Read below to hear from a selection of our past volunteers and current advocates. 
Rosie Hunt

Hello! I'm Rosie. I am 24, a support worker for Breast Cancer Care.  I went to Ghana for my gap year in 2007, and have stayed in contact with people there ever since. I worked at a school in Abura, near Saltpond, and am part of the UK support team for that school.

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I was at the SEP Happy School in Autumn 2011, whilst also working with the school in Abura. I LOVED how welcoming and happy the kids at SEP were when we arrived and it was wonderful how empowered the teachers were - the school was theirs.

I think my biggest dream is that everyone in has access to free education and that all schools are given equal amounts of time and effort. At the moment, even though some kids in Ghana can go to school for a very small fee, lots of charity and independent schools don't have much support behind them, and often don't follow the government curriculum. It is a long journey, but when things are fairer and more consistent for all communities, then real potential can show.

Favourite book? Hmm probably 'The Other Hand' by Chris Cleave, though I may have another answer in a month or so!

Jamie Pink

I'm Jamie Pink from Milton Keynes. I'm currently employed as a Teaching Assistant, supporting secondary school students who have learning difficulties and special needs. I absolutely love my job but in the future I'm likely to become a primary school teacher. I've been friends with Rachel since secondary school and was aware of the project from it's early stages. I was eager to get involved!

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I was at the SEP from 16th September - 4th November 2010 (early days!) As I was staying in Cape Coast and had spent four days there before going to the SEP, my first impressions of Saltpond were that it was very quiet in comparison with Cape. When I first arrived, I walked with Mike to gather the children from their homes on the beach. It was the first day of term so many of them hadn't arrived at school. The children's families seemed very happy to see me and were very friendly and welcoming.

I'd managed to gather some funds from friends and family before I left, to spend on things for the children, and the first thing I bought were the plants that are still outside the front of the school! The next thing I sorted was the school lunches. I bought bowls, big pans, big spoons, cups and small spoons, so by the second day I was there the children ate their first ever school meal.

I structured a timetable, as Rachel and the team had given me a list of the lessons that should be being taught. I also bought a lot of exercise books, registers, textbooks and teachers notebooks. I gave the whole building another coat of paint - some of the volunteers I was staying with in Cape Coast came along once school had finished and helped, which was fun! My time was mainly spent working alongside Mike and Emmanuel, and finding out as much I could about the project.

After coming to terms with how very different life is in Ghana and realising that education there is a very long way away from what I know, I started to focus on the ways in which it does work. What I think needs improving is the breadth of the curriculum, and an increased access to new, relevant resources (rather than tatty imported books, or poorly-written national textbooks.)

I think the most obvious thing that I took away from my time spent at the SEP Happy School was the wonderful attitude of the teachers, students and their families. The way of life there is so laid back and relaxed and, although they do not have a lot by our standards, everyone I met was so happy and grateful for everything they had. It also made me further realise how important education is, especially in developing countries such as Ghana.

My favourite book - I think I'd have to say 'Lord of the Flies' It's a classic!

Katy Humpage

I'm a Secondary School English Teacher working in London.

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I visited the project in July 2010 and was at Saltpond for just over 3 weeks. Upon first seeing the school, I was struck by how basic the building and amenities were compared to what I had been used to but I soon came to realise what a special place it was, and how much the SEP had already achieved. It's a beautiful spot and has a simple charm, standing securely on a small plot of green grass, under the lofty palms and swathed in a West African sea breeze.

I visited the project in July 2010 and was at Saltpond for just over 3 weeks. Upon first seeing the school, I was struck by how basic the building and amenities were compared to what I had been used to but I soon came to realise what a special place it was, and how much the SEP had already achieved. It's a beautiful spot and has a simple charm, standing securely on a small plot of green grass, under the lofty palms and swathed in a West African sea breeze.

Saltpond was much more remote and primitive than I had expected.  It was eye-opening from the get-go as I realised most of the village children live in tiny beach huts made of palm leaves. Whilst I was there, I spent time with Mike, the school's teacher. A friend and I worked closely with Michael discussing strategies for the student's learning and giving general help and encouragement to the community. I felt it was important that we worked on creating a suitable environment for learning. We spent a lot of our time working on painting the school buildings, making the rooms individual spaces where students of different ages/abilities could be separated and taught in differentiated groups.

The time I spent in Ghana working with the Saltpond Education Project has provided me with an immensely rewarding experience. I gained an insight into the world of education in a rural community in the country, as well as getting to know local people and having a positive, if at times complex, effect on their lives. I found it hugely gratifying being able to give my time and effort in physically assisting with the development of the project and seeing those changes taking place before my eyes was very satisfying.

My favourite book of all time...hmm..a very tough decision, there are so many. A great book that I really loved reading recently was one called 'Jonathan Livingstone Seagull' by Richard Bach. It's a very easy read, but has a very important message and is told through a beautiful metaphor. Give it a go!

Liam Isaac

I graduated from Bath University with a degree in Architecture. After working for several architecture practices, I decided on a career change and entered into teaching through the Teach First graduate recruitment program. Having worked for two years in a school in East London, I am now set to teach Design & Technology as Head of Department at the British School of Paris.

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I spent just under a month at the SEP Happy School during the 2011 summer holidays. Having met Laura - who was in the same Teach First cohort as me - I became extremely interested in the project and asked her if there was any chance that I could travel to Ghana and help out. She arranged a trip and the rest is history!

Saltpond immediately struck me as a friendly community. Prior to the trip, I was concerned that we would be treated as 'aliens' within the town but I needn't have worried - at all times we were made to feel at home. Whether it was through the friendly shouts of "boko!" as we trundled slowly down 'the strip' (the road from the beach into the little town), or the locals' insistence that my travel buddy was in fact Wayne Rooney (there is certainly a likeness), Saltpond and its residents were totally genuine and refreshing in their candour.

The school mirrored this lovely, communal atmosphere. The building and facilities, whilst modest at the time, were clearly a source of great pride to both the staff and students. Lessons under the mango tree made for a fascinating alternative to the strict formalities of education back in the UK and the pupils genuinely loved to learn. Rarely do I see in my classes such passion for learning that SEP's pupils possess in abundance.

School was technically 'out' whilst we were visiting. However, this did not stop the students turning up en masse (and in full uniform no less!), eager to learn once they discovered that we were in town. We spent a week teaching lessons on a number of subjects, ranging from numeracy and literacy to art and design. A favourite moment was when I sat down with a group of students on the grass, where we proceeded to draw the school building - with impressive results.

For the rest of the time, we were very much handymen; salvaging wood to build shelves and furniture for both the school and the volunteer house. We painted murals, sorted books and even went through some strategic school planning with the SEP staff. We essentially used the skills we had to make the greatest possible impact in the time we had.

Teaching and Learning in Ghana is clearly at a complex junction. I feel that it is important not to move towards the UK's brand of industrialised education - standardisation is not necessarily the only and best route to choose. The students of the SEP had a zest for learning that many of our children in the UK seem to have lost: they were hungry for knowledge where our students are often apathetic, and even ungrateful towards, the opportunities at their fingertips. Greater banks of resources and perhaps increased Continuing Professional Development opportunities would equip Ghana's teachers with the tools required to continue to make education engaging and exciting whilst still preparing pupils for life beyond the classroom.

The SEP taught me many things, not least of all humility. Having spent my first ten months of teaching whinging about faulty ICT networks at my own school, I observed teachers who were able to enchant a whole group of students with no more than the stick that they used to draw lines in the sand. That really made me think about the nature of my profession and prioritise the things that I felt were essential aspects of successful teaching.

I have read too many brilliant books to single out one as being my absolute favourite. However, those of you who are lucky enough to find your way to Ghana, and subsequently the volunteer house in Saltpond, there is a book on the shelves there by Sebastian Faulks called 'Engleby'. Definitely worth a flick through.

Tommy Booth

I currently enjoy teaching Chemistry in Dorset, having studied at the Universities of Bath and Portsmouth. More importantly, I am from the Isle of Wight (where dreams are made!)

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In the summer of 2011, I was lucky enough to spend just under a month at the SEP. Having travelled for what seemed like days, we jumped in a tro-tro and headed to Saltpond. When the tro suddenly stopped to pick up some road kill for supper, I was a little concerned - however the next morning, when we were greeted with smiling faces all around, it became clear why we were there.Our trip actually coincided with the school holidays, so we spent a great deal of time in the volunteer house trying to make it homely for future volunteers. Things take a long time in Ghana – trust me, you get used to it – so putting up a shelf or a shower curtain became a much longer but ultimately more rewarding task then you would think.

Amazingly, we did spend a few days 'at school'. Headmaster Michael Ofori put the word out and the kids came flocking. I was amazed by their attitude to learning and their enthusiasm for everything - from art to spellings and sums in the dirt, to singing the school song. One thing you cannot question in Saltpond is the appetite for learning, particularly in the youngest kids. There are obstacles, however – families clearly rely on their older children to run the home and, often, to look after their younger siblings. Although there is a state education system in Ghana, it is sometimes simply not economically viable for all children to attend - and parents do not always see it as a priority. Ghana is a unique place and needs an equally unique education system. As a scientist, I was impressed with the way that the curriculum was related to real life – especially where plants and crops were concerned - and I feel that this is an essential part of the Ghanaian system. Personally, I would like to see more vocational courses available to aspiring tradesmen and women, which would be hugely beneficial if Ghana continues to grow in the way it has in recent years.

It may sound clichéd, but it is hard to put into words just how much I took away from Ghana, and Saltpond in particular. In my short time I realised how much we take for granted at home! I can't imagine any of my UK classes coming into school during their summer holidays because some visiting teachers were in town, for example.

Whilst in Ghana we all read Engleby by Sebastian Faulks, which is definitely worth a read and hard to put down. It's difficult to pick out my favourite book of all time – 'The Godfather' and 'The Hobbit' are definitely up there, but being a geek I am going to go with Stephen Hawking's 'A Brief History of Time' – it's surprisingly easy to follow and you really don't need to be a physicist to enjoy it.

 
Andrew Gibb

I am a 26 year old Chartered Accountant. I grew up in Colchester, Essex and graduated from the University of Leeds in Microbiology with Immunology.

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I was at the SEP for two weeks in the summer of 2011. The trip from Accra to Saltpond could be classified as rather hectic; it being our first trip to Ghana, we didn't really know what to expect. However, once you step off the tro- tro and into Saltpond the atmosphere changed to one of a relaxed and happy community. We were greeted by handfuls of screaming children; "Obruni, Obruni". I quickly figured out this was directed at me and gave it a good guess that it had something to do with me not being a local man. Mike Ofori greeted us with potentially the biggest smile I have ever received and cooked us an incredible meal (I later found out this was fufu). A special start to a great trip.

We only had two weeks and we wanted to make as much of an impact as possible. We were working on the volunteer home and with much work, murals, book cases, boxes and desks were made and the house felt warm and friendly; a reflection of the local community. We volunteered outside the official term time but this didn't stop the students wanting to come to the school in full uniform for a day's learning. I was given responsibility of teaching / herding the youngest of them, shape recognition and crayon work was the agenda for the day, which was a joy.

The hunger to learn is certainly not something that is wanting in Saltpond. I believe the improvement to the education system would centre around the facilities and learning materials at the disposal of the teachers. The children were an absolute joy. They all have a real craving for learning which you could physically see when teaching in the classroom. With the help of SEP this can only continue to improve in the future and have a lasting effect on the children and wider community.

Favourite book of all time? 'Catch-22' Easily the best catch there is, the book is pure madness.

Bianca Papanicolaou

Hi, I'm Bianca and I've just graduated from Warwick University. When I visited the school in the summer of 2011 I was struck by how much love and care had gone into providing the best possible educational opportunity for the kids at Saltpond.

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Although I could only stay for a short while, I was able to be of some assistance to the younger kids in the classroom. Everyone there was so friendly and willing to chat! I was able to learn a fair bit about the education system in Ghana, and discuss development opportunities for the school with other volunteers and the head teacher, Mike.

I loved the general atmosphere of hope and optimism for the future of the students in the school. I felt so at home staying at Saltpond and visiting the school, I didn't want to leave! Back at university I was able to collaborate with the Oxfam society and organise a music night with Mushana to raise money and awareness for the project.

Favourite book? The Bible and 'The Selfish Giant' by Oscar Wilde.

Juliette Clark

I'm Juliette - 33 years old and work in publishing. I heard about SEP through my friend, Jessica, who had booked a trip and was telling me about it. I was very tempted to join her on her Ghanaian adventure and ended up rather spontaneously booking the trip ten days before flying out!

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I was at school for ten days at the end of May 2012. One of my first impressions was just how much can be achieved by the ambition and goodwill of a small number of people. The SEP has provided a wealth of opportunity to children in the area. The other (very good) impression that I got was that it aims to help the pupils enjoy their school experience. The teachers seem to love teaching and the children love to be taught and are eager to learn!

We even did a little bit of teaching and did some teaching of the younger children about colours, countries in Africa, animals, and the letters of the alphabet. It struck me that it would be helpful to continue to train teachers, all across Ghana, in more innovative delivery methods - so that the children aren't learning in a rote fashion but actually comprehending things.

I had such a brilliant time at SEP. The children were an absolute JOY! I can't articulate enough just how lovely it was to be there to help out and to meet those children who are so bright and keen to learn.

Favourite book? 'This Is All' by Aidan Chambers. WONDERFUL! But there are so many other good books too...

Friends of SEP

Becky Lomax

We'd like to say thank you to the brilliant Becky for donating her time and creative skills to design us some fabulous literature. Her work is truly refreshing and if you'd like to see more, or hire her for your own project, please visit www.becky-lomax.com

Jason Paige

We'd also like to thank Jason and the team at Kube print for donating their time and services to help us print cards, leaflets and business cards. They're a great bunch and we couldn't recommend them highly enough, so if you'd like to see more of their work, visit www.kubeprint.co.uk

Pearson PLC and Penguin Books

Thank you to Pearson PLC and Penguin Books for their kind donation of books and funds

 
The Maingot Charitable Trust

We are indebted to the Maingot Charitable Trust for their generous assistance

Scholastic Childrens Books and Simon & Schuster UK

Thank you very much to SCB and S&S for their generous donation of books for our library.

Sabre Trust Charitable Trust

The Sabre Trust are doing wonderful work to improve the quality of early years education in Ghana. We are so grateful for their expertise and resources. Find out more at sabretrust.org.