Mar & Mark (or Mar(k) for short) are the latest volunteers to answer some questions for us. They are currently volunteering in for VSO in Ghana, and are on a two year long placement. If you are, have or plan to volunteer and would like to share your story, perhaps by writing a blog for us or answering some questions like Mar(k), we would love to hear from you! Should you be intrigued by this short interview, you can read more about Mar(k) and their adventures on their volunteer blog.
When and why did you decide to do volunteer work?
We first decided to do some volunteering work about two years ago. We were coming to the end of our “working lives” in the petroleum industry, and wanted to do something more “meaningful” that could utilise our business skills, and at the same time, hopefully help others in some way.
Ghana is an exciting place in a developing country; known as ‘Gold Coast’ before March 1957, the climate of this ex-British colony is tropical, with rainy seasons from April to July and from September to November in all but the north of Ghana (where the rainy season is from April to November). It is an English-speaking country so there is no need for language lessons before travelling, perfect for your first visit to Africa! On the West coast of Africa, this is a country with an average temperature of 30 degrees centigrade and the people are known to be warm and friendly too. March is when Ghana is hottest, and August is when it is coolest. Some volunteering organisations like ‘Projects Abroad’ have all their volunteers stay with local host families. A conservative country founded on strong religious values, Ghana is hospitable for such guests, making you feel safe and at home. You have to be aware that these morals and values define the country and must be respected in other aspects of life in Ghana – you should only wear skimpy clothing on the beach, keeping street-wear low-key and discreet so as to not attract attention or offend anyone. Also, if on the south coast on the beach, be careful in the water because swimming is dangerous there due to rip tides and undertows. Basically, just keep alert on your travels for any dangers and be conservative in your actions – for example, you should not wear camouflage tops or trousers because items of clothing like this for normal citizens, as opposed to military agents, is not allowed. Upon arriving into Ghana there are some things you should remember. Your passport is important in whichever country you travel to but in Ghana you must travel at all times with a copy of your passport and make sure the original is kept safe. Do not become involved in drugs in Ghana because this is dealt with severely and can lead to unwanted complications – even being caught possessing marijuana can lead to a prison sentence of more than five years, after expensive and extensive legal procedures. There are also some exciting facts that you might like to know: the northeastern desert wind that blows across Ghana from December ‘til March is called the harmattan. It is a dry wind and affects the north by making the days hot and the nights cool by decreasing the humidity. The south is affected only in January. Not so exciting, I hear you say? Well, the culture is definitely exciting. Although Ghana is poor, new money and investment ideas have helped development plans, and are building on a diverse country that mixes traditions from Africa with British influences. There are special foods for religious celebrations (of which there are many because there is no official national Ghanian religion ie. 60% of the population are Christian and 15% are Muslim) and you can try all sorts of foods like Kelewele (Fried Plantains) and Fufu, a thick paste or porridge made from potato flakes and flour mix. The food is exciting, the people are exciting – this new African world is exciting!