Liam O’Brien - 2016 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

I had never been overseas before and wanted to go somewhere interesting like West Africa.

Why did you choose your specific program?

I have worked in construction before (in Australia) and I thought this would be the best way to use my skills and leave a lasting, positive impact.

Volunteers walking with children in Assin Asempaneye, Ghana
Walking from Assin Asempaneye to our compound

What made your experience abroad unique?

Interacting so much and living with the local people. You wouldn't get that if you stayed in a Western style hotel.

What about Ghana surprised you the most?

The thing that surprised me most was the friendliness of the people in our village. They were just beautiful.

What is one thing you wish you would have known before volunteering abroad in Ghana?

Hmmm. I wish I'd known not to get stressed out once I walked out the airport in Ghana. Everyone is grabbing you and trying to get you in their cab. It's scary, but they're harmless.

How difficult was it to communicate with locals?

It wasn't difficult to communicate with locals after you understand the accents and the way they sometimes structure sentences. You will pick this up in a few days. They love it a lot if you speak any of their language too.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

Stayed for longer.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

They helped organize weekend trips, listened to people's complaints, organized transport and food, and took people to the hospital, basically whatever you could think of.

Construction volunteers digging in Ghana
Digging the toilet at Asempaneye school

Describe a typical day in the life of your program. 

Wake up around 7 a.m. to the sound of children talking and playing while they wait for breakfast. Go outside and play soccer/football/anything with them or help the child care volunteers serve their food. Have breakfast around 8 a.m. and start work at 9 a.m. Work for around three hours digging, making bricks, plastering, mixing cement with shovels, etc. Eat lunch at 12 p.m., then sit around and maybe see the kids again when they come for lunch.

Some afternoons we'd work and some afternoons we'd go to town; it's up to the volunteer. One afternoon we walked up a nearby mountain to see a tiny village. Later in the afternoon the kids at the childcare centre are all very keen to play and draw or play games on your mobile phone.

Dinner was around 5 30 p.m. We'd go to bed around 9 p.m. most nights because we were so tired, but there is a lot of freedom, so you just have to make sure you are considerate toward other people! Oh and for showers, we had to walk to the well in the afternoon to get water.

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

Playing sports with the kids was fun and many of them are very talented! They have their own games that they can teach you and you probably have a lot to teach them too. On the weekends, we would travel. First we went to a place called Cape Coast, which used to be a prolific slave trading post, then Wli waterfalls, then Kokrobite beach, which was very fun.

What was your favorite part about Ghana?

The friendliness of the people in Ghana; the rest of the world really has something to learn from them.

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

Bunk beds in a concrete room. If you are volunteering in Africa you don't expect a 5-star hotel, but it was fine. I liked that we felt a part of the community.

What was the hardest part about volunteering abroad?

The hardest part was getting there. From Australia it took three days of flying and layovers to reach Ghana. Also, I had to get a visa and yellow fever vaccine. If you are getting the visa in Australia, it's best to send it in the mail to Canberra, which is $50 cheaper than Sydney.

Construction volunteers plastering a wall in Ghana
Plastering the walls of our compound

Do you have any packing tips for volunteers headed to Ghana?

Yes! Bring insect repellent, a hat, sunglasses, thongs, multiple towels, lots of food, and not too many clothes, because you can buy awesome clothes cheaply there.

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

Ghana is a very laid back, chilled out place once you get used to it. If you are a chilled out person then you will absolutely love it, but maybe even if you're not. Also, you will definitely not know more about construction than the local foreman; things get built differently in Ghana.

What do you feel the biggest benefit of volunteering abroad is?

Biggest benefit is the experiences. I've heard that the happiest people spend their money on experiences not things, and this definitely holds true in this case. Volunteering in Ghana especially gives you an idea of what's important in life.

Now that you're home, how has your time in Ghana impacted your life?

It has made me a more confident and well spoken person, as there were several situations in Ghana and on the way there (nothing too bad) where I was forced to think on my feet.

Would you recommend your program to others? Why?

Yes. It was very cheap and a lot of fun. Evans will look after you on the weekends also.

If you could volunteer abroad again, where would you go?

If I got to go again, I would go to Ghana, but make multiple stops on the way there and back. Although, maybe I would volunteer in South America for a while as well. I’ll definitely visit Ghana again at some stage in my life.