Volunteering in Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary
With little experience of travelling alone, I knew that a volunteering trip to Ghana would be (as an understatement) an adventure.
Armed with hiking boots and numerous bottles of mosquito repellent, I boarded my flight from London to Accra, nervous, but excited for what was to come. There, I was eagerly greeted by Frank, the man who had organised my trip and was dedicated to ensuring I was ready for every moment of it. After a long overnight bus journey, I arrived in the village of Fiema, home to the monkey sanctuary where I planned to volunteer. At first I felt less pushed but more catapulted out of my comfort zone and thought it would be impossible to adjust, but my worries were rapidly put to rest by the friendly faces of the locals, who were eager to invite me into their community. I was given a completely new insight into a way of life so different from mine at home, including activities such as collecting water for cooking at 6:00 in the morning, showering and washing my clothes with a bucket every day and walking around the village to try (with little grasp of the local dialect) and greet the local people.
My host father, Alfred, took every care in making sure I felt completely settled in during my stay and acted as a semi-translator to the other members of the village where my attempts at ‘Twee’ (the local language) was unable to get me past the usual formalities. The local food such as ‘fufu’ and ‘banku’ were, for me, more of a ‘try it once’ experience. However, Alfred made excellent meals; utilising rice in a vast variety of combinations. I will never forget the evenings sitting outside my room with him as the air began to cool, drinking cups of my (very British) tea and discussing the dramatic differences and surprising similarities between our cultures, using the half speaking, half frantically gesturing language we had formulated.
And then of course was the main event, my volunteering. During my work at Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary, I gave tours to visitors (who seemed a tad surprised but impressed that a British man was showing them around rather than a local), helped with any of the jobs of the other staff, talked to and assisted guests at the guesthouse and, of course, took many, many photos for the visitors. And rightly so! One of my fondest memories was walking alone down the forest trail on my first day and looking behind me to find a growing line of monkeys following me close behind, scouting out the foreigner with both caution and curiosity. I was also able to help a project set up by the manager of the sanctuary to build a new school in the area, funded by parents of the students outside of government education. In addition, I conducted some research on how monkey behaviours have changed in response to tourists in the forest. This was aided by my knowledgable guide Isaac who seemed to know the name of every plant in the forest along with what seemed like a hundred uses for each of them.
It was at the end of the two weeks that I realised that I had barely gotten started with Ghana, and upon my departure I wondered when I could return to see even more of the amazing wildlife and people of the country. It was the little things that made my day-to-day life so excellent, from the old woman who taught me a different Twee phrase every morning as I passed on the way to work to the school kids who would chase me down forest paths on my way home to excitedly hug me around the legs.
- Toby Thompson
A full report of this will be available in the 2020 Old Berkhamstedian magazine.