Volunteer Voices: Our Experience with PAL

During the course of this semester/term, Play and Learn accumulated around sixty (60) volunteers. This post is our opportunity to share our thoughts and experiences with you. I, through the interviews I conducted with my fellow volunteers, have collected the opinions and memories of the volunteers of the Spring of 2019. The purpose of this post is for you to get a sense of what it’s like to volunteer for PAL and the impact it has had on us and those around us.

Our volunteers come from all different backgrounds. Some volunteers are students and some are not. Many volunteers are International students and others are Ghanaian. We all have different talents and those talents directed us to what role we chose. There are many roles a PAL volunteer can take: coach, tutor, mentor, media personnel, or general volunteer.

The coaches teach the Play and Learn children how to play football (soccer) and help them develop athletic skills. The coaches I was able to talk to were Coach Jude and Coach Jesse.

Coach Jude had a lot to say, during our interview. He told me about an interaction he had with a parent. This father came to Coach Jude and begged him to help his son. Coach Jude reflected that the father had seen Coach Jude as a role model and mentor in the child’s life and saw that it was important that his child learned from Coach Jude. Throughout his time with Play & Learn, Coach Jude has learned to empathize with children, feel what they feel, and understand their struggles. When asked why PAL is important, Coach Jude broke his answer into three groups: the kids, the community, and himself. Play & Learn’s focus is on helping the children, because the children are our future and they are what’s important. Play & Learn participates in community outreach – helping under-served communities and finding funding to help those in need. Coach Jude also reflected on what PAL has enabled him to do. He has been able to meet many new people and connect with the world, outside of Ghana. Coach Jude believes that PAL could benefit from having even more International volunteers. He said that the children feel very important and that they become curious and fascinated by the differences in accents, lives, and even hair.

Coach Jesse described his work as a coach as helping the children learn the tactical aspects of football, which also includes teamwork and discipline. One of his favorite memories with PAL has been the football match that was held this year: volunteers versus PAL kids. Coach Jesse said it was good to see everyone come together and have a good time. Through PAL Coach Jesse has learned to interact with others and understand children. He believes that PAL is important because it provides a sanctuary for the children, a safe place to have fun and be a kid. Coach Jesse hopes that PAL will stretch throughout all of Ghana, helping as many kids as possible.

I was able to talk to a few of the tutors: Jeannine, Emily, and Dela; whose role is to help their students with homework, plan lessons, and teach.

Jeannine tutors two girls. She teaches math and English and helps them in the areas they struggle with. Jeannine remembers a time when she assigned long division to the girls and they asked if she could give them harder problems to solve. She expressed, in our interview, that working with PAL, and children in general, is extremely rewarding and that it teaches one patience. In her opinion, Play & Learn is important because it gives back to the children.

Emily also tutors two girls. Aside from helping the girls with homework and preparing lessons, Emily likes to plan other activities for the girls. One such activity being tongue twisters. She recalled one of her most memorable moments with the girls being when Jessica (far right) taught Emily how to fetch water and balance it on her head. Back in the states, Emily has worked with children as a camp councilor, but “it wasn’t until Play and Learn that I realized how much children look up to us. They look at me like I’m superwoman- which I’m not. It goes to show how much of an impact you can have on someone, if you take the time.” When asked why PAL is important, Emily responded with “…these children don’t have people who can help them, with PAL they can see their true potential. I try to tell my girls that they are capable of doing and achieving anything. PAL helps empower these students.”

Dela is a Ghanaian tutor who teaches two boys. She expressed that through Play & Learn she has become more patient and has learned how to relate to the children and where they come from. Dela believes that PAL is important because the less privileged now have access to quality education (through PAL).

A majority of the volunteers describe themselves as ‘general volunteers,’ this is because what they do is … a little bit of everything. Sirena is one of these individuals and the only mentor I was able to interview.

Sirena holds many titles as a volunteer with PAL; she is a mentor, tutor, and a behind the scenes participant. Through mentoring and tutoring, Sirena believes that her role includes developing the kids’ reading skills and setting a standard by example. Sirena also visits La Bawaleshie Basic Schools (with many other volunteers) where the volunteers work on building on the students’ reading abilities. Some of Sirena’s behind the scenes work has included grant writing, planning events, and attending meetings. She acted as moderator during PAL Mental Health Awareness Talk which she expressed was both personal and important. When asked why PAL is important, Sirena said “Who else is going to do it (if you/I don’t, if PAL doesn’t). Some parents don’t have the money – Play and Learn is a resource for the under-served and underprivileged.”

Alliyah is another busybody. She is a tutor to two girls (Lucy and Sierra), she attends the Mobile Library and organized PAL’s Earth Day Project. At the mobile library, Alliyah listens to children read (as well as reads to the kids) and answers questions the children may have. The Earth Day Project was dedicated to cleaning up Ajax Park – where the kids meet. This gave them a clean space to play and learn. When asked to share a memory, Alliyah said, “…Going to Lucy and Sierra’s houses, seeing how they live, the community, getting a glimpse into their lives, you become a part of what they experience everyday.” When it came to the impact PAL has had on Alliyah, she responded, “It opens your eyes to certain things. It’s not hard to get something done, if you have the passion for it.” Why does she think PAL is important? ” Because it gives hope to the children, it provides them with people they can go to when their struggling.”

Some of the other general volunteers include:

Katja who would contact people, raise funds, and attend events. Arturo who used his memory of learning English as a second language to help PAL kids read. Paa Kwesi, a new volunteer, assisted with the Earth Day Project. Abena and Edna who help with Mobile Library.

Samiyah and Brenda who participate in Mobile Libary and visit La Bawaleshie to help develop the kids’ reading skills and abilities. Each of these volunteers do what they can, even if it’s not much. The kids bond with these volunteers and both sides are impacted in a positive way.

Tali and I worked together, as media personnel, on Angela’s Story; but Tali alone put together the footage of the interviews to come up with the amazingly powerful video for PAL to share. Though most of her volunteer work was done behind a camera or computer screen, Tali recalled our trip to the mall as one of her favorite memories. The girls had never been to the mall before and it was their treat for being so open and sharing their stories with us. Tali reflected on the importance of taking the time to listen to the girls and the impact their stories had on us. We were both so grateful for the opportunity to share their story and get the ball rolling on getting them more support. Tali pointed out that Play & Learn is very effective. She chalks that up to PAL being headed by Coach Nana. Nana Ohene knows and understands these kids, their communities, and their struggles. “He deeply cares and can address the needs.” Tali summed it up by saying PAL is being overseen by “someone who is cognitive of what’s happening.”

I am also one of those busybody volunteers. My work with Play and Learn has included writing blog posts, conducting various interviews, getting to know one PAL family, participating in Mobile Library, attending PAL hosted events, and assisting in the Earth Day Project. Through my time with Play and Learn, I came to, not only empathize, but grow to deeply care for three young ladies (Charlotte, Juliet, and Lucy). I have so many memories with these girls and my time with Play & Learn. My most memorable moment, though, is when Tali and I gave Angela her first donation from an anonymous donor. Angela was incredibly grateful and thanked us for our part in helping her get that donation. I hope for more funding to find its way to her. Play & Learn is so important. It helps more than just the children. Through some of my interviews I discovered that the kids come home from school to teach their parents what they learned. Play & Learn works to empower children through mentorship, team work, and fun. I also believe Play and Learn is important because it provides where others can’t. It is led by someone who knows and acknowledges the struggle these kids go through. Coach Nana has a heart for these kids and the determination to see it succeed and grow. With a mentality like that PAL will last. The only thing they need is constant support from people like you, me, and all the volunteers at PAL. Together, our stars will shine.

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