When Gateshead Met Ghana

An African adventure is in store for 12 young people, who will jet off to
Ghana in West Africa on Monday 16 October for a life-changing trip where
they will learn about African life, teaching school children and mentoring
their peers.

The visit has been organised by Connexions Tyne and Wear, Madventurer -local operator of Gaps for students and school leavers, Gateshead Council’s Youth and Community Learning service and Deckham Community Association, to mark the five year anniversary of a similar trip that happened in 2001.

The group will be returning to the village of Shia, in Ghana, close to the world’s largest manmade lake Volta, where they will teach the nursery, primary and junior secondary schoolchildren lessons in traditional subjects such as Maths and English and deliver a series of workshops and after school events.

They will also work on a farm owned by Justice, a village elder who grows mangoes, paw-paw, cassava, tomatoes, cocoa, and yams and they will also be building a fish farm. The group will also have the opportunity at the end of their trip to see more of the country with a trip to the coast where they will visit Kakum National Park, Elmina Castle and Cape Coast.

The group includes Paul Robinson aged 15 who is currently at Thomas Hepburn, 15-year old John Kelley from St Edmund Campion, Michaela Williams aged 17, Kaylee Baldwin aged 17 and Steven Adamson aged 22 who all study at Gateshead College, Christopher McGill aged 16, Lee Robinson aged 16 and Estelle Garrity aged 19 from Newcastle College, Yorkshire Coast College student Krystal Garrity aged 21, and Danielle Adamson, Ashlee Kennedy and Sarah Leighton, all aged 20.

Six of the youngsters who visited Africa the first time around are now getting ready for their second trip and will be taking on additional responsibility this time to mentor their younger peers who are visiting for the first time.

Heavily involved in the project, Connexions Tyne and Wear has been in touch with the older youngsters since their trip in 2001 and Graeme Wilkinson, lead personal advisor will accompany the group for a second time.

He said: “The trip we organised in 2001 had a significant impact on all the youngsters who took part, many of which may never have had the opportunity to experience Africa first hand.

“The whole process of a trip like this gives young people different skills.
Everything from the planning stages and fundraising, to the travelling and the culture differences, to teaching, mentoring and practical skills they will learn will not only broaden their horizons, but give them experiences that they will carry for the rest of their lives, not least to impress potential employers with.

“The mentoring aspect of this trip will be as valuable to the group as visiting Ghana itself. The mentors will be there to encourage the younger participants to take advantage of the opportunities that the trip presents and understand their role in the group. They will be available to talk with and reassure younger members of the group respectfully, honestly and confidentially and play an important role in resolving any issues that may arise.

“And we hope that it won’t end there – after the trip, we hope to run sessions for other youth groups around the borough and around the country, to inspire others young people who might otherwise never consider leaving their immediate community. The young people have also learned film skills and borrowed equipment to make footage of their trip to share on their return.”

The 12 youngsters and organisations involved have worked tirelessly to raise enough money to fund the trip to pay for inoculations, visas, insurance and special equipment. Together they completed a 24 mile sponsored walk, a bag pack at a local supermarket and various music and social events to raise around 25 percent of the £1,000 cost per person.

Ashlee Kennedy, 20,was involved in the first trip and will mentor the younger visitors this year. She said: “When I went to Ghana the first time I was finishing school and thinking about doing art at college, but the trip opened my eyes to the world and now I have enrolled on an NVQ level 2 in youth work. I became really interested in the wider world which led to me becoming a Changemakers Youth Advocate for the area, and travelling to India last year to take part in a conference for young people to discuss world issues that affect them.”

Claire Coombe is Madventurer’s Ghana manager. Madventurer is a Tyneside company, which offers short gaps (usually 5 weeks long) for students and school leavers- teaching, building or sports coaching- and overland adventures in 9 countries worldwide.

Clare said: “Fifty-nine per cent of the Ghanaian workforce is in agriculture and almost everyone living in rural areas is involved in farming. Some people work on large cocoa farms but there is very little large scale farming and most of the land is divided up between families.

“The youngsters on this trip will experience small scale farming and teaching. English is the official language of Ghana, but the travellers may also come across people speaking Ga, Ewe, Twi or one of the many other dialects.

“They will live on a farm and learn what it is like to live off the land. In Ghana, subsistence farming is a way of life – the cities are relatively well developed but rural areas are still often without clean water or electricity. We hope that they will develop a sense of global citizenship.”

Councillor Catherine Donovan, cabinet member for children and young people at Gateshead Council, said: “All of the young people who took part in 2001 have remained in education, employment or training and all have made reference to the positive impact that their involvement in the working visit to Ghana project had on their lives. The young people all come from a community that is nationally recognised as one of the most deprived in the UK with higher than average levels of unemployment, poor quality housing, a high percentage of lone parent families, higher than average rates of both ill health and mortality rates and low levels of aspiration.

“That these young people have managed their lives successfully and achieved so much is in no small part attributable to their involvement in the original working visit. What is of most importance is that they have put what they learned into practice enhancing themselves, their community, their town, their region and their country.”

The group has gained funding and support from: Connexions Tyne and Wear, Madventurer, Positive Activities for Young People, Gateshead Council, Ultimate Youth, SCID, Home Housing, Learning and Skills Council, National Lottery, Big Boost, Rothley Trust, Deckham Community Association, Route 26 Community Project, Surestart Deckham, Bensham Birtley and Felling community festivals, Elgin Centre, Soundroom and ‘Top Shop’, Deckham.

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