Alex Oberholzer - Medicine in Ghana
Ghana is the perfect gateway for first-time volunteers in West Africa. The welcoming people, lush jungle, and extensive travel circuit provide an ideal environment for any placement. Having lived in Ho for 3 months as a medical volunteer, I can wholeheartedly recommend the experience.
Ho’s title of largest and busiest city in the Volta Region can be somewhat misleading, but one should not let this deter them from volunteering in this hidden treasure. Ho does not boast an extravagant nightlife or tourist attractions, but the friendly people and stunning landscape easily make up for this. One could easily find a worse way to spend a day than wandering through the Asigame (market), or hiking through the vast forests and mountains surrounding Ho. Not to mention, there are always football games to play. The peacefulness that encapsulates this beautiful place has given me a deep appreciation for the bliss of simply being.
Living with a host family provides the rare opportunity to become a part of the community and really learn/embrace Ghanaian culture. This brought me more satisfaction than anything else during my stay. One could not possibly get the same insider’s perspective without living in a host family. I highly recommend socialising with co-workers, locals, and family as much as possible; invite them to a night out at White House Restaurant with other volunteers or, my favourite, sit in playing with a local band. These people made my first few weeks of adapting to unfamiliar territory quite easy as well.
If I had one word to describe work placements in Ghana I would choose laid-back. The work hours and schedules are at the doctor’s discretion and vary greatly. It is a much different approach to productivity than in the West to say the least. This can be frustrating in the first few weeks, but relax and things seem to fall into place. I am definitely more patient than ever, thank you Ghana. A suggestion I offer to future volunteers is to lay the groundwork for your goals as a volunteer before arriving. Preparation for your initial meeting with the health director ensures your time in Ghana is maximally beneficial to both you and your placement. Also, do not be afraid to ask the doctors questions as they are always more than eager to help and teach.
The relaxed style of work lends to flexible accommodation for travelling; whether I wanted to take a long weekend to enjoy the beaches along the coast, or an entire week to visit the elephants at Mole National Park in the north, my placement was always more than happy to help (provided I took pictures to share upon my return).
The health clinics that Projects Abroad organised were always a highlight of my week. We provided free health care for local villages and schools at these weekly medical outreaches. We typically spent the morning administering medication and getting to know the community; I was able to give/take much from the cultural exchanges I encountered with the inhabitants. I am forever grateful for these life-changing experiences.
Without a doubt, volunteering in Ho is something that I will cherish for the rest of my life. I come away from this fantastic experience excited about my new friends and the broadening of my views. I will especially miss the smiling children running to me each morning on my way to the hospital. I leave Ghana with only one question: Not if, but when will I be back?