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Experiences from voluntary work in Ghana – on-site

Living & Working in Ghana

During the project, I stayed 2 weeks in Tamale, a city in the Northern part of Ghana, then travelled for one week through the North Western region, and returned to Tamale for another 2 weeks. My statements are based on personal experiences and refer to Tamale and the Northern, mainly Islamic region of Ghana.

Ghana and the Ghanaians

Ghana is a peaceful country with friendly and helpful people. When I strolled through the streets or when I travelled through the North West of Ghana by my own during my one week holiday, I always felt secure and was never afraid of being robbed. On the contrary, people were very helpful and several times stopped and offered me a ride on their motorbike to bring me to my destination when I was walking through the streets.

You will do much more greeting and handshaking with people (you do not or hardly know) than in Germany. Each day on my 30 meters way from my room in the guesthouse to the guesthouse’s restaurant where I took my breakfast, I had to shake hands with one or more of the employees, which were already working.

British or American English is different from the English spoken in Ghana.
I had some funny experiences talking to some Ghanaians with a strong Ghanaian accent. I had to ask three times to repeat what they have said (and sometimes even then did not understand). They were astonished that I did not speak (and understand) English – which was their conclusion. It did not come into their mind that their English is different from British or American English.

Many women are dressed in traditional Ghanaian costumes – beautiful and colorful skirts and dresses. They combined colors and patterns we would consider inappropriate here in Germany or Europe, but it always looked very beautiful.

Traditional Clothing

Only few men wear traditional Ghanaian clothes. Quite common is the woven ‘Kente’ made from cotton, and colorful shirts, but you rarely see the colorful cloths, wound like a toga around the body. Especially the younger generation is dressed in ‘European’ style, a shirt and jeans, although for me, it always seemed to be too hot for jeans. What is really common in Ghana are flip-flops. I have never seen so many people wearing flip-flops before. I usually do not wear any myself, but in Ghana, I was convinced by one big advantage of this kind of shoes: they are light and airy and are easy to clean after walking through the muddy streets after sudden and heavy rain falls.

Working in Ghana

According to an article in a Ghanaian newspaper, the Ghanaians have a planning phobia. If they make plans at all, they often not follow them. In addition, changes or delays will usually not be communicated in advance.

Regarding the MS Office training that I provided: The MS Office knowledge was very basic, not just among the beginners, but also among the ‘advanced’ participants. Even working with a computer was a challenge for some of the participants. Most of the participants were very motivated, asked many questions, and were eager to learn as much as possible. Although they sometimes were (a little) late for the training, they were annoyed when we lost too much time due to power outage or for other reasons. In that case, they were also willing to stay longer in the evening to make up for lost time. There was a training schedule, but it was not really followed. We lost a lot of valuable training time due to unnecessary waiting times and delays. The female participants were generally very self-confident and often learnt and understood faster than their male colleagues.

The office equipment was basic, too:  What hurt most was, that internet was not available generally. Only those with a USB modem could set up a – generally slow – internet connection.

My way to the office - by taxi My way to the office - the last meters on foot

Training session Training session

Variety of Languages

Although English is the official language of Ghana, a variety of languages and dialects are widely spoken in the country. Besides English, nine so-called government-sponsored languages exist. They are supported by the Bureau of Ghana Languages, which provides publication of material in these languages.

The variety of languages was obvious in the shea quality training provided to the woman groups: The trainer explained in English, and then two women had to translate in a different language each, which was understood by the participants.

I also recognized that one Ghanaian TV company provided their news in three different languages. Three times the same broadcast – but in different languages.

Traffic &Travelling in Ghana 

Travelling with public transportation is extremely cheap – but somehow unpredictable: You cannot buy a bus ticket in advance (except for the state-run bus company STC), you never know when the bus will arrive/leave and if it will arrive at all at its final destination (due to breakdown or accident).

Public Transportation

Even the flight from Tamale to Accra was delayed by 6 hours on very short notice (half a day before). It is recommended to have enough buffers if you have an important date on the same day, like the flight back to Germany.

For my daily way of roughly 4 km from the guesthouse to the office of PlaNet Finance – where the training took place – I used a taxi. There are two modes of transport: You can either use a private taxi, which is exclusively for you. Alternatively, you can use a shared taxi, which has a fixed or semi-fixed route, with the additional convenience of stopping anywhere to pick up or drop off passengers. As the majority of cars are taxis (at least this was my impression) it is very easy to get a shared taxi. I never needed more than 5 minutes to find one, which went into the direction I headed for. Shared taxis are very cheap, but can get quite crowded (six passengers plus the driver is not considered a problem in Ghana).
Before entering a taxi, you should forget everything you know about crash test results, or safety measures. Seat belts are rarely in working order, and when I once used one, it left a stripe of dust on my shirt, when I left the car. In general, cars are in very poor conditions, and not all drivers have a driving license. I had a funny experience with a taxi, where the exhaust started to drag on the ground during the ride. When we could no longer ignore the noise, the driver just removed the complete exhaust system from the car and put it in the luggage trunk, before we continued our tour – and finally reached the destination without further problems.

The other commonly used means of transportation is the motorbike. They are even more motorbikes than taxicabs – and you can transport nearly as many persons on one motorbike as in one taxi. I have seen whole families – two adults plus two to three kids – riding one motorbike at the same time! Again, nobody cares about helmets or protective clothing – which seems understandable at temperatures of more than 30 degrees Celsius. However, due to the probably poor treatment one would get in hospital in case of an accident, I avoided to use a motorbike. This was not easy, because the Ghanaians are very helpful and several times stopped and offered me a ride on their motorbike to bring me to my destination. I then pretended to be afraid of riding motorbikes – a reason which amused them, but which they accepted. I did not tell them, that I have a motorbike in Germany 😉

Power and Water Supply

Expect power outage after (heavy) rainfalls (no fan, no AC!). It is good to have a torch at hand. I enjoyed my iPod and listened to several podcasts when sitting in the dark without power. Ghanaians are used to power outage and might have current generators in case of emergency – but this does not guarantee that the generator works if it is needed.

Power supply

Expect any kind of delays when it is raining. People will be late. In contrast to e.g. Europeans, who travel with their private car or who can use public transportation, the Ghanaians mostly use a motorbike or their feet to get from one place to another. And it is not really fun to get completely wet on your way…

If you find a plastic bucket in the bathroom, fill it with some water to be prepared in case of water outage.


Food is offered everywhere at any time. On the market, you can buy bananas, oranges, mangos, yams, eggs, meat etc.  Vegetables are generally expensive, and in many restaurants, there were meals with vegetables on the menu – but not available when you asked for them. Hard to get are milk products, like milk, yoghurt, butter, and cheese. Several booths offer fried yams, broiled maize cops, or rice meals in various flavors (boiled, fried, Jollof) with chicken, fish, or meat. However, if you have seen how meat is transported and stored (under poor hygienic conditions, often without cool chain or wrapping) you won’t be keen on it anymore. Getting vegetarian meals is quite difficult – but if you manage, it will help a lot to avoid diarrhea 😉
Water can also be bought everywhere in the streets. It is either soled in plastic bottles (Voltic, the Ghanaian imitation of Volvic), or in ½ liter plastic bags of different vendors. Water in plastic bags cost a tenth of the price of the bottled water, but there are qualitative differences between the plastic bag vendors, and their water may have a strange taste of plastic.

Ghana and the World Cup

On the days when Ghana was playing in the World Cup, marketers sold banners, bracelets, scarves, etc. in Ghanaian colors on the streets. And they made a good bargain! Even cars were covered with large banners or had a small one attached to the front window. I was often asked on these days, why I was not wearing clothes in Ghanaian colors. Then I could luckily point to my Ghana bracelet – and the people were satisfied that I demonstrated my passion for the Ghanaian team.

Marketer Fan of Ghana Black Stars

There was also some kind of public viewing: In front of shops or bars with a – usually very small – TV set inside, football enthusiasts met to watch the game together. When Ghana beat the US, there were hours of motor’cycle’cades in the streets: People bombing along on their motorbikes (with or without light, and of course without any kind of protective clothing), blowing the horns, presenting daring feats on their vehicles. Actually, I did not dare to watch the spectacle too long, as I did not want to witness a horrible accident, which I expected any moment to happen.
Of course, everybody was angry and disappointed when Uruguay won against Ghana in this unlucky game. When later the Netherlands kicked off Uruguay, the orange team was the hero and nearly adopted by Ghanaians. From then on, it was great to be a Dutch in Ghana.

Interested in more information about this project? Then continue with
part 1: Experiences from voluntary work in Ghana – Kickoff

part 3: Shea nut processing
part 4: Experiences from voluntary work in Ghana – Resume

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    • Hi Gali,
      Thanks for your comment! It was really a fascinating time for me in Ghana, living and working for a couple of weeks in a completely different culture. I would encourage everybody to try out if you get the change….