Projects Abroad

Extra curricular and enrichment activities that broaden students' experiences are strongly encouraged at Alton College. This year we launch 'The Alton College Experience' a programme specially designed to provide students with the opportunity to enhance their skills and personal qualities to give them an edge when applying for university or employment. Our New College Day and flexible timetable allows all students to work on the ACE skills alongside their A level, BTEC/Cambridge Technical and GCSE courses.

Second year student and volunteer Scarlett Aylen, previously at Alton Convent School, recently completed an incredible volunteer human rights placement in Ghana as part of Projects Abroad. The organisers said ‘her superb contribution will have a tremendous, long lasting and positive effect in the village she visited.’ We were delighted to catch up  with Scarlett to talk about the experience.  

Firstly a huge well done and congratulations for completing the placement! What made you get involved in the first place?

I was talking to my friend who said that he was going to be volunteering in Ghana with an organization called Projects Abroad.   After a very quick decision that it was an opportunity not to be missed out, I signed up and before I knew it I was packing to go to Ghana, a developing African country, alone. It didn't really take much persuading or consideration from me as I have been wanting to do something like this, but never had the chance before.  

What did the project and trip involve? 

Projects Abroad is an organization where individuals can volunteer in many countries on an incredible selection of volunteering trips. I went to Ghana on a Human Rights volunteering project for two weeks. The aim of the project I went on was to help teach children and adults their basic human rights, an education that we take for granted in the UK, but which is vital to developing countries such as Ghana.  Children did not realise that they were entitled to an education, let alone that physical abuse was illegal.  I also went to help at orphanages, centres for rescued young slaves, youth church groups (Ghana is very religious) and schools. As well as the volunteering, getting to see the country and meet the people who live there was incredible. The mall in the city was like stepping home again, it was so Westernized, yet you look across the street and see slums. 

What you have learned and gained from the experience?  

I have brought away so much from my trip to Ghana. I've met the most inspirational people and made lifelong friends who also were on the trip. I've learnt there is so much work to do in countries like Ghana. They have 3G data in the entire city and many people had smartphones, but they can't afford to provide clean water or sewage covers to stop people dying of disease. We spent two hours with a corporate lawyer from the 'biggest firm in Accra' (which was the equivalent size of a four bedroomed detached house in the UK) who admitted that there aren't really any lawyers helping with human rights issues, apart from foreign organizations and people like myself because there was no money involved and the worst issues were in remote areas where nobody wants to live. There is an incredible lack of education, evident everywhere. From parents asking how else they're supposed to punish their child without hurting them, to a school teacher shouting at us, calling us sinners because our country has advanced in social acceptance in terms of sexuality and that a lot of people are not religious. In Ghana people are still stoned for being gay.  

For the children who aren't left selling things on the dangerous roads with their parents all day, some who go to school, go hungry with ripped clothes with bodies covered in scars or untreated injuries left to heal due to the lack of medical care. Abuse is a big problem. I heard stories of the children who were beaten by their teachers and families, banned from school for asking the teacher for permission to drink water or have a snack. I met children who were sold (for the equivalent of £2) or given away by their parents as slaves, orphans whose parents abandoned them or died from hunger and disease - all too common wherever I went. Yet every single place I went to help, every child was smiling. I walked through the slums, people getting on with their day to day lives, children were playing happily. Wherever I went, be it a school or to visit parents to explain why we were teaching a human rights education, faces lit up and they were so interested about Western culture. 

When I went to the medical centre, I had a long conversation with the man who was accompanying me. He made me feel incredibly fortunate to live in a place as amazing as England. He said he always watches the news and knows exactly what he was missing in the other parts of the world. I learnt that what I was seeing in Ghana was only half as bad as some places in Africa, such as Somalia. The trip to the hospital cost £120.  I learnt it was the equivalent of one month's income for him. I felt awful, and it really made me think about the value of money - what we see as a pair of nice shoes or a trip out to the shops in England requires many hours hard work for people in different parts of the world. He explained he wants his child to go to a 'better school' than he can afford at the moment, and that the best ones costs $400 a term, which is most of his income. This is so his child can have access to toilets and be able to write in exercise books. 

Will you be continuing with volunteering? 

I have done quite a lot of local community volunteering, but am already keen to go back to Africa as soon as I can and help even more. However, with A-levels coming up, for the time being I have been collecting clothes, shoes and stationery and school textbooks and posting them to the places I visited in Ghana, having come back and seen exactly what it is that the children need. It was heart-breaking when I was asked 'have you come to help us build our new classroom'. I want to be able to go back and have the means to take enough money for a building to be completed. I have also been encouraging my friends to volunteer this summer. 

What do you hope to do in the future after College? 

I have applied to study law at University and am extremely interested in human rights, especially regarding unfair representation in the justice system. I am aware that there are many issues regarding the fairness of justice systems in some countries, so I would like to go help improve those areas.  

Going to Ghana made me want to study law even more, as it proved to me that what I have read about is a reality. I sat in the supreme court for three hours, where judges managed to go through eighteen different cases, laughing at all of them and telling the lawyers they were useless and to give up. It scared me that I was sat in the highest court of the land in a country where I saw no resemblance of what I see as a fair justice system being from the UK. 

Would you encourage other students to get involved with the project? 

The idea of flying to undeveloped country thousands of miles from home by yourself, not knowing anybody, might seem incredibly daunting. But if there's one thing in life I think people from a country like ours must do if they ever get the chance, it is to go and see what a truly different world it is in these places, especially at our age. 

There are not really many words to describe what I saw. I could never tell anybody that my trip to Ghana was 'amazing' because what I saw was far from that, but I would certainly describe it as a necessary trip to make and definitely a life changing experience. 

Seeing photos of 'slums' in geography and learning about poverty and people dying of disease is one thing. Experiencing it in real life was a whole different story and no matter how prepared I thought I was for what I was going to see, nothing had quite prepared me to see what I did. When they call it a 'third world country', I now understand that they are legitimately like a whole different world you have stepped into.