ProWorld was one of the many volunteer-placement organizations that I stumbled upon while searching for an internship abroad. ProWorld became my number one choice because of --
1)Area. I wanted either South America or Africa)
Job opportunities. I knew I was not qualified/interested in teaching english/health and ProWorld has partnered with a number of local NGOs that cater to various advocacies, and
3) Cultural Integration. I wanted to live in a home-stay where I would be able to learn firsthand the language, the lifestyle and the values.
The woman who interviewed me (the U.S. coordinator) was very nice and accommodating. From the first time we spoke up until I was accepted as an intern, she was both casual and formal, enthusiastically answering my questions and giving out more details. She was very understanding of my concerns and hesitations and kept me updated with diligent phone calls and emails.
Having a networking website (myproworld.net) and being able to read about other people's experiences. Also, I was able to get the email of the individuals who lived in the same home-stay as well as who worked at the same project I was to work with.
The preparation packet that was sent about a month before leaving with details of what to bring, the culture, visa, etc.
Suggestions/Areas of improvement:
The weeks before my trip, I was contacted by a number of people. The program coordinator, the project coordinator, etc. So when I had a question, I did not really know who to address and it took awhile to receive an answer.
The staff are made up of a mix of Americans and locals. The ProWorld-Ghana staff is relatively new so they are still getting the hang of things but otherwise, they are there when you need them. They're also very encouraging when it comes to going to different places, talking to people, attending events, trying the food and having clothes made.
ProWorld house - reasonably an easy travel, comfortable, safe and has internet, food and running water!
Once a month home-stay and project evaluations where the volunteers are free to confide any concerns
Suggestions/Areas of improvement:
Not too definite assignments for each staff member
Accepting too many volunteers/groups at one time is both exciting but at the same time stressful in terms of human and material resources as well as crowding at the house
Some communication problems and means of addressing concerns
Based on my qualifications, I was given two internship options -- Administrative Assistant at the Department of Social Welfare and a Marketing Classes for Aboom Special Needs Women. Being that I had only minimal experience in marketing as well as with persons with intellectual disabilities, I chose the former. During a pre-departure conversation via Skype, I was advised to take the latter for they were still assessing the evaluations of the previous volunteer. In the end, I started with the latter and ended my 3-month internship volunteering at both. A policy which I believe caused some logistical issues and I think will be discouraged for future volunteers.
Both projects were about a 10-15 minute walk from my homestead.
The people I worked with were absolutely amazing! Not to mention the children (Aboom is a school for children with intellectual disabilities, not really women).
Part of my program fee was allotted as "Project Money" which meant that I could use such for approved initiatives
I was asked to do a presentation, attended by my project partners, ProWorld and the other volunteers to summarize my experience. Hopefully this will be available for interested volunteers.
The project partners were very open to ideas so it allowed me to explore and learn so much!
Professionally I learned how to:
* Appreciate business fundamentals such as marketing, finance, etc... which was big for me as I am a liberal arts major
* Be innovative and confident, especially when supervisors are flexible and open to ideas
* How to sew, work with children with disaiblities, write formal letters, write reports, report to an advisor, execute administrative tasks efficiently
* How to OBSERVE and appreciate the way their current system may work for them
* Think realistically
* How important it is to show that I/we genuinely care by finding a number of ways to address an issue. Also, how to SEARCH for a way to utilize time and energy
* How to reach out to community members
Personally, everything combined was just an eye-opener. An environment where you may be unfamiliar and close to giving up can be quite the playground for creativity. And with an open mind, I learned how to appreciate the everyday accomplishments no matter how small or big such as learning who can do what. I learned how to adjust and trust my coworkers who share the same goals as me.
Suggestions/Areas of improvement:
I did not know where to start during my first week so it would be helpful to share the previous evaluations of past volunteers.
The project money can be helpful and harmful in terms of incentives of the project partners.
Update the description of the projects on the website
I was placed in a house that was right in town, about 10 minutes from my workplace and about a 15 minute cab ride to the ProWorld house so location-wise, it was pretty good. It was also very near the market! Aside from my host parents, both present, employed and english-proficient, I lived with 2 brothers, 1 sister-in-law and 2 sisters. They were all older than me and absolute wonderful people!
I was almost too well fed! (They even packed me lunch for work!)
I learned a lot
They spoke VERY good english but also liked to tease me/"encourage me" by speaking in Fante
They welcomed me to the room where they would all hangout after dinner
They were very open to teaching me about the culture, the language, the food and such
They were VERY concerned with my safety
I knew I could trust them and bring up any concern
I got to know both kids and the adults around my area
To-date i am in-touch with most of them :)
Wish I got their profile a little bit earlier and maybe even get in contact with them to know them more which would help me bring them nice token gifts
SAFETY, HEALTH and TRANSPORTATION
Cape Coast is a very safe town. People are very friendly; The community places great importance in looking out for one another and a lot of the basic resources can be found nearby.
As part of the program fee, we were given "Travel Stipends" just incase work assignments are a significant distance from home-stays or the ProWorld house.
Words of caution are communicated before through email before the program as well as during orientation
Connections with a local NGO clinic
Malaria is a concern that should not be overlooked but there is no way to avoid it 100%.
Stock of first-aid materials and toiletries at the ProWorld house
I was given keys to my house and my room
Too much information on 1 day orientation
Sometimes home-stays are too far from workplaces
Seeing most tourist attractions through ProWorld and also being able to plan out independent excursions with other volunteers
Learning the language! At first through ProWorld then slowly through my family and my co-workers
Eating different foods… in different places! Though the ProWorld house is also there just incase you want something a little closer to home
The excursions that are done once a month -- either make it a development project where the volunteers would be able to see the progress OR have the volunteers discuss and contribute ideas
OVERALL, because I came with managed expectations, I left with no regrets. Again, ProWorld-Ghana is relatively new and is still improving but it was a great experience :)