Tell us about your time volunteering abroad?
We are both from the UK and have been teaching English abroad for ten years now. We have worked in Thailand, the UK, Spain, Ukraine, Vietnam and China. We currently teach in Bangkok.
Why did you decide to move abroad?
Volunteering in Ghana was my first time going abroad solely for volunteering. I’d volunteered a lot in the USA, but I’d never traveled far to do it and boy did I have an adventure!
While at university, I heard about a program through our school that was partnered with United Planet (a global volunteering organization). They were selecting 12 students to either go to Ghana or Peru and I got picked for the Ghana group!
Not only did we volunteer, but we got to experience the culture, hang out with a local Ghanaian volunteer group and live in a village for a few weeks. We spent most our time volunteering in Sokode, Ghana, a small village, where we built a kindergarten. It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had in my life.
What made you decide to volunteer abroad?
I had just come back from studying abroad in London where I had been bit by the travel bug hard! I was eager for another adventure and thought volunteering while in university would be a great way to travel, but also do something good for the world.
I had the choice of going to Chile or Ghana. At the time, I was somewhat afraid of Africa because of how the media portrays it, so I requested to do my volunteer work in Chile. Well, our school liked to mix things up so no one got what they requested! I’M SO GLAD!
I secretly wanted an adventure in Ghana and wanted to go to Africa, but didn’t want to freak out my friends and family and chose the easier option. It could not have been a better change of events and one that changed my life for the better!
Was the United Planet program expensive?
My program for 2 weeks was around $3,000. We got half of it paid for by the school and so I ended up having to raise the money for the other half (about $1500). This cost included all meals, accommodation, transportation in Ghana and cultural experiences/excursions.
Can you describe a typical day volunteering in Ghana?
We would typically wake up early in the morning and eat fruit, eggs and some of their local dishes like ‘banku’ or ‘red-red’ for breakfast. We’d then head out to the kindergarten construction site we were building down the road from our house. Locals were always there working as well so we got to interact with them throughout the day! Sometimes kids would come to watch as well which was a highlight for me.
The craziest part of building the kindergarten for me was that they didn’t have any electrical machinery. So, we (alongside the locals) dug a huge dirt hole to use the dirt for the foundation, mixed cement to make bricks and then carried everything in buckets on our heads back and forth from the huge hole to the kindergarten site. Talk about manual labor at its finest, but what an amazing cultural experience it was! After our work day, we’d typically go on an excursion, hang out at our hut, play with local kids who loved stopping by our house, drink local beer or watch the locals drum and dance around the fire.
Was it hard to adjust to the country and culture?
It was a culture shock the second we stepped off the plane, but the Ghanaian people are incredibly warm and welcoming. They speak English as one of their national languages, so lucky for us, it was somewhat easy to communicate with them. They had welcome ceremonies for us, sang for us, cooked for us and I felt extremely welcomed into their community! I wouldn’t say it was hard to adjust, but it sure did open my eyes to a different world!
What are your best memories and experiences of volunteering abroad?
Oh, there are too many to list! I could go on and on! Living in the village, meeting the locals and the little kids, realizing that despite the locals not having much they are extremely happy people, attending the village ceremonies, getting my hair braided (took 8 hours!), getting a custom made Ghanaian dress, touching a wild crocodile, trying the local foods, seeing how happy the locals were that we were there volunteering and helping them!
What are your worst memories and experiences of volunteering abroad?
One day, while volunteering, a guy was digging more dirt in the hole and was pick-axing some off the side of the hole. As he swung his ax in the air it came down on a local lady’s’ hand and went directly through her hand! It was freaky and she was hurt pretty bad! I was soooo sad for her.
The local hospital was somewhat far away and I wasn’t sure what kind of treatment she’d be able to get. It made me depressed, but very grateful for the medical treatment we get at home.
What must pack items would you recommend?
Bug spray, sunscreen, backpacking backpack, a journal, a few candies or toys for the kids, and clothes for HOT weather (it was hot every day).
What advise would you give those who want to volunteer abroad?
It changed my life and has been one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. My advice would be to do it if you have the chance. You’ll experience nothing like it in your life and chances are you’ll make new friends out of it and feel a sense of community somewhere you never thought you would!
We loved reading about a different way of living and working abroad! Thank you Katie! Any questions, experiences and comments – leave them below! 🙂