If you’re thinking about volunteering, go for it!

Volunteering with Vision Aid Overseas (VAO) can be nerve racking, especially if you’ve only been qualified for just over a year and have no prior experience of similar assignments. It’s completely understandable if putting your name down on the volunteer list is met with nerves and trepidation. However the feeling of excitement soon starts to bubble over as soon as you get into the swing of fundraising. 

VAO provide you with a great fundraising pack, bursting with handy hints and tips. As friends, family and colleagues start to pull together you’ll reach the target in no time! Before you know it you’re getting your jabs, sorting out the visa and buying gifts for the countless children you’ll encounter on your travels. (Bubbles and balloons were a great hit with the kids!)

On the day of our flight to Ghana the team met for the first time. We were 4 optometrists from around the UK and hit it off straight away, revelling in the shared experience we were about to embark on. The next two weeks would be filled with many laughs and unforgettable moments.

Based at KNUST University in Kumasi, for the first week we supervised intense clinical skill workshops for fifth year optometry students. In turn the students introduced us to Fufu, Watchi and plenty of Jollof Rice for lunch! The feedback we were getting from the students was great and their skills came on leaps and bounds. Before we knew it, it was time for the middle weekend - a trip to Cape Coast. Visiting Elmina Castle really gave us perspective on some of Ghana’s history.

The second week was all about outreach. We travelled to a different town each day along with our driver Chris and the students. Outreach is tough but rewarding. The satisfaction you get from improving someone’s quality of life makes it all worthwhile. One moment that comes to mind was when suddenly every student from a nearby primary school turned up to have an eye test. The rest of the day was filled with lots of retinoscopy and me getting a little light headed from blowing up so many balloons!

The last day in Ghana and the end of our assignment really did feel like it had come too soon. As we packed up the equipment ready to leave we had an opportunity to reflect on the past 14 days. While reminiscing, I felt a hint of sadness as it dawned on me we were about to leave behind so many friends,  but thanks to social media we still remain in touch even with 5000 kilometers between us!

Ghana is such a beautiful country, and the experiences I shared with my team will stay with me forever. Therefore this testimonial would be incomplete without me thanking them. Zaira an amazing team leader, Jayne always wowing us with her talents and Param providing the comic relief. A special mention to Judith, Chris, Abena, Dr Mohammed and all the students and staff at KNUST.

If you’re thinking about volunteering, go for it!