Our weekend started on Friday 10 October at 3pm. At this time we walked down to the STC bus station in Accra. We were getting a bus to Hohoe where we were going to spend the weekend. The journey took a lot longer than we thought and at 9:30pm we arrived at our hotel, The Galaxy Hotel. Unfortunately our first experiences of this hotel were not out of this world. We had to wait 40 minutes for some rice, had cold showers and the bed was not made. We were still fairly happy though. This was the first time we had been out of Accra so it was good to see some of the country. We got up, waited forty minutes for some omelettes then started our day to the Agumatsa Falls in Wli Village. We intended to get a TroTro (minibus) to the falls which we managed to get quite easily. It was a bit uncomfortable (four to each row and no AC) and we were pleased to get out. We walked to the tourist centre which was friendly but basic. We then met our tour guide, Francis, who was to take us to the lower falls. We also discovered that there had not been as much rain as expected this year so we would be able to go to the upper falls which we were very pleased about. Usually the upper falls are only open during the dry season because it is quite a challenging hike. We set off for a 45 minute walk through the national park to the lower falls. We meandered on bridges over the Agumatsa River nine times and saw several different types of butterfly. We were told there were monkeys around but we did not see any unfortunately. Suddenly we felt we water drops landing on us and as we passed a corner we were met with the impressive sight of the lower Wli Falls. The volume of water that was falling was much more than we had expected. The photos we had seen in guide books must have been taken during the dry season so we were not expecting this. We were told we could swim in the pool at the bottom but it looked a bit rough and choppy (not to mention cold!). Tourist-like we took some photographs of each other in front of the falls. We were the only people there (our guide had disappeared) so I took this opportunity to ask Alexis to be my wife. I am pleased to say that she said yes! Just after this our guide came back and we told him our wonderful news. Almost psychically, he then produced two bottles of beer for us to celebrate with. We then floated around the area, drinking and admiring the view. After about an hour we then started our trek to the upper falls.
About 10 minutes into this journey we discovered that it really was a trek. This was going to be a hard journey which we were told would take about two hours. We were still keen and maybe delirious from our engagement. After about 20 minutes the heavens opened. Within about a minute we were completely soaked through. We had a hectic few minutes under a tree trying to wrap up our camera so that it would be in the middle of the bag (I forgot my phone which unfortunately now has a broken space button, I am using hyphens in texts now). For the next hour and a half we trekked up this mountain to the Upper Falls with weather varying between torrential rain, beating sun and a damp mist. The view at the Upper Falls was well worth the hike. We witnessed the Upper Falls descent into a pool which then quickly flowed over into the Lower Falls. Swimming in that pool would have been suicidal. I went down to the pool edge and was almost blown over by the spray and wind. With our guide worrying about the state of the path (there was a path?) back we did not stay long. As we left the heavens opened again. So much so that we had to stop for a few minutes and make our own leaf umbrella. The hike back was a bit more troublesome with almost constant rain. After about one and a half hours we arrived back at the Lower Falls and had another beer under a palm shack. Looking very smug we then walked back to the tourist office with a spring in our step which betrayed our wet and dirty look. It certainly was a wonderful and memorable day.
Apart from the weekend we have had quite an interesting week. We had no running water for two days, a foaming toilet, watched football with a square ball, tried to work out the difference between a plan, process, strategy and framework and attended a book launch (Kwame Nkrumah: The Legend of African Nationalism) in the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park. We will leave those stories for another day…
We also include an article that was in The Times last week. If these blogs are inspiring you then now could be a good time to apply.
October 6, 2008
Job market fears and mortgage pressures lead to VSO volunteers dropping out
Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) has had 55 people with backgrounds in teaching, law and management withdraw from its recruitment process because they fear they will not be able to find a job when they return from their two-year posting.
Others who have dropped out have said they are concerned they will not be able to sell or rent out their house to cover their mortgage while they are away.
VSO needs to fill 355 posts by next March, in some of the world's poorest countries. Only 48 professionals have gone abroad since April. If levels of interest do not pick up, the charity expects at least 70 positions will be left unfilled at the end of March.
Inquiries from prospective volunteers in the year up to August were well down on the previous 12 months, sparking concern that the credit crunch is undermining people's confidence in working as a volunteer.
VSO volunteers typically help developing countries to build their education and health systems and community organisations or work in areas such as human rights and income generation.
With economists predicting several years of economic downturn, however, VSO is encouraging people to escape the gloom by taking a two-year placement and returning to Britain when the worst is over.
Mark Goldring, chief executive of VSO, said he understood that people felt insecure about their future, but urged them to think how much worse off people were in Africa and Asia.
“People living in developing countries are not facing two or three years' credit crunch, they are living in poverty that threatens their long-term education, health and livelihood,” he said. “It's crucial that we meet our commitment to partners in Africa and Asia by doing all we can to recruit the skilled professionals that are urgently needed.”
VSO is looking for experienced managers, and professionals with experience of working in primary education, as well as doctors and midwives. Banking skills are also in demand, especially if they come with planning or management expertise.
Volunteers are needed to train teachers in Eritrea, to work as doctors in Malawi and as institutional development advisers in Cameroon. There is a similar position vacant in Nepal for a project that supports people in rural areas affected by HIV and Aids. The charity provides volunteers with flights, accommodation and an allowance to cover basic costs.
Public-sector professionals volunteering for between six months and two years are entitled to claim pension contributions providing they return to the public sector for a minimum of six months afterwards.
Evidence that the credit crunch is hitting overseas volunteering comes as other research shows that charities are already being hit by a fall in donations.
Nearly one third of charities (30 per cent) say that they have suffered a drop in individual donations, while 88 per cent expect their income to fall, or fall further, over the next year, according to the Charities Aid Foundation and the Association of Chief Executives of the Voluntary Sector. The problem is being made worse by rising inflation, with 71 per cent of chief executives of charities saying that their costs have increased.
As a result nearly a third have already made redundancies and more than half have been forced to limit staff pay increases.
The Charities Aid Foundation said that the fall in donations was a departure from the trend seen during previous recessions, when individual donations remained relatively stable, despite rising unemployment.