We chose uVolunteer over other organizations we researched for two main reasons: 1) They offered greater flexibility in terms of scheduling our project. The uVolunteer model does not depend on team leaders, who in turn depend on a minimum number of volunteers before the trip is confirmed. 2) The price was much more affordable than other programs. For those of us flying from the USA to Ghana, the airfare is already very steep, and a higher program fee might have put the project out of reach for us.
Our experience in Ghana was very much along the lines of what I imagined it would be. The uVolunteer website was starting point for setting expectations, and the organization was very good about informing us of project information as the info became available, so there was really no serious gap between expectations and our experience.
One area of note that exceed my expectations, however, was the wonderful orientation Tate and I were put through. I expected the orientation to be cursory at best, but we were treated to a very professional three days of introduction to the country, and some of the experiences from the orientation (the waterfall, the meat market, the night out) rank high on my list of memories. We were quickly injected into Ghanaian society, but in such a way that was comfortable.
The project at Shai Hills was a lot of fun. The management there did not really have a list of things for volunteers to do (which is pretty much what I expected), so we took the initiative and identified a couple of projects for us to tackle, which carried us through the two weeks. We re-wrote the descriptions of the park’s activities which are placed on the reception area bulletin boards, and reformatted some of the templates in Excel for easier use bymanagement. Our original expectation was that we’d be doing mostly manual labor around the park, but it soon became clear that management preferred we focus on things that the existing staff could not easily do, such as the above-mentioned projects. The management seemed to be very appreciative of our efforts.
Our homestay was in the northern camp at Shai Hills, where we had our own quarters in a compound with 5 other families. Our interaction with these families in the early mornings and evenings provided a rich and enjoyable dimension to our experience. Everyone took us under their wing and were exceptionally friendly to us. One consideration for future volunteers is the occasional difficulty in the mornings getting a tro-tro from our camp to the main entrance; a single female volunteer, for example, might be better off placed in the camp nearer the park office. Having said that, I am pleased we ended up where we did, and the dynamic in our compound – with the families, the kids, etc – is not something I would have wanted to trade for closer proximity.
On the 3-day weekend break, we travelled to Cape Coast and Elmina, and visited Kakum and the Monkey Sanctuary as well. It was a fast-paced trip, with a lot of time spent in tro-tros!
I will take back many wonderful memories of the country and the people we lived and interacted with. We hope we contributed in a meaningful way to SHRR, where we already feel invested in the future of the park and its employees. For me one favorite memory of the project was when ostriches were brought from the Accra zoo to be introduced to SHRR, where the staff was not experienced with caring and feeding the birds…as a former ostrich rancher in Texas, I was able to advise the staff on ostrich management practices, which gave me a chance to feel useful.
In summary, I honestly don’t believe I could have scripted a better experience for what I had in mind for Tate (and myself, for that matter). I will be forever grateful to Nat and uVolunteer to making this opportunity available to us.