Interview: Serial Volunteer Evert Van Effelen

On 16 May 2018 while working with Be The Change Foundation I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Evert Van Effelen from the Netherlands, someone who had volunteered with the organization in the past and came by to check on its progress.  What I thought would be a casual exchange of pleasantries led to an hour-long conversation in which I was so intrigued with Evert that I requested to interview him the next day for this blog, of which he obliged.
Evert @ Twitter Paradise Guest House in Ampenyi, Elmina
Words in parenthesis are those I think I heard correctly but am not 100% sure.  "Unintelligble" means I couldn't make out what he was saying on the recording at all.  Words in bold are proper nouns, and "laughter" is of course laughter.


MA:  Good morning.  This is Malcolm Aaron.  I’m interviewing a serial volunteer from the Netherlands to Ghana named Evert Van Uffelen.

Evert, I just wanted to ask you what first… when did you first come to Ghana, and what brought you to Ghana?

EU:  I’ll make it not too long, but my first time in Ghana was in 2010, and I came in as a volunteer by a group from (World Service).  And we were also working with a non-profit organization in Accranamed (unintelligible).  So we came here to bring money and hands, and (unintelligible) will support us with cooks, (laundry boys), protection and transportation.  So that’s how I came here for the first time in 2010.

Also in 2011 I came here again, because I liked it very much, and I love the country.  Later on when we came back from… also we did a project in the north part, the most-poorest part of Ghana, the northeast part, in the area of Bolga.  From there when we came back always someone is traveling with us.  So I met Helena for the first time - she’s sitting in front of me - together with her auntie, Sister Mary.  Now we had a conversation in the bus, and that is why, how I came to Ghana and then made contact with the local people and what we were doing.

Now it was… I love it, and that’s why I said to the ladies when I finally arrived in Accra, before we got home.  I said, ‘I would like to come again.  Could you pick me up from the airport?’  And they said, ‘Yes, okay.’  So next time in 2012 I bought a ticket, and I only made a call, and then I have to wait if everything come right.  And yes, they are standing at the airport, and I was feeling so happy.  For the first time, you know?

MA:  Yes.

EU:  And no appointment, no nothing, only that, ‘I’m coming and please (have your bed for me).’  That’s the only thing.  So that was my first two years in Ghana, and after that I would come every year - minimum once a year, sometimes two times.

MA:  So how many times have you been here total?

EU:  This is my tenth time.  I travelled all over Ghana - north, south, east, west.

MA:  So you said the first time you came was 2012?

EU:  Alone.  I came in 2010 and 2011 with a group of Dutch volunteers.

MA:  So that means in the last 8 years you’ve been here 10 times?

EU:  No, eight.  Yeah, eight times.  In the last six years I came alone, and then eight times I came alone, sometimes with a visitor from Holland or some other ones, but most of the time I came alone because now I have my friends here, so why should I take someone with me?  It’s not necessary because you have your friends here.  I can stay in Accra.  I can walk around and do something.  I know my way now. 

In the beginning it was very difficult because I had to remember (all the names that I use), and I said, ‘Wow.’  And some places are gone.  I have an example because I know (unintelligible words).  There was a route with some trees on it, and there was a bus stop, and they call it (Mangoase).  But Mangoase, there is not any mango farm there, but the name is still there, and that makes it very difficult to remember the place.

MA:  So what brought you on your current visit?

EU:  My current visit.  Now my visit was… this time?

MA:  Yes.

EU:  My boss says I have a lot of days off from work because I make long days and also in the evening and in the night, and he says, ‘You have too much days.  Would you like to have a few days off from work?’  I said, ‘Yes, why not?’  But I was… I said, ‘Oh no, let’s go as soon as possible.’ 

There was only one restriction.  I was building two, together with the other company.  I was building three operation rooms for a children’s hospital in (unintelligible).  It’s a city, (unintelligible), in Holland.  So after that then he says, ‘You have to finish it before you can go.’  That was the only restriction.

So I went the first day of May.  I came to Ghana to see what was happening, so it was agreed that I would go on the third day of May.  It was my intention to come a little bit earlier, but the tickets were very expensive that weekend because we have a holiday in Holland.  That makes it a little bit more difficult, so that’s why I came here now.  It’s a new time. 

Normally I came also in Autumn, in September, October, November sometimes, but now for the first time I came here in Springtime.  Now I also have rain and other kinds of weather in Autumn.  Most of time it’s only dry and sunny.  But I have a nice example.  Would you like to hear it?

MA:  Yes.

EU:  Okay.  Now last Thursday we came back from… we went to Aflao to visit a good friend.  They have a lastborn… the firstborn.  So one our way back in the evening I said, ‘Now we have to go back in the evening because lots of traffic in the morning.’  Then you have to go from Aflao, and then at one moment you have to pass the Volta River at Sogakope.

So on one side of the river, where you came from Aflao, it was dry.  We passed… you cross over the bridge, and on the other side of the bridge it was raining very hard!  And it was still raining very hard until the time we came to Accra.  It was a very bad car.  Door was closing very bad, no (wipers) in front, and the driver was moving fast, fast, fast…

MA:  So it was a trotro?

EU:  It was a trotro, yeah, no big bus because you can’t get it halfway-halfway.  That is the difficult thing.  But at one moment then you have to get out somewhere because the car was going to Accra, to Tema Station, and we have to go straight to La Paz at first.  So when you came at Circle, it’s nearby the airport, and then the door gets open, and they drop us out in the middle of the rain, in the middle of nowhere.  And then you’re standing along the roadside [laughter].  Now in one minute I was wet from toe-to-toe, (unintelligible words).  It was very terrible.  And she was with me, so she knows what was happening.  It was very bad.

Then you have to find a car, but it was almost 11:00 in the evening, and that makes it very difficult.  It’s very difficult at that moment.  So then you have to wait in the rain (with two other ones).  Now finally you find a car to the direction of La Paz.  Then you have to go to Achimota headover [sic], get off again, in the rain, and from there we got a taxi to Christian Village.

Finally we got home let’s say 11:45 (throughout that).  So it was a very (poor) experience in the Raining Season, and then before I never had it.  That was a little bit my new… my Spring experience in this time of year.  So brand-new but also, yeah, not nice in the evening, let’s say that, no.

MA:  But what is your general impression of the development of Ghana since the first time you’ve been here?

EU:  It’s going fast.  Sometimes some things are going slow, but if you see what has happened in the last five years in Accra it’s really becoming big.  You’ll see everywhere they are building big homes and offices and all kinds of other things.  The roads are becoming reconstructed.  The first time the big roads through Accra, the W. Bush Highway, was only a sandy road, the first time that I came here.  Now it’s all covered with asphalt.  The main road to Dodowa, main road to Nsawam, they are all covered now, so it’s going better.  Only what you’ll see now is a big-time problem is traffic, because at that time 10 years ago no one had a car, but now everybody, it looks like they have a car by his own.  So for 10 kilometers if you are unlucky you’ll need 2 hours.  It’s terrible.  You know?  They have to do something about it - but what? 

They need more… I think they need better public transportation and not by… organized by the government and not by the public [sic] sector.  But how will you do it?  It’s also a struggle between the taxi and trotro drivers and the public sector, but at one moment you have no other choice.

But I think what I see, the country is developing.  It’s becoming… it’s going better and better, but it’s not going fast.  But you can’t change it.  You can’t change things in one generation.  It’s too short.  It’s going step-by-step.  (Like you said) also it’s going, ‘Small, small, small.’  Now that’s how it is, and you can’t say much, but when you see something what is happening, you know, now they have big buses to a lot of destinations.  In the first year that I came here there was only one destination.  You could go to Bolga or to the north, but east, west, there was nothing.  And now it’s still going, so more people can go now.  They got more traveling.  The economy is going up. 

If you see what is happening around, everywhere, there are more… people have more possibilities.  Only a lot of people from outside of Accra would like to come to Accra, and that makes it more difficult.  If you see how fast the city is growing in (unintelligible) areas like (unintelligible), (Pantang), Kasao and the direction of Tema, it’s growing very fast.  You are almost at the border around Greater Accra.  So that means everybody, I can understand why they do it.  In Accra you have the possibility to find a job maybe.  In the outside it’s more difficult.  Maybe in Tamaleor in other big cities like Kumasiyou can find one, but in the rest of the areas it’s sometimes very difficult to find a place where you can find a job for all the people, so I can understand that they said, ‘Hey, I would like to go to Accra.  Maybe I’m lucky.’  And also from the north part, I can understand they do it.

MA:  So I'm currently meeting you at Ampenyi in Elmina.  And I know you volunteered before with Be The Change Foundation.  So can you tell us about your experiences and impressions of them?

EU:  Let’s say now the first time, how it starts, I came here for the first time alone.  And then at one moment I met John Kweku, and you know, ‘Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah’ in the taxi and what was his idea to do, and he has big plans.  And he said he had big money, but you know [laughter].  But then you have to, yeah, so we’re talking about his ideas and (how he would like to have a school), and I did also some volunteering work here in the village, but that was later.

MA:  With who?

EU:  Yeah, also in the village in 2016 together with the [Ampenyi Basic] school.  When we couldn’t go further with the [Be The Change Foundation] school, then I go to the village and do something.  But the most-difficult thing is they, you know, try to be one group here.  Sometimes it’s John and three others.  It’s not one group, but John is… he generates the money.  John is doing this.  John is doing that, but he has to share something, trust someone else, ‘You can do this.  You can do that.’  And that is how it is.

And then you have… if you trust another one then you say, ‘Okay, you are now responsible for that piece of project.’  And then after that you can talk about it, but I think do it and give them that responsibility, so they feel responsible, and then they finish it, and then they can do what they have to do.  But I think more than what was changed that last few times, I think now they do well, because the ideas are good.  And also now the [Be The Change Foundation] school is finished.  It took a little bit more time than I thought with one and-a-half years, but it’s still there.  Even it’s a two-classroom bamboo school.  Now you see what they’ve done in one and-a-half years.  I know that (unintelligible) money.  You can’t say, ‘We do it in a month.’  It’s impossible.  But it is there.  Only now you have to find teachers and other schoolbooks and other kinds of things, but that is another thing, but the school is there.

Also the change in the village, now there is a new toilet building.  Before there was nothing, only a very-simple, old thing, very dirty, very (icky), and now there is one.  (They would also like to make on this side) also the same thing.  And that is a little change, but also the people in the village (I’m thinking a little bit) are changing. 

You have to always try to work together, don’t do everything alone by yourself.  Why?  You’re not born to do everything alone.  You are born to work together, and then you can help each other.  You know then, ‘I can do something for you.  Please can you do something for me?’  And then… and not only thinking, ‘He is doing something for me, so I have to pay him.’  It’s not only about paying.  It’s also then you have to think about, ‘Hey, why can’t we do something for the whole community?  Why can’t we do something for another?  Why can’t we do something together?’  And that means then you got also more cohesion in the community, and now they have two groups, one on the left side, one on the right side, and if you work together then they’ll be more cohesion in the whole community.  Then they feel more responsible for the whole community and for the whole village, and I think that will come.  And also you have someone to lead in that position and talk about it and try to find people in the village who will support how to do it and that kind of things.

MA:  So is there anything you want to say in closing?

EU:  In closing?

MA:  Yes.

EU:  Okay.  Well now what I’ve seen, I’m very happy that I was here again.  I also told you a little bit, that it was a hard time about my memories here, what was coming up.  I won’t (response) it here again because it’s not really necessary, but when I see what is happening in the last… in the first time and now I think they do well, and I hope and pray for them that they can continue what they are doing, and I hope that they can do it for a long time and that they find enough time and money to try to get enough people (interested), so they can build up the whole community and all kinds of things, and that is what I’m praying for. 

And keep your (unintelligible words), keep your village clean is also very important.  Then when someone comes he says, ‘Hey, it’s different then somewhere else’ is also what I talk about and also (unintelligible words) come here.  And (now they know what)… don’t throw everything away (unintelligible words).  Feel responsible for your area.  Feel responsible for your neighbour.  Feel responsible for another one.  And I hope they can do it together, and I think they can, and that is what the most-important thing is at this moment, that you can do, and I see what has happened in the last few years.  I think they can do it, and I know it.  And (try to get them together) and I’m sure they can make it, yeah.

That was a little bit my last words.  I can make it much longer of course, but [laughter]… yeah.

MA:  Okay, Evert.  So thank you for your time.  When will you come back?

EU:  Yeah, that is a difficult question.  I know that I’m invited for a wedding, but it’s not here.  It’s in Yendi.  It’s far away from here, so at that time I won’t be here, can’t be, but I would like to come in a year, maybe do something when I pass by or something.  I have no idea.  It was a little bit difficult to say before because I make a program, and sometimes you will be invited by someone, and then they know how… then you’ll know.  You never know before what is going on.  So then I’m invited for a wedding, and maybe next time they say, ‘Hey, come to my village’ or there and there and there, maybe in Bolga or in the north part. 

So then you have to choose what direction you go.  You can’t go to every place in Ghana in one or two weeks.  It’s impossible.  Then you are only traveling and not enjoying, and traveling is also a nice thing, but it costs a lot of time.  To get here from Accra is four hours.  And then after a few days you will return, but if you would like to (stay somewhere or another place) but you have more time to spend with some friends and do some things, then you have to choose, ‘I will go that way, or (unintelligible words).’  So you have to choose sometimes.  But it doesn’t matter.  It can also be nice.

And sometimes it’s also good not to return every time to the same place but change your place sometimes.  It’s also a new experience.  Meet new people, you make new friends even.  It’s also another part of Ghana.  This place is nice, but also the other side of Lake Volta is much greener.  It’s a total different area, and the other people who live there are also nice too.  And of course the north part, east parts, every place has its own charm, and that makes it interesting.  That’s how it is.

MA:  So thank you again for you time.

EU:  You’re welcome.

MA:  And I wish you a safe journey back home.

EU:  Thank you!  I will do.  (You’re right.)

MA:  And I also want to thank you for all the help you’ve given to Ghana thus far.

EU:  Okay.

MA:  Okay, thank you.

EU:  You’re welcome.