There are plenty of different ways of choosing a project that inspires in later life. For some people, it’s their immediate community. For others, it’s a hobby such as music, writing or wild swimming. Perhaps you want to help people overcome a problem that you have faced, or encourage others by sharing your own experience. Or maybe, like Ebo, you want to do all of the above.
“I started from very humble beginnings,” he says of his early life in Ghana. “When I wrote my memoir*, I thought it might motivate young people from a similar background and show that, with the grace of God and hard work, you can make your way in the world.”
Now 72, Ebo has certainly carved out his own successful path. He retired eight years ago and lives with his wife in Bedfordshire. His working life was spent as a geophysicist, employed by oil companies in the UK, America and then Ghana, where he helped set up the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation. It was a busy but stressful time, not least because his wife and two young sons were based in the UK where his wife was an NHS nurse and the boys were going to school.
“I used to come back two or three times a year, but then my second son was having difficulty with his A-Levels and I realised I had taken my eye off the ball,” he says. “I came back and set up ‘school’ teaching him maths and physics.”
It’s a role he’s now repeating with his two grand-daughters, aged four and seven – but this time using Zoom’s white board as his classroom, spending an hour with each little girl every day. “I have a copy of the same text book and if I share my screen and get them to write things on the white board they think they’re teaching me! It’s fun and they get very competitive,” he says.
Ebo’s Ghanaian roots are really important. He’s been fundraising to fill the library at his old school in Ghana – at the last count he had helped fund 800 books for the primary school and 1,200 for the junior school. He’s also bought laptops and a projector for the students, and is proud that he’s been a part of helping these schools become some of the best in his region of the country. “My own education has brought me so far, so anything I can do to help others I try to do it,” he says.
The pandemic has sadly brought to a halt one of his favourite activities at his local Methodist church, where he acts as a lay preacher and was a regular at its Wednesday “tea & chat” group. “I make scones and banana bread, help move the tables and chairs – it’s something I love,” he says. “There are some people who don’t talk to anyone for a whole week, not even a telephone conversation. It helps a lot and I’m hoping to go back to it once the pandemic is over.”
“I will continue to go back to Ghana as long as I’m able to do so,” Ebo says. “It’s wonderful to be able to make such a big difference with a small contribution.”
* Dr Ofori Quaah’s memoir, My Footprints in Ghana’s Black Gold, is available on Amazon.
Sylvia lives in Blackpool and retired a decade ago, after 20 years in the civil service. “I’d worked in lots of different jobs, but when I got to my mid-30s I separated from my partner and decided I needed a pension, so applied to the civil service.”
After securing a good pension, she had no plans for how to spend her retirement apart from a bit of “me time”.
“I expected to be sitting at home, being a lady who lunches, but I got bored very quickly,” she says. Life changed again when her two grown-up children, who were living with her when she retired, left to set up their own homes. Suddenly, she was on her own.
The emotional impact of volunteering
“I started one day a week, volunteering at a food bank, packing bags; then went to three days when we started doing more deliveries; and then five days when we realised we needed to be a bigger operation. I’ve been there for six years.”
Sylvia ended up running the distribution centre, overseeing incoming donations and outgoing packages. The bags of food were sent out through the food bank’s partners so volunteers rarely met the people using the service. “When you do meet someone it’s very emotional. The look on their face when they’ve got their bag – I can’t explain it. It’s very rewarding.”
The pandemic has changed the food bank and Sylvia’s life as well. After a major operation she has decided it’s time to move on; the work is too physical for her now and she’s currently re-evaluating her volunteering.
“My niece is a teacher and she tells me there’s a need for adults to read with children in schools, so I’m considering that,” she says.
Choosing the right role for you
With plenty of friends also reaching retirement, Sylvia has often found herself in the role of an adviser on volunteering. She’s clear that it’s not the same for everyone. “You have to find something to suit you. Don’t go and do what everyone else is doing – you have to find whatever it is that makes you happy.”
Some friends are volunteering as dog walkers for the RSPCA, others at the Citizens Advice Bureau, others are working in charity shops. With so many different and varied options, it won’t be long before Sylvia is back putting her skills to good use; but she has one very special plan before then.
“Every year since my daughter moved to Australia I’ve been out to see her. That didn’t happen last year of course, because of the pandemic. While it’s great that you can be walking down the street and get a call, or click a button and see her come up on a screen; it’s not the same as a visit. I’m hoping that I can go to Australia again soon.”
Wherever she goes, Sylvia’s big heart is sure to help her carry on making connections and friendships.
Discover more stories of people who are sharing their time and experience – and learning new skills along the way – by reading our article, The Power of Volunteering in Retirement. To search for volunteering opportunities near you, visit Royal Voluntary Service and Do IT.