The wish for me to volunteer and help other people has always been part of my character.
After completing my 2-year Agricultural study courses in the Salesian Agricultural and Horticultural College of Don Bosco, Warrenstown, Co. Meath in 1972, it was what I planned to do before I went back home to work on the family farm in Co. Sligo. However, life took me back home sooner than anticipated, and volunteering abroad remained a dream until I semi-retired in 2019.

About two years ago, I decided that it was time to fulfil my volunteering ambition and I began attending training sessions with Don Bosco Ireland Volunteers. The Salesians of Don Bosco in Odumase, Sunyani, in the West Bono Region in Ghana, accepted me to volunteer at their Novitiate House and attached farm, and I flew out to Accra, the capital of Ghana, on March 21st 2024. Flying from Dublin via Amsterdam, I arrived in Ghana into a whole different world and culture, very much removed from life here in Ireland. Upon my arrival at the airport, I was met by Robert Nyaku, coordinator at the SDB Mission College in Accra. Robert became my great friend and guide during my short time in Accra.

The following day, I travelled approximately 400km by bus to Odumase, Sunyani, in South West Ghana to the SDB Novitiate and farm. The journey took about 9 hours, but it gave me a great insight into everyday life in rural Ghana. It was also my first real experience of the warmth and kindness of the Ghanaian people whom I encountered along the way, a very helpful and courteous people. I was met off the bus by Fr Damian, Rector of the Novitiate College of SDB and farm in Odumase, where I would be based for almost a month.

Of the total farm area of 60 acres, a large proportion is given over to the student training workshops, an agricultural training college, accommodation for students in various trade courses, some greenhouses, sports fields, playing facilities, and a children’s refuge for the rehabilitation of street children. About 30 acres consists of the area attached to the Novitiate college section, including the college buildings and the farm buildings. Two small areas of the farm are also allocated to local farmers to grow some crops for their families; the local knowledge and the inclusion of the community is very important in the development of the farm for the betterment of the communities in this area of Odumase. 

While my role as a volunteer to the Novitiate and the farm was not clearly defined, it became apparent to me that I would best serve my role as a volunteer by observing and studying the present farm situation regarding its role in providing food to the Novitiate and its students, and also utilising the unused land and assets at its disposal. My work entailed walking the entire area many times studying what the farm is currently producing and what its real potential is. I realised that a medium to short term plan had to be drawn up and implemented as soon as possible to avoid further decline.

Development of the farm would increase the production capacity of the farm beyond supplying food to the Novitiate – it would enable the selling of extra crops and animals to the local market also, thus creating extra revenue for the College Novitiate, the training of agricultural students, and reinvestment in the farm. There are also units for training students in trade skills, and these students would reap the benefits of such developments too, as would the local farming community. So, besides helping the SDB Novitiate and thus promoting young vocations, these developments would also be a blessing for many other students and for the wider community.

In collaboration with Fr Damian, Fr Samual and the Salesians in Ghana, and Fr Dan Carroll and Wojciech Mroczek of Salesians Ireland/Don Bosco Aid, I put together a number of suggestions and recommendations to develop the farm into a viable enterprise for the benefit of the Novitiate, the Novitiate students, the agricultural students, and the local farming community. One of these recommendations was to replace the present old flock of laying hens with 1000 new chicks, as many of the old hens are non-productive and are being sold off. As well as supplying the needs of the novitiate, there is a ready market for eggs to the local traders and the wider community. Plans are currently underway to make this recommendation a reality, and hopefully the others can also be implemented. If you are interested in supporting the Novitiate community, the agricultural and trade skills students, and the local farming community through these new developments, any donations would be greatly appreciated!

We also hope to find an Agricultural volunteer with farming experience to volunteer at the farm in Odumase for at least one year to help bring these plans to reality. Is this something that you or someone you know would be interested in? If yes, get in touch with Don Bosco Ireland Volunteers.

by James Henry