My decision to volunteer in Ghana only came about mid-way through my career break. I had been travelling for a few months and, as exciting as it was, something was missing. Then, whilst researching ideas of what else I could do, the idea of working abroad was proposed to me. Then I thought to myself, why not use my pharmacy skills in a developing country?
Whilst researching and looking at past volunteer stories and pictures, I instantly took a liking to Ghana. I had always wanted to travel to Africa, but I had never had the opportunity. The opportunity had finally come and the countdown to Ghana began two months before my leaving date.
First impressions of Ghana
The first day we arrived in Ghana at Kotoka International Airport (we being me and a close friend of mine who is also from Essex), I was already grateful for the heat as it was freezing cold in the UK with snow expected. Thankfully, I escaped that.
I was so excited! I could not wait for our taxi driver to arrive to take us to our new home in Cape Coast, where we would be staying for two weeks during the Pharmacy Project. We would then be spending another two weeks in Dodowa for the Public Health Project.
I saw a smiling man with a Projects Abroad sign coming towards us. His name was Nyame. It was a three-hour drive from the airport to Cape Coast and Nyame gave us a lot of good advice and tips for staying in Ghana on the way. One thing that stood out was him saying, "now that you are in Ghana, you will never want to leave".
Living with my host families
When we arrived at Miss Felicias' house, everyone was so friendly and welcoming. I instantly felt comfortable, as if I was in my own home in Essex. The house we were staying in was massive. There was the downstairs, which consisted of six rooms and a shared toilet just for volunteers, and an upstairs where the host family lived. This was where we were able to eat and socialise with our host family and the other volunteers also staying at the house.
As days went by, I grew closer and closer to my host family, especially my host brothers, James and Stephen. I genuinely felt like they were my brothers. They always offered to help out with anything that I needed or offered to walk me home after social nights.
We would stay up late and have long chats. We also played games like Connect Four, and James would continuously say, "I've won!" even when he was losing. I must also mention our amazing cook, Anna, who would always ask what we wanted to eat before cooking anything. I always opted for red red, as it was my favourite!
After two weeks with our first host family, we were taken to Dodowa to meet our second host family. As soon as we arrived, our host mum and dad, the Armahs, greeted us outside the house and I instantly fell in love with them, especially Mrs Armah. She was so excited and happy to see us.
We were shown around the house and taken to our room, which was amazing! We had an ensuite bathroom, which was absolutely massive and it was just me and my friend staying there. We were able to meet the rest of the family later. I had two very young host brothers and a host sister. The two brothers reminded me of me and my little brother when we were younger, and how we would always jokingly fight. They were naughty but happy souls.
Our host mum would prepare us a packed lunch and would hug us off to work every day without fail. I felt like a little kid going off to school. She was a great laugh. I remember sometimes we would be coming back from work and she would shout across the street, "I missed you guys!" Then she would come up to us and hug us so tight. We also made up a very random but very funny chant in Twi. We would sing it loudly almost everywhere we went, even if it was on the streets of Dodowa at 2am! It was being around people like that which stopped me from missing home so much.
My Pharmacy placement
The first day at work was my induction day at Cape Coast Teaching Hospital. Again, I instantly felt welcome. After all the warm introductions, I was able to see first-hand how pharmacies in Ghana operate. It was very different to a pharmacy in the UK.
Firstly, there was no rushing around and no competition. Everything was done in its own time. It was a very calm and relaxing environment. As one very wise man told us at the hospital, Ghanaians take their greetings a lot more seriously than constantly being busy with work. I found that a lot of the medical professionals took time out to go and say good morning to almost every other department within the hospital. I absolutely loved this as everyone was so friendly and loving to each other.
I did a lot of observing whilst in the hospital and I was able to observe ear surgery too. It was all experience I could take back to the UK with me, so I was very grateful. However, being in Ghana made me want to do even more, so I opted to attend a leprosy camp twice a week to do health checks and wound dressings. I enjoyed this thoroughly, as I felt like I was using all the skills I had as a pharmacist and I was actually doing something to help. After time at the camp, we paid a visit to local schools and taught them about malaria and cholera. We also made time to attend to any wounds any of the children had.
My Public Health placement
I was able to do more of this on the Public Health Project in Dodowa. Every day, we would meet at the Projects Abroad office at 9am sharp and would go as a group to various schools. We did many health checks, such as blood pressure and hepatitis B checks for the teachers, and malaria tests, ringworm treatment, and a lot of wound dressings for the kids.
I enjoyed attending the schools so much, as the kids were absolutely wonderful. As soon as we arrived, they would run towards us so fast shouting, "auberini" which means white person, and would give us tight hugs. We were lucky enough to paint one of the classrooms in one of the schools. It was such a fun and fulfilling activity.
On the Public Health Project, I was also given the opportunity to dress more serious wounds when we visited two separate individuals from a village called Akuapem twice a week. After we were done dressing their wounds, they would thank us nonstop. As days went on, we were able to see the same individuals again and over time, we could see the results of our care for them. This made me extremely happy, as there was evidence that everything we were doing was helping them and I felt like we were making a difference in the lives of these Ghanaians.
My free time in Ghana
Whilst in Ghana I was lucky enough to explore some wonderful areas. Being in Cape Coast meant there were a lot of great places to see. I explored Cape Coast Castle and learned about the history of the slave trade. I also visited Elmina Beach, which was absolutely beautiful. I spent time in Kakum National Park, where we walked through the rainforest across a canopy walkway approximately 40m from the ground.
A lot of evenings where spent at Oasis Beach Resort, where we met a lot of other volunteers and enjoyed some western food and great music. Last but not least, Accra Mall was another place I loved to hang out on the weekends whist I was in Dodowa. It was only a 40-minute journey from my host family’s home by tro-tro.
A group of other volunteers and I also signed up to a cookery class where we were taught how to make some of the traditional dishes Ghanaians love. We made yam with palava sauce, red red with plantain, fufu, and some tasty vegetable spring rolls. Other classes I took part in and enjoyed thoroughly were drum and dance lessons. I feel like whilst in Ghana, I literally got a taste of every part of the culture and I loved every single second of it!
My overall experience
To sum up my time in Ghana I can only think of one word – amazing! I have travelled to many countries and met people from different backgrounds and cultures, but one thing I always say to anyone who asks me about Ghana is that I have never met such loving, warm and caring people. I found that every Ghanaian I saw had the kindest smile and I genuinely did not walk past a single Ghanaian who didn’t smile at me, whether it was at the workplace or just a random person on the street.
Although many people there do not have a lot of fancy material things, one thing I can say is they are always happy and grateful. My time in Ghana has changed me as a person. I promised myself whilst there that I will forever be grateful for everything I have. It’s the Ghanaians' optimistic attitude and their love for life that made me think this way.
Going back to the man I spoke about earlier who picked us from the airport, Nyame – his words that stood out to me were definitely true. Because, as much as I missed home, part of me did not want to leave Ghana. Yes, the heat was getting too much and yes, the mosquitos were very annoying, but these things did not matter when I was around people who made me smile every single day.
I will miss every single thing, like the busy atmosphere at the markets, the sound of roosters crowing every morning, the preaching outside the house until late evening, the smell of exhaust fumes, the screaming of the happy kids, the tro-tro guys shouting "Accra Accra” or “Dodowa Dodowa", stray goats on the streets, my haggling skills (which unfortunately I can't use much in the UK) and so much more!
I made some incredible friends on this journey, who I am still in touch with. I want to thank the whole team at Projects Abroad for making this amazing experience possible and for being so great and helpful before and during my trip. Ghana you will be truly missed, but I will see you again very soon.