Paul (Germany) - assisting teacher / communication and website (2022)

Three months in Togo, three months in the midst of Africa.

If you announce a plan like this to your family and friends, you are likely to be looked at with big eyes. It is not unusual that questions such as “Why didn’t you choose France?”; “Will you have enough food there?”; “Is there anything other than desert at all?” follow.

So, you kind of need to live with these stereotypes and accept them, since in our media, the African continent is presented far too negatively one-sided to overcome them overnight. I wanted and want to be in Africa, because I was raised well-protected in Germany and I am more than just privileged in a global context, which is why, even though I am not responsible for my place of birth, I feel the urge to give something back. Sharing the luck I had so far with others by helping them (although that means that I am asked to pay for being able to work). And when you, just like me, search for francophone countries to travel to, there are not many options besides Togo – so you make a decision without being aware of its consequences in your life in that particular moment.

That is because, if you are slightly open to different cultures and interested in different people, this country is going to change you. Positive experiences I was able to make were multiple possibilities for cultural exchange, the discovery of new scents and tastes, some of the nicest people I have met in my entire life, an incredible lot of gratitude and affection for my work here and many more things. Albeit, as a European, you cannot completely escape negative aspects such as exhaust fumes and the mountains of rubbish, I can already anticipate that my conclusion is definitely of positive nature. 

On my day of arrival, I had very different feelings. My impression is that it was not before the approach of Lomé airport that I really understood what I was about to get myself into: I was travelling to a strange country that does by far not match the European standard of living, where I did not know a single person und where I was planning to live and work for three months! Anything different than admitting that I felt at least a bit nervous and anxious would be a lie. 

On the other hand, these negative feelings at the start disappeared very quickly. All the people who were responsible for me and whom I had the pleasure to meet during my first days were very friendly. In my host family, my lips were read concerning my wishes and matters and at AGERTO, I was equally warmly welcomed as three weeks later in the primary school. 

Yes, I did have two jobs at the same time. Since I had arrived three weeks before school started, I first started working at AGERTO, something I had not planned in advance, took mainly care of the trilingual website and later on also of projects I initiated myself: demanding donations to finance a professional garbage disposal, creating an Instagram account, update the website’s sponsorship section. 

Since I also started shooting photos for Instagram and the website, I was given the possibility to participate at several events. Next to an event for local diabetics, outlining AGERTO’s commitment for local development, it was a true honor to me that I was allowed to participate at the ceremony of handing over the diplomas in two centers (Kpalimé and Akpakpakpé). Solely on these two days, I collected various impressions and learned a lot about Togolese culture. Especially in Kpalimé, the place I worked every day, this was a touching event for me, because I know many of the graduates myself and could take many photos with the apprentices – definitely unforgettable moments!

On a daily basis as well, the honest and devoted work at AGERTO deeply impressed me. Starting with Messan, who has got his eyes everywhere and is always present to be talked to, and Cobby, who is also willing to listen at any time and who seems to be working himself to death, and ending with the teachers and apprentices, who work together day by day in a harmonic and familiar atmosphere in order to build their own future. It should not be forgotten at this point that almost all the employees and persons in charge over here do this as a voluntary work. I do not know any other place in this world where so many selfless humans are to be found at one single venue. 

After school had started, I kept working at AGERTO, but only during the afternoons. Every morning, I assisted the teachers at primary school and later on also at the “Collège”. At first, this job was to be characterized by a lot of watching and many learning processes, but also with some culture shocks, for example due to the use of the cane. From a German-European perspective, the teaching methods require getting used to as well. Nevertheless, I enjoy looking back at my work there, too. I succeeded at finding friends and confidants of different ages and developing a strong commitment and passion for my work. And over there as well, I was able to work more independently after a couple of weeks: I replaced sick teachers in their classes and did some lessons with the students, mostly very spontaneously, and established extra help in reading for the students of fifth grade, which was a lot of fun to them and to me and represented, by the way, a big support for them. Especially this extra commitment from my side, although it did fray some of my nerves teaching a class that big, was very much appreciated by the students and teachers and definitely more than a necessary improvement. 

As a white person travelling to Togo, you feel kind of like a movie star anyways. Every day people called me “Yovo, Yovo” on the street, the small children at school could not stop touching my skin and clothes, and many people asked me to be their “friend”. One of the biggest challenges for volunteers in this country might be to pick the right people with integrity for personal relations. Of course, you would have to accept some particularities in any case. In that way, I had close contact with one of the teachers and started, during my free time, supporting him and his agricultural project. I created specific projects for him and uploaded them on the websites in order to collect donations. That is because, even though he works day by day as a teacher, he still depends on his field and the different plants he cultivates down there to make ends meet for him and his family. 

Generally, the presence of poverty in the every-day life is quite shocking for someone who spent almost his whole life living in Europe. The apprentices and teachers at AGERTO as well as the teachers at the private school definitely represent points where this becomes terribly clear. On the other hand, this situation provides you with the realization that the work you do here has some sense and that its effects arrive where they are needed. With what are to us very simple means, the living conditions of the people here can be ameliorated very quickly.

In that manner, the day of departure comes up, and it gives me a lot of pain to say goodbye to the country and its people after 14 weeks. I enjoyed every single day at work, improved my French skills, found friends and family far away from my actual home and experienced the unforgettable. Whoever from AGERTO, the “École Privée La Bonne Semence” or my host family reads this text, thanks a lot. I will always think of you and try my best so that we can meet again very soon!

Kira (Germany) - teacher at a Collège in Kpalimé (2019)

After finishing my studies and before commencing my every-day life in Germany, I had the wish to spend some time abroad in a francophone country. So I decided to travel to Togo for four weeks, sent by the German organisation "Rainbow Garden Village", in order to work at a school. My organisation, in collaboration with AGERTO, finally sent me to the city of Kpalimé. During my day of arrival, I had the chance to discover the city including the market and the AGERTO training centre. Since I had never been in Africa previous to my stay in Togo, I gained lots of new impressions that day. On the second day, my guest brother accompanied to school where I was going to work: the "Collège Polyvalent", a catholic school in the city-centre of Kpalimé. It was decided that first of all, I would assist the teachers during the German classes, meaning that my timetable still offered my a lot of free time. School began each day at 7 am, but I had free periods almost every day, and the schooldays were over at 1 pm. Thanks to that, I had the possibility to take the French classes I had booked at AGERTO in advance directly after school or after a short break in between. 

Generally, I enjoyed going to school during my four-week stay. The German teachers were all very nice and appreciated me being present during their classes, which were structured in a very different way than what one is used to in Germany. Most of the time, the teacher talks and the students are asked to listen.

Since the classes were filled with up to 40 students, there were not many occasions for them to speak the foreign languages they were learning and practice grammar and vocabulary. 

While assisting one of the teachers, I was given the possibility to teach some lessons myself. During these lessons, I tried to focus on having the students participate and giving them occasions to employ the German language themselves. We played vocabulary games, the students worked with one another and presented dialogues in front of the class. In relation to myself, they presented themselves open-minded and communicative. It was a rich and interesting experience for me to teach a group that large without the help of any technical devices. 

What I didn't like at all at school were the methods of punishment. Students were sent to the supervisor and hit on their palms with a stick because of the smallest and most unimportant things like eating during classes. From time to time, this was done in front of all teachers and students. My impressions was that these kind of situations were considered "normal". If that is true, it would be necessary to sensitize all included parties. 


Those who plan to work at a school in Kpalimé for a longer period of time will surely have the occasion to talk to the teachers about the conveniences of classes that aim at motivating and actively including the students. Furthermore, they could focus on extra help in German or even other projects to represent German culture at the school. 

Helen (Germany) - assistant physician at the hospital of Kpalimé (2019)

My name is Helen, I am 26 years old and I came to Togo directly after having gained my medicine diploma. After the exam and before starting my stressing every-day life, I wanted to fulfill one of my wishes and travel to Africa to witness the medical standards there for myself. Also, I wanted to ameliorate my French skills which I had almost forgotten since secondary school, which is why I chose Togo as my destination. After some research on the Internet, I chose the organisation "Rainbow Garden Village" that collaborates with AGERTO in Kpalimé. I was picked up at the airport in Lomé and spent my first night in a hotel. The next day, I got to my host family in Kpalimé, where I would spend the two following months. My host mother welcomed me and I felt directly comfortable. 

Then, I went to the AGERTO training centre together with my host brother. Over there, I met my host father and AGERTO's boss, Messan, who collaborates with RGV. Once again, I was welcomed and also presented the medical assistant at the hospital, who would take care of me, and my French teacher for the weeks to follow. Right after, I discovered the city and the surroundings and felt amazed by the beautiful nature around Kpalimé. 

My French course started the following day. Since I had not spoken or written the language for ten years, I had a hard time including lots of headaches, but my teacher was patient and encouraging, so that it got easier from the second lesson on. 

Due to bureaucratic procedures, the beginning of my project was postponed for a bit, which means I had about one week and a half to get used to the new situation, improve my French and discover the large number of waterfalls around the city. AGERTO gave my a bicycle, therefore I was provided with a flexible means to move without having to pay for the "Moto Taxis". I was very thankful for this opportunity, since I did not have many possibilities to do sport during my stay. 

The second Thursday after my arrival, my work at the hospital began. First of all, I was shown the terrain and all of the wards and I got to know everybody. Afterwards, I took part in the round of the internal medicine ward, because it was this ward where I was going to spend the next four weeks. The round was guided by a friendly assistant who, despite my comprehension difficulties, very patiently explained me everything and encouraged me to directly start examining patients myself and write into the patients' records. I quickly noticed that I was surrounded by well-qualified medical staff, which is something that positively surprised me. The round was similar to what is done in Germany, the assistant even gave me gloves for the examination. The ward's employees, who I got to know during the around, were very friendly as well. Since I am used to hospitals, hygienic standards and sanitary systems in Germany, the first days were shocking to me. There were old beds damaged mattresses, flies and mosquitos within the rooms and small black beetles crawling around on the surfaces in many rooms. Infusion systems were used more than once without disinfection. There were no pillows or blankets on the beds, patients had to buy plastic foil and pagne (a patterned tissue that can be bought everywhere over here) to use as their sheets, blankets and pillows. Gloves, any kind of medicine and diagnostic examination have to be paid in advance, before treating the patient. The families who do not have enough money carry their gravely ill family members out of the rooms at their homes, which often got tears into my eyes, especially with the knowledge of how easy their treatment would be in Germany. Many parts of the diagnostic can only be done in Lomé, which costs a lot of time and money. 

During the rounds, I often took care of the patients' examination and learned a lot. Some of the things you see here simply do not exist the same way in Germany. The further training depended on the assistant carrying out the round. 

My working hours lasted from 7 am to 12 pm and from 3 pm to 5:30 pm. 

For the first three weeks, I went to AGERTO while I was on break to attend my French course and get something for lunch. This was well organized, but quite exhausting. For the last two weeks of my internship, I worked at the gynecology obstetrics ward. The assistants and the doctor there were very nice as well, unfortunately this was not the case with all of the midwives - the phenomenon you witness with a team that only consists of women. I kind of missed the nurses from the internal medicine ward. Among the midwives, there was another volunteer, which increased the fun and gave us the possibility to exchange experiences. 

In the gynecology ward, I was able to do lots of examinations during the consultations and was explained a lot, which I really enjoyed. Also, I could participate at ultrasound examinations.

In the obstetrics domain, my role was rather watching than doing. I quickly realized that the indication for C-sections was prescribed very generously, as well as antibiotics all throughout the hospital. Handling the ones giving birth lovingly was unfortunately not usual, but rather hitting and shouting. In the case of a stillbirth, which happen frequently, there is also no empathy shown towards the mother and the family members. The dead babies are wrapped into pagne and stored in front of the rubbish bins. Here, I noticed many differences between the cultures.

Togolese women have to be very strong, I have a lot of respect for them. 

Despite the many highs and lows, I do not regret one single day I spent here and find myself to be thankful for the time spent. I take home lots of thoughts and now know even more what I want to pay attention to later on as a doctor and for what things we can be thankful in Germany.

Thank fou for your commitment Helen

Ralf Grubwinkler (Switzerland) - Assistant teacher/Accounting/Website (2018)

After I had traveled more than 70 countries only with my backpack, I wanted to discover a country as a volunteer and have a sustainable influence.


My goal was to pursue a sensible activity in an unknown environment. I decided to fly for seven weeks as an assistant teacher to Togo and offer the teachers and children there my experience of life and learn at the same time from their experiences. My accommodation and school were located in the village Agomé-Tomegbé, about 15 km or 30 minutes by car or moto-taxi from the city of Kpalimé with about 75,000 inhabitants. On my first day at primary school, I was asked in which class I would like to assist. I decided to start in the kindergarten. 


The first thing to do were the yearly vaccinations. About every third of the 36 children between three and four years were very afraid of the syringe. There were a lot of tears and some of them wriggled so strongly that I was soon asked to help calm the children.


Thanks to the sports and writing lessons and multiple games, the morning was very entertaining. The afternoon continued with with writing exercises and skill games. On the second day I was told that from lunchtime on, the teachers would go on strike. So I took a moto-taxi to the city to provide my help for AGERTO's administration. Over there, I started with the accounting reorganization. The goal was to develop a transparent and even for employees without any accounting experience easy-to-handle solution with simple means (MS Excel) and to form all involved persons during the time of my seven-week stay as a volunteer, so that they would be able to do it themselves after my departure. Happily, I found no irregularities in the accounts department during the last 15 months, meaning that all the numbers were still plausible after having recorded them again. This is no naturalness here in Africa. 


In that way, even in far-away Africa, I had once again a work that was very close to my usual employment as a Business Controller.


Since the strike went on starting each Wednesday until the end of my stay, I started working at school for two days and at AGERTO for three days a week. 


After three weeks in kindergarten I asked the principal whether I would be allowed to visit a school class as well. He agreed and I quickly realized that the "ideal world" in kindergarten was over from the first class on. The cane as a working instrument made it very difficult for me.

I had to watch the little students being punished for absolute small matters. Also, the cane was used frequently to hit on the tables. I decided to ask the principal to visit lessons different classes with me. He agreed, and during the conversation afterwards I asked him to ask the teachers to hold the cane at its middle knock with its end instead of hitting on the tables. This would be a first step. The principal promised me to take on the matter.


At AGERTO, the accounts department slowly got in shape. Another matter to me was ameliorating the website. Together with Tim and Jeanne, we tackled this task. We modified the structure and the texts. I took lots of photos with my camera to give new life to the website.


On the weekends, we often went on trips throughout the region with my host siblings and other volunteers. I really enjoyed the incredibly green landscape with its banana, papaya, cacao, lemon and avocado trees. The warm climate as well.


At the end of my seven-week commitment as a volunteer in Togo, I enjoy looking back. I have experienced many things, learned to estimate the people in Togo and made lots of new friends.