Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Ghana
From Peace Corps Wiki
|Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Ghana|
|As a Peace Corps Volunteers, you will have to adapt to conditions that may be dramatically different than you have ever experienced and modify lifestyle practices that you now take for granted. Even the most basic practices— talking, eating, using the bathroom, and sleeping — may take significantly different forms in the context of the host country. If you successfully adapt and integrate, you will in return be rewarded with a deep understanding of a new culture, the establishment of new and potentially lifelong relationships, and a profound sense of humanity.|
| See also:|
For information see Welcomebooks
Few countries in the world offer the level of mail service we have in the United States. If you bring with you U.S. standards for mail service, you will be in for a great deal of frustration. Mail takes two to three weeks to arrive. Advise your family and friends to number their letters and to include “Air Mail” on their envelopes. All packages are opened and inspected at the post office in Accra in the presence of a Peace Corps staff member.
Despite delays, we strongly encourage you to write to your family regularly (perhaps bi-weekly) and to number your letters. Family members will become worried when they do not hear from you, so please advise your parents, friends, and relatives that mail is sporadic and that they should not worry if they do not receive your letters regularly. If a serious problem were to occur, Peace Corps/Ghana would notify the Office of Special Services at the Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C., and family members would be contacted.
Your address during the 10-week pre-service training will be:
- “Your Name,” PCT
- Peace Corps/Ghana
- P.O. Box 5796
- Accra-North, Ghana
- West Africa
Once you have become a Volunteer and are at your site, give your friends and family your new address there, and ask them to send your letters to you directly. Many Volunteers live in a community without a post office. In this case, you will travel to a district or regional capital to pick up and send mail or just get it from one of the Peace Corps Offices (Accra, Kumasi, or Tamale)
Packages can be sent to the Peace Corps/Ghana Accra office address, where they will be held until either you pick them up or staff travel up-country. You can also have the package sent directly to the address at your site, if you have one, or the nearest Peace Corps office. There is always a customs charge for the package, typically between 3-6 cedis, or $2 (U.S.). You will be responsible for reimbursing Peace Corps for the costs of obtaining your package from customs. Typically, it takes about one to three months to receive a package from America.
The address for Peace Corps is below:
- Jane Doe (PCV)
- Peace Corps Ghana
- P.O. Box 5796
- Ghana, West Africa
Preferred Gifts (Avoid liquids and chocolates as they tend to leak or melt in transit):
- Powdered Gatorade
- When you receive it, you will understand why it is absolutely fabulous.
- Coffee or tea packets
- Dried food
- Virtually nonexistent here and perhaps the best way to keep up with current events because the internet is not always the swiftest.
The Ghana telephone agency has offices located in major cities and some smaller towns with direct lines to the United States. You can call collect or use a calling card such as AT&T, MCI or Sprint. The calling card is generally a cheaper option than calling collect. Fax services are available at post offices. Once you are at your site, you can send the fax number to your friends and relatives for easy communication.
Please do not tell friends or family that you will call or e-mail them as soon as you arrive in Ghana. You will not be able to access phones or Internet until after the first couple of days.
Mobile phones are growing in popularity throughout Africa and Ghana is no exception. A Growing number of Ghanaian mobile phone companies provide services that cover most of the country’s major cities and secondary towns. Most Volunteers choose to purchase a mobile phone in Ghana. AT this time most everyone has mobile service in or near their site; while some PCV's do not have coverage in their communities they use the phone when they travel to a larger town. If you choose to bring your own phone be sure that it is a GSM phone and can operate on the systems (900 and 1900 mhz) available in Africa. You can also buy a cheap mobile phone during training for about $50. SIM cards for the various networks around Ghana are readily available and inexpensive. Everyone uses the "pay as you go" option of buying credit from the ubiquitous kiosks selling "scratch cards". Peace Corps will not pay for mobile phones but know that if your site has service it will be expected by your community members that you have a phone.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
There is e-mail access in all major cities and in some towns. These are usually at communications centers (known as com centers). The cost varies, and equipment and connections can be slow.
Electricity in Ghana is 220-240 Volts. Its primary socket types are the British BS-1363 and Indian. See Electrical Plug/Outlet and Voltage Information for Ghana for acceptable plugs, converters, adapters, etc.
Ghana has two major problems with electricity. The first one is that the electricity is not reliable; it turns on and off about four times a week (more during the rainy season) for an average of 5-6 hours at a time. Most outages are planned and conducted by the electrical companies (some companies even announce these outages in advance). The other problem is unpredictable electrical fluctuations. These fluctuations can permanently damage your beloved electronic devices such as computers and refrigerators.
To deal with the first issue, you can do several things. First, you could purchase a UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) which essentially serves as a battery that will allow you to keep electrical devices operating for a short time (like 15 minutes or so). However, UPS's are expensive; like 250 GHS. The next solution is to use a solar charger. However, that requires sunlight. The last solution is to do what most PCV's do: which is sit around and wait! But as you get situated at site, you will begin to notice some patterns. For instance, if the electricity has not been turned off by 10 a.m., then there is a good chance it will remain on the rest of the day. Moreover, the electricity is usually on during the night time. By knowing these things you can plan your electrical usage accordingly.
To deal with voltage fluctuations, you can purchase an AVR (Automated Voltage Regulator) in Ghana which run around 35-50 GHS.
- laptop or netbook
- It is absolutely feasible to bring a laptop or netbook because about 1 in 3 PCVs currently possess one or the other. However, have a mindset that whatever you bring you are willing to part with it. That is because their are many hazards for electronics, especially computers, in Ghana: theft (insurance cannot recover files from your stolen computer), hot and humid climate, electrical fluctuation and surges, dust and other critters. Therefore, bring a computer at your own risk!
- external hard drive
- If you have a computer, it is essential to backup your files in case the worst happens. And if you like movies . . .
- mobile/cell phone
- Cheap cell phones (about $30) can be purchased in Ghana but most phones are knock-offs. Check out the links below to decide if you can use your current phone in Ghana or if you want to buy a new one that is compatible with the frequency in both Ghana and the US. Furthermore, there are no cell phone contracts or locked phones here. You simply buy a chip and pay prepaid minutes as you go, and you can switch chips at any time depending on phone rates and cell phone coverage.
- The Travel Insider discusses the different frequency bands around the world.
- Mobile World Live / Ghana discusses the frequency bands specific to the companies in Ghana.
Laptop or Netbook: Computer viruses are commonplace here in Ghana. Make sure you have the latest anti-virus software. Also protect your computer from viruses spread through pen drives by disabling the Auto-Run function (http://support.microsoft.com/kb/967715).
Housing and Site Location
Housing varies by region, district, community, and by sector.
There are few generalities about housing or site location. Peace Corps Volunteers are placed at the request of the government, Volunteers go where they are needed. Peace Corps/Ghana requires that the community contribute housing and that it meet the minimum standard of at least two rooms (or one room with a porch/sitting area). Housing must be adequately ventilated with a leak-proof roof, a solid floor and walls, access to year-round water supply, latrine, bathing facilities (often a bucket bath), and secure doors and windows. Some Volunteers find their housing goes way beyond these minimums, while others barely meet them.
Peace Corps/Ghana has Volunteers in all 10 regions of the country. Some sites are very remote, while others are in sizable towns or cities. Once you arrive in Ghana, you will be interviewed by the associate Peace Corps director for your project to help guide the final placement decision.
Living Allowance and Money Management
The local currency, the Ghanaian Cedi(GHS), is freely convertible. The exchange rate is determined by market forces and is 1.50 Ghana Cedis to the US Dollar as of February 2011. Check here for the current exchange rate.
Volunteers are expected to live modestly. Do not bring flashy or expensive equipment. Volunteers can live comfortably on the living allowance provided. There is no reason or obligation to bring additional money. Some Volunteers choose to bring about $100 or $200 USD for post-service or vacation travel, or to purchase gifts. Traveler's checks are also a good idea. Some volunteers also bring ATM cards but make sure: it has the Visa logo, you've notified the card issuer of your travels, and verify the expiry date does not fall within your time of service.
As a Volunteer in Ghana, you will receive four types of allowances:
- A living allowance (paid quarterly) in Cedis to cover your basic living expenses.
- A vacation allowance of $24 (U.S.) per month for the upcoming three months is added to your living allowance each quarter. The vacation allowance is converted into Cedis at the prevailing rate on the date the money is ordered.
- A one-time settling-in allowance in Cedis is given after training to buy basic household items when you move into your house at your site.
- If you are requested by the Peace Corps to travel, you will be provided with additional money for transportation, lodging, and meals.
Most Volunteers find they can live comfortably in Ghana with these four allowances. Volunteers are not permitted to supplement their income with dollars brought from home. The living allowance is adequate, and all Volunteers should have no difficulty living modestly. Credit cards are worthless in a rural setting but can be used in a limited number of establishments in Accra and for travel outside of Ghana. Credit card fraud is high throughout West Africa.
Food and Diet
Ghana has a diverse and flavorful cuisine. You will find yourself cooking creatively with items from Ghanaian markets. Many Volunteers take their meals with friends and neighbors; others enjoy inventive cooking for a fusion of American and Ghanaian flavors.
What food is available to you will vary greatly by region/site location. Common meats and other protein include: chicken and eggs, fish (smoked and dried), beef, pork, goat, grass cutter (small wild animal), beans (bambara, red, and white), and ground nuts (peanuts). Common vegetables include: tomatoes (fresh and canned paste), okra, garden eggs (like small eggplant), onions, kontomire (like spinach), hot peppers, red peppers (very hot), and cabbage. Fruits (in season) include: mango, banana, orange, avocado , pawpaw (papaya), coconut, pineapple, and watermelon. Staple foods include: Bread, coco yam, rice, plantain, pasta, sweet potato, yams, cassava, and oatmeal. Spices include: red pepper (not black), curry pepper, salt, cloves, bay leaves, sugar, fresh ginger, and fresh garlic. Also readily available are: white flour, popcorn, oils, corn flour, dry whole milk, soft drinks, coffee, tea, baking powder, vinegar, crackers, cookies, canned whole milk, and maggie cubes (like beef bouillon). Lettuce, potatoes, apples, cucumbers, cheese, and green peppers, are sometimes available but expensive. At or very near site you will have the basic minimum market of tomatoes, onions, pepe, and some basic starch, with quality varying by season.
Bring recipes that include these items. It is very unlikely that you will have an oven, but you can make a Dutch oven and bake almost as well as with a conventional oven.
The main mode of transportation within and around your site is by bicycle. It is very likely that you will ride a bike on a daily basis. Volunteers are provided cash to purchase a bicycle. You must bring a bike helmet with you. Peace Corps/Ghana will reimburse you up to $50 when you arrive for this helmet. Wearing helmets is a requirement. Peace Corps/Ghana prohibits the driving of, or riding on, any two or three-wheeled motorized vehicle. Violation of either of these regulations can be grounds for administrative separation. Volunteers are not allowed to drive cars without the approval of the country director.
For longer distances Volunteers travel by local taxis and tro tros (vans). Longer trips around the country are on large “Greyhound-type” buses. Internal airline service between Accra, Kumasi, and Tamale is provided by two airlines but the cost is out of the range of a Volunteer’s living allowance. For family and friends, many major airlines fly in and out of Accra daily and to other parts of Africa and the world.
Geography and Climate
Ghana, located on the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa, extends about 450 miles from north to south, and 250 miles from east to west (roughly the size of Oregon). Geographically, the country can be divided into three zones: the southern narrow coastal strip of savanna; a broad tropical rain forest extending 150-200 miles north; and the northern savanna area. Lake Volta, formed by the construction of the Akosombo Dam, is the largest manmade lake in the world and is an important geographical feature of the country.
The climate of Ghana is tropical with two main seasons, the dry season from November through March, and the rainy season from May through August. It is hot and dry along the southeast coast. It is hot and humid in the southwest, and dry in the north. During the dry season, the Harmattan affects the northern and southern regions with days of continual cool air, haze, and fine dust.
Volunteers immerse themselves in their communities and take part in the various festivities, weddings, funerals, parties, story telling, local dances, and other interesting activities. Many Volunteers pay special attention to youth and use informal time with them to read, color, play games, sing songs, and do household chores together. Volunteers are encouraged to explore the areas around their community and visit nearby interesting sites during the weekends. Visiting and spending time with people is a primary form of socializing. You will find yourself socializing with friends in their compounds, under a tree, or on a bench for hours on end. Being present is a critical factor in relationship building.
There is a continually changing repository of books at the main Peace Corps office in Accra and at the offices in Tamale and Kumasi.
When you join Peace Corps, you expect it to be difficult.
That’s why you join; to challenge yourself, to give and to grow. You will choose what kind of Volunteer you will be. Will you be the kind who gravitates only to other Volunteers or will you be the kind that goes out of your way to develop strong friendships with Ghanaians? Will Ghana be the backdrop to your American adventure in Africa or wlink titleill Ghana be in the forefront of your experience?
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
One of the difficulties of finding your place as a Peace Corps Volunteer is fitting into the local culture while maintaining your own cultural identity and acting like a professional all at the same time. It is not an easy thing to resolve, and we can only provide you with guidelines.
You will be working as a representative of multiple organizations, and as such you are expected to dress and behave accordingly. While some of your Ghanaian counterparts may dress in seemingly worn or old clothes, this will be due to economics rather than choice. The likelihood is that they are wearing their “best.” A foreigner wearing ragged, un-mended clothing is likely to be considered an affront.
Ghanaians are very meticulous about their dress in the workplace and wear their good clothes. They are particular about their personal hygiene (a real accomplishment in communities of mud-brick houses and no running water), and cleanliness is a sign of respect. Shorts are acceptable around your house after work, but Peace Corps Volunteers must never wear them in public. Above-the-knee length skirts are seen in the cities, but not in small communities. Besides, they are not practical, comfortable, or appropriate when traveling in a crowded bus. Although it is hot here, you can only wear tank tops with small neck and sleeve openings. Tops with “spaghetti-string” straps are only appropriate at the beach, so do not bring too many of these.
You will find that some volunteers adopt the Ghanian attitude about dress and personal appearance while others do not. It is helpful to understand that how you dress on a daily basis will depend on the work you are doing (Environment volunteers are not expected to "go to farm" in their best while Teacher PCV's are expected to dress smartly to school). In addition, cultural attitudes about dress vary from community to community; some villages will be very formal about dress and some will not. However, on the whole, you should realize you will be treated more as a leader if you dress well in your community, no matter the work you are doing and how important that is to you is an individual choice. During travel on public transport, especially in the North, it is especially important to dress well in order to be treated with respect.
Peace Corps’ approach to safety and security is called the acceptance model. You are safest when your neighbors, friends and colleagues look out for you, when you are accepted into the community. More information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is outlined in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be over-emphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk.
All Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal safety problems. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help you reduce risks and enhance your safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in Ghana. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.
Unfortunately, as elsewhere, crime does exist in Ghana. Because you are a foreigner and considered “rich,” your new home may be more prone to break-ins than those of your neighbors. Normal precautions such as not leaving your belongings in plain site will usually reduce most risks. Ghanaians are fastidious about locking up their belongings and you must also be careful. Crime at the village or town level is much less frequent, but risks increase in proportion to population size. In urban areas, you must be security conscious. Fortunately, violent crime is not a severe problem. Ghana is considered comparably safe, although in some situations women should be escorted at night or travel in groups.
Rewards and Frustrations
Many Americans never have the opportunity to live in a place where families and the life of the community are literally the most important things. Many people never truly understand how much people can do with seemingly so little, and what a difference just a little help can make in someone’s life. With their familiar habits and routines gone, Peace Corps Volunteers in Ghana learn to develop new routines and relationships, and in doing so, have life changing experiences. What could be more rewarding?
Most Americans coming to Ghana find the pace of life much slower, and for some this is difficult to adjust to. It is especially difficult when you are trying to meet deadlines that you believe are important while everyone around you seems to be on a different schedule. Relying on unpredictable transport rather than just picking up and leaving when you want to, not being able to make yourself clear when communicating, and finding that you really are responsible for making this experience what it turns out to be, can be overwhelming. At the end of two years however, when you realize what you gained and how you adjusted to a new environment, you will see why it was the experience of a lifetime.