When I am privileged to guide travelers and volunteers who come to Ghana, I always ask them the question; Why do you want to come to Africa and Ghana in particular? ‘I want to know what life is really like in Africa, that’s why I want to volunteer in Ghana’, is often one of the answers.
I am going to write a few blog articles about some of the pitfalls that are specific to volunteering in Africa. The first one is about the factors that can prevent you from learning more about life in Ghana.
Learning about African life during your trip in Ghana, a beautiful goal
I think it’s a very nice endeavor to learn about African life. Perhaps the first lesson is that we should not talk about African life when we talk about Ghana. Ghana is one of the 54 countries on the continent of Africa. But that’s actually off topic for now.
Furthermore, it is a great goal, but unfortunately it turns out that there are many pitfalls for travelers and volunteers. Traps that may lead to the fact that when one goes home, one does not know Ghana very well at all.
Do you have enough time for your adventure in Ghana?
The first pitfall is time. It takes time to get used to life in Africa. In Ghana it is usually warmer than you are used to, so as a traveler you need a moment to acclimatize. But you also need time to get used to how things are going here and to the fact that most people speak in their local language. So you don’t understand much of what’s being said. When you come to make a trip for 4 weeks then that is enough time to explore the country globally. But when you come to volunteer in Africa, 4 weeks is way too short.
You can live in Ghana for 6 months, but when you don’t take the time to learn and observe…..
A second aspect of time is whether you take the time to look and experience. Do you allow yourself and also Africa not to jump to conclusions? I recently read a Dutch article on medischcontact.nl where it was very nicely worded: Wait to understand.
Who are you with and where do you stay during your ‘life in Africa’
I think it’s obvious that when you mainly travel and are only at the same place for a few days at the time, you don’t get much depth in your quest to learn more about African life.
But what many people do not really think about is that although it might feel very pleasant and nice or safe to volunteer with others.
But the group dynamics, even when you’re two people, can get in the way of your goal. Events and experiences are coloured by the opinions and observations of another. Of course, this doesn’t have to be wrong, but be aware of it. When you’re with more people, it also becomes more difficult to get in touch with the local people you’re trying to get to know.
Try to get in touch with different (local) people in Ghana
If you are staying somewhere for a longer period of time during a volunteering project in Ghana, you may have a contact person. Probably that person has experience in guiding or helping volunteers. That is of course nice and normally you will have a click with that person, yet it is important to make other contacts as well.
When people come to Ghana during their gap year or on holiday at Moon&Star guesthouse, which I own, it happens a lot that I get all the questions. From toilet paper to all sorts of questions about Ghana. Now I know quite a lot about Ghana. But when you really want to experience what ‘African life’ is like in Ghana…. Also talk to my colleagues who are from Ghana.
Beware the trap many travelers fall into in Africa….. The constant comparison…
In the Netherlands I worked for a long time at 2 companies. When I first started working at the second company, I often said, “Oooh but at my previous employer we did this.” Until my supervisor said, “Yes, we know that now, but we’re not here with your previous employer.” I didn’t like to hear it, of course, but my supervisor was right. I realized how annoying I had been in that first week with my new colleagues. And most importantly, I opened my eyes to the new company and how everything went into it. I started to learn, because I was open to new experiences…
Do you really want to learn what life is like in Africa? Then take my colleague’s advice!
The other day one of my Ghanaian colleagues said that she noticed that #obrunis (foreigners) were comparing so often. I asked her what she meant. She said volunteers and other travelers often asked her questions about all kinds of customs here in Ghana. To which she then answers. And most of the time in the conversation it is said, “But we do it this way in the west, why don’t you do it like that?”
Her advice when you travel to another culture and says you want to know what life is like there. Stop comparing, take off your Western glasses and start absorbing. Who
knows, you might really start to see and say to yourself, “Why don’t we in the west do it the same way we do here?”