Volunteering Abroad in Psychology: Dylan’s Journey in Ghana

First Impressions while volunteering

When I stepped out of the airport in Ghana, I was greeted by intense heat and humidity. Even at 11:00 p.m., the city felt lively and chaotic. However, amidst the chaos, the people were warm and friendly, a big part of Ghanaian culture.

My first impression of the charity began before I arrived, with Moses the volunteer manager, who was incredibly helpful, accommodating, and supportive. He communicated regularly and made sure everything was organised to suit my needs. The welcoming messages and instructions I received via WhatsApp before my arrival also contributed to a positive first impression, making me feel prepared and welcomed.

Upon arrival in Ghana, Albert, who picked me up from the airport, made a significant impact. He was excellent at communicating, with a strong grasp of the English language, and his warm presence made me feel very comfortable. Albert was very good at describing Ghanaian culture and acted almost like a tour guide on the way to the village. I quickly formed a connection with him and have a lot of respect for him. Overall, my initial impressions of the organization were very positive. They seemed well-organized, welcoming, and dedicated to ensuring a smooth and supportive experience for their volunteers.

"Understanding the different determinants of happiness will greatly enhance my work as a psychologist. It has broadened my perspective and equipped me with a more holistic approach to mental health, which is crucial in addressing the complex factors that contribute to well-being."
Dylan Desai-Rogers
Psychology Volunteer in Ghana, Dec- Jan 2024

Settling In to the Volunteer ACCOMMODATION

I was pleasantly surprised with the accommodation. The bedroom was nice, and although there was no air conditioning, the powerful fan made it comfortable. The house was modern and spacious, and the bed was comfortable. Initially, I didn’t see much because I arrived late at night, but the next day, I noticed the surrounding poverty, which was more apparent in daylight. Despite this, the accommodation itself was clean and comfortable, and the bathroom and shower facilities were good.

During my time there, it was just me and one other volunteer, Connor, from San Francisco. This was due to the New Year period. Connor and I got along really well. He was a similar age to me, and we had similar thoughts and intentions for being there. It was great to share the experience with someone I could relate to. We still keep in touch, and I hope our paths cross again in the future.

Meaningful Experiences

During my program, I spent time at an orphanage, the Village hospital, and the nearby Psychiatric Hospital. There were many things that stood out to me, but here are three highlights:

  1. Resilience and Inner Peace of the Children: The resilience and inner peace of the children at the orphanage were remarkable. This resilience, built through challenging lived experiences, genetic temperament, and a strong belief in Christianity, serves as a significant protective factor for their mental health. Their faith contributes greatly to their inner peace and joy, teaching me valuable lessons about strength and spirituality.
  2. One-on-One Relationships: Establishing one-on-one relationships with the children at the orphanage was another highlight. Conducting individual sessions, which felt like informal psychology sessions, allowed me to hear their stories, discuss their feelings about various challenging experiences, and understand their aspirations for the future. This interaction was incredibly meaningful and significant to my experience in Ghana.
  3. Work at the Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Center: Spending time at the drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in the Psychiatric Hospital was also impactful. Although my time there was limited as I was only in Ghana for a few weeks, I was able to sit in on meetings, answer questions, and do talks discussing the neurochemistry of drug addiction and recovery. This experience was invaluable in understanding the complexities of addiction and the importance of supporting individuals through their recovery journey.

Working with the Children

My time at the foundation and with the kids was really rewarding. The kids at the orphanage were incredible. They were super welcoming, had a great sense of humour, and laughed a lot. Connecting with them was easy, and I was impressed by their resilience and spirited nature, given the tough circumstances they’ve faced. 

Spending one-on-one time with them was eye-opening. Hearing their stories, talking about their feelings, and discussing their goals was impactful. These kids have been through a lot, but they handle it with strength and positivity. It’s inspiring. 

The orphanage does a great job supporting them, which makes a big difference. Overall, the kids were the best part of my experience. It was a privilege to get to know them and be part of their world, even if just for a short time.

Professional Growth as a Psychologist

My time in the health clinics was quite varied and insightful. At the Village Hospital, I encountered a range of medical issues, some of which were more abstract. One memorable case involved a woman who believed she was possessed/cursed, which was challenging to navigate. The emergency ward was challenging, and I had to quickly adapt to offering support in a fast-paced environment. There wasn’t any time to do an initial interview and case formulate with the expectation to provide therapeutic value in a matter of minutes.

At the Psychiatric Hospital, I spent time in the drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, sitting in on meetings and answering questions from patients. It was interesting to see the similarities in issues faced by people there compared to those in Western societies, such as relationship breakdowns and feelings of abandonment leading to substance abuse. One of the highlights at the psychology clinic was meeting and working with a clinical psychologist and two provisional psychologists. I joined their supervision sessions, which was a fantastic learning opportunity. The cases included a range of psychotic presentations, such as schizophrenia and drug addiction. It was interesting to see their approach and to contribute my own insights. 

Overall, my time in both settings was eye-opening and educational. Each setting had its unique challenges, but both provided valuable experiences that deepened my understanding of the different ways mental health and medical issues are addressed in Ghana.

Building Lasting PROFESSIONAL AND PERSONAL Relationships

The main experience that stands out is the relationships I established with people who are doing amazing things in Ghana. Establishing a relationship with Seth was particularly valuable. I became quite sick during my stay and had to be hospitalized for a few days. Seth visited me every single day, and even after I was discharged, he arranged for me to stay in a hotel with air conditioning to help with my recovery. His genuine altruism and willingness to help without expecting anything in return were incredibly touching. Seth is truly an exceptional person.

Monica was another incredible person I met. I have immense respect for the work she does and her vibrant personality. She was a significant support during my time at the orphanage and made my experience there much more meaningful. Nimrod also stood out for his unwavering support. During my hospital stay, he literally slept in the other bed in my room for the entire duration. He brought me fruits and other things I needed and was always there for me. His dedication and kindness were something I will always be grateful for. Additionally, Albert provided tremendous support and helped me navigate the cultural landscape. Having the support of Monica, Seth, Albert, and Nimrod was the absolute highlight of my trip.

Forming relationships at the Psychiatric Hospital was also significant. I am still in contact with the supervisor and the two provisional psychologists I worked with. These professional connections were highly rewarding and enriching. 

Lastly, building relationships with the children at the orphanage was incredibly moving. Their resilience and spirited nature left a lasting impression on me. Overall, the relationships I formed with these remarkable people were the highlight of my experience in Ghana.

Practical Advice FOR OTHER VOLUNTEERS

For those considering volunteering in Ghana, here are some practical tips:

  1. Packing and Essentials: Ensure you have the right power adapters for Africa. Be very careful with the water and avoid ingesting tap water if possible. Pack light, loose clothing suitable for a hot and humid climate. Apply sunscreen daily and stay hydrated. Carry enough cash as ATMs are scarce in village areas.

  2. Organizing Your Trip: Plan your weekends in advance and make your plans clear to the local team. Bring a good bug spray and a small bum bag for day trips.

  3. General Advice: Be prepared to step out of your comfort zone. Respect local customs and be open to meeting new people. Disconnect from your phone and make the most of your time there.

Lessons Learned durning the psychology placement abroad

The most educational aspect of my trip was not related to traditional academic or evidence-based psychological training. Instead, it was the profound lesson about the importance of faith. I learned that faith, whether religious or general, plays a crucial role in people’s lives. In Ghana, I saw firsthand how having faith that things will work out and maintaining hope during difficult times can provide incredible strength and resilience. This was the single biggest lesson I learned during my experience there.

The most life-changing aspect was the relationships I formed. Establishing connections with people like Seth, Monica, Albert, and Nimrod had a significant impact on me. Their unwavering support, kindness, and dedication were deeply moving. The children at the orphanage also left a lasting impression on me with their spirited nature and resilience. These relationships taught me the value of community, support, and genuine human connection. They changed my perspective on life and the importance of being there for others.

Overall, my experience volunteering in Ghana was incredibly rewarding and enriching. The hands-on experience, the relationships I formed, and the lessons I learned will stay with me forever. If you are considering volunteering, I highly recommend it. It is a unique opportunity to travel, learn, and make a difference in the lives of others.

Volunteer programmes tailored to psychology students

Planning your international volunteering placement can seem daunting but we’ll be with you every step of the way.

We’re a small charity that picks its partner projects carefully. This means we can tailor our programmes to fit your skills and goals.

The best way to get started is to fill out our enquiry form. We’ll send you all the information you need to plan your very own volunteer placement.

Start Your Volunteer Journey