volunteer in ghana

We interview Katie about her time as a volunteer in Ghana. She tells us about her typical day and reflects on her time in Africa.

Volunteering in Ghana, Africa

volunteer in ghana

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.

volunteer in ghana

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.

Why Ghana?

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 chance 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!

volunteer in ghana

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 (which 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 so 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.

volunteer in ghana

What must-pack items would you recommend?

Bug spray, sunscreen, a backpacking backpack, a journal, a few candies or toys for the kids, and clothes for HOT weather (it was hot every day).

What advice 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!

Helpful Resources

Travel essentials:

What to pack

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  1. Love this! Thanks for the feature you guys! Even reading this is making me want to go back 🙂

    • Thank YOU! Loved your story and experience!

  2. I have never volunteered abroad but was pleased to read your account. Your two-week trip sounded a bit on the expensive side ($3000) but if it included flights, then it’s totally understandable. I think volunteering is a great way to give back while traveling but we must be careful that we travel with ethically responsible and sustainable programs.

  3. I’ve really wanted to do a volunteer trip that positively impacts a community. Now that I have kids, I’m holding off until we can all go as a family. That account of the woman getting hurt is really jarring. I hope she’s okay.

  4. I have never done volunteering but I’ve always wanted to. I’m sure it is a challenging experience but a life-changing one. Thanks for sharing about your experience so others who are looking to volunteer (like me) can learn from it.

  5. What an amazing experience and an inspiring woman. It’s great that the Ghana trip worked out despite the Chile request, I love how life does that sometimes. Sounds like a good experience all around, the locals got a school and interaction with foreigners, and the volunteers had their world expanded and a new appreciation for everything we Americans have.

  6. I think it’s wonderful Kate that you had the opportunity to do this. Donating money from afar and actually getting involved are two different things altogether. It’s also great that you mentioned the culture shock; it’s something most of us from western countries never want to talk about, but it’s real!

  7. I would have loved to do something similar while in school, but those programs are so expensive 🙁 Funny how much money you need to go help out people, eh!?
    It sounds like it was quite the experience! 🙂

  8. What an incredible experience! I would love to do volunteer work abroad. I’m not so sure about touching live crocodiles though 🙂

  9. What an amazing experience! I’m so glad she ended up getting what she “secretely wanted.” Must have been fate!

  10. I’ve always wanted to volunteer abroad and this looks like a fantastic experience I would want to try. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  11. What a great read. 🙂 I really enjoyed hearing what it’s like to volunteer abroad from another traveler’s perspective. My high school did a volunteer trip but I wasn’t able to go, so it was fun to be there in Ghana (a place I hadn’t thought to go until now) through Katie’s eyes and story. Sounds like a really intense and soul-searching trip for her!

  12. Such a unique and great experience! I am jealous you got to live in Ghana while helping out their community, it definitely must feel good to help others, trying to make their lives better!

  13. Thank you for volunteering and making a difference. Sounds like you had a great experience, as you listed several things that were positive about it and only one bad thing~ Hope the injured hand healed well for the injured party. I have not been to Ghana, but I will remember your advice….. pack for hot weather if traveling to Ghana!

  14. I wish my school gave us this opportunity. I understand her fear of Africa/Ghana because I have that too even though the country looks beautiful. I’m happy she got this chance to learn it isn’t that scary at all. Thank you for sharing. I hope to get to Africa/Ghana one day.

  15. Love the adventure you got to experience by getting this placement instead of Chili! It’s really great to know that you get to experience some of the local culture while volunteering

  16. It sounds quite unique experience and great way to learn about the other countries and cultures. Thanks for sharing.

  17. It sounds like you had an incredible experience there is Ghana. There is nothing like finishing manual labour to make you feel like you’ve accomplished something. It sounds like some pretty intense manual labour too. How did the locals feel about you guys travelling there to help build a kindergarten?

  18. That’s a very interesting read. I also want to go to Africa but kinda have same fears as Katie. Hopefully, I overcome those fears and visit this marvelous continent.

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