In November 2008, 15 students and 6 staff from Presentation Brothers College Cork travelled on an Immersion Programme to Ghana. Here is their report...
Last month, 15 students and 6 staff from our school visited Logre School in Ghana to affirm links and friendships between the schools. It was an eye opening journey and experience, from 17 hours on a bus, to seeing the local children demonstrate their culture and learning for us.
The trip proved to be an unbelievable experience for all who travelled and it would be impossible to single out one highlight of our trip. There are many things that made a huge impact on me. The way all the people in Ghana were so happy with the very little they had. The smiles and welcomes I will never forget. The hospitality of all the friends we made was overwhelming to say the least. Such kindness can only be seen to be believed. How so little can go so far, the computer room we raised money for, being an example of that and how the presence of 21 Irish people can make such a big impact on their lives.
I learnt a lot about myself and how to live life in the future. I learnt to appreciate and value all the simple things in life, from water to family.
I learnt to cherish and embrace all aspects of life and no problem is too hard to overcome, something the Ghanaians apply to everyday life from waking up to going to sleep.
The knowledge, appreciation and experience gained from this trip in the 10 days are more than I learned from my 16 years.
We would like to thank a number of people who helped us along the way. The parents who have done everything from financial to emotional support. All the students who helped in any way to raise the €20,000. To all the staff who so graciously facilitated our fundraising efforts. All those who donated money or organised fundraising events outside of school. We cannot stress enough how far that money will go in Ghana. The Presentation Brothers at home and in Ghana who organised the trip, it would not have happened without their tremendous time and effort. Finally, I would like to thank the staff who gave up their free time to give us the opportunity of this life changing trip.
"On the 30th of October sixteen Presentation Students, from Bray and Cork, set out on an immersion experience to Ghana in West Africa. We went with an open heart and giving hands but, we were struck in the mindset of charity. We believed that all these people needed was money. We were wrong. While we, the students from Presentation College, Bray and Coláiste Chríost Rí, Cork, immersed ourselves fully in the vivid, colourful, community culture of Ghana, we learned something that we will never forget. It’s something that defines what the Presentation Brothers education stands for. When we arrived in Bolgatanga we were told by Brother Rupert, Presentation Provincial Leader in Ghana, that the greatest gift we could bring was our presence. To be there for our fellow people. To show you care. We went to Ghana and gave ourselves to the people. We saw things we didn’t think we would see, we learned things we never thought we would learn and we experienced something we will never forget."
Each school set out for the airports in Dublin and Cork at 4.30am. We met in Amsterdam some hours later and began our journey, unaware as yet that this experience would change us in more ways that we could ever have imagined.
We arrived in Accra, the capital of Ghana.
We began our twenty-one hour marathon journey that took us from Accra to Kongo in the extreme north of the country taking a few stops along the way. Kongo would be our home for the next 8 days. We witnessed many poverty stricken towns, villages and people along the way and on arrival in Kongo were welcomed as if we were part of the family.
We went to St. Joseph’s Presentation Junior Secondary School in Logre where in an official ceremony we received another very warm welcome. This formal welcome included a flag raising ceremony and singing of the respective national anthems. Our transition into the Ghanaian lifestyle was greatly aided through the universal language of sport as students from both cultures joined in a sports day and volleyball match.
Today we were invited by the school to talk to the students about life and culture in Ireland. We divided into small groups with each group visiting a class. We discussed and compared our different ways of life. There was time for a short visit to the local market before the big event of the day, the eagerly anticipated match, Ireland v Ghana. A huge crowd turned out for this event and despite the intense heat and the poor conditions of the pitch the final score was a very respectable 3-1 victory to Ghana.
The extent of the sacrifice made by the Presentation Brothers in Ghana was made clear when we visited the grave of Brother Tom O’Connor who died of malaria while working in the region. We were invited to lunch by Monsignor Roger Abboteyuure who has contributed to many of the development projects in the area. That afternoon we travelled to one of the orphanages in the region, where we were given the opportunity to interact and play with the children and see where and how they live. This day was a real eye opener for the group as we experienced some of the very harsh and disturbing realities of life in a developing country: the clinic, and the children (all under five years) have left a lasting impression on the group that hopefully none of us will ever forget.
After breakfast we visited a local market that resembles a shantytown. The tightly packed streets were crammed full of stalls and were littered with animals and traders. As the harvest had just been completed the stalls were full of fresh produce but with no way to refrigerate or preserve this material it had to be used quickly and food shortages will occur later in the year when this produce runs out. Later we visited the Tongo Hills, a sacred site for the local people. There we visited a local compound of over 300 people, all part of the same extended family. The level of poverty had to be experienced to be believed: open sewers, rubbish heaps and litter choking the narrow streets between mud houses.
Sunday morning began with the group attending the early Mass, African style. This Mass was full of music and song and lasted for two hours. Later we visited a crocodile reserve and the Mud Cathedral in Navrongo. That evening we attended another formal function when the local minister for the region invited us to dinner in his house. He spoke about the state of Ghana and again welcomed us to the region.
The day began with a cultural exchange when both Ghanaians and Irish performed traditional music, songs and dances including the Siege of Ennis, the Fields of Athenry and Molly Malone. The afternoon was left free to interact with the Ghanaian students who brought us to visit their villages, compounds, homes and families. That night we visited the Brothers’ House for an informal farewell party.
We said a final farewell to our friends from St Joseph’s Secondary School. We spent some time reflecting on the week, for all we had seen and were thankful for. It was with heartfelt warmth, gratitude, genuine affection and sadness that we said farewell and boarded the public bus for our long return leg to Accra. Our trip was coming towards its end.
Tired after our long overnight trip back to Accra we had a brief chance to rest for a few hours at the Good Shepherd Guesthouse before visiting the local craft market to do some haggling. Finally we made our way to the airport and home. In Amsterdam we said our farewells to each other and boarded our flights to Dublin and Cork.
This had been the experience of a lifetime.