Kirsten Harris - 2014 Program Participant

Elifantastic in Jaipur, India

Shakuntala and me at Elifantastic, Jaipur, India.

What made you decide to volunteer abroad?

I had volunteered before and after travelling extensively in 2012, I vowed that the next travel experiences I had would include volunteering on some level.

Why did you choose to volunteer with Love Volunteers?

When I first volunteered in Albania, I chose Love Volunteers for the informative reviews and the price. After, I really was impressed with the helpful staff and support.

What was your favorite part about volunteering in Ghana?

My favourite part about Ghana was the people!

What made your program stand apart from other program options?

I think its affordability and the support from the organizers/staff.

How did the Love Volunteers staff help support you while you were volunteering in Ghana?

They were extremely helpful in getting me adjusted to African life and culture and adapting to the needs of the program.

What surprised you the most about Ghana? About Volunteering?

Volunteering in Ghana was my third volunteer opportunity in a developing country. So I can’t say I was exactly “surprised” by much in terms of volunteering. As always, though, I was impressed with all the hard work the organizers do and also how far they stretch the little bit they get in donations, how small gestures from volunteers were deeply appreciated, and how much I would learn about myself from working with the kids.

As for Ghana, what surprised me the most was the spirit of the people; they make you feel right at home and are extremely helpful, friendly, and a lot of fun! I’m African-American, although not really aware of the exact area my ancestors are from, and I was also surprised at how I found such a deep cultural connection to the people.

If you could volunteer in Ghana again, what would you do differently?

I think I would've spent more time so I could've also visited the northern part of the country.

How long do you think would have been ideal for you program?

I only had three weeks available to me, so that worked for my circumstances. But I found the time went rather quickly. If I had had more time, I think I would’ve stayed six weeks. There are always two to three days where you spend figuring things out, and with a shorter stay, just when you have it figured out, you’re on your way home. Also, with more time, I could’ve done more at my volunteer posts and also spent some more time exploring other areas of the country on my off hours.

Describe a typical day for a volunteer in Ghana.

Wake up early and have a bit of breakfast. Head out the door to navigate the public transportation of a tro-tro and then a taxi. Arrive at the school and prepare some lesson plans along with a teacher. Teach about four classes, but also hang with the kids during breaks. Pick up the little kids from the nursery school and take them back to the orphanage. Hang with the kids at the orphanage until late afternoon playing games, helping with any homework, etc.

What was your favorite part of the program outside of the volunteer placement? 

Visiting with the host family. Also getting the opportunity to visit the Cape Coast and slave castles.

Was there a language barrier in Ghana?

Not really. Most everyone speaks English. Where I was staying they mostly speak Twi, and the kids tried to teach me some words! Tough language! But people who have gone to school, even for just a few years, will be able to speak English. So I never had any trouble.

What was your accommodation like? Was was one benefit of it?

I stayed with a host family. They were so nice and open with their lives. I got to understand more about Ghanaian culture and its people.

What is one cultural characteristic of Ghana every volunteer should know about?

I think one cultural aspect volunteers should know (especially volunteers coming from fairly secular countries where people don’t necessarily speak about their faith openly) is that Ghanaians are quite religious. Where I was volunteering in Kumasi, they are mostly Christian, but there are some areas where Islam is practiced more. What this means is that typically with almost everyone you meet you’ll be asked if you go to church, how often, and if not, why not. They are friendly about it and very open, and they won’t hesitate to share a Bible verse or two with you.

I was volunteering in a school teaching English, and we were practicing letter writing. After asking how the other person was, the following opening phrase would always be “By the grace of God, I hope you are well.” Another example is that when I took a bus from Accra to Kumasi (about a four hour trip), for the first half there was a “preacher” onboard who gave a full sermon and it really felt like you were in church!

How have you taken your experiences abroad home with you?

I was able to start a couple of fundraising campaigns to further help.