Duration: Four weeks
Ghana, Africa's friendliest nation, the people here are so warm and welcoming, they are ready to take you into their family and share their culture with you. Ghana is a bright and lively place filled with a scintillating atmosphere and wonderful experiences. Though the heat and humidity can take some getting used too, a trip here is a rewarding.
This article is about my trip to Ghana, for four weeks I was a part of the Project's Abroad medical programme in Kumasi, gaining valuable work experience at a local hospital and working with children in local schools and the local orphanage. Of course I also had free time and I'll be mentioning my excursions and offering some guidance.
Though I came to enjoy the opportunity to work with the children and treat their ailments I was initially very overwhelmed. On my second day in Kumasi I was taken to a local school to meet the rest of the volunteers on my programme and to help out. I felt as though I was thrown in at the deep end, I was simply expected to get on with treating the children, I have no real medical knowledge so was absolutely terrified. The children crowded around and you see one at a time treating whatever comes up, from open wounds to eczema and even ringworm! Thankfully the rest of team guided me and I got the hang of things in the end. This part of my work experience was called the outreach programme and I participated in this two days a week, always at a different place. Though it was stressful at the time I now realise how much it enlightened me, you expect Medicine to be straight forward yet it is actually ever changing, you rarely do the same thing everyday and its invaluable to have experience in such a demanding situation.
Working in the hospital was an entirely different experience, this was more of an observation role and I wasn't really allowed to do much other than follow the doctors and observe them treating the patients. However I did get to see a few surgeries which is something you simply don't get the opportunity to do in the UK so this was a privilege and something I very much enjoyed. I'm sure by now you can tell that I'm interested in studying Medicine and for me surgery is something I could see myself doing, though the realities are very different I was eager to put myself in this situation and see how I coped and I was pleased to find that I didn't feel queasy and that it was something I was able to do.
I should also mention here that I was lucky enough to see a baby being born, the miracle of life being brought into the world really is something to behold, the experience is hard to put into words but this was a privilege to observe.
Though it is true that medics and wannabe medial students alike work hard we also play hard so I will take this opportunity to describe some of the adventures I had when granted free time.
One of the most rewarding places to visit in Ghana is Mole national park, it is a must see and really worth the trip. This is a wildlife sanctuary home to many animals including antelope, monkeys and warthogs, but most famously elephants. More than anything I was so excited to see elephants, it was such an amazing experience to see these majestic creatures in their natural habitat something that I will hopefully remember for a very long time. There are different types of safari excursions available; you can travel by minibus or do a walking safari for both of these you are split into groups which each group given an armed guard for safety purposes. Whilst I did both I would recommend the walking safari as this enables you to get a lot closer to the animals but then again both were great experiences. Supposably there was also a small herd of Lions at the park though I didn't get to see them and I'm still not sure if it would have been a delightful experience or a terrifying one! I was surprised to hear that they are nocturnal, I just assumed that they would be out in the day as it's not unusual to see them during the day on safari programmes on the television.
Another national park that is well worth a visit is Kakum, it has the most amazing treetop walk, whilst it is quite a hike to get to and you really ought to get up rather early in order to appreciate it at its best it really is worth it. I'm actually rather scared of heights and was quite apprehensive about the whole thing but the views are fantastic and I'm so glad that I went though with it as it really is quite a unique and unforgettable experience.
On a side note travelling day to day in Ghana can be quite a hassle, there tends to be only one main road (if you can call is that it's usually rather bumpy) that everyone uses and the locals genuinely aren't in much of hurry to get places. When I was working at the hospital I would leave my host families home at around 6am and usually get there anytime between 9:30am and 10:30am.
While English is the official language of Ghana you may be interested in learning some local dialect, it’s not essential to be able to get around but it can be useful. There are a great many different dialects spoken across Ghana so I would advise researching where you will be staying if you're interested in learning some local phrases.
The main dishes are spicy stews with fish or meat and rice or a kind of dough ball/dumpling called FuFu. I found that food in Ghana tends to be rather spicy on the whole which isn't for everyone but rest assured you can find quite a variety of Western food and snacks in local stores. Speaking of snacks if you get the chance to try them they sell plantain chips which are basically crisps made from bananas and these are delicious.
The currency in Ghana is called cedi, this is very hard to get a hold of so I recommend waiting until you are actually there. There are plenty of banks and ATM's available in town centres. I will advise you though that the ATM's can be temperamental, sometimes the first one you try will work and other times you will have to try all available ones and some even twice before you can get money out. I don't know why this happens but I promise you that if you persevere you'll get there in the end.
I highly recommend that you invest in a decent travel guide as it can be difficult to get on to the internet, to find various information for travel destinations, hotels/inns etc. In particular this guide; 'Ghana' by Philip Briggs, is very useful. I would also advise that you look into getting vaccinations well in advance not just for Ghana but any travel destination as some vaccination courses are several weeks long. Additionally if you're going to a country where Malaria is an issue you will need to buy antimalarial tablets which you can't get on the NHS so shop around for a good price. Another piece of advise; get a decent malaria net one that is easy to set up and use, if you're staying with a host family this will probably be provided but you'll need one for travelling and staying in hotels/inns.
Currently to volunteer with Project's Aboard In Ghana it costs £1,695 for a month on their medical programme which is what I experienced. This includes accommodation cost, food, travel to and from the airport and both travel and medical insurance. However it does not include the cost of flights and you will need money for extras such as snacks and possibly lunch, though you are put up with a host family not all your meals are necessarily included and of course you'll need money for excursions/trips and anything else you wish to purchase while there.
Happy travelling! :D