Are you considering volunteering in Ghana, or have you already decided to volunteer abroad and want a better sense of what you signed up for? If you’re in the first category, trust me with the responsibility of making this decision for you… do it! I promise you won’t regret it. If you’re in the second category, I am so excited for you! Get ready to have an unforgettable experience that will both challenge and change you. Keep reading to find out what to expect, the volunteer opportunities in Ghana and even how to spend your weekends.
Let me start off by saying that I’ve done my best to make this information universally applicable. I volunteered for 12 weeks and gained an insight into the different projects, but IVHQ has a number of volunteer placements and accommodation options located in rural villages and townships within the Greater Accra Region of Ghana. This means the details of each location are different, but no matter what, be prepared to arrive with an open mind, ready to embrace whatever the experience throws your way!
What will the volunteer accommodation in Ghana be like?
The state of your accommodation will vary dramatically depending on where you’re placed. I was in a location with no plumbing (that means no flush toilets, running water showers, or washing machines), but my fellow volunteers and I all managed to embrace it! In other locations, you’ll enjoy almost all the luxuries of home. Either way, your weekend travels will likely take you to places on all parts of the spectrum, so it’s best to be mentally prepared no matter where you’re living. This is where an open mind and adventurous spirit come in!
You might be wondering how you take showers without running water, and the answer is: bucket showers. Take one large bucket and one small bucket, fill the large bucket with water, and dip and pour with the small bucket to clean yourself. Pro tip: if you have access to a kettle or other way to heat water, mix some hot water with the cold for a luxurious, warm bucket shower! Or, take advantage of the rain with a rain shower!
You’ll also definitely learn to appreciate your washing machine after the experience of hand washing your clothes. The locals use washing powder, bars of laundry soap, and a lot of scrubbing to get their clothes clean. The kids are all more than happy to teach you the “right” way to do it, so get ready to dig in and experience life as they do. Cell reception is much slower than what you’re probably used to, and good, reliable wi-fi is nearly impossible to find. For cell phones, you can bring an unlocked phone with you or purchase a basic, inexpensive phone in Ghana. The IVHQ staff will help get you set up with either option, so no need to figure it out on your own!
What kind of food can I expect?
While at your placement, clean, drinkable water and three meals a day are provided. These also vary from location to location, but no matter where you end up, you can expect to eat a lot of rice, noodles, beans, and chicken. In general, you likely won’t eat as much protein as you’re used to, and some volunteers have found it helpful to bring protein bars to supplement their diets. Brace yourself for a little bit of spice! Many dishes are a bit spicy, but as with any other dietary restriction or preference, you can bring your requests to the cook, who will do everything possible to accommodate your needs. In addition to the provided meals, many volunteers like to have some snack food available. You can buy cookies, soda, juice, or other snacks from local shops.
How can I spend my weekends?
Traveling around Ghana on the weekends is a great way to give you a more complete picture of the country and the culture. You’ll quickly become familiar with tro-tros – vans/mini-buses that drive back and forth along different routes, picking up and dropping off passengers at any point on the road. If the thought of traveling in an unfamiliar country makes you nervous, don’t worry! You’ll usually be with other volunteers, and the local staff at your placement can help you figure out how to get from place to place. You also don’t have to worry about planning your travel before getting to Ghana. It’s easy to make plans when you’re in the country and have access to the knowledge of the IVHQ Ghana staff.
Here are a few of my favorite/popular weekend destinations:
Cape Coast A large majority of volunteers spend their first weekend after arriving in Ghana at Cape Coast. This is a worthwhile destination that exposes you to a few of the different sides of Ghana. The nearby national park, Kakum, is a tropical rainforest and home to hundreds of species of animals, and while you’re unlikely to see most during the day, you can experience life in the treetops by taking a stroll along the canopy walk. One of the most memorable parts of the trip is the visit to Cape Coast Castle, one of the last remaining “castles” that served the North American slave trade. It’s hard to describe the castle tour, but it is a worthwhile experience that will stay with you long after you leave Ghana and is an important part of the country’s history.
Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary Ghana isn’t known for its safaris, but that doesn’t mean you can’t see any animals while you’re there. Tafi Atome is a town with a big Mona monkey population that, after various groups threatened the monkeys and their habitats, decided to turn the area into a sanctuary. You get to learn about the history of the town, feed the monkeys, and even have them climb on you. Besides having a cool experience, you can feel good about your entry fee by knowing that part of it is going toward sponsoring community initiatives like a computer center and library and giving promising students in the town scholarships toward higher education.
Kumasi and Lake Bosomtwe To get a taste of city life in Ghana, you can take a trip to Kumasi, home of the largest open air market in West Africa. Spend some time wandering through the maze-like stalls and practice your haggling skills. When you’ve had enough of civilization, nearby Lake Bosomtwe is a beautiful and serene getaway. It is the largest natural lake in Ghana and was created by a crater impact millions of years ago. You can spend your time relaxing by the water, or for a more active trip, you can canoe, bike, or hike around the lake.
What should I pack for a volunteer trip to Ghana?
- Flashlight/mini-lantern (for frequent power cuts)
- Rechargeable fan (some people had these and they were awesome during power cuts!)
- Protein bars (you likely won’t get as much protein as you’re used to)
- Travel pillow (for bumpy tro-tro rides)
- Water bottle!! (your water comes in non-resealable plastic bags)
- Flavor powder for drinks (for the times when you’re tired of just drinking water)
- Bug spray
- Malaria medication
- Mosquito net (rectangular shape)
- Hand sanitizer
- Baby wipes
- External battery pack (good for weekend travel and power cuts)
- Unlocked cell phone (the staff will help you with a Ghana SIM card when you arrive)
For clothing, dress in Ghana is more conservative than you’re probably used to at home. The locals almost never wear shorts, and women generally wear at least knee length dresses or skirts. You can wear shorts and tank tops, but leave the short shorts and crop tops at home. Especially if you’re planning to teach, it’s good to have clothes that are slightly more conservative/professional so that you fit in with the local teachers. Crazy colors, prints, and fabrics can be found all over Ghana, and some volunteers follow the locals’ example by buying fabric and getting clothes custom made for them by a tailor.
Some thoughts on volunteering in Ghana…
No matter what program you choose, the same advice applies for how to get the most out of your time in Ghana: Go into the experience with an open mind and a spirit of adventure. Be ready to live outside of your comfort zone, and embrace the chance to live like a Ghanaian! You will appreciate your trip so much more if you try to learn the local languages and customs, spend time with the locals you meet through your programs, and truly endeavor to become part of the community. The locals are more than happy to teach you about their culture and love when you attempt to speak their language! When you’re asked to help with something, say yes! If you want to do more, take the initiative and ask for more responsibility. Your experience is what you make it!
What kind of volunteer opportunities are there in Ghana?
There are six different projects to choose from in Ghana: Agriculture, Construction and Renovation, Childcare, Medical, Sports Teaching, and Teaching. Regardless of which one you choose, you have the opportunity to make a real difference in the community. If you want to start an initiative, get involved with something that’s not directly part of the program, or take on more responsibility, all you need to do is ask! You can talk to the local staff or your program coordinator to figure out the details, and everyone is very willing to help you. You are only limited by your own ambition! Also, to get the most out of your experience, be proactive! On a day-to-day basis, there often won’t be someone directing your every move or asking for your help. That doesn’t mean you aren’t needed! Pay attention to your surroundings, jump in when you see an opportunity, be willing to do anything (no matter how unglamorous), and get to know the Ghanaians you’re working with. After they see that you want to help and are ready to work, they’ll be more likely to give you things to do.
Agriculture: The agriculture program was created to provide food to the orphanages supported by IVHQ Ghana. While neither orphanage is in the same town as the farm, as an agriculture volunteer, you’ll get the chance to take part in food deliveries when crops are ready and meet the kids that you’re working hard to help. Agriculture volunteers wake up early and are ready to leave the house by 5:30AM. They walk about 20 minutes to the farm, work until breakfast at 7:30/8AM, and afterwards either help with the other programs in the village or do more farm work later in the day. You’ll work alongside locals, learn their farming techniques and develop impressive machete skills! If you have recommendations or expertise to offer, they’re always happy to try out new ideas. Typical tasks include planting seeds, clearing weeds, shucking corn, and harvesting crops.
Construction and Renovation: The construction and renovation program seeks to improve the local community through development. Construction volunteers generally work from 9-12 in the morning and 2-4 in the afternoon, though this may differ based on project requirements. The exact type of work you will be doing depends on what projects are in progress during your trip and their phase of construction; however, you can expect to do tasks such as painting, creating concrete blocks, mixing mortar, laying the blocks you created, plastering, and digging. Recently, volunteers helped to construct toilets for one of the local schools that previously had no bathrooms for the children to use. You will work alongside local craftsmen, learning how to build the Ghanaian way. As with the other programs, if you have expertise or ideas to contribute, you are encouraged to share your knowledge.
Childcare: Childcare volunteers are placed in orphanages and rural communities and help the children with everything from brushing their teeth to washing their clothes, as well as cooking and serving meals. Your schedule will vary depending on your location, but you can plan to wake up early (around 5:30AM) to prepare breakfast for the children and get them ready for school. You will have some rest time during school hours and will also help with lunch. After school, there is time to play with the kids and help with schoolwork. If you are interested in teaching as well, make a note on your application. Some childcare programs are associated with schools where volunteers can choose to also help with teaching. It is important to be proactive in this program! You will often have to just jump in rather than waiting for someone to tell you what to do.
Medical: As a medical volunteer, you’ll work with local doctors and/or nurses at one of the clinics that IVHQ partners with. Your schedule will vary depending on the day and your location, but you can expect to be at the clinic from 8AM-12PM and again in the afternoon from about 1:30-4PM. You will interact with patients, ask about their symptoms, take their vitals, and help with malaria and other testing. Depending on your medical qualifications and your timing, you may even have the chance to help out with delivering a baby! Volunteers also participate in clinic outreach, going into the local communities and weighing babies, giving immunizations, and reaching people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to medical care. Some volunteers have also collaborated with teaching volunteers to spend time in the schools talking about hygiene and other health-related topics. If you’re interested in bringing supplies with you, the clinics are always in need of basic medical supplies, especially disposable items such as gloves and needles. Make sure you talk to your Program Manager who can organize what the local placements need before your trip.
Sports Teaching: If you enjoy playing sports and being active, then sports teaching may be the perfect fit for you! Through this program, you can choose from a variety of ways to be involved in the community. The main responsibility of sports teaching volunteers is to teach physical education classes in the local public schools (about two 45-minute classes per day to grades 1-6). Classes usually consist of some warm-up activities, followed by drills and playing a game. Soccer is the game of choice for the kids, but you are welcome to teach new games or try to mix it up. If you have some soccer expertise, you can also get involved with the community soccer teams. There are multiple teams serving a variety of age groups, and if you’re interested in helping, you can meet with the coaches to see where you fit in. Some sports volunteers choose to spend time teaching other subjects in the public schools as well. You are free to decide what you are interested in and build your schedule based on that.
Teaching: Teaching volunteers work alongside local teachers in various schools throughout the communities. Often, teachers have large numbers of students, and they are happy to have an extra set of hands! You can prepare and teach lessons in math, creative arts (art, music, etc), English, or other subjects, depending on your knowledge and skills. Volunteers can also help with grading and other tasks to enable the local teachers to focus more attention on teaching. Some volunteers choose to stay with one class throughout their time in Ghana, and others choose to move from class to class, teaching the same subject to each. Your schedule will vary depending on what you decide, but school hours are generally 8AM-2PM with a break for lunch. Past volunteers have organized additional programs outside of school hours, including afternoon/nighttime tutoring and summer school programs designed to reinforce learning and help students who may need additional attention.