation when you arrive and there are many opportunities to interact with the African and visiting artisans. You can join day trips to Accra and traditional villages.

We have worked with artists, teachers, college students, retired people and unsuspecting spouses. The minimum stay is 2 weeks. If you have more time, thatís even better.

Questions? Just ask

After two solo trips to Aba House, Charlie Michaels returned with 10 students from the University of Michigan. The students had to have a community service project, so they divided into 3 groups, each group included Aba House kids. It was a busy 3 weeks.

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