Gap Year Ghana – Incredible Africa!

Posted on the 18th October 2019

Gap Year Ghana! If adventure is what you’re after… if incredible experiences are what you crave… you can’t go past Ghana as a destination.

Returned volunteer Felix has been kind enough to answer some questions about his Gap year in Ghana with Lattitude (and shared some pretty sweet photos too!):

What made you volunteer in the first place?

I volunteered because I wanted to do something different than leaving school and heading straight to university. My sister had done a GAP year with Lattitude before me and loved it and this helped me choose to go abroad.

Why Ghana?

Ghana appealed to me because Africa was a continent that I had not spent much time on. I had previously spent a month in Morocco but wanted to see more of Africa and Ghana being the team I supported in football helped. What ultimately made me chose Ghana was the fact that I could teach football which was an idea that appealed to me more than being a regular teacher or community worker.

Can you describe your placement in detail?

I was placed in Cape Coast, Ghana. Cape Coast is a large sized (for Ghanaian standards) town on the coast of Africa placed only a few hours from Accra. It gave us a great sense of Ghanaian life, as you got a mix of rich and poor all while heavily being surrounded by Ghanaian culture. Access to the beach was a huge plus and CC (Cape Coast) being half way between the other two placements made it ideal for seeing the other volunteers in the weekends. Our house was very nice and from it we had no trouble exploring and finding our way around and we lived very comfortably. The old slave castle on the beach is a stark reminder of the dark history that CC has put behind it, as CC used to be one of the main exit ports for the African American slave trade. The town has flourished since then and is full of life, the marketplace being such a place which is great to explore and get lost in.

What are some examples of the duties you performed there?

For work we had two main roles: to teach the children at the Oguaa Football for Hope Centre, and to involve ourselves in the community. The community was made up of all the people who sent their children to the centre on a daily basis and our job was to communicate with them to let them know what was going on and take in feedback that they may have for us. Teaching the children took place 4 days a week with the 5th day dedicated to ‘free play’ where we would play football in the afternoons. Towards the end of our time we started to work our program in some of the other CC schools in which we ran our program.

Can you describe your accommodation? Your host family?

Our accommodation was very pleasant and much nicer than I was expecting coming into Ghana. I was paired with one roommate and we lived together in a nice sized room each with our own bed. We had a large dining and lounge room as well as a proper kitchen, bathroom and much to the envy of some even a rooftop space in which we could star gaze and do our washing. We lived above our host families’ cousins and we got along with them superbly and often played games with them or watched the mother prepare dinner while talking to her and her kids.

Our host family consisted of a host mother, Agnes and her 28 year old son, Josef. Josef’s brother would also come home some weekends but often was away as he lived near Accra as a teacher. Agnes was amazingly kind and made us feel at home right away but Josef was by far one of the best people we could have been placed with. I cannot say how much we loved staying with him as this would go in far too long. However, he made us feel welcome and would often take us places to adventure or down to the beach to play volleyball. Lattitude got the host family perfect for us.

How did you get by with the language barrier?

The language barrier was something that all of us were nervous about heading into Ghana, but we soon realised that it was nowhere near as big an issue as we first thought. A great thing about Ghana is that most of the people that you will be interacting with on a regular basis have a very good understanding of English and the children in some cases are near fluent. We learnt some basic phrases in the local languages and through our time we learnt more and more. After about a month in, we were competently able to greet and thank people as well as have short conversations and talk about ourselves.

What kind of things did you do during orientation?

Orientation helped us to settle in to the country after 3 days of flights over. During orientation we learnt some history of Ghana, some of the local traditions and etiquette and the staff briefed us for what we were likely to experience over the next 6 months. We also did some research on the types of things which would be expected of us as teachers over the next half year in the class rooms. This involved lesson planning, learning about classroom etiquette and an extensive talk about having to discipline students and how we should go about it.

What are some of the big differences between Ghana and home?

Living in Ghana is like another world compared to back in New Zealand, as everyday life is different in nearly every single way. Living in Ghana may be a shock at first as things that you have become used to using in your everyday life at home are no longer around, things such as dishwashers, running water, active showers, privacy, steady choice of food etc.

One thing you will notice right away is the difference in climate as Ghana can be twice as hot as an average NZ day. At the start this will take its toll as you adjust but after a few weeks you really do not notice the heat nearly as much as you do when you first arrive. This was the case for all the people in my group. The choice of food is very basic, lots of carbohydrates and very little protein and zero sugar unless you choose to purchase a soft drink or candy bar. Although the food is basic, it does not lack in taste as nearly all the meals which I ate in my 6 month spell I Ioved, and always looked forwards too. The meals can be very heavy and if you do not keep active it can take its toll. Keeping hydrated is incredibly important, far more than it is at home due to the intense heat. Water is easy to come across however as in every village and town you can purchase it with ease and for next to nothing cost wise.

How did you get around?

Travelling in Ghana is something which you will very much want to take part in but the modes of transport are very different to how you get around in NZ. Due to large poverty you will not have easy access to a vehicle which you can drive yourself, instead Ghanaians rely on taxis and tro tro’s. A tro tro is a minivan with around 15 person capacity and is used for the sole purpose of taking people between towns and cities. Your first time using a tro tro may be very confusing and daunting but within a few trips you will have acquired the skill to be able to ride any tro tro and they are by far the most cost effective and easy form of transport for long distance travel.

Tell us about how you got on with Ghanaian food.

I mentioned it briefly before but Ghanaian food, although very plain, is delicious and very filling. Breakfast will usually consist of oats or bread with butter / whatever spread you can get your hands on, as well as a hot drink (Miksi Hot Chocolate should be your drink of choice). Depending on your placement the local dishes will change slightly but at large they are very similar. Some dishes you will come across often are:

– Jolloff Rice, which is like fried rice with a tomato base cooked into it. Delicious.

– Fried rice and chicken served with salad.

-Banku / Fufu – These two are the most Ghanian meals, both being served with soup and meat and eaten with your hands.

Fish is a very common meal if you are placed close to the coast but if you do not want to eat it I highly recommend trying it then politely telling your host family so you avoid offending them. Goat and cow are often eaten in small amounts with dishes like Fufu and Banku but are nowhere near as bad as they sound. Western food is available at certain places, Oasis Beach Resort in Cape Coast being one, but often will cost you around 8-10 times as much as a normal Ghanaian meal would so I recommend eating them sparingly and really getting stuck into Ghanaian cuisine.

What do you think was your favourite moment/ best thing that happened to you whilst on placement?

I cannot pinpoint one specific moment which I could say would be my favourite as my trip had so many incredible experiences, but all the time spent with my host family, roommate and the other volunteers I remember extremely fondly.

The best thing to happen to me on placement was the people I was placed with as we all became incredibly tight and a few days after writing this we are all meeting up in Wellington.The best thing was making lifelong friendships with my fellow volunteers. The travelling didn’t hurt either!

What positive impact, even small, do you think you made?

I think that being able to interact with people and share parts of my culture with the world as well as learning about the world outside of my box had an impact. Even though we didn’t change the world, the small contributions we made in education and just having fun with the locals, turning up to events and helping promote programs benefited the communities in small ways. I believe that although your aim in volunteering is to try and make an impact in the lives of others in the world it is them that actually have a bigger impact on you and your life.

Did you travel much in Ghana? Highlights?

I travelled a great deal in Ghana, we were fortunate enough to get 4 weeks off work when the school holidays were on to travel around Ghana as a group. Although 10 people spending 4 weeks straight together can be stressful it was one of the best parts of the trip and we managed to cover Ghana from north to south, spending time in national parks with elephants and other wild beasts to swimming in waterfalls, hiking in the mountains and staying in the highest village in Ghana and being able to look out to Togo from our house. Ghana is a beautiful country and getting to see it all was something I did not expect when I arrived. We also travelled a lot on weekends to all meet up as a group, with people often coming to Cape Coast to enjoy the beach and local culture.

Did you get on well with the other volunteers?

Easiest yes of my life. As a group, we all became incredibly close and as mentioned earlier are still friends and have arranged to meet up in soon. Due to some delays on our flights over we had already spent three days together before we arrived in Ghana and by the time orientation was over we had already formed a close knit bunch and we all saw each other nearly every week we were in Ghana. I was especially close with the two I was placed with, my roommate and I spending only thirty-two hours apart in six months. I can happily say I formed many lifelong friendships during my time in Ghana.

Can you give examples of any personal development you may have gained during your time there?

Ghana had a huge influence on who I am as a person and I went through significant personal development in those 6 months. Having to live a very basic life gives you a lot of time for reflection about life back home and how lucky we are to live in a country like New Zealand. One thing I think I really noticed since I left was how much more I appreciate the basic things that I use on a daily basis here, things like hot showers, water that runs when you need it, being able to head to the store and get whatever you need, a comfy bed to sleep on etc.

Living in such close proximity to others for such a long time also really makes you realise things about yourself which you may not have noticed before and will have a huge effect on the way you interact with people around you as it really develops social skills and your ability to understand other humans. In situations like that you have to form close relationships with others and learn to rely on them as well as yourself to overcome hardship or any obstacles in your path.

Finally, what are you doing now, and has your Lattitude experience helped or influenced your path in any way?

I am currently working full time before heading down to Otago University to study economics and political science. I do believe that my Lattitude experience has helped me to settle on this path as taking time to see the world through another lens and really see what is out there before making my career choices opened up more paths than if I had gone straight into university straight out of school.

Find out more about our Gap Year Programme in GHANA

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