My first impressions
My adventure, although somewhat short, was a worthwhile one. It started as soon as I left the security of my home country of Britain, seeing as this was the first time I was travelling alone with a friend. As I stepped off the plane for the first time in Ghana, I was hit by the humidity and heat of a typical Ghanaian evening, and even though I was tired as it was late at night, I was awoken by the lively atmosphere and by the incredibly friendly Projects Abroad representative who introduced himself and another volunteer.
I was also made aware of my Ghanaian name - Kwame - which is based on the day of the week you are born. I was immediately made to feel at home by everybody I talked to, whether they were from Projects Abroad or just the general public - I was very optimistic!
I was introduced to Richard, the Medical Coordinator, on the Monday, who was extremely helpful in showing me my way to work, and he was very obliging to answer any questions I had. We travelled by tro-tro - the Ghanaian equivalent of a public bus. They are similar to minibuses, and would generally fit up to 25 people in one. Richard took me and my friend to the Police Hospital (where I was working), introduced me to Vera - the head administrator of the hospital, and then took me for a traditional Ghanaian lunch which was an experience in itself, especially with the plastic packs of drinking water. Overall, my first impressions of Ghana left me apprehensive, but also very excited to tackle any challenges that might arise!
My host family
I was introduced to my host family in Darkuman, Accra and the other volunteers living at the house as soon as I reached what would be my home for the next three weeks. My room was very cosy and I felt very comfortable about where I was to be staying for my trip.
Our host mother, Mrs. Djan made it clear that she was going to be our real mother for the duration of my trip, and told my friend and I that whatever we needed we should go to her for help. The family had quite strict rules in place for the volunteers including a curfew of midnight; however this was understandable as our safety was clearly of paramount importance.
As the only boy in the house, living with seven other girls seemed as though it was going to be tough! However, the other volunteers were lovely and being the youngest, I was seen to be everybody’s little brother, and by the end of my stay, everyone had grown to be so close, that I really could call the volunteers my family. Some of the girls at the house had been living there for several months and were able to help with any problems we had - including getting to work for the first few days!
My Dental placement
For the first week my placement was rather slow with few patients coming in to see a dentist, however in the following weeks this changed and they began to come in thick and fast. The dentists at the hospital were keen to pass on their knowledge to us volunteers, teaching us about different cases, equipment, procedures and how to interpret x-rays.
Seeing how the dental surgeries operated in Ghana opened my eyes to how lucky we are back in Britain with the facilities we have, as the hospital didn’t even have a basic x-ray, so patients were sent elsewhere to have them taken, only to return back to the police hospital for their treatment. The nurses were also incredibly friendly, and we enjoyed a nice chat every morning whilst we waited for the dentists to arrive - timing in Ghana is very laid back!
For all Medicine and Healthcare projects, the volunteers participated in an outreach programme, whereby the volunteers are taken to orphanages, remote villages, schools etc. to clean wounds and to provide basic healthcare to the children. We decided to take toothpaste, toothbrushes, pens, pencils and books to donate to these places, as we were keen to make a difference. As a result the outreach proved to be extremely rewarding for us and beneficial for the children. On our second outreach project, we even taught the children how to brush their teeth, after which we were informed that we really made an impact!
Near the Police Hospital is a place called Osu (or Oxford Street). It had a lot more tourists and provided several delicious restaurants to eat at. It also had a supermarket to buy any essentials that we needed. Once we returned back home, there was usually half a day ahead of us, so there were countless things to do, including taking a trip to the beach, to the mall, to the internet cafe next door, or even just taking a nap sometimes!
After dinner, there was plenty of time to socialise, so some of the girls from the house and I often met up with other volunteers at a bar called Epo’s. Quiz night was also a great night for socialising, especially on the last night where we had drummers and dancers who taught us traditional Ghanaian dancing and music. This was also an ideal time to organise any events or outings at the weekend.
The weekends were a great time to go and explore around Ghana and get a taste of Ghanaian culture. Our first weekend, we went to Cape Coast to see the national park. It probably wasn’t the best idea to go on a night walk as it was dark and humid so we were sweating and couldn’t see a thing although it was still worth the laughs afterwards. Later in the evening, all of a sudden we felt sharp pains all over our bodies, and everybody was screaming, including our 6’ 4” Ghanaian guide - African Army Ants had certainly taken a liking to us! We also did the canopy walk the next morning which was very enjoyable.
The next weekend was spent with a few friends at Lake Volta - the world’s largest man-made lake, before travelling for another few hours to a spectacular sight where we were able to see the famous “umbrella rock” and the tree with three heads.
My overall experience
To me this was quite clearly the best experience of my life - by a long shot. The people of Ghana were some of the friendliest people I have met in my life. However, what really made this experience were the other volunteers that I met and the friends I made. The Projects Abroad staff were also very helpful, and I would like to thank Fynn and Richard in particular, who made my whole experience so much more pleasant!