I chose this program because it was affordable, provided the type of work I wanted to do and allowed the independence I feel is important when exploring a new country. I stayed with two volunteer coordinators and two other volunteers. We had a wonderful local woman who cooked traditional Ghanaian food and cleaned the house. There was running water and wireless internet (which was a luxury). The electricity went out almost every other day, but this occurs all over Ghana and is just part of the experience.
Our day to day work involved walking from our house to a tro tro station (public transportation much like a small bus) where we would get a ride to the orphanage where we worked. There is a school at the orphanage where the village children come as well and I was teaching the 5-8 year olds. This was a challenge because I was not aware I would be teaching so had not prepared before coming, and the children that young speak very little English. It took me a while to figure out how to work productively with them, but I am sure someone with time to prepare and more experience with teaching and children that age might have an easier time. All the children were loving and accepting and just wanted my attention.
I would stay most of the day and after school was over I would play football or volleyball or one of the many Ghanian clapping and jumping games with the kids. Sometimes I would bring coloring supplies, which was always a hit.
When I wasn't teaching or playing with the children, I was traveling all over Ghana. We traveled almost every weekend, and since the country is relatively small, I was able to see almost all the sites I had wanted to see. The public transportation is very easy to navigate, and for the most part people are more than willing to help you if you are unsure where to go. I even had someone put me in a cab, barter the price for me and pay for my ride.
I had the chance to stay in Ghanaian home in a small village for a couple days while traveling. This was a great way to really experience how the people live day to day. The hospitality is unlike anywhere I have been before. Anything they have they will try to give you if they think you would like it.
It was an amazing trip. I felt very safe where we stayed, and people I met many people in the city who would say hello to me as I passed every day and would teach me some of their language. The bartering system was difficult at first, but I got very good at it by the end. Because I was white, in a city that doesn't see many white people, I was always being called or greeted. The children especially loved to call at you and have you wave to them. Sometimes there would be a vendor who would grab my arm or hand in hope to get my attention or sometimes, it seemed, just to touch my skin. Though it may be startling, it was never aggressive. I got very good at saying "no" because everyone wants you to buy something from them. It was very easy to make friends though. All I had to do was stop and start talking to someone and they would act as if we had been friends for many years. I was even invited to their homes for dinner a few times.
There were a few things I think people should understand about the culture before going. Time doesn't have a lot of meaning there. We were invited to a wedding that was set to start at 9. We arrived at 10:30 and were some of the first people there. The wedding didn't start until closer to noon and wasn't over until after 3:30. That is the way almost everything in my experience was. If you were told something would start at a certain time, you could usually safely add about two hours to it and still be early. I also found that people wanted to please me so much that they would nod when I would ask a question whether they understood or not, just wanting to make me happy. This caused a bit of confusion when trying to get directions, but it was very minor and became something we just laughed about later.
The most difficult part of my experience was witnessing the caning of children. The culture still practices caning in school and, though I was warned about it by my coordinators, it was still one of the harder things I have had to deal with. I asked politely for there to be no caning in my classroom while I was there, but the beatings still occurred outside of my room. I had witnessed others insist more forcefully that the caning stop all together, and though it did for the brief time they were present, they were then ostracized by the school staff. For someone coming from a place where the beatings would result in jail time and/or having the children taken away from you, I really struggled with this practice.
For the most part, my trip was incredibly fulfilling and I experienced more than I had hoped for. I was there long enough to really get a feel for the culture and see both the beautiful and the darker parts of Ghana.
My best advice is to make the trip what you want it to be. You have to be willing to do all the planning if you want to travel around the country. Don't expect the coordinators to set anything up for you or make arrangements. They were good with answering questions about how to get places, but I rarely had them travel with me, and when tasked with making arrangements of places to stay it was left until the last minute when things were booked and I was left scrambling to find a place. The country director was very friendly and checked in with us often. He would email back to me promptly and made me feel like he was doing his best to make the experience positive and fulfilling.
I will definitely use UVolunteer again and I would recommend the program to anyone who sees themselves as independent and willing to really experience the culture.