I volunteered in Ghana with IVHQ and Volunteer Corps Organisation for 27 weeks.
The first thing you need to know about going to Ghana is that is really is the ‘Gateway to Africa’. The country is safe, and the locals really do look out for you as an ‘Oburoni’. If you’re worried about visiting Africa for the first time, definitely visit Ghana!
When you get off the plane you will be greeted by a member of staff from VCO and they will be with you from that time until they leave you at your placement. The staff are wonderful and will help you with everything from how to catch a taxi or tro tro, to going to the best place to exchange money. Ghana is closed currency, so you til need to change your money when you get there. Don’t do it at the airport; definitely wait for VCO staff to assist you.
You are taken to the Volunteer House, and what I like to call my second home. In the house you are free to rest and recover from jetlag, watch TV (or Coach Carter 100 times), wander around town, or hang out with the staff. I loved learning to make Ghanaian food with Tina and Ruth; they are great cooks! The boys will take you to the mall if you feel like shopping, or the local markets for some cheap clothes.
While at the house, you will be taken through Induction; going over everything from safety, what to expect when you are on placement, food you will eat, what to do if you need help, phone numbers, money and valuables, and where your program costs go. The process is very transparent and I felt comfortable with everything while I was there.
I was placed in the Fante area in the Central Region, about 3 hours from the Volunteer House and Accra. It was amazing! The people, the tiny village, the welcoming nature, the kids (oh, my babies!).
The kids were definitely the highlight. We had a children’s home with a school on the other side of the village. We would split shifts and work with each other to get everything done. In the mornings, we would get up before dawn to heat water for the kids baths. Get them out of bed, bathed and fed breakfast. Dressed for school and then walk to class. Those of us who wanted to teach would devise lesson plans, and teach during the day in turns. Our school was private, so we were had to make sure we got copies of the national curriculum to teach, as well as our own lessons to supplement this. The kids at school were also given lunch, and when the school mum passed away, we would also make rice and sauce for the kids at school so they got a hot lunch every day.
When not teaching, the others would rest away from the heat, wash the kids clothes and bedsheets, ready afternoon lessons for when they got home from school, cook dinners, or paint the home. Being a new home, we painted the walls to make them more fun for the kids. We would also shop for fresh food, supplies or DVDs for the kids (I swear, I watched the Lion King every day for 6 months).
Village life is so easy to get used to, and the locals will help you out as much as you need them to. How to buy bananas and how much they should cost, how to properly hand wash your clothes (this one took me a while to get), how to cook rice and corn on the cob the Ghanaian way. The village was perfect, everything that you should expect from life in Africa.
Including the illness. With each new volunteer, we would count the days until they got their first bout of diarrhea. It’s usually 2 weeks. To the day. To minimise the risk, you can eat only what your house-mum/ IVHQ staff member makes, but where’s the fun in that? Ghanaian food is amazing and you will want to eat it! All of it. Fire poop or not.
In return for help from my new extended family, I was able to help them too. We learnt to sew together, count and speak English. We had women and children come into our compound often to learn and converse with us. It was like having a huge family, and I miss them all the time.
Weekends were free to hang out with the kids, or travel as you please. We took holidays during my placement, and went up to Mole National Park (such a long trip but so worth it for the elephants!). We also took weekends to Wli Falls, Cape Coast, Kumasi and Accra. I definitely recommend all of these places.
Just make sure you keep your bug repellent with you always. Mozzies everywhere. I’ve been to Ghana twice now with IVHQ and VCO, and I’ve had Malaria three times. It’s not so bad; just make sure you get to a clinic quick-smart. Laying in bed with a fever and chills in 40 degree weather can get you down, but you do get past it so it’s god to remember that.
I would recommend you immerse yourself into this culture. The history is strong and Ghanaians are a proud people. I loved every minute of my time in Ghana, and would recommend the programs to anyone and everyone! There are no age limits; you can be 18 or 90, and you can travel alone or with a friend. Cook, clean, teach, travel, play. Repeat. 27 weeks went by too quickly, and I would do it for the rest of my life if I could.
Malaria or not.
Communication with volunteers may be improved. We were lucky though, as we were pretty self-sufficient and volunteers were placed in our program after meeting staff and staff knowing they could handle being far from the capital, over an hour from the nearest city, in a village which was isolated, sometimes cut off from cities when it rained, with snakes and spiders and bugs galore.
We loved every minute.