My name is Christopher Sharpe and I am a Youth Ambassador on project in Koforidua, Ghana. I am currently in my fourth week of a six-week program. It has been a great/interesting/fascinating (if not at times challenging) experience. Most of my previous fears about doing development work in Africa quickly disappeared once I arrived in Ghana. I have now experienced the legendary hospitality of Ghanaian society and feel quite comfortable here.
In this blog, I want to focus on some things to consider before and during your volunteer/internship in Ghana. I myself have greatly benefited from the sage advice of some of the YCI blogs and particularly from the two volunteers who were here for the first two weeks of my experience. So in this blog I also hope to do the same for you!
Things to Consider Before Departure/ During Your Stay in Ghana:
1) Make sure to bring enough sun screen and mosquito repellent to last you through the duration of your stay. Mosquito repellant (the kind you spray on yourself) and sunscreen are exceptionally difficult to find in Ghana, especially in the regions outside Accra.
2) Consider bringing your own pillow. The pillows in Ghana feel quite hard by Western standards and I found it difficult to sleep at first. If you prefer soft pillows, bring your own from home. A tip to consider: use those suction bags to pack it in so as not to take up too much space in your suit case.
3) Bring 1-2 thin bed sheets from home. Even in many hotels you will not be provided with a top bed sheet. Bringing 2 is optimal so that you can switch them while you are washing the other. Ghana is a tropical, humid country so you won’t need anything more than a thin bed sheet.
4) Bring a shower mat. I have never seen shower mats provided at any accommodation here. At my place, I use one of the towels I brought as a substitute.
5) Bring sports towels. Those super absorbent thin towels not only dry you well; they also dry quickly when you hang them up. Ghana is very humid so anything that is thinner will dry much quicker.
6) Do bring plenty of hand sanitizer. The bathroom availability in many Ghanaian restaurants/businesses is often non-existent or of questionable quality. They may have a sink with running water but often no soap or drying towel/hand dryer. I have a small bottle I keep in my pocket at all times. I also bought the economical jumbo bottle which I use to refill my small portable one.
7) When riding a tro tro (of which you inevitably will) it is a good idea to consider ‘buying out’ the next seat or seats in your row. The seating conditions are quite cramped and if you only bought one seat it can make for an uncomfortable ride, particularly on long trips. The seat prices are so cheap that for your longer journeys, I highly recommend it. This way, you don’t have to sit with your bags on your lap and can stretch out. It also has the added benefit of getting the tro tro on the road quicker as tro tros will not actually leave until every seat is paid for/filled.
8) Do bring your smartphone (unlocked ones only) if you have one. Ghanaian cell coverage for the Vodafone and MTN networks is excellent, even in most rural areas. It costs 1 Ghana Cedi to buy, register and activate your new SIM card. Then you upload credit to your phone choosing as much or as little as you want. Credit is widely available EVERYWHERE in Ghana and very simple to upload to your phone. Credit is exceptionally cheap especially compared to Canadian prices. This also has the added benefit of you being able to check email/web browse for work related purposes as hard-wired internet will not likely be provided to you at your accommodation.
9) Always, always bring a roll of toilet paper with you anywhere you go. Toilet paper is something not often provided in many bathrooms or places. Better to be safe than sorry! Also, consider bringing a few rolls from home.
10) Know that you can exchange larger bills for smaller ones at major banks like Barclay’s. They provide this service free of charge. It comes in handy for a variety of reasons. When you purchase small items in the markets/shops most vendors expect or try to demand exact change for what you’re buying. It is difficult for them to come up with exact change some of the time particularly when you are paying with a 20 Ghana Cedi or 10 Ghana Cedi bill. Having a lot of small bills (1 Ghana Cedi bills) and Coins (Pesewas) is also beneficial when paying out the travel stipend if you are working with Ghanaian volunteers. If Ghana Cedis are not available at Canadian currency exchange places (and they often aren’t) convert Canadian currency to US dollars. US dollars are the only currency you can exchange for Ghana Cedis in Ghana without difficulty.
11) Bring a few high-powered flashlights/portable head lamp. The power outages are frequent and it’s always a good idea to have quick access to a bright flashlight. These are also very convenient for when you’re walking around at night. Even most roads do not have very many (or bright) street lights. It helps cars know there is a person walking alongside the road. Most importantly, it helps you see and avoid falling in the large uncovered trench ditches that run parallel to most roads
12) For men: Try to buy/bring the lightest and fastest drying clothes you have. In almost all cases you will have to hand wash your clothes and hang dry them. If your clothes/towels are heavy, they will take forever to dry, smell musty and feel gross when you wear them. The humidity (again) is the culprit here. I have given up on wearing jeans here!
13) Do bring Canadian themed small souvenirs and thank you cards. When meeting with Ghanaian civil servants, elected politicians (MPs, Assemblymen etc.), local Chiefs, Queen Mothers, it is often customary to provide a thank-you card/small gift after you have worked together. This relatively simple gesture goes a long way to solidify good relationships with local power brokers. This in turn will pay off dividends as they will go well out of their way to provide you with information, access to facilities, local advertising services and potentially local workers to help you with your community projects, outreach, door to door surveys etc.
Anyway, that’s all I can think of for now! I’m sure I might be able come up with some more suggestions later on. Now off to enjoy some delicious Ghanaian fruit!
-Christopher Sharpe, Youth Ambassador, Ghana 2012