Guide to Work, Study, Travel and Living Abroad    

A Day as a Volunteer in Ghana

A Participant Story with Globe Aware

Globe Aware project in Ghana
Photo courtesy of Globe Aware.

I can’t believe it’s just Tuesday. I’ve only been here in this village since Saturday night, yet I’ve experienced and done so much already. It was exactly one week ago that I began this trip to volunteer in Ghana. I left for the airport excited yet having only a vague idea as to what to expect or what the experience would entail. But here I am, one week in with another six days before I return to Chicago. I just got out of my nightly cold shower, and as I was braiding my hair (it’s the only way I can stay cool in the sweltering mid-day heat), I thought about how peaceful and comfortable I feel here in Ghana. There are times when my mind drifts back home, but at this point, my work and city life seems so far away, like a distant memory.

Learning from my Hosts in Ghana

I’ve persuaded Ninayaw, Bansah, and the teenager Eddie (the nephew of the owner of this guesthouse) to take nightly strolls with me after dinner so that we can walk off our heavy meals before heading to bed. It’s become an enjoyable and comforting ritual. Tonight we visited with Ninayaw’s family in the village. When we arrived they were all sitting around outside in the dark with just the light of the moon shining down on them. Throughout the day and late into the evening, the villagers always gather outside together. They talk, laugh, eat, and just “be.” I think about our non-stop obsession with material productivity back home, and I feel a sense of guilt for not slowing down more often to appreciate life and others. For lack of better words, I find these people to be “more human” than my identity and lifestyle back home. It sounds silly, but it’s the only phrase I can think of to describe how I feel about their more intimate social interactions.

Painting houses in Ghana
Photo courtesy of Globe Aware.

Playing with and Teaching the Children

During breaks at school today, I played with the children as usual, and they swarm around me everywhere I go. At one point in the sweltering heat, I felt a bit overwhelmed. However, I immediately thought to myself “You only have a small amount of time here, and any stress or discomfort is temporary and not worth the risk of appearing unmotivated or uninterested in these children. Give it your all and be a kind and encouraging presence to everyone you meet here.” And so I pushed through the heat and the desire for just a minute of quiet in the shade, and finished out yet another incredible day teaching and working with these eager, energetic, and loving children. I then experienced a deep sense of fulfillment and once again felt blessed for the opportunity to be here in Ghana as a volunteer.

Children in school in Ghana
Photo courtesy of Globe Aware.

A Shared Cooking Experience

Tonight I had another cooking lesson. We made a different kind of vegetable stew, this one made with yam leaves called “kotonmire,” tomatoes, cabbage, carrots, onion, and eggs. We used one overflowing cup of oil, and two salt-laden seasoning packets as well. When cooking, as with much of my day, there are so many times I have an ongoing inner monologue saying “Oh my goodness,” or “No, don’t do that,” or “I can’t believe this is happening” and “I can’t believe that’s how they do it here.” For example, they purchase their cooking oil (“palm oil” made from their locally grown palm nuts) in plastic bags, about the size of a small quart-sized “sandwich bag.” The bags are filled and tied in a knot at the top. Tonight, my cooking instructor placed a pan on the stove, and the bag in the middle of the pan then turned on the burner and held it upright in place by holding the top of the knot. It took me a few seconds until I realized that she was waiting for the bottom of the plastic bag to melt to release the oil into the pan. I resisted the urge to shriek and gently said, “I have an idea.” I picked up the bag, cut one corner with a knife, and poured the oil into the pan. She smiled and said thank you and went about cooking. I wondered how often they melted the plastic into their food and how bad for health it must be. At first, I didn’t want to convey my opinion to her. I wanted to respect our cultural differences and not be a my-way-is-right-way kind of visitor. But then I thought that if I know that something is not good for their health, I have a duty as a fellow human being to share that knowledge. They could always choose to use my suggestions and information or not. So I told her, trying to be sensitive and casual, that I had learned melted plastic was not good to eat, and it could make you sick. She replied, “Oh, ok”! I was relieved she didn’t take offense, and although I hoped she would not continue the practice going forward, I also knew that I had done what I could in good faith.

Group of dancers in Ghana
Photo courtesy of Globe Aware.

Travel and experiencing different cultures has taught me to respect the way other people live their lives, even when they are far removed from my own. I have to come to value the reverence and humility I have learned.

Nicole Vasquez visited Ghana in 2019 and here recounts one day in her whole Globe Aware experience.

Related Topics
Volunteer in Ghana
Volunteer in Africa
Articles and Resources on Africa
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