Drew’s First Trip to Ghana

Naomi Couper

My first experience of volunteering in Ghana

My bags were packed, jabs all done, visa and passport at the ready, and I was waiting for my taxi to arrive to take me to the bus station for my journey to the airport for my first trip to Ghana. Whilst on the bus to Heathrow airport I had a feeling of apprehension, not knowing exactly what to expect in Ghana. I arrived at the airport, and frantically checked each pocket for my passport, scared of losing it.

After checking in two heavy suitcases, one filled with my clothes and one filled with first aid equipment, reality started to hit. Wondering through duty free it was incredible to hear the different languages used by different people; this was the point where I knew I was going on an adventure. The time came to fly, and I boarded my flight; unexpectedly, we got a free upgrade, which meant we were in economy plus, meaning more leg room and better food, so a good start.

The heat of Ghana

Once we landed in Ghana, you could feel the heat straight away. However, this was nothing to what I was going to endure after collecting my bags and going through passport control. The modern style of the airport struck me; for some reason it was not what I was expecting. I guess this was my first experience of dealing with misconceptions, and there were many more to follow.

The time came to meet our in-country hosts; we took our bags and made our way to the large double doors where Ghana was waiting for us. We could see the hustle and bustle outside the airport, with people waiting to offer taxi rides, and we could see the sun shining in bright blue skies. We made our way out of the airport and as soon as those doors opened it was like stepping out into an oven. I have been some places in my time – Florida, Cape Verde, Greece, and Spain – but the heat that I encountered was far more humid than I expected. It was very hot! As soon as we made our way outside, our trip hosts were waiting; they took our bags and packed them onto our bus.

With bags loaded, our trip hosts offered us bottles of water to consume, much needed as everyone was doing what they could to cool down. We were lucky to arrive in the evening as it was getting dark and it meant it was getting cooler. We drove through the city of Accra; the smells and sights were incredible and, again, it wasn’t what I expected. There were tall high-rise buildings just like you would see in London or New York and they looked modern too; advertising boards were mostly electronic, and they were advertising major brands which, again, I didn’t think they would have.

On our way to our hotel we had the opportunity to stop off at the local shopping mall, which was much like a shopping centre in the UK. They had a Burger King, Apple Store, electronics shop that sold all the latest gadgets, clothes shops, and even a massive supermarket that had all the brands you would find in the UK, where we bought some snacks for our journey. A nice cold can of coke did the trick to cool me down.

The differences between Ghana and the UK

Once out of the shopping centre, we made our way to the hotel. It became clear that it was rush hour, as the roads were very busy. Car drivers in Ghana don’t seem to understand how to queue, instead weaving in and out of the traffic, and everyone loves to beep their horn too!

Many people in Ghana make a living by selling items to drivers sat in traffic; they carry food on their heads to sell, such as bread, chicken and even sweets! People also sell other items such as phone chargers, drinks and everyday items; I guess because the roads are so busy, it is a perfect opportunity to make some money whilst people are at a standstill. In the UK we go to the shops, whereas many people in Ghana tend to pick up their everyday items whilst sat in traffic; this opened my eyes to a new culture and a new way of doing business, which was fascinating to see.

We soon arrived in our hotel on the outskirts of Accra. I was very impressed by the standard of accommodation; we had WIFI, a swimming pool, and clean and tidy rooms with air conditioning. Once we had settled in, and made a few facetime calls backs home, we all sat down for a dinner of chicken and rice, which filled us up after a long journey. After dinner we had the opportunity to use the pool; I had expected the temperature to drop at night but it didn’t, and sitting by the pool with a cold drink was very pleasant.

Heading to our accommodation in Ghana

We woke up, had breakfast, and made our way to the bus. Sun cream was needed, even at 7am in the morning, with the sun already beaming through. A three-hour drive was ahead of us, to get to where we would be staying for the rest of our trip. It was incredible to see the difference between the city and the countryside.

The most interesting thing about the journey was seeing the different people along the way. As we got out of the city the roads became bumpier and dustier, whilst the smells were different too. The people in the small villages would always wave as we went past; this friendly nature was to become a common theme of my trip. People were happy to see us, especially the children. As we drove through the villages you could see all the palm trees, banana trees and the vast land that looked like something out of The Lion King. It was incredible to see, and I felt lucky to experience such wonderful views along the journey.

Our home in Ghana

After a three-hour drive, we arrived at our accommodation; were immediately met by children offering to help carry our bags. Our accommodation was situated about 200m back from the main road in a secluded spot. They don’t have much concrete in Ghana, which meant we had to drag our bags through sand to get to the accommodation; the children could see that everyone was struggling, and it was great to see them working as a team picking up these heavy bags and carrying them for us. As soon as I saw this, I felt welcome; it seemed that the local people were excited to have us there in Ghana.

The accommodation was incredibly clean and tidy, and not what I expected at all. The area was large, and had a high wall surrounding the whole complex which made me feel very safe. We were welcomed to the accommodation by our trip host, who gave us some water – much needed after a long trip in the bus. Our trip host gave us a chance to have a shower, freshen up and get ready for dinner. Having a shower in Ghana was something I had given some thought to; knowing that they don’t have hot water, I was expecting a shock to the system. Thankfully, this was not the case; the water was refreshing and just what I needed after being in the heat. Going to sleep was a challenge I haven’t experienced before. We slept in mosquito nets and the heat made things uncomfortable. Throughout the trip, I learnt quickly that it was a good idea to cool down before bed with a cold shower; once I mastered this then sleep wasn’t a problem.

Our first day volunteering in Ghana

Today was the day we would encounter our first volunteering opportunity. The team was split into two and we waved goodbye to the rest of our group, who were heading to volunteer at another school. We arrived at the school we would be working at and were welcomed by the headteacher. He called to his staff to get us some chairs, and we sat down under the large trees in the playground; these trees were a lifesaver as they provided shade from the incredible heat.

After a great introduction we were split up into groups; we had the option of either teaching, sports coaching or carrying out building and renovation. I decided to help with building and renovation, and it was great to observe how they make concrete blocks for new walls.

In England, if we wanted bricks to make anything, we would call up the local builders’ merchants and order them. In Ghana, unfortunately, some people do not have the luxury of being able to do this, and they are required to make their bricks by hand. Our trip host showed us how to do this, and we were able to produce around 50 bricks each day; this was an amazing experience, and one I would never have had without going to Ghana.

Volunteering in Ghana – what a humbling experience

We volunteered at the same school every day that week, continuing with the building work that the school staff had identified as important. Every day, the children welcomed us with open arms; it was clear to see that many of them wanted the interaction and attention that we were able to give.

However, it was hard to give attention to every single child, and it is also very hard not to get attached. The children all wanted to play and engage with the volunteers. They were fascinated by the cameras on our phones and loved seeing themselves; a stark reminder that not everyone has little luxuries like mirrors, which we take for granted. The children seemed to love having volunteers there; at the very least, our presence encouraged greater school attendance, which can only be a positive thing. They loved playing football with us too – it was tiring but very rewarding!

Downtime in Ghana

During the evenings we had a chance to learn more about Ghana through cultural activities. One thing I loved was the drumming lesson; my timing was bad, but I committed to it and had a lot of fun! It was great to learn about the culture of the drumming and the history behind it.

We also had the incredible opportunity to visit the beach and lighthouse that is near the volunteer house. The beach was incredible, with palm trees just like in the Caribbean, and the water was warm too. There was a chance to sit on the beach, have a cold drink and watch the sunset, which was stunning. We were also very lucky to visit a slave fort, learn about Ghanaian marriage and visit a church service, which was so different to our church services. It lasted for over two hours, with wonderful singing and dancing; it was so loud and vibrant!

Our trip to Volta

At the end of the week we got the chance to see more of the incredible beauty that Ghana has to offer. We were headed to another area of the Volta Region, for the Volta adventure weekend, a three-hour drive from the volunteer accommodation, to stay in an incredible hotel in the mountains. I took the opportunity to make some calls back home; it was great to catch up with family and see what was going on back in the UK, but I realised at this point that I hadn’t missed my phone throughout the rest of the trip. Every night we all talked in a group, getting to know each other and enjoying each other’s company; had we had WIFI at the volunteer house, no doubt everyone would have been on their phones and such strong friendships would not have been made. It was so refreshing to see a group of young people making the most of time away from technology.

After a short drive, we arrived at the monkey sanctuary, where we got to get up close and personal with monkeys and feed them bananas. Around 15 minutes into the rainforest walk, our guide whistled to the monkeys to come out from the trees, which they immediately responded to; it definitely had the wow factor! The guide told me to pick up a banana and the monkeys immediately leapt onto my arm to get their food, even peeling the bananas themselves! Along the walk, our guide gave us a talk about the history of the sanctuary; his passion for the subject was refreshing and an added bonus to the experience.

After visiting the monkey sanctuary, all excited about what we had just done, we made our way to our mountain hotel accommodation, which can only be described as out-of-this-world. The accommodation is made with luxury wood, the eating area was lovely, and the food was not what I expected. They had a large variety of food available, and I was able to tuck into a pizza.

We woke up to the most incredible sounds; the calls of birds and insects all around us. We made our way into the rainforest, a one-hour trek before us to reach the waterfall. During the walk, the heat was back with a vengeance. We saw local people washing their clothes in the river and a wide variety of species of trees and wildlife. Our guide pointed out the cocoa plant, which we were able to taste. Cadburys uses Ghana as their man source for chocolate, and it was so interesting to see where the beans are sourced. I was also lucky to try coffee from the rainforest, pineapple from the forest floor, and eat a banana straight off the tree; it was great to have these authentic experiences. We heard the waterfall before we saw it.

I cannot emphasise the immense size of Wli Falls; the sight of it was incredible, and it was great to get the chance to swim in the water underneath it. This was so refreshing after a long walk into the rainforest. I couldn’t believe what I had experienced; swimming under a stunning waterfall, under bright blue skies, the rainforest around me. I had to pinch myself – it is something I would recommend to anyone, given the opportunity.

Cape Coast Ghana

I was very lucky to visit cape coast castle in Ghana, one of the country’s most famous spectacles, which is truly imposing. The ancient walls were once home to one of the most tragic and brutal periods in the history of humanity — the transatlantic slave trade. The Castle is a white-washed fortress on the coast, and was one of the principal slave depots in the transatlantic slave trade for more than three centuries. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site that attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year. Recent visitors include Barack Obama, Melania Trump and Prince Charles.

I found this place truly inspiring. It includes a visit to a room which kept 200 slaves, and some of the stories the guides must tell you are fascinating. Once finished at the castle, I got to have some lunch at the beach; the beaches in Ghana are truly stunning, and you get to see people making their livelihood by fishing. Every experience I had introduced me to, and taught me about, an enthralling new culture.

What an amazing experience in Ghana

The end of my trip arrived. It was time to say goodbye, and we had an incredible send-off from the school we volunteered at. The school presented us with a certificate by way of thanks and put on a dancing show to see us on our way. We were also given an incredible gift from the African Adventures staff. What a journey, what an experience. My time in Ghana was truly wonderful, and I can’t wait to go back again.