To get an insight into really like to be a VPWA volunteer take a look at the videos and blogs written by some of our previous volunteers.
Name: Shamistha Selvaratnam from Australia,
Project: Human Rights/ Children Centre/Teach In Ghana
Period: January - February 2013
I arrived in Ghana, Africa will a little bit of international volunteer, however not in Africa. I was accepted by VPWA to undertake a Human Rights Internship with the Commission of Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) for 5 weeks whilst staying at the VPWA Children Centre. I think the best decision I made was staying at the Children Centre. There was never a dull moment whether it was visiting the farm to collect food for dinner and fruits, helping with the daily tasks including bathing the children and playing with them or collecting water from the well for cooking and for our bucket showers. The children were gorgeous and always wanted us to help them with their school work and play games with them.
As a volunteer I shared a room with other volunteers working in the village and we had our own bathroom and kitchen. Each day Martha provided us with amazing, tasty Ghanaian food for dinner and she was always willing to cook us something when we were hungry!
I travelled for about an hour each day by share taxi and tro tro to my workplace at CHRAJ which was in Amasaman. My main task was to
work on a research project with another intern where we conducted research primarily into child maintenance cases looking at the details of each case that CHRAJ received and noting trends with the aim of proposing some sort of intervention that could assist Ghana in reducing the amount of maintenance cases they received. I was also able to assist with data entry tasks and had the opportunity to sit in on a mediation session between two parties. Unfortunately I was unable to complete the research task during my time working at CHRAJ, however the work I did complete has been left in the Human Rights Dropbox folder.
I also had the opportunity to visit the school that the children attended for a couple of days. I was able to spend time teaching the school children in Maths, English and Religious Moral Studies. It was so much fun being around all the children!
The most memorable moments for me in Ghana was the time I spent with the children and the relationships I built with them. Having the opportunity to visit the villages they were originally from was incredible, just seeing what a different VPWA had made for them. I will miss waking up and helping them getting ready from school, I will miss them running to greet me when I got home from work and most of all I will miss chatting and playing with them everyday.
VPWA was an amazing organisation to volunteer with. All the VPWA staff were extremely friendly and always willing to help out with anything. VPWA was an affordable organisation to volunteer with and had a great range of projects to choose from. Living in Darmang gave me a truly authentic experience of how it is for the locals to living in Ghana. I would definitely love to go back to Ghana and to volunteer with VPWA again!
Name: Rachel Carter /New Zealand
Volunteer Period: January 2013
Project: Street Library Ghana
My experience as a volunteer at VPWA in January 2013 was eye opening and rewarding. I worked on the Street Library Ghana project with another volunteer, Sarah. Our main role was to get support from businesses for a book drive to raise the resources needed to establish permanent community based street libraries.
I was surprised at the generosity of the publishing firms that we contacted. During one month we received over 700 books including comics, textbooks and storybooks. Much more work is however needed to get very basic books suitable for teaching children to read.
A highlight of my time in Ghana was the opening of the first community based library at J’Ann Royal International School. Joseph, the Principal of the school is clearly dedicated to improving the education of children in his community and it was amazing to see the varied program that the school runs on a very limited budget.
Travelling during the weekends was a good chance to see more of a very diverse country and learn about its history. I went with some other volunteers to Mole National park, which I found most interesting for gaining insight into rural life in Ghana, and to the Cape Coast.
As a small, locally run NGO, VPWA has a personal approach to its volunteers. People were matched to roles that suited their interests and Hayford and his wife, Portia hosted us for dinner each week. As Hayford included me in meetings with local organisations, I got a sense of the Ghanaian business environment.
These aspects helped make my time in Ghana very worthwhile. I think that in order to make the most impact to local communities during your time volunteering, it is useful to keep an open mind about which projects need the most help from foreign volunteers.
Although I originally planned to do a placement more related to my current studies (nutrition), I feel that I gained a lot from working on tasks that are really core to the success of a NGO, such as proposal writing and sponsorship, while also having opportunities to interact with locals through the library opening at J’Ann.
I hope that this short volunteer experience will not be my first and last time in Ghana!
Students at J’Ann Royal International School
Marie Ann (USA Volunteer) and Rachel (NZ Volunteer) meeting students at J’Ann Royal International School
Joseph (School Principal) and Sarah (Canadian Volunteer) sorting books for the opening ceremony
Hayford (Street Library Ghana President) speaking at the opening ceromony
Fabian Willskytt, Sweden - VPWA Microfinance
I was born and raised in Sweden, but I studied marketing and international business at an American university. Before moving on to a master program, I wanted to volunteer in a developing country. I have traveled a lot around Europe and America, but had never before set my foot in Africa. Ghana is considered one of the more stable and developed nations of the continent, and since West Africans have a reputation of being a friendly people, it seemed like the best place to go. I wanted to work with something related to my field of study, so I chose to focus on micro finance. There are countless micro finance organizations in Ghana, but through my research I found VPWA was one of the few that was both affordable and credible.
When I arrived in Ghana, I did not really know what to expect. Although the VPWA website is very thorough and detailed, it is difficult to project how an experience like this is going to plan out. But my worries turned out to be in vain. I was picked up at the airport and taken to the apartment where us volunteers where to stay. The living arrangements where beyond my expectations. It was clean and spacious. Since there were only four volunteers at the time, we all had our own rooms. There was running water and electricity, at least for the most part, and the fans kept it cool and nicely tempered. The best part in my opinion was probably the food we were served. One of my favorite parts of traveling is trying the local cuisine, so I was thrilled to be served the local varieties of rice, beans, plantains, and chicken every evening.
The micro finance office was located just a short bus ride from the apartment. The program was in place to support local business women who needed additional funds to expand their small enterprises. Some of the women were selling fried yams or plantains, while others where seamstresses or hair dressers. Through a micro loan they were able to invest in new equipment that could increase their revenue or cut their cost. Around the time I was there VPWA were also in the process of implementing a program where they were leasing the equipment directly instead of just lending the money for it. This system, called micro leasing, provides additional security compared to the traditional lending since the equipment can be used as collateral. It also ensures that the funds are actually used for the intended purpose, and not for personal expenses.
We worked normal business hours, 9-16, but the pace was considerably slower than what Europeans or Americans might be used to. There were certain administrative tasks that always needed to be done, such as book keeping and handling loan applications, but to keep busy it was important to take initiative and show a bit of ambition. The program was in constant need of funds and we therefore spent a great deal of time writing grant proposals. This is a specific skill and can be very time consuming, but grant funding is essential to any NGO. During my four weeks with VPWA I wrote grant proposals for two separate foundations, hopefully enabling the program to further expand. In addition to the office work, every Friday we visited the different beneficiaries around the community. This offered a great opportunity to experience the living conditions as well as business climate of the area.
The greatest advantage of volunteering for VPWA in my opinion is the size of the organization. Since it is relatively small scaled it allows the volunteers to get close to the core of the operations. Even though I was there as a micro finance volunteer, I was able to get a good understanding of how the entire organization was set up and operated. Hayford, the director, spent a great deal of time with us individually answering questions and asking our advice. Every evening we were able to go through our individual projects and grant proposals with him. Hayford is very helpful and I learned a lot during these chats.
During weekends, we were free to do what we wanted. This was a golden opportunity to explore Ghana, something I highly recommend all volunteers to do. Traveling around the country is very cheap and there are plenty of sights to visit. Along the coast there are excellent beaches and the nature is amazing. One of the highlights is a natural park with a canopy walk, a network of bridges situated 30 meters up in the air that offers a unique view of the rain forest. It is not recommended for height sensitive people, but is truly a great experience.
All in all, volunteering with VPWA was great experience. I will always remember the kind people of Ghana, all the food, the rich culture, and the friendships I created with the other volunteers. If you have a chance to volunteer with this organization, you should definitely take it. I recommend everybody to make the most of the experience by enjoying the local food, traveling around the country during weekends, and trying to contribute as much as possible to the organization. No matter if you spend four weeks od six months in Ghana, you will be well taken care of and have a great time.
Name: Arne Van de Vyver (Summer 2012)
Date of birth: 13 October 1991
Education: Medical school, University of Antwerp
- Your background
I am studying Medicine at the University of Antwerp. I am currently in my fourth year of Medicine. Last year I obtained a Bachelor degree, which is given after completion of three years in Medical school. Now I have started my Master degree, which will be finished within 4 years.
- Program I worked on while with VPWA
Because I study Medicine, I chose to participate in the medical program of VPWA. We were placed in the Amasaman hospital, a public hospital near the capital city of Accra. I worked there for four weeks. During these four weeks I learned about the way the hospitals function in Ghana and the differences with Western hospitals. I also got a unique chance to participate and help the nurses and doctors the best I could.
It is difficult to get a function in a hospital if you are only there for four weeks. However, the nurses and doctors were very pleased to show us around and teach us new things. The main goal was observing the nurses and doctors, but to some extent we could also help out a hand. It is very interesting to see how medical techniques are performed in Ghana. I saw caesarian sections, circumcisions, vaginal investigations, labour, eye examinations, ENT examinations, buruli ulcer skin transplantations, woundcare and general consultations. I actually expected that the hospital would be more rural with less equipment, but I even saw surgical procedures, which was very unique for me. Still, the hospital has limitations. The infrastructure of some departments is in need of improvement. However, I found it very amazing that hygiene and sterility are always tried to be maintained to the best by the medical workers.
In some situations we were allowed to be of help to the medical staff.
I have worked in the wound care department, where there are always a lot of people queuing for treatment. It was nice that I could be of help so that the patients were helped quicker.
The Buruli ulcer department is very interesting, because this disease is almost unique to the area where the hospital is. The skin transplantations are done once a month and we were very welcome to come and observe the procedures.
At the labour ward, you are confronted with a non-Western way of giving birth. The tradition is very different. I found that this department gave me a perspective of the Ghanaian tradition, which not a lot of foreigners can experience. The relationship between nurses and patients is so much different from my country.
The ENT- and eye department are both limited in space. A small room is used, and the equipment is too big for the space. This is a pity. Once, a salesman came to promote a machine for the eye department. However this would be a great investment, there was no place to put it, and so the machine could not be bought. Again, I refer to the limitations they have to face in the hospital at some points.
A hospital is not only therapy and procedures. The nurses and doctors explained us the health care system in Ghana and the fact that not everyone has health insurance. We also experienced the fact that this is a reason why a lot of Ghanaians don’t go to hospitals, because it is too expensive. A girl of 10 years old had one record in her health book, namely her birth issues. This meant that she didn’t go to the hospital for 10 years. It is clear that follow up is thus very difficult for health workers. History is almost non-existent, which makes giving the best health care you want very difficult
In general I experienced that nurses and doctors are very motivated to help other citizens. They have to deal with more limitations than we do in the West, but still they try to give care in the best way imaginable.
- Living arrangements
With a group of about twenty volunteers, we lived in a house in Pokuase. I did not expect it to be this comfortable, but it was. A gated house, with all the comfort we have in Europe. I slept in a room with four other guys, all participants in a specific VPWA program. A water pump in the courtyard constantly provides the house with running water. There is no hot water in the house, but that was not an issue for me at all. The water is not drinkable, but you can boil it to make tea, soup,… On the street you buy food for breakfast and lunch. Dinner is brought every evening by a VPWA co-worker. There is a supermarket on the other side of the street, which is very convenient. Dinner is served in a plastic box, so you can eat it whenever you want, for instance if you come home later from work. We tried to eat together with all the other volunteers as much as possible. Even the volunteers, who lived on the first flour, mostly came downstairs to eat with us.
My working day started at 8 a.m., so I woke up at 6.45 a.m. This seems early, but I experienced that while in Ghana, the days are very different from my own country. Because it is light at 5.30 a.m. and dark around 6.30 p.m. the days start earlier and end earlier. Mostly we went to bed at 10.30p.m.
- What will I remember about Ghana
The thing that has struck me the most is the hospitality and kindness of the Ghanaian inhabitants. People will notice you because you have a light skin, but there is no hostility. I had never been to Africa and was not sure about what to expect. Because there are also a lot of poor areas in Ghana, I expected that we would have to pay a lot of attention for pick pockets and harassment. None of this is true. Of course you are always careful about your stuff, but I never felt unsafe. People talk to you as if you are their best friend, they dance with you,… They want you to feel welcome in their country. Also the streets are very lively, which is very fun.
Also in the hospital you can build up nice bonds with the patients, because they let you in their lives. They are very open and tell you about their living conditions, their families, what made them end up in the hospital,… This is so nice, because this way you learn a lot more about the Ghanaian way of living.
- What makes VPWA different from other organizations
This was my first time I did volunteering work in a foreign country, but I think it is special that you can participate in a local organization, managed by Ghanaian people. They now their culture and people much better than foreign organizations that do volunteering work in Ghana too. This way they have a better perspective on different situations, and know exactly how to deal with them.
- Advice for future volunteers
The main advice I can give is to be prepared to work in an environment you are not used too. In the beginning you can have some difficulties with adapting to the Ghanaian way of living, but if you are open to everything it will be a great experience. Also sometimes it might be frustrating that things in Ghana are not done as quickly as in the West, but try to understand that they have to do a lot of things with less than we have. It might be easy to have a lot of comments on the Ghanaian way some things are done, but if you try to keep in mind that you are not in Europe or America you will find it much easier to go with it and see the positive things, instead of what you would do different.
Scott Heneveld - July/August 2012 , USA
I am an American college student who was looking for an opportunity to spend some time in the summer of 2012 abroad in a constructive
manner and I felt that volunteer work was the perfect outlet for meeting both of those ideas.
I worked for VPWA four weeks at the Child Development Center in Darmang. I arrived a day before nine children who were, previous to their arrival, subjected to poor living conditions. The children had varying levels of education and health upon arrival, but I noticed drastic improvement in both confidence and physical health during my time at the center. Significant improvements were easily observable in the attitudes of the children over the four week span, as well as improvements in social skills and autonomous traits.
The living conditions at the center were comfortable but not plush by any stretch of the imagination. Power and running water worked most of the time, but occasional blackouts occurred throughout my stay, but they did not affect the operation of the center. A separate building was provided for volunteers to room in. It had a gate and lock that provided a comfortable and secure-feeling sleeping location. Volunteers were always within close proximity with the children which helped all the residents establish a family-like atmosphere which I felt helped the children adapt as quickly as they did to their new surroundings.
My overall impression of Ghana was incredibly positive. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in the country thanks largely to the extremely helpful nature of the people I encountered there and the beauty of the country and culture. The community I stayed in was very helpful and supportive of the center's goals. While communication was sometimes difficult since some Ghanaians spoke limited English, I had very few problems finding and procuring anything I needed during my stay. I cannot stress how helpful and honest the people I interacted with were and how much that enhanced my stay.
My advice for future volunteers is to have a positive mindset at all times. If you tell yourself you're gonna have a bad time and that you dislike the cultural differences of the country, then you're not going to be as useful as you could allow yourself to be. It is important to realize that volunteers working with children are there to help those children realize their potential within their society and not to try and conform the children to the volunteer's personal and cultural opinions. While I personally didn't travel, most of the other volunteers I spoke with during my stay traveled during weekends and expressed positive responses to their travel.
In conclusion, the time I spent in Ghana working under the guidance of VPWA was extremely rewarding and I would recommend it for anyone who is willing to work while experiencing a beautiful and supportive society.
Georgina Hagan, United Kingdom (August 2012)
I lived and worked at the VPWA Children’s Centre in Darmang, during July/August 2012. I had just graduated from the University of Leeds (UK) studying BA International Relations and French. As well as the work at the Children’s Centre, during my time spent with VPWA I also assisted with the Ghana Street Library Project.
Darmang Children’s Centre - My Work
At the centre, as well as undertaking various day-to-day tasks such as washing, dressing and helping feed the children, my role included providing both emotional and academic support to the children. Through play, the maintenance of structure and routine, and acting as a positive role-model for the children, I helped to settle the children into a homely ‘normalcy’ that would prove conducive to their emotional and intellectual development. Additionally, I taught the older children maths and English, setting them various tasks and correcting their work with them. After an initial assessment of their capabilities, I was able to tailor the work I set to each individual child, to ensure they were working at an appropriate level and were concentrating on the areas in which they most needed improvement. I tried to keep the work as fun and interesting as possible, by using quizzes and songs, for example, and breaking up maths and English with creative activity sessions such as making jewellery with beads, and decorating glitter stickers.
Darmang Children’s Centre - My Thoughts
The time I spent at the children’s centre was brilliant. Working with the children there was a highly rewarding and formative experience that I will never forget. Being at the centre 24/7 was quite intense and at times challenging, but was actually highly beneficial to my volunteering experience because it enabled me to become fully immersed in life at the centre, and as such the daily lives and activities of the children. Living arrangements at the centre were comfortable and I am very grateful to Martha, the house mother for all of her cooking, and for adapting the spiciness of some dishes for us volunteers!
I found VPWA to be a highly organised, genuine and professionally run organisation. The range of projects being undertaken is very impressive, and VPWA is proactive in expanding its remit and continually improving and developing existing projects. The energy, creativity and passion of Hayford, the director, was especially striking and inspiring.
Advice for Future Volunteers
I would advise anyone planning on living, working or volunteering in Ghana to be patient – things don’t get done as quickly as they might do at home, but they will get done! Travellers needn’t be wary of the open and friendly nature of the Ghanaian people, which can at first feel a bit strange to those from other cultures where people don’t greet and talk to strangers as much! Be prepared for many people that you meet to take a great interest in you and your life! For those volunteering at the children’s centre, it would be great to bring along some small activities, toys, games and learning materials that can fit in your luggage to teach and play with the children.
Bettina Jamy-Stowasser, Austria (July-August 2012)
1. Your background
I’m a 24 years old student from Vienna, Austria. I’m currently enrolled in the Master program International Marketing & Sales at the University
of Wr. Neustadt in Austria. I will finish my studies in June 2013 and therefore I wanted to use my last summer as a student to fulfill my long-felt dream of spending a couple of months in an African country, doing volunteer work.
VPWA has been recommended to me by my Austrian friend Marlene Weberberger who spent two months in Ghana in the summer of 2010. She always spoke very enthusiastically about her experiences with VPWA and thus, encouraged me a lot and helped me with my decision.
2. The programs you worked on while with VPWA
Initially, I’ve applied for the Microfinance program. When I realized that two volunteers are already working in the Microfinance office, I decided to join them only once per week to meet the borrowers of the loans which was always very interesting. Twice a week I worked at a nursery/primary school (Getty’s Academy) in Sapeiman where I taught English and Mathematics and assisted the teachers in other subjects. Twice a week I worked at the VPWA office in Pokuase: I designed folders for two VPWA projects (Street Library Ghana and the Child Care Center in Damang) which are supposed to be used for fundraising.
Furthermore, I participated in two VPWA projects on a short-term basis. I helped out in a project called Deworm Ghana, in which deworm medication was given to school children in communities in the area of Damang. We also measured and weighed the children in order to receive information about their BMI.
The second project was called Street Library Ghana which started rather at the end of my stay. Therefore, I accompanied Hayford, Simon and the local volunteers to selected communities in the area of Damang where we presented the Street Library to parents and registered those children who were interested in joining the project. In the course of this project English child books have been collected. Once a week volunteers will visit the communities and will assist the registered children with reading practice and school work.
3. Describe living arrangement in your own words
I lived in a nice house in Pokuase (a suburb of Accra) with 5-15 other volunteers from all over the world. The office of VPWA, in which some volunteers worked, is located in the same building. I shared a room with 2-3 other volunteers and we also had our own bathroom. We all shared a kitchen too. The very spicy but good dinner was prepared for us on a daily basis; breakfast and lunch was prepared by ourselves. There are plenty of places in the neighborhood where we could buy food. Water and electricity are almost all the time available. The Internet access was a little bit more complicated because it often didn’t work on various laptops and ran out quite quickly. Maybe a WLAN network could help here, especially because volunteers need Internet access for their projects.
The house is located in a nice area with lots of friendly and helpful neighbors. It’s easy to get to Sapeiman or Amassaman by Tro tro where most of the offices are located. It’s also easy and safe to get to Accra by Tro tro or bus.
4. What will you remember about Ghana
Most of all, I will remember the extremely friendly and helpful people of Ghana who are never too busy or stressed out to give directions, answer questions or simply start chatting with you about their and also your own country. I will also always remember the beautiful and varied nature of the country which I was luckily able to explore thoroughly during my stay. It was also very impressive for me to experience development work for the first time – with all its challenges, difficulties and rewards.
5. What makes VPWA different from other organizations if any, in your own words
During my research and preparations for my journey to Ghana, the biggest difference was the price. I really liked it that as a volunteer, you only have to pay for accommodation and food and not also an additional fee for the participation in the projects per se. I’ve realized quickly that extremely high fees are a common thing if you want to volunteer in an African country and I wouldn’t have been willing to pay those. With VPWA I knew what I was paying for and I really appreciated that.
Another difference is probably the size of the organization. VPWA is a quite small NGO and it’s also entirely local which makes the participation a lot more informal and pleasant.
6. Advice for future volunteers on the program, living, travelling and working in Ghana
I would advice future volunteers to have the right expectations of their stay in Ghana. This includes some research and preparations before they leave their home country, especially if it’s their first visit to Africa, like it was for me. It’s important to know that development projects take a lot of time and often it will be impossible to see any actual “results” during the short time period the volunteers are staying in Ghana. But if you are prepared to this, you can appreciate your participation a lot better and there will be no disappointment.
If volunteers want to travel through Ghana, which I highly recommend, I would advise them to do so at the end of their stay. I travelled for one week after having already spent 6 weeks in Ghana and I felt strongly that I’ve been prepared for all challenges of travelling in a country like Ghana by the previous weeks. I think that travelling at the beginning could easily be overwhelming because you’re not yet used to the very different culture and habits.
7. Any other thoughts....
I can recommend VPWA as a great opportunity to experience the work of a local NGO, to meet a lot of new friends from all over the world and, of course, to get to know the beautiful nature and the wonderful people of Ghana and I’m thankful that I took this chance!
Michaela Penkalla, Germany - Research Associate, March 2012
When I applied about seven weeks before I wanted to come to Ghana I was so happy that Hayford could offer me a position as Research Associate to undertake an exercise to enhance the organization's effort in a particular intervention related to a Women’s Shelters Project.
When I arrived in Ghana I felt at once very welcomed and just good. The nice tropical climate, which was such a good contrast to the cold weather in Germany, makes you feel good at once. Ghana is a beautiful country everything is colorful and the nature is amazing (from beautiful beaches to lush green mountains and I love the color of the red sand roads). But the best part are the friendly people. Everyone is so helpful and welcoming. You never feel uncomfortable or lost. Because even if you are just standing around someone will approach you and ask you if you are ok and if you are looking for something and need help.
The work I was doing for VPWA was mainly writing a proposal to raise funds for the Women’s Shelter Project which some volunteers already started working on last summer. After I finished reading all the material the other volunteers already gathered I wrote the proposal and tried to structure it in a logical way and point out all important facts and goals the Project wants to attain. After finishing the proposal I researched possible funding sources. There are a lot of opportunities on the internet to get funds but not every trust fund or foundation was suitable for the Women’s Shelter Project because sometimes deadlines were just over or the foundation was just supporting NGOs run by women. So after researching a lot I found a suitable open Call for proposal and then prepared all the necessary application forms. So I was mainly working in the Pokuase office. At the beginning I wished to work a bit more directly with local people to get to know the Ghanaian culture even more. But in the end I was quite satisfied with my work because even if you don’t work directly with locals you get many other chances to make some Ghanaian friends if you are open minded and outgoing.
Living in the compound in Pokuase with all the other volunteers was really relaxed and for Ghanaian standards really comfortable. Having dinner with the other volunteers every evening, going out for a drink or watching movies outside the apartment was our daily pleasant routine after work. All the vendors on the street in front of the compound you can buy your food at are so friendly and because you see them every day, they kind of become your friends. And so it is really nice not just to travel around but for once also to stay in a place for a bit longer and have a bit of a daily routine.
But of course one of my favorite parts of my trip to Ghana was the traveling. I traveled almost every weekend. This was possible because we were many volunteers when I arrived, so it was easy to find someone who also wanted to travel to the same places I wanted. And even if you can’t find someone to travel with it is no problem, because once you got used to the tro tros and the public transportation system (at the beginning I thought I would never learn how to get from A to B but actually I got used to it so fast…) it is so easy to travel in Ghana even alone. And you really should travel. This is one advice I can give future volunteers. The country has so much to offer. Because I just stayed four weeks I didn’t make it to the north of the country and mainly travel west to: Cape Coast and Kakum National Park, Busua and also to a small town near Sunyani where we were invited to a funeral, and of course in and around Accra.
My stay with VPWA this March was really an incredible and unforgettable experience. I enjoyed every minute of my stay. And I will definitely miss among many other things the music which is played everywhere and the food in particular Red Red (a bean dish) with fried plantains. =) If you are thinking about volunteering in Ghana stop it and just do it. You won’t regret it.
Matt Fiddy - (Lawyer)UK January- March 2012
I arrived in Accra in the middle of the night and the first thing I noticed was the sweltering temperature, which was a pleasant contrast from the freezing winter I had just been living in back home. Hayford greeted me at the airport and took me back to the VPWA Compound, which by Ghanaian standards is a very nice place to live indeed.
Unlike many of the other volunteers, I was not working for VPWA directly as I was seconded to the Ghana Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ). This organisation is the primary watchdog for human rights and corruption in the country but it is also responsible for co-ordinating mediation between families in dispute. Most of my work was therefore geared towards helping parents reach a settlement in affairs concerning their children and finances.
Life in Ghana is amazing. The people are almost universally friendly and helpful with a passion for food, dancing, humour and every aspect of being alive. I recall many experiences of being completely lost only to find my way with the help of various locals. Coming to terms with Ghanaian society is also a learning curve. When I arrived in Accra I was intimidated by just how different life is to life back home. By the time I left I was confident in handling the complex public transport system and in bartering with the many market traders that earn their living in the city.
Aside from the interesting nature of my work at CHRAJ, I learned a great deal from travelling around the country and visiting various communities. From the remote villages I travelled to with CHRAJ, to the bustling cities of Kumasi and Cape Coast, to the beautiful beaches west of Accra, everywhere has something to offer in Ghana. If you are looking for personal development and discovery, I cannot recommend anywhere more strongly than VPWA and Ghana.
Delfina Terrado, Psychologist –Argentina (December 2011- January 2012)
My experience in Ghana with VPWA
When I arrived to Ghana I thought to myself how could it be possible for someone to live with that heat all year round but what stroke me most was the fact that I was about to getting acquainted to a place that differs quite a lot to my hometown. I come from one of the so-called developing countries and I judged Ghana by thinking that it would be the same to what I am used to with some minor changes. For my own surprise, Ghana exceeded my expectations; it impressed me with a rich culture, very spicy food and lots of warm hugs from little happy people. Africa is so unlike what we see on TV. It is far more beautiful. It is far more mysterious.
I arrived with an idea of what I wanted to do for VPWA, with Heyford and Simon’s help I started to put it into practice. I evaluated 10 children that are going to live in the Youth Center in Dermang, with the purpose of creating a report of relevant psychological information that was useful for us to develop a resiliency program. Creating the proper tools for the task was a huge challenge. There is not much written in the psychological field in Africa. What I found out was that because of the environment and according to my clinical and personal observation Ghanaian children develop some characteristics that compare to western culture are unusual, faster in some of the areas and slower in other ones.
At the beginning I was afraid that I wasn’t going to meet the venture, but after talking to other volunteers about my doubts I realized that I was prepared to do my best with what I had at the moment. So I just jumped in and did it. I am very proud of what I accomplished as a professional and I had the chance of working with amazing and compromised people. I have to specially thank Simon who took me around the villages to meet each family, he treat me like a princess although the heat and the dust took my shine.
Throughout the days, experience and observation helped me find out that people within this community cultivate really strong bonds with each other that allow them to have a support system to relay on. They specially care for most of the children; in nearly all of my interviews they had at least one social relationship outside the extensive family that care and support them in adverse moments. I believe that more develop countries should work in building this type of bonds that can work as buffers to children at risk.
Ghana has provided me with a great and amazing experience. I hope my report can encourage people to take initiative and introduce themselves into the world of volunteering. The different environment, language, culture and customs can make you feel a variety of emotions, and an exploration of oneself that it’s definitely worth it.
The most important benefit was to enrich others people’s lives, get involved and compromised with what I had to offer and hopefully influenced them in a positive way, as they did with me.
Rebecca Heeb – USA: Microfinance & Educational Programs Volunteer, Nov 2011- Mar 2012
I first came to VPWA in the middle of November 2011. I had been teaching English in Asia for three years and was ready for a change in occupational environment. I wanted to learn more about international development issues and I had planned to spend twelve months volunteering at various NGOs to acquire a set of new skills for the development career path. VPWA was my first stop. I chose VPWA because I could learn more about microfinance and project management. Upon arriving Hayford assigned me to the microfinance office in Amasaman and he also informed me that I would be organizing a quiz competition in our district, the GA West municipality.
Microfinance- What is it?
For most of November through mid-January I went to Amasaman and shadowed Comfort (VPWA’s permanent staff member who handles everything in the MF office). Comfort taught me the basics of the loaning process. On Mondays and Tuesdays we collected repayments in the office. On Fridays we walked through Amasaman and Fise to visit VPWA beneficiaries and their businesses. On all other days we worked on various projects, specifically VPWA’s new micro leasing program. In doing this, I was able to gain first-hand experience in microloans and learn the logistics of microcredit.
How To Organize a Project
Around the middle of December I also started to work on the 2012 GA West Inter-School Quiz Competition. I was responsible for contacting the municipal assembly and various businesses for sponsorship of the event. With the help of a Ghanaian colleague, the two of us set off visiting businesses and later on the 16 participating schools to inform them of the competition. We held the quiz competition during the last week of February. On the day of the finals, I finally understood how all of our hard work had finally paid off. Organizing this project allowed me to learn many new skills. I was forced to carry myself in a confident manner when I went out requesting sponsorship. I learned about the logistics of organizing an event, the costs associated with it, and how to carefully coordinate the event with government officials and private businesses. Lastly, I also learned a lot about Ghanaian culture and etiquette because most of the time I was collaborating with Ghanaian colleagues and partners.
One of the most important things I got out of my stay in Ghana was having the chance to learn about Ghanaian culture. At work I was able to learn about etiquette and how to conduct myself in a Ghanaian manner. Outside of work I was able to learn about African values from Ghanaian friends and acquaintances. Navigating through the cultural gap is certainly not easy. One suggestion I have for anyone wanting to volunteer long-term in Ghana is to do your homework. Read as much as you can about Ghana and Africa. I had sought out many resources before leaving but I was far from prepared when I got there. One resource that I can recommend is the book “African Friends & Money Matters” by David Maranz. I wish I had read this book before going to Ghana, it would have prevented a lot of cultural misunderstandings and frustrations on my part.
All in all Ghana is an amazing place to visit. As long as you keep an open mind, are willing to step out of your comfort zone, and be adventurous and flexible, your time in Ghana will be enjoyable, memorable, and well-spent.
Amber Yan –USA : Women Empowerment Volunteer, January 2012
In January 2012, I took time off from my full-time job to spend a month volunteering with VPWA and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made since I graduated from college and entered the working world. I went to Ghana thinking I would spend my vacation time away from my cubicle. By the time I left Ghana, I not only felt empowered from my experience, but I left with a broader sense of what the world was like outside of the U.S.
As a volunteer for the Women’s Empowerment Program, I had the pleasure of directly working with the beneficiaries of the microfinance program. I was blown away with how welcoming and hospitable the beneficiaries were. They made a genuine effort to integrate me into Ghanaian society and give me a taste of what it was like to live like a true Ghanaian. I learned how to cook Ghanaian food, learned basic phrases in Twi and Ewe (two common Ghanaian dialects), how to drink water from a sachet (it’s a lot harder than you think—I still haven’t been able to open one without spilling water everywhere) and how to barter with cab drivers, among countless other skills.
I came to Ghana essentially expecting the worst—it was my first time travelling alone, let alone to Africa, and being a small girl (5’5” and under 100 pounds), I am what the other volunteers described as an “easy target.” But I was pleasantly surprised with how friendly Ghanaians are and how safe I felt walking around. Obviously, I don’t mean that you should be careless and wander around Accra at night with your purse open, but Ghana has a relatively low rate of violent crime and I don’t think I ever felt unsafe walking around, even at night.
The least safe I ever felt in Ghana was riding the tro-tro for the first time—the tro-tro is essentially an old van that has been converted into a shuttle service without any safety precautions to speak of—Ghanaians don’t seem to trouble themselves with Western niceties like seatbelts or airbags, and the tro-tro doesn’t even leave the stop until it’s full. But after getting over the initial shock of riding in one for the first time, I never thought about it again. It became part of daily life and I feel sheepish even admitting that I was nervous riding it. In fact, I ended up taking day trips via tro-tro on weekends—once to the Volta Region (~7 hour tro-tro ride) and another time to Cape Coast (~5 hour tro-troride.) So if you are really concerned about tro-tro safety, just sit in the back and enjoy the ride.
The only nugget of advice I would offer to a new volunteer is that your volunteer experience is entirely dependent on what you make of it and how open you are to another culture. This may sound like a “duh,” but it is actually possible for you to volunteer at VPWA, eat only white bread, and not meet anyone outside of the volunteer compound. For me, that would have been such a waste of opportunity. I feel like if you are willing to make the commitment to donate your time, money, and plane ticket to Ghana (definitely not cheap coming from California), you might as well make the most of it. For me, the best aspect about working with VPWA was being able to interact with Ghanaians and experience life as they lived it. It was such an enriching, valuable, and eye-opening experience to see a country almost as a native. You may never get the opportunity again.
Dmitry Zhdankin, Rutgers University
December 2011 – January 2012
This winter I had tremendous pleasure to spend a month at VPWA working on research that relates to my bachelor thesis.
First of all, I was impressed by the open-mindedness and flexibility with which HayfordSiaw has approached my proposal to conduct research at his organization. My research involved analysis of microfinance recipients’ personality traits, which required a great deal of concentrated work with individuals that receive funding. Hayford was helpful in ensuring that I receive help from one of VPWA’s employees, which proved essential to the success of my project. Moreover, Hayford permitted complete access to all of VPWA’s records that pertain to microfinance activities. Without this access to organization’s records my work would have been incomplete. I recommend VPWA as an organization for those interested in conducting independent research. The organization’s management was flexible, open minded, and most importantly attentive to the requirements of productive research.
Second, living at the VPWA’s compound was also a great pleasure. The area around the compound was safe and quiet, while the accommodations were comfortable and appropriate for short or even long-term residence. Of course sharing accommodations with volunteers that come to Ghana from every corner of the world was a blast! It was great to spend my evenings with volunteers discussing our work and life in Ghana. The dinners of homemade Ghanaian food also proved to be quiet a delicious experience.
Finally, Ghana is a beautiful country worth discovering. From the shores of Cape Coast to the mountains of Volta Region and beyond, its people are warm and friendly and its nature is fascinating. The country’s most distant corners are accessible by inexpensive transportation and most of the travel destinations are safe, even for single travelers. Hayford and VPWA’s team was also helpful when it came to planning of distant (and not so distant) travels.
Overall, my experience in Ghana was truly one of a kind, largely because of VPWA. Even though my stay was short, I had every opportunity to finalize all of my research tasks, interact with people whose lives are impacted by microfinance, and at the same time discover Ghana, losing myself in the beauty of its nature and the heritage of its culture.
I spent September 2010 volunteering with VPWA as a teacher and had such a fantastic experience that I would like to share it with other people. I originally chose VPWA because they seemed a good value, grassroots organisation. For many people the concept of paying to volunteer seems strange but with VPWA you are able to see exactly what your money is used for. Included in the cost are things which make your trip easier such as the airport pick-up and drop-off and a sim card. Some of the fee goes towards your accommodation and food but lots of it is used in a very innovative micro-finance project working with women’s groups. VPWA is a small NGO but this makes the whole time very special as you do feel like you are part of a big family.
I actually spent the first month travelling around West Africa with two friends before I went back to Ghana to volunteer. I would definitely recommend factoring in as much time as possible to travel, even if it is only a week to see some of Ghana. I was a little bit unusual because I travelled up through Burkina Faso and Mali and then back down Ghana. We had some incredible experiences and highlights included; seeing elephants in Mole National Park (Ghana), Camel trekking and sleeping in the Sahel under the stars (Burkina Faso) and walking in Dogon Country (Mali). We grew to love (sort of) the many hours spent waiting for local transport to fill up and the interesting border crossing experiences but these are things you learn from and help you become more patient people!
These skills were very useful when I came to start my volunteer project because you have to learn to respect the local culture and traditions and not expect things to happen exactly when you want them to! Arriving at the house felt like luxury to me after a month spent backpacking. There were showers and I could finally attempt to get my clothes clean (with Lizzie’s help). It was also nice to settle into my room and the house. I lived in a house with four “lads” who Hayford had told me would make me very happy! I survived this apparently tactical placing and really enjoyed the banter, although the other house on the complex was just next door when I needed to escape. It was great fun living with so many other volunteers from different backgrounds and nationalities and we soon got into our evening routine.
I would get back from school in the afternoon around 3pm and then I would do any preparing for the next day’s lessons or some reading. In the late afternoon a few of us would go running around the town which sometimes involved very young children following us in bare feet and making it look easy while we sweated away. After a refreshing shower we would all sit down together to enjoy the food which Lizzie had prepared for us. She was a great cook and I loved eating the traditional Ghanaian food, in particular red-red (a bean dish), yams and fried plantain. Later in the evenings we would sit and chat at the house or go to one of the local bars (well really a little hut on the side of the road with some very loud Ghanaian music!)
I had spent 3 ½ months on my Gap year teaching in Tanzania which did give me some confidence. This was a totally different experience because this time I wasn’t teaching classes of 80 children, but around 15 and I was teaching social studies, as well as English. I found it just as challenging teaching smaller classes because it was easy to see who wasn’t listening and who didn’t understand.
I chose to teach social studies as I am currently studying geography and education but I was very lucky there was a text book as I would have been out of my depth in certain areas, especially Ghanaian history!!! Many of the children were very enthusiastic and we had some very lively debates and discussions, including whether there was a second planet inside earth and whether I thought it was a good thing that Britain had colonised Ghana!
I was pretty much left to myself to decide what I taught and when I taught which was a bit frustrating at times. It was the beginning of term so things were a bit slow to get started but a timetable would have helped! I did have many interesting discussions about the future of the school with the new director.It was a shame that I wasn’t able to stay longer in the school but I think in the time I was there I was able to share some new ideas with the children and they were so much fun to teach. One of the highlights has to be watching a chicken get dissected during a science lesson.
The Ghanaian experience
There are so many things about Ghana that I really miss and it really is a great country to have explored. I think it is only
through staying in one place and really getting to know the locals that you experience the true Ghanaian spirit. Little things that I miss include the food; plantain chips and fan yogurt (people walk around with little carts selling yogurt and ice cream in plastic sachets), being able to buy food out of the window, shared taxis and the infamous tro tro (a mini van which will try to squash as many people as possible into it and is nowhere near road-worthy). However, it is such a cheap form of transport and you can have some great conversations on them. These usually involve being told that the Ghanaian man you are talking to would like to marry you are he would like a white wife! By staying in one place for awhile we were able to really get to know the music and had great fun dancing with the locals who are all such good dancers. I was told at a wedding that I should actually listen to the beat of the music and then dance to it- I was highly offended!!! The Ghanaian wedding which we were very fortunate to be invited to was amazing and brilliant to be a part of, although I am sure the other guests were just being polite after they heard the rendition of The Beatles “All you need is love”, organised at very short notice, which we performed.
As well as allowing extra time if possible to travel, you
should definitely make the most of weekends to go off on trips. My main advice
is come ready to be as patient as possible as this will come in very useful.
Don’t worry if you haven’t been travelling or to Africa
before, there were plenty of people who hadn’t and this wasn’t a problem. With
VPWA you are given a briefing and a tour of Accra to help you settle in and Hayford is
around if there are any big problems. Also there is a really good system where
the volunteer who has been there the longest, has the title of the senior one
and is able to help you out with anything. The nice thing about Accra is that there are
some very western parts so if you really need to find any luxury home comforts,
there are plenty of places set up for expats. Pokuase doesn’t have as many so I
was definitely glad that I had my bar of emergency chocolate with me. Other
good things to bring are as many books/balls/toys for the children especially
as you may be allowed two bags.
I would like to thank Hayford and VPWA for giving me a great volunteering experience and I would recommend them to anyone.
Samantha Koches, VPWA Microfinance Volunteer, October 2010
Since returning home, I have been bombarded with questions from friends and family: ‘How was it?’, ‘Why did you go?’, ‘What exactly did you do?’. Although I’ve grown accustomed to giving the generic responses, explaining my experience in Ghana with VPWA takes more time and reflection than that. I can honestly say that my experience was great, educational, and worthwhile, and although there were a few tough times during my trip, the positives by far outweighed the negatives.
First, Hayford and Portia were very helpful in the entire application process and preparations for traveling to Ghana. After being accepted as a volunteer, they assisted with the visa application and answered my (and my mother’s) endless questions about the accommodations, arrival, etc. Once I landed in Ghana and made it to the compound without Spider breaking down, I was a little culture shocked, but eventually settled into the VPWA life.
As a volunteer in the microfinance office, I worked with the women who had already received loans from VPWA, as well as with various other women’s groups in the area. On a day to day basis, the work might have been considered slow, but the administrative tasks required to run a finance organisation anywhere in the world aren’t always that thrilling. Two days out of the week, Comfort (the only permanent microfinance employee, and our own personal source of local information), the other volunteers and I stayed in the office to collect repayments. During the rest of the week, we would travel to two or three other women’s groups to teach bookkeeping, which often resulted in teaching basic math and business skills. These lessons were perhaps the most rewarding part of my time with VPWA because they offered a chance to connect with the local women and teach them skills that would outlast my own personal time with them. Although often very difficult due to the language barrier and lack of education, the lessons were pretty successful and at the very least gave us both a chance to exchange cultures. In addition to these lessons, I also was able to make visits to the homes and businesses (sometimes one in the same) of the VPWA beneficiaries. The volunteers and I became friends with a few of these women, and hopefully my memories of them will carry on and vice versa.
Aside from the microfinance work, I was also able to explore and learn about Ghana on my weekend trips. I was able to visit towns all along the coast, almost all the way to the country’s Western border. Ghana has some very nice beaches, although sometimes littered with trash, but nonetheless beautiful. I was also able to go a bit north to Kumasi, the second largest city in Ghana, which was very different than Accra! With traveling, however, comes difficulty and frustration. The transportation in Ghana is pretty bad at times, and one piece of advice I can offer future volunteers is that nothing is reliable! Tro tros (the small buses/vans which can take you pretty much anywhere you want to go in Ghana) break down frequently, which can sometimes be fixed in a matter of minutes or more likely, force you to find a new mode of transportation (sometimes even the back of a moto). Although at times these difficulties can be frustrating, the best thing to do is laugh it off and chalk it up to having a real “Ghanaian” experience.
As for some other advice on traveling and living in Ghana, I will offer my personal thoughts on a few other areas.
Living conditions- The accommodations at the VPWA compound are by far the best, compared to other volunteers in Ghana. The electricity (most of the time), running water (albeit cold), and daily dinner are perks you will grow to appreciate. I did not mind having cold showers for nearly 2 months, because the weather was just so hot! While traveling, most hostels that I stayed in were on the cheaper side, and usually had running water, but don’t be surprised if you are forced to take one or two bucket showers.
Food – Coming from a big city in the US, where you can get pretty much any cuisine you could possibly think of (including Ghanaian food), the food in Ghana may have been the biggest shock for me. Everything is cooked in palm oil, and excessive amounts of it. Dinners usually consist of some sort of rice or yams with an oily/tomato/spicy sauce, sometimes with chicken or goat. In my opinion, this food was good at first, but it got old kind of quickly. That being said, there are definitely great dishes that must be tried, including coco yam stew and red red with fried plantains. You may not like all of what they serve, but you must try it and find out for yourself.
People – The people in Ghana are extremely nice and outgoing. I was skeptical at first, because if you say hello to someone on the streets of Washington DC, they would either slap you or think you are crazy. However, you MUST greet people in Ghana, even with a simple “hello” or “how are you”, or you will be considered rude. Furthermore, if you need help or are lost, usually the locals are happy to help and love talking to you.
Health – Be prepared that at times you might feel sick. As long as you are conscious of what you eat and drink (no vegetables washed in dirty water!), you should be fine.
Keep an open mind and a sense of humor – This is by far the most important piece of advice!!! If you can laugh things off like being called an obruni (white person) 100 times a day and having a 5 hour bus ride take 9 hours, you will learn to look past the minor frustrations and enjoy your time in Ghana.
Catherine Jones, Health & Project Management (Extraordinairie)
I spent nine weeks in Ghana this summer (2010) and it was a great experience!
Six of the nine weeks I was working for the Getty Childhood Academy not far away from Pokuase, our home. My main occupation was taking care of the younger children. I played with them and gave them a lot of attention. Another one of my duties and responsibilities was teaching the older children, mostly Mathematics and English. At the beginning the teaching was very hard for me, but I got used to it very easily and in the end it was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed working there, the children are awesome and I miss them a lot. Also the staff there is really great, Gertrude the headmistress is an inspiring woman who does great work!
Another two weeks I was working for the orphanage Hayford is building at the moment. Another volunteer and me, visited children who were possible candidates for the orphanage and their caretakers. It was a hard job because we saw really poor children with very sad stories. But it was nice walking through the small villages, talking with the elders and other people and to see how people live there. So we got a very good insight in the Ghanaian way of life. In the end we chose ten children for the orphanage and another twenty who should get a sponsorship.
Then I did one week of traveling. I went with two other girls northbound to see the Mole National park. It’s a huge area with many animals to be seen, at least if you’re lucky. And we were very lucky! We saw monkeys, antelopes, warthogs and most impressively elephants. It was amazing to see these huge and powerful animals in the free nature. We even saw them swimming in a water hole, fantastic experience! On our way north we also saw the cities Kumasi and Tamale and the Lake Bosomtwi near Kumasi.
Even on the weekends we had a lot of time to travel. I drove to the Volta region to see the amazing waterfalls and a monkey sanctuary, I visited Cape Coast and Elmira, two villages next to the sea which are famous for their slavery castles and did a lot of trips in and near Accra. All in all there is a lot to see and I can only recommend to travel around while your stay!
One last thing I can tell you is not to be too nervous. No question, it’s an adventure, but people in Ghana are very friendly and helpful. I never felt unsafe or had a critical situation. In addition Hayford is a great help, he is very supportive and you can come to him with any problem that should occur. Volunteering is a wonderful opportunity to do something valuable and to get to know a country which is so different to our own.
Firstly, can I just say that to really get the most from any volunteering experience, I think you need to stay for a minimum of 6 weeks-2 months. Coming to another country for 2 weeks isn’t enough to even let your feet hit the ground (and the amount of work involved for an NGO to coordinate your visit...eek!). In a month you can definitely achieve something, so it’s better than nothing, but be aware you won’t really have made a home for yourself here and by the time the culture shock wears off you’re heading home again...
Secondly, if you get the opportunity to work in a rural setting in Ghana – go for it! I have been working in a clinic in Amanase (and no, I don’t mean Amasaman!) – It’s a small rural village about 1.5 hrs north of the volunteer residence in Pokuase (well, it takes that long in a tro-tro but it is not so very far!) The welcome I had in the village – by the nursing staff, the Youth Club, residents, everyone – was phenomenal. Working in a rural village is an entirely different experience to working in or near Accra (I’ve been comparing notes with other volunteers) - the people are so friendly (but perhaps in a more gentle way...), full of laughter and fun, and so very generous...I will be leaving a second family when I go home today...
You need to be realistic about your expectations in a 3rd world country though - you won’t find western food in rural areas like this (and definitely no internet, flushing toilets, running water...) - they are the real deal. But the food here is good and cheap (I bought some waakye for lunch yesterday and it cost about 20cents) and I found that otherwise things are simple, but sanitary and very safe. The biggest expense for me was the tro-tro, which cost 1GHC30p each way, but I was well and truly taken care of in every other way. (I am only including prices because Hayford gets a lot of questions...)
Generally small clinics will work on minor treatments and midwifery – major issues are referred to bigger hospitals and clinics. The clinic in Amanase has 2 mornings of antenatal clinic and 2 mornings of Child Welfare Clinic each week. The CWC is generally conducted under the trees outside, or sometimes we would go to an outlying (really rural) village and have the clinic there for people who otherwise don’t get access to services. CWC involves weighing babies and toddlers and giving them their vaccinations – so if you’re into kids, this is definitely your thing!
As for working for VPWA – well, I chose to come because when I was deciding where to go and what to do I felt that I was getting the necessary support and answers. But coming here – I am in awe of what Hayford has already achieved and I can’t wait to see more as the story unfolds. He needs people who can come and take the initiative – offer ideas, develop plans and make projects come to fruition – so get involved people! The beauty is he may manage the organisation, but he’ll welcome any ideas or input you have to offer. He’s also just a decent guy and good to have a laugh with. He takes care of his people and the environment here with the other volunteers, Nuumo and Princess, the neighbours in the compound - it is one of family. (PS – when you come – tell everyone I say hi! :D)
Charlie Hill, Microfinance Volunteer
In September of 2009 I made a last minute decision to go to Africa and go volunteering for a couple of months. After a few minutes on Google I found VPWA and they were offering opportunities to work in Microfinance, which was something that I was interested in learning more about. So I emailed Hayford and two weeks later arrived in Ghana! I have travelled quite a bit before but it was my first time in Africa and for the first week I did feel a bit like a rabbit in some headlights! Life in Africa certainly works in a very unique way and after a few weeks I soon settled in and started to really enjoy the experience (apart from the power and water cuts in Ghana which kept me entertained!).
Initially Hayford had arranged for me to go and work at a Microfinance company up in Kumasi, however after the first few days we decided that I would stay based in Pokuase and we would get the VPWA Microfinance Scheme, which had been planned for over a year, actually into operation. So using a small amount of VPWA’s money we decided to go for a ‘soft’ launch to get the office up and running and ultimately prove that the concept works in order to create a business model for future funding and grants. During my two months between me, Hayford and Ben (VPWA’s Field Officer) got the office opened, put systems and procedures in place, and gave out the first 25 loans to local women. Overall this was a tremendous experience as I really started with a blank canvas, an empty office, and no microfinance experience. But with a bit of background research (if anyone wants to learn about the origins of microfinance then read the Muhammad Yunus book – ‘Banker To The Poor’), talking to other Microfinance organisations and a bit of common sense I got a structure in place. One of the most memorable moments was when we were asking one of the women applying for a loan what her date of birth was and she didn’t know. So we asked how old she was and her reply was ‘well I was in third grade when the first president was overthrown’! I found there was never a dull moment, from watching lorries drive into the gutter outside the office to unpredictable power cuts and office floods! All the information on the Microfinance Scheme is available on the VPWA website.
In terms of the living arrangements most volunteers are based at the VPWA headquarters in a township called Pokuase just in the north of the capital Accra. We live in the compound owned by Nuumo, the Spiritual Chief of Greater Accra, and his family which is very safe and secure. Please note that if you are coming to Ghana bring chocolate for his wife Princess! She is a lot of fun and has a great sense of humour – she even woke me up at 5.30am with renditions of Happy Birthday through my bedroom window on my birthday! Luckily everyone’s biggest annoyance the mosquito is actually quite scarce around the compound, apparently due to a magical forest next door(?!), and I only ever seemed to get bitten when I was away at weekends around the country. Pokuase is about an hour from the centre of Accra by bus (tro tro) or taxi – its not actually that far but due to some epic roadworks on the route it takes a little bit of time but you soon get used to it as nothing in Ghana happens quickly! Hayford does actually have the luxury of a car also which we spent a bit of time trying to pimp up…as well as fixing! Overall Pokuase is real Ghana as it is very un-westernised so you get a really authentic experience. Also Ben’s father is the Chief of Pokuase so he knows everyone and can sort anything! He also takes volunteers to my personal favourite Pokuase nightspot the Rooftop Bar where there’s plenty of beer, music and dancing! If you are after a few western comforts there is a good Thursday night at the Irish pub in the centre of Accra and also the Accra Mall. It generally gets dark relatively early (at about 6pm) and nights can be long so I’d recommend bringing entertainment such as an iPod, cards, a laptop etc… Weekends are a good chance to explore the rest of Ghana with other volunteers - the country is really rich in culture. A few of my favourite spots were Big Milly’s in Kokrobite and Green Turtle Lodge near Busua where lots of other volunteers converge at weekends to relax and/or party.
Overall VPWA is not the sugar coated Gap type experience where you pay vast amounts of money to volunteer for an hour or so each day when you can be bothered and spent the rest of the time on a playstation – you will be working in real life environments with probably not all the resources you would expect by western standards, but you will be directly helping the people, it will be making a difference, and it will be very rewarding!
Sara Kay, Orphanage Child Care Volunteer
I didn't know what to expect when I was accepted to be a volunteer. But I was excited. I had researched many other organizations that charged a ton of money for you to volunteer your time but that never made any sense to me. Maybe they were paying for your piece of mind but you could rest assured you can never pay for such a thing. Events are what they are and you can never prevent what will happen or what won't happen. You'll just have to leave it to chance.
Weep Not School
This chance allowed me to work with young children between 3-10 yrs old, teach English, and Math. They definitely needed more than what I could give them but I tried. Teaching in 85-90 degree weather isn't easy. There is no air conditioning and no cold water fountain to stick your head in. I don't usually sweat that much but found myself sweating constantly. I didn't expect the amount of energy I'd give to teach these kids would add to so much but it was worth it. They gave me more than I could ever explain and more than anything I could have given them.
I'm really happy I volunteered with VPWA. I knew my fee wasn't going to cushion some American or English suit. I can't comment on any other programs but I imagine this one has more options and more potential than any other volunteer program out there. I hadn't realized how connected and active Hayford was until I'd tagged along to visit the Microfinance Office, the Human Rights Office, and watched Hayford move about to attend various Health and other Social Justice events. The flexibility is a plus. If you have an idea of what how you would like to contribute, I'm sure Hayford could introduce you to someone who can make it happen. However, you shouldn't be disappointed if you can't change the world in a month. I've found that Ghanaian's live on somewhat of an Island schedule. It's definitely a different world, one worth visiting for sure.
Jacob and Margaret, Volunteers-Africa Business Development Project
Jacob and I came to Ghana with few expectations about living and working. We worked in a small business, a travel and tour company. We came to the office unsure if we would have much freedom to share our ideas or learn. Immediately our boss, Sam, asked us for all the advice and plans we could come up with! Jacob and I were able to create long-term planning tools for the company and more rigid guidelines for expanding. We also quickly learned a few major differences with doing business in Ghana as compared to other Western nations. It was an invaluable learning experience for both parties. We gave Sam ideas for the business and the future, and Jacob and I gained familiarity with Ghanaian business practices and work experience.
Jacob and I also worked with Hayford and Forson on press releases, a health newspaper, and helped write 2 grants. I felt even more productive working on so many projects while also spending time in the office. The grant writing process was useful for me personally, and I felt that I was helping the small health clinic and the health newspaper become great things.
By far the best part of our 4 months in Ghana was the chance to see the beauty, culture, and people of Ghana. On one of our first weekends in Pokuase we were invited to a funeral and a naming ceremony. Traveling to Cape Coast, beaches, the rustic north, and Mole National Park were also amazing ways to see life in Ghana. I appreciated my work and the people I met even more once I experienced the whole of Ghana.
Roland Derks, The University of Warwick, England
I volunteered for VPWA for five weeks during the period of June and July 2009. When I arrived at the airport, I received a warm welcome from Hayford Siaw (Executive director of VPWA). Afterwards, we went to the VPWA headquarters. There was the main VPWA office in one building and the sleeping place in another. It was comfortable and the place was situated in a very safe and quiet area. In the office there is a computer with internet connection which can be used at any time. So, don’t think that volunteers are cut off from the world. Furthermore, during my stay, Hayford and I even set up a wireless connection.
Hayford gave me a good understand of Ghanaian culture, traditions, politics and economics which really changed my conventional thinking that I had before. He also made me visit different local areas (e.g. Pokuase and Accra), experience Ghanaian nightlife (on Thursday night there is a nice bar/club in Accra and just outside the VPWA office there is a local bar), and eat the typical local food. Furthermore, at any time I needed advice or help, Hayford was always there. I must say that everything was very well organised and I felt immediately comfortable.
I had volunteered to do something in the area of Microfinance. Since VPWA wants to develop its own Microfinance institution, I worked on a business plan and financial plan (with a full risk-return analysis) in order to receive donations and investments. This was my main activity during my stay, but I also did some other things such as help with the financial plan for a free health newspaper.
This volunteering work was great because it put in practice what I had previously learnt at an undergraduate level in my BSc in Accounting and Finance and I have learnt much more by doing independent research. One of the great things about Hayford is that he allows volunteers to freely develop their own ideas which can then be introduced in the project.
During the weekends I was free to do whatever I wanted.
Weekend 1: I went to cape coast to see several castles (colonial slave castles), Kakum National Park (mainly popular for its canopy walk which is a unique experience), and slept at Hans Cottage (where I even sat on a crocodile – also very unique).
Weekend 2: Hayford joined me to go to the Brong Ahafo region to see the most beautiful waterfall of Ghana and the sacred monkey sanctuary.
Weekend 3: Stayed in Accra to visit some museums and visited parts of the city. Furthermore, I welcomed some volunteers that had just arrived. Just to note, the number of volunteers in all of Ghana is incredible. You are bound to find some.
Weekend 4: With all the volunteers, we hired a car and went to the western regions to visit an entire village built on stilts. The next day Hayford joined us and we went to the Volta Region to see monkeys (different types to the ones I had seen before) and the tallest waterfall of Ghana. The landscape there and on the way there was incredibly beautiful.
Nuumo, a traditional chief and spiritual leader, lives just above the office and is a really great person to talk to. Also, he was extremely kind to invite me and the other volunteers to a traditional festival. It was spectacular and it was something I had never seen before. Furthermore, he makes sure that you feel as comfortable as possible and enjoy your stay.
The whole experience is not just about giving, but it is also about receiving. I have learnt so much during my stay that it will forever stay with me.
Kathy and Andi, Germany
In July/August this year, we spent our time of volunteering with VPWA and it was a fulfilling and astonishing life experience.
In advance, we took a long time choosing an organisation for our first volunteering project in Africa and finally made our decision for VPWA, which was the best we could ever make. Within our preparations, Hayford was always available for our questions about visa, officials and every day affairs and with our arrival at Accra we promptly felt very well accompanied and cared for!
Living with Hayford and other volunteers was a huge advantage, as we experienced not only traditional food and learned how to cook it, but also get to places the “normal” tourist is not able to get to, which display the original Ghanaian way of life.
As medical students we spent our time of volunteering at Amasaman Hospital, which was the first time for VPWA having collaboration with a governmental hospital. The hospital consists of various departments, but with the major focus on a big Out-Patient- Department for the ambulatory care of hundreds of patients every day. Additionally, Amasaman hospital has specialised in the treatment of a particular bacterium, which is common in the whole country and causes ulcer and deformation.
We were placed in the clinical routine next to the doctors and health providers and had the chance to get an impression of most of the departments within a rotation curriculum.
Due to a lack of knowledge in the communal languages, we could not consult our own patients, as it would have been to time expensive to translate every complain and therapy advice, but we attended the doctors, discussed diagnosis and therapy options or did vaccination, etc.. Furthermore we spent some days at the surgical ward and learned about diseases we are not familiar with here in Germany.
On the whole, it was a very interesting experience working in a hospital with facilities and possibilities we cannot imagine in our German health system and it makes you more sensible for the real need of a patient and the limited feasibilities you can apply.
Ghana already set up a health insurance scheme, which is at a cost of about 12 euros for one year and covers most of the investigations, medicine and treatments, but for the majority it is too expensive to afford it for their families. We discussed this problem with Hayford and as a result of it, we together set up a project to help needy families to get an insurance, especially for their children to grow up healthy.
It is really worthy to spend some time at such an institution, as it provides an insight into the common needs of the people and on the other hand makes you more sensible for what we have in form of medical supply and which is accessible to everybody!!Thanks to everybody in the hospital, but especially to Hayford for the great time we were allowed to spend at Pokuase/Ghana.
Marci and Jordan, Canada
My daughter & I spent two weeks in Ghana volunteering with VPWA. It was an incredible experience. Hayford Siaw is an intelligent, talented individual with a passion for bettering the lives of others in Ghana. He has taken on many causes, most specifically the eradication of malaria.
We volunteered at The Weep not Child Foundation which was about 45 minute commute from VPWA headquarters. We took the tro-tro daily (Ghana's main form of transportation) and then a short taxi ride to the school. The children were the highlight of our trip. At this school there are approximately 55 students, with 6 of them being orphans that live at the school. We brought many activities for the children which they loved, including skipping ropes, soccer balls, coloring books and crayons. The children had never skipped before and their favorite activity was coloring in their coloring books.
Our weekends were spent touring the surrounding areas. One highlight was a trip to Cape Coast where we visited the Cape Coast castle, Kakum National Forest for the canopy walk and Hans Cottage for crocodile viewing and dinner. We also spent an afternoon with Hayford touring Accra which we really enjoyed. We climbed the lighthouse for a clear view of the city. We ate on Oxford street - the main street in Accra and hit the bank for some travelers cheques conversion. (I recommend taking all USD or Pounds though as it is difficult to make cash withdrawals from ATM's or credit cards and it was a pain to exchange the travelers cheques). Lunch was very good - chicken and rice! Rice was definitely our staple in Ghana! Hayford has someone who cooks dinners for the volunteers and we were able to experience some wonderful authentic African cuisine.
We bought our fruit and water at the local markets - typically lots of pineapples, mangos and bananas. All fresh and wonderful. Ghanaian people are very friendly and we felt safe at all times. We quickly adapted to life in Pokuase, Ghana and were very sad when our time came to leave.
We met some wonderful people that we have remained in touch with and have some life changing memories and pictures to keep forever. Jordan & I will most likely return to Ghana in the near future as we had such a wonderful experience!
Thank you Hayford!
Janina Sack, Germany
This brief report aims at describing the wonderful weeks that I was lucky to spend as a volunteer English and French teacher at His Grace School Complex in Pokuase, Greater Accra Region.
First of all, I would like to point out the outstanding preparation of my stay by Hayford Siaw, the founder and one of the executive directors of Volunteer Partnerships for West Africa, the NGO that placed me at His Grace School. In spite of my relatively late application, he was very flexible about times and conditions. He answered all my questions promptly and made me feel very welcome already in advance.
I was lodged in Hayford’s apartment which occupies a part of a lovely villa in the tranquil and absolutely safe town of Pokuase, just one hour north of central Accra. Its owner Nomuu, due to his position as High Priest of Osu (a district of central Accra), is a highly respected personality in Accra and lives in the same house with his family.
Although I had expected us to have a closer “family life”, I finally gained a very interesting insight into their daily life and culture. Since we were living together, I also got an idea about Hayford’s work for Volunteer Partnerships for West Africa and his impressive number of parallel ongoing projects linking business and social aspects. It was very enriching for me to see this equally dynamic and inspiring young man at work.
The day after my arrival, he took me to central Accra for some sight-seeing, he made me discover Accra’s nightlife and the area around Pokuase. He thus also good took care of my leisure time. Nevertheless, I would have loved to see a little bit more of the country (which would have been possible if we had been more volunteers simultaneously) and Accra’s beaches (which was made impossible by rains on all my free days).
As far as food is concerned, I can also not complain as everything I was served was delicious and typically Ghanaian, mainly thanks to another VPWA executive director, the lovely Portia.
Nomuu who I have already mentioned above, a very special and generous person, contributed a lot to offering me an insight into traditional Ghanaian culture. He took me to Teshie one day, a little neighboring town of Accra, where I had the privilege to participate in a High Priest ceremony - as for European traveler’s probably unique experience. Thanks to Nomuu I was allowed inside the house of the “king” to which access is denied even to Teshie’s ordinary inhabitants. I was welcomed extremely warmly and not at all perceived as an intruder. In addition to that, I went to a private party of the Ga tribe with Nomuu and his family and to a drumming ceremony including traditional dances and a sacred bath at his High Priest shrine in Osu.
After all these agreeable aspects of my stay, let’s move to the more serious things: my work as a teacher (which shall not imply that this was not an agreeable activity, on the contrary). His Grace School Complex, located within easy walking distance from my “home” (that is how it really felt indeed after only a couple of days), is a very basic and modest, but warm institution. It is very small and lacks class rooms and does not dispose of electricity (which sometimes makes the working conditions a little bit difficult as it is impossible to photocopy exercises for example or to teach the students computer skills, though essential in today’s African professional life).
The school does neither have a playground for breaks nor sufficient toys for the youngest children. It consists of a kindergarten plus nine classes (Primary I -VI and Junior High School I-III) which are composed of 8 to 16 pupils on average. This small size of the different classes is probably the main advantage of His Grace School. When I came there, there were even less students because I arrived during vacation classes; thus school was not compulsory.
Nevertheless, thanks to the reduced number of kids, teaching was probably easier for me this way. I have to admit that before coming I had been pretty nervous about this task as I am neither a professional teacher nor am I planning on becoming one. I was all the more surprised about how well the lessons went. The children listened very well and behaved in an extremely respectful way. As a white European girl and the first volunteer ever in His Grace School, I was probably in an even better situation than the other teachers since the children were very interested in talking to me, participating in my lessons and so on. They were so keen that some of them did extra homework and wanted to continue the work during breaks. Furthermore, I witnessed not a single conflict between the children who all seem to get along very well with each other and never started fights.
Mr Simon, who is not the head teacher is a very nice man who is seriously concerned about the children. He has organized my intervention at His Grace School with VPWA and even provided my lunch personally.
In a nutshell, looking back, these weeks in Pokuase seemed to be a perfect introduction to African culture. To be honest, I would have preferred to volunteer somewhere in a remote village in Northern Accra to experience ”real adventure”, but I now think that Pokuase, this friendly little town near Accra, was just the perfect place to be in order to get to know the Ghanaian way of life. I learnt a lot from the students and hope I have also been able to give them something in return.
Sophie Morley and Ben Powell, England
I am a part one architect currently in my second year out post undergraduate study and starting my higher diploma/masters later this year. I worked with VPWA for six weeks in February/March 2009 with another volunteer Ben Powell who is also part one (previous to this I had been doing a placement with an architecture firm in Accra for 4 months). In this period we worked on three projects – the first was an entry to an international design competition entitled ‘Classroom of the Future’ run by Architecture for Humanity through the Open Architecture Network. The brief was to engage children in building design to generate ideas for future classrooms. VPWA arranged for us to partner with a local school, His Grace, where they currently send teaching volunteers.
We organised to come in twice a week for interactive sessions with a group of children aged 11 – 16 we split them into groups and called them architecture firms. It was great fun working with the students and the teachers although quite daunting at first because I had never taught before. Some sessions were a lot better than others, but on the whole the students showed a level of learning that went beyond what we expected (especially as they are used to just copying and memorizing). Our final session consisted of a presentation from each group describing their classroom. The work will form the basis of a competition entry that we submit with the first prize to have the classroom built at the school.
The second project was helping to develop a proposal for a new sanitation block at Amasaman Township. The current block is crumbling and dangerous to use so urgently needs replacing, we spent some time researching into latrine design and visited a number of local toilets! We met with a representative from Water Aid for more information and consulted a local engineer. We worked with the sanitation department at Ga West Municipality also the planning officer to create a document with three different options for the new block, to be decided upon by the wider community.
The third project was also at His Grace, The design of an ICT centre to serve the school (they currently have no computers/electricity/running water) and the local community. We did a site survey and had meetings with the proprietor, headmaster and the Executive Director of VPWA and will prepare designs on returning to the UK.
While working for VPWA we stayed in the compound that also houses the office for the organisation. The accommodation was basic but comfortable. The benefit with being close to the office was the close support and access to Internet (there is also a TV). The food was mostly local; rice, plantain and yam with a tasty sauce, my favourite was the groundnut soup prepared by Hayford! The diet in Ghana is quite heavy on carbohydrate and it’s difficult to get salad etc out of Accra but there is lots of nice fruit at the market in Pokuase.
Volunteering in Ghana is great – the people are extremely friendly, obviously it’s extremely different and challenging at times but has definitely been quite life changing for me! As well as the projects I completed with the architecture firm and VPWA being in Ghana has given me an opportunity to do some of my own research on low cost housing and indigenous architecture.
VPWA, though not old in my experience of NGO’s in Ghana it is working really well. Hayford is a very dynamic guy with a great knowledge of sustainable development, the fact that it is an indigenous organisation only adds to the feeling you are getting the most of local knowledge and culture. The location of the accommodation is close to Accra (around 45 mins) and the two local towns are very safe and vibrant with some good spots to have a beer at the end of the day!
Must see places;
•Sleep on the roof of the Shai Brothers guest house in Larabanga before going to Mole National Park.
•Stay at Ghana Spirit near Butre in the Western Region – for the best fish and nicest beach in Ghana
•Stay at Lake Point Lodge at Lake Bosumtwi, great food and atmosphere.
•Kejetia Market in Kumasi seems never ending but is definitely worth it!
All in all it was a wonderful week! Why?
I have never been to an African country and to start it here in Ghana, with VPWA and this volunteering project was a very good opportunity to get in touch with this culture. It was so good to arrive here and to be from up to the first second with someone who is able to answer all the questions, to show nice places, to introduce another way of life and thinking. I think that was a great first step and I liked it so much to live here in a beautiful, secure and friendly house. I will not forget all the kindness here (and the tasty food neither!). It was a very good idea before we start the project to get an impression of the city and the environment. – Just to situate myself.
For me it has been a new challenge to be in those kind of volunteering project and it was so nice to see how it works in a school like the Grace school. They accepted us in the first moment and all these days they kept on to be interested, open and outgoing – for me that is one of the best ways of inter cultural exchange. They have a totally different school system like for example in Germany, but there is a lot what we can learn from them!
They do not have so much fix rules and they do not hesitate to change everything if they want to. It is good to keep it more open, but not to loose the control. They do not loose it and at the same time they seem to have fun because they dance, sing a lot and are making jokes. What I missed there was some more student materials, just to make the courses more understandable. They are well educated but they need to think a bit more on their own.
I really loved to teach them and to get more ideas of my way of thinking.
Keep on like this! With your good faith, with fun and energy!
All the best for the future,
It’s been a pleasure to spend the past nine weeks volunteering as an Assistant Teacher of English with Volunteer Partnerships for West Africa, in Pokuase, Ghana. I have grown quite a bit from this experience, which has given me a unique look into local life and culture as well as the Ghanaian educational system.
Volunteering with an organization run by a local Ghanaian has had many advantages, equipping me with an experience I doubt I would have had if I’d been working for a foreign-run NGO. Hayford Siaw, president of VPWA, resided in the house with us volunteers and was always available for advice or assistance on all sorts of tasks (from figuring out how to reach the students to helping me get into Accra on my own). He was quite useful before my arrival, and was a great conversation partner for everything from politics to local nightlife once I arrived. I also had the chance to experience a traditional Ghanaian diet – authentic and delicious.
I spent my weekdays teaching at the His Grace School complex, on ACP road in Pokuase, about a fifteen minute walk from the house. I taught English grammar and comprehension to class 5, class 6, and J.H.S. 1, 2, and 3. My days varied in their amounts of teaching time; depending on the number of lessons scheduled per day, I’d teach anywhere from one to five hours a day. The staff and administrators at His Grace were extremely welcoming and friendly, and I enjoyed getting to know a few of them during my time there. The students themselves are, on the whole, excited about learning and a pleasure to teach. As with any challenge, there are ups and downs, but I have learned quite a bit from this experience, both about myself and my own limitations as well as which methods succeed (and fail) in the classroom.
Coming to His Grace School after my privileged, education-centered upbringing in the States was quite a shock; despite the dearth of facilities and materials (though His Grace, as a private school, is much better than local government schools in terms of overcrowding), what surprised me most here was the style of teaching. Most students “learn” by copying down material from the board and memorizing what is lectured to them; the result is a lot of specific, recited information that isn’t thought about critically or really internalized. It took a while for my students to get used to my Western-style teaching (interactive lessons, varied activities, encouraged participation and group-work, concept-checking), but I do feel that they began to grasp the way it worked by the time I left. I even had a conversation with a couple other teachers at the school who had noticed my methods and tried to duplicate them in their own classrooms, with positive results.
I was also quite shocked by the amount of discipline used to control the students and it’s accepted by all the teachers. As a result, the students are hard to control without the threat of a thrashing – I tried my best to command respect in the classroom (for me and for each other) through positive encouragement and confidence in the students.
All in all, my experience at the school has been a memorable one – I was there long enough for the novelty of my placement to wear off (and thus my need to impose some creative discipline of my own), but also long enough to forge strong relationships with the students as well. My time in Ghana has granted me the appreciation for many things I before took for granted – it has been a unique opportunity for me to really experience a culture quite different from my own, and perhaps leave a mark of my own. I will miss Pokuase and all the wonderful people I’ve met during my stay here, and am so glad I decided to spend these last two months in Ghana.