I had always wanted to go abroad and volunteer in Africa for a while. I love being able to help people and make an impact on the lives of others.
Why did you choose International Volunteer HQ?
It was affordable and seemed very safe.
What was your favorite part about Ghana?
Everything. I loved the people, the food, the culture, the scenery, and the people I was volunteering with.
What made your experience abroad unique?
My group specifically ran into a bunch of complications and we had to go to the hospital numerous times. Going through those situations made us all even more closer than before and made me see the culture differently.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
They checked on us every few days, and would make sure that everything was going well and we were enjoying our stay.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
Stayed for longer!
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
We would wake up between 5:30 a.m. and 7 a.m. and hang out on the porch with each other. Then we would have breakfast and help brush the children's teeth, then walk to the school. I would be in the kindergarten classroom teaching them math from 8 a.m. until noon, when we would walk back up to the house so we could serve the children lunch. After lunch we would either shower or fetch water from the well, and then just hang out until the children got out of school at 2 p.m. Then we would spend time with the children until dinner, playing games and learning Twi or teaching them English. We would eat dinner and then we would go back to playing with the children, or if they went home all of us would sit on the porch talking and sharing stories.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
Hanging out with the children and playing soccer, cards, or drawing with them.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
We had a big plot of land, so on one side we had a building with a porch that contained the boys’ room. The kitchen and the bathrooms were on that side also. On the other side of the land were the cement walls for the shower and then the girls’ room and the dining room. I liked the fact that we had so much space to do activities with the children and run around. We also had an amazing view from the porch.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
Be open minded about being there. Some things are going to be very different and difficult, but as long as you are open minded about the culture you will love it.
What was the hardest part about volunteering abroad?
I didn't have many difficulties during my volunteering experience. The only difficulties I experienced were before I departed, and after I arrived back home. Before I departed to Ghana I was so nervous. I had never traveled alone before and maneuvering my way around international airports was very difficult for me, I was also very shy and timid before this trip. The biggest difficulty I am dealing with now I’m back home is missing being there so bad, and missing the culture, the food, the people, the children, everything about it. I miss the children and my daily interactions with everybody I met while there.
What surprised you most about Ghana?
The one thing about Ghana that surprised me the most was how safe it was, and how nice and helpful the people are there. You hear stories on the news and you read things on Facebook about people in Africa robbing and killing, it just goes to show you that not everything you see or read on the internet is true. I know that before I left for my trip and told people I was going to Africa, they warned me and told me to keep everything close to me and be careful of the people. None of that was necessary because everyone there was so polite and if any of us had seemed lost at any point they would offer us directions, or ask if we wanted them to call us a taxi. In fact there was one day I remember pretty vividly, we were shopping for fabric to make shirts and the woman that was selling the fabric noticed we were looking at some pricier ones. She had then told us how much those cost and suggested some cheaper options with similar patterns. I will never forget that encounter and how that lady helped us.
How difficult was it to communicate with locals?
It was not difficult to communicate with the locals at all. Everyone there spoke English, aside from some of the younger children, but that was not a problem. We also were given a pretty basic lesson on Twi before we were taken to our placements, so we knew some words to help us get around if need be. The children would also try and teach us new words in Twi, which was awesome, so we all picked up on the language pretty quickly. In fact, we impressed some of the locals because they would talk to us in English, expecting us not to know Twi, and then we would respond in Twi and they would be astonished.
What is one thing you wish you would have known before volunteering abroad in Ghana?
One thing I wish I had known before I went would be how much I was going to fall in love and how much it was going to change me. This trip has changed my life in so many ways, it is amazing and I am so grateful for it. I had no idea that it was possible to fall in love so much with a country or a culture the way that I love Ghana and the Ghanaian culture. I strive to learn more and more about it everyday so that when I go back everything has a bit more meaning for me.
If you could volunteer abroad again, where would you go?
If I could volunteer again, I would go back to Ghana but aside from there I would go probably anywhere. I really love Rwanda and the history it has to offer, but I also really love Bali and Tanzania. I would also love to visit Togo. I honestly have a bad case of wanderlust now because I just want to experience everywhere in the world and see how others live. I thrive off of learning more about different cultures and different ways of life.
What do you feel the biggest benefit of volunteering abroad is?
Personally, the biggest benefit of volunteering abroad would be how much I got out of it. I pushed myself way beyond my comfort zone and not only did it give me the opportunity to learn more about the Ghanaian culture, but it helped me learn more about myself as well. I am much more appreciative of the things that I have and have the opportunity to do.
Do you have any packing tips for individuals headed to Ghana?
For packing tips, I would probably have to say try and pack light. Buy stuff there if need be, it's not only cheaper for you, but it's benefitting their economy. If you do pack a lot of clothes, try and give some of them away to children or people that need them more than you. Chances are you really didn't need that old t-shirt from Target that you've had for four years anymore, and the truth is that a child would benefit from it and be so grateful to have it. I packed way more than I needed and I ended up leaving half my clothes there for the children, and thankfully I did because I got clothes tailored there for myself that I needed to pack along with souvenirs for family and friends back home.
Now that you're home, how has volunteering abroad impacted your life?
I have been very depressed since I have been home because I miss everything so much. I saw the way that people over there live with close to nothing, and I see how happy and grateful they are. It opened my eyes and made me realize how much I have, how ungrateful I was for most of it, and how unhappy I was because I wasn't living my life to the fullest.
I have learned to be grateful for everything in life and to live life to the fullest everyday.
I have also learned to step outside of my comfort zone as much as possible, because that is where I will grow and change the most.
Would you recommend IVHQ to others? Why?
Yes, because they are amazing and so affordable. It is just awesome.
Amanda Silva is from Gloucester, Massachusetts. She is a senior in college at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, studying early childhood education. After her life-changing trip to Ghana, Amanda is now considering working with nonprofit organizations. She has done a lot of work with children and in customer service.