Being ready to volunteer in Ghana

A sponge

The amount of dust one accumulates in their lungs, nose, ears, on their skin and pretty much everywhere is very hard to estimate. But by 3pm, if you rub a finger against the bare skin of your neck layers of dirt will start to show. If you have access to a shower, use it daily. If you have to use a bucket of water, then do so daily by washing yourself thoroughly. You will feel better, look cleaner and are less likely to get skin rashes, fungi, etc.

A radio

Note: Banana is just to give you an idea of the scale and is not a necessary accessory for tuning in to the airwaves.

It's important to keep tuned into local and national FM stations so you have a clue about matters that interest the general public, your neighbours, etc. and keep in touch with the news from bordering countries. Especially in Ghana, people like to and can openly speak about politics. In other countries you may want to keep a tighter lip – use your two ears and one mouth in that proportion. A lot of the radio stations, as with newpapers, are partisan and openly so. Listen and read from both or indeed all sides of the fence so you get a feel for the type of language they use to condemn each other.

Furthermore, with short wave you can keep a track on the BBC's Network Africa and Focus on Africa as well as general international news.

Sunday is reserved for God in Ghana and I suspect the same can be said for many countries in west Africa, so you can use the 7th day to recharge the batteries.

Toilet roll

When you are on a journey in the sweltering heat, your water bottle or sachet is empty, and your stomach is feeling queasy, toilet roll can come in very handy. Keep in mind there will be no stop offs at roadside garages that have electric flushes and scented roll from Kleenex. Plaintain, banana leaves are an alternative, as is your neighbour's newspaper (use the page with advertisements on it and he/she won't mind). In addition, the dust you accumulate in your ears and nose over one day of daily business here is equal to 2 weeks in the moderate climate of Europe. Unless you work in a dusty concrete factory. So blow and clean regularly. Try to get your hands on locally produced recycled paper. In Ghana it is called Rose and a pack of 10 cost between GHC2.50-2.70 or 1.50 euro.

An adaptor, intelligent voltage protector (and maybe a stabiliser)

To prevent your head being wrecked when your 2 pin round head plug does not fit the socket, make sure you come fully equipped or purchase the above once you get here. It may save you a lot of headaches and financial cost as the voltage fluctuates terribly at times and your chargers, equipment may be damaged in the process.

A brush

Not the one for your hair - guys, you are better off without any in this heat and dust. Girls, remember long, flowing (and especially blonde, fair) hair drives men crazy here. Tie it up, cut it off or let it become scraggy! Back to topic- I'm talking about a clothes brush. A scrubber to get all the dirt on your clothes is a must purchase. Then, as Tom Cruise famously said in a brutal Irish accent in the film Far and Away - "Plunge and scrub".

As regards hair brushes, I know little to the extent of their necessity as I have been in recession for quite some time. One thing is for certain though ladies, you will lose hair here due to the dryness and water quality. So get mammy to send you over some replenishing shampoo or shop till you drop in the local market – unfortunately, you may not find what you are looking for as hair materials tend to be mostly focussed on hair straightening. The majority of women in Ghana, at least, wear wigs and extensions. Afros are out sadly. The politics of African women europeanising their hair was recently covered by the Pan-Africanist publication New African in their December 2008 edition and is well worth a read.

A bucket

For washing your clothes in, splashing your face, flushing the toilet, to fill your kettle with water so you can sterilise and clean your utensils properly, to put on your head and pretend you are New Kelly, etc. etc. It's uses are endless. Turn it upside down and you have an extra seat. If you drink too much beer or get malaria you can puke in it. I think you get the idea. It really is a must as running tap water may not be in such a convenient place for you. You may be living some distance from running water if you are a volunteer on an under-resourced project or in a rural area, so be prepared. Barter hard and you'll get a gallon capacity bucket for GHC 3 or less than 2 euro.

A mosquito net

To avoid contracting malaria or more likely nasty, itchy bites that will keep you up all night. You can get them easily here and they don't cost much. Mend holes as soon as they appear and regularly spray with anti-mosq. permethrin or just ensure you have a Permanet.

Bowl, spoon, cup

A lot of food is eaten by the right hand (the left is reserved post-food digestion purposed) but every now and again your stomach will not be feeling the best so it's wise to have the basics in stock. You probably won't have access to a fridge so you gotta eat all you prepare and don't forget to be a disciplined washer or cockroaches and ants will become your best friend. You can also impress locals with your sponn playing musical talents.


So you can interact with local kids. It's the best way to break ice with their family at large and also to learn the native language. A football costs little but you would be amazed at the emount of kids playing with flat balls as regular hand pumps are not so accessible nor cheap. On sale rather are the larger pumps which cost at least 5 euro, hence the flat balls will you find everywhere. Valves are also hard to get at times so buy one when you come across and mind it. Table tennis is also popular amongst both genders, as is pool, though this is somewhat more a male in the bar scene.

Brush (local reeds tied together) & dustpan (cardboard)

To brush your floor daily. The dust that builds on window shutters, floor, everywhere you can possibly imagine is surprising. So brush and dump regularly for your own health. You can get them for very cheap in the local market or else just make one for yourself from your natural surroundings. Brush your floor regularly to ward off creatures from thinking your territory is part of the wild. And when you come across cardboard remember it can be used to make all sorts of things apart from dustpans - think boxes, bedside locker, educational posters, twister, etc.

Pee bottles

Snakes in the bush should be enough to remind you that peeing under the cover of darkness in he wilderness is not always the bravest or brightest thing to do. Relieve yourself inside, putting it safely aside for disposal the next morning. It also means you're less likely to get mosquito bites as you won't need to venture out unnecessarily while it is their dinner time. If you do, put on lots of repellent or wear long clothing. One bite from that anepholes mosquito can cause a hell of a lot of pain.


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