Money to set up community centres in Ghana and Uganda that are not only
have books at home?” I asked the children one day. Not a single hand went up. It upset me so much that I asked the volunteer coordinator, who was arriving in Ghana from London, to bring along books, games and puzzles.
With the resources I set up a communityrun play centre within a school. I also trained a local librarian, Awol, to teach children the games in a lively way.
Teaching in Ghana and Uganda is almost always by rote. Kids have no games or experience of discovery-led teaching. I decided to focus on learning through play. Kids were encouraged to participate and given lots of praise and encouragement.
This was a hit and the children became excited by even the most simple toys. It was brilliant to see the children animated and having fun while learning about shapes, colours and numbers.
All too soon my stay was over, but I left Ghana with the image of their happy faces ingrained in my mind.
I desperately wanted other children in rural villages to receive access to quality education, but it had to be done in a sustainable way. It was all I could think about back home.
A life-changing decision
Just three weeks after landing back in the UK, I made a decision. “I’m quitting my job,” I announced to my boss, family and friends.
“Don’t be silly,” they all said. But I was serious about going back to Ghana to set up more play centres and train people to use their local resources.
So a few of my friends supported me – some even ran marathons to raise money for my project. They also paid to see me sing at a concert I put on to raise funds.
In the months before my second Africa trip, I spent all my free time researching early childhood development – I wanted to know the best way to teach these children. I found that learning through play in early childhood was crucial to help them grasp concepts.
In January 2008, a year after I first visited as a volunteer teacher, having raised £1,000 ( just under Dh6,000), I returned to Ghana.
There I met David Abukari, a community development worker who loved my play centre idea. He took me to a remote village on his motorbike and introduced me to village elders who helped me organise community meetings to tell parents – some of whose children had never gone to school – about my plans.
I lived in a mud hut with a few volunteers in a village in northern Ghana. I commissioned