Summer Serve & Learn: Frequently Asked Questions
I am interested in volunteering with GHEI. How do I know if GHEI is a good fit?
Read through our website to learn about our vision, our mission, and our values. Pay special attention to information in the Summer Serve & Learn section and read through this FAQ section if you are still unsure. Please feel free to submit a question below if you have any other specific questions.
What is the application process like?
Applications are considered on a rolling basis beginning on November 1, 2018. Applicants are encouraged to apply early as placement preference will be given to early applicants.
After December 15, 2018, we begin extending offers to accepted applicants, who are given one week to accept or decline GHEI’s offer. This is done to allow ample time for fundraising, travel reservations, and general preparations for the trip.
If you are offered a position, you will be required to send in a non-refundable deposit of 750 USD (which goes toward your fundraising requirement). You will also receive a waiver form after your acceptance. We ask that you send in the remainder of the funds that you raise as soon as possible and no later than May 15, 2019.
What are you looking for in applicants?
We expect our volunteers to demonstrate the following qualities:
Maturity and respect for others and other cultures
An understanding that the primary purpose for volunteering with GHEI should be to learn about the local community and the work of a grassroots NGO
An ability to work as part of a team
An open mind, and a flexible and adventurous spirit
Potential for long-term involvement with GHEI
Readiness to laugh and to work hard
What preparations will I have to make prior to travel?
You will need to arrange the follow logistics:
Purchase plane tickets
Purchase travel insurance
Obtain a passport and a tourist VISA to Ghana
Go to a travel physician and get all required immunizations and malaria prophylaxis. Please visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention for the most up-to-date travel information.
Send in the remainder of your fundraising requirement
Can I apply for more than one summer session?
Yes. However, if you participate in two sessions you will still have to meet the fundraising requirement for two whole sessions.
Do I need to have any qualifications and/or training to participate in any of the programs? Do I need to be a student?
Training is not required, though we ask that volunteers be aged 18 years and older when applying. Volunteers come from various social, economic, and professional backgrounds with different ages, nationalities, interests, and experiences. They are all connected by a common passion for supporting locally-based development work in rural Africa.
Are there any restrictions to being a volunteer?
The only restriction pertains to the Girls’ Empowerment Camp as it involves discussion of sensitive topics such as family planning, reproductive health, and safe sex with girls from the community. In order to foster an environment where the girls feel safe and at ease to ask questions as well as for cultural appropriateness, we encourage only female applicants to apply for this session.
However, all qualified applicants, regardless of gender/gender identity, are encouraged to apply to the other Summer Serve & Learn sessions.
Who will I work with in Ghana?
Volunteers will live and work with fellow Summer Serve & Learn volunteers for the duration of their stay. They will also work alongside local staff members to plan and implement daily activities. The local and international staff members will coordinate all logistics including travel, meals, and project planning. You will get to meet all members of GHEI and experience the broad collaborative nature of the way we work.
Where will I be working in Ghana?
GHEI’s headquarters rests in the village in Humjibre, in Ghana’s Bibiani-Anhwiaso-Bekwai District. Humjibre is a rural farming community, with a population of more than 4,500 people. Since our establishment, GHEI has expanded to also work in three of Humjibre’s smaller neighboring communities: Kojina, Muoho and Soroano. These communities are all located in the humid, sub-tropical Western Region of Ghana.
Is it possible to communicate in English?
Most people in the village will speak some level of English, since English is Ghana’s national language. You do not need to speak any language other than English to effectively participate in this program. Many people in Humjibre are fluent in English, but all will feel more comfortable speaking in one of the local languages, Twi or Sefwi. If the language barrier is ever a problem, there will always be somebody to step in and help. The people here are incredibly friendly! Twi lessons are also offered during each volunteer session, so you will feel comfortable exchanging greetings and basic conversation in the local language.
What is the approximate timeline for each session?
For the first Community Health Evaluation session:
Day 1-2: Arrive and stay in Accra for a day trip, Ghana
Day 3: Travel to Humjibre. Unpack and begin settling into village life
Day 4: Village tour and GHEI orientation
Day 5-14: Plan and implement Serve and Learn project with cultural activities interspersed
Day 15: Travel to Kumasi to visit Kejetia Market and the National Cultural Center
Day 16: Travel through Cape Coast, stopping at the Cape Coast Castle on to Accra
Day 17: Depart from Accra, Ghana
For the second Community Health session and Girls' Empowerment Camp:
Day 1-2: Arrive and stay in Accra for a day trip, Ghana
Day 3: Travel to Humjibre. Unpack and begin settling into village life
Day 4: Village tour and GHEI orientation and welcome presentation by the local participants of the camp
Day 5-18: Plan and implement Serve and Learn project with cultural activities interspersed
Day 19: Travel to Kumasi to visit Kejetia Market and the National Cultural Center
Day 20: Travel through Cape Coast, stopping at the Cape Coast Castle on to Accra
Day 21: Depart from Accra, Ghana
What is the difference between the first and second Community Health sessions?
The second longer session will delve deeper into community health and allow volunteers to gain an in-depth understanding of maternal and child health and malaria prevention. Volunteers will collect more data, read more documents, and spark more conversations.
Who will help me organize a game plan prior to my arrival in Ghana?
You will be assisted by your session’s Volunteer Coordinator, who will be on site with volunteers. You will also have the support of the team in Ghana, former volunteers, and coordinators who manage the application process.
How much of an impact will I have on the village?
Over several years of work, GHEI has had a positive impact on the health and education of people in Humjibre and the surrounding communities. The work we do each day moves us closer to our overall vision. Each volunteer contributes to our overall mission and can make a small but distinct impact on the lives of people in Humjibre. The fundraising that each volunteer participates in prior to arrival in Humjibre is also crucial in supporting GHEI’s programming throughout the year.
Perhaps the greater impact is on many of our volunteers, who feel that they have had a life-changing experience. The inspiration of starting a partnership with Humjibre and forming GHEI came from one person’s relatively brief volunteer experience in Ghana. For many people, volunteering in the developing world changes their life and career paths dramatically.
Does GHEI have any rules that volunteers are expected to follow?
Yes. Volunteers represent GHEI as well as their home countries. If a volunteer does not respect the community, GHEI’s efforts are severely compromised.
GHEI has a NO GIFT policy that is absolutely crucial to GHEI’s success. Please consider our reasoning for this policy:
If volunteers give gifts, those who work closely with GHEI will naturally receive more gifts than other people in the village. This can cause conflict among community members and volunteers. If you give a gift to one person, it is virtually impossible to keep others from knowing.
Gifts create an unhealthy expectation from local people. Individuals come to expect material help instead of our skills that help the entire community. Rather than giving gifts, it is GHEI’s mission to build local capacity and support people in growing to be better able to provide for themselves.
This does not mean that you cannot help the community with in-kind donations. Please feel free to leave items with GHEI, and we will ensure they benefit the community as a whole. We believe that the greatest gifts you can give are your skills and your commitment to helping the community in the long run. We simply ask that you respect of our no gift policy while in Humjibre.
GHEI also has a NO SMOKING/DRUGS policy as these actions may lead the youth in the village to participate in these activities.
Why does GHEI have a fundraising requirement?
We ask volunteers who believe in our mission to raise funds for GHEI so that we can continue our high quality programs. We are proud that we are able to coordinate programs with volunteer involvement. Moreover, we are proud of all of our volunteers for their demonstrated commitment to our mission.
How much is the fundraising requirement?
The fundraising requirement per person is 2,100 USD for the first Community Health Evaluation session. For the second Community Health Evaluation session and Girls' Empowerment Camp, the fundraising requirement is 2,550 USD per person since these sessions are longer Many volunteers choose to raise more than the minimum, which helps GHEI as an organization tremendously. Volunteers have raised as much as US$15,000 in the past.
Is the fundraising requirement tax deductible? Are my travel expenses tax deductible?
All donations are deductible in the US where GHEI is registered as an NGO. Additionally, according to the IRS, your travel expenses while volunteering are tax deductible “only if there is no significant element of personal pleasure, recreation, or vacation in the travel.”
Will GHEI provide for travel expenses, housing and meals during the session?
Yes, GHEI provides transport to and from the Kotoko International Airport, housing, and lunch and dinner during the entirety of your time in Ghana.
How are funds raised by volunteers allocated?
Funds go to general operation costs including local staff salaries, community center maintenance, training local staff, scholarships, all health and education programming, and a multitude of other basic costs that are standard when operating an NGO. Volunteer fundraising has also helped us build our community center and library in the past.
Is there any financial support provided for the volunteer’s plane ticket or other costs of volunteering?
No. Unfortunately, we have no external funding to provide this service.
What has worked for other volunteers for fundraising?
After you have accepted our offer of a position, GHEI will supply you with a fundraising guide and offer fundraising advice and support, if needed. In the past, volunteers have held fundraisers at their schools, homes, workplaces, local bars/restaurants, churches, and etc. Some have held larger events like silent auctions. Many have fundraised successfully by writing to family and friends or by using crowd funding platforms, like CrowdRise or GoFundMe.
Will I make my own flight reservations?
Yes. Volunteers are responsible for making their own flight reservations and should all arrive in Accra on the stated date listed on the website. If you want to leave with the group and be accompanied to the airport, you should book your departure for the end date listed on the website as well. You will receive more specific instructions after you are accepted into the program. You are also welcome to arrive early or depart after the last day of the session if you intend on traveling before returning home. GHEI, however, is unable to assist with this portion of your travels though.
Who will pick me up at the airport? Where do we go from the airport?
One of GHEI’s staff members will meet you at the airport in the arrivals area after you clear customs. Typically, Mensah Gyapong will pick up volunteers for the Community Health Evaluation sessions while Enock Happy Nkrumah will pick up those in the Girls' Empowerment Camp. The GHEI staff member will take you to a hotel in Accra where you will stay that evening and the next day. You and the group will leave for Humjibre early on the third day.
Do you have any information about travel/health insurance?
GHEI requires that you purchase travel and evacuation insurance that covers you during your entire stay in Ghana. Travel agents have information on travel insurance providers or you can but it online. Some providers are Medjet, SOS, Mondial Assistance, Travel Guard International, and STA Travel.
I am interested in doing some traveling. What do you recommend?
GHEI Serve and Learn Volunteers will be traveling to two of the most amazing points on a traveler's itinerary in Ghana: the haunting Cape Coast Castle, where millions of slaves were held and shipped to the Americas during the slave trade, and to the sprawling Kejetia Market in Kumasi, by many reports the largest open air market in West Africa, and a dizzying amount of beautiful fabrics and so much more.
Many enjoy visiting Kakum National Park near Cape Coast and other slave castles along the coast such as in Elmina and Axim. These can be easily seen in two or three days after your stay in Humjibre and accessed by public transport. A bit further away, there are beautiful isolated beaches west of Cape Coast, various eco-tourism sites and the north offers the opportunity to see elephants and other animals at Mole National Park as well as different cultures. The Bradt guide to Ghana is an excellent resource. Your GHEI volunteer coordinator and staff can help you with trip ideas if this is something you are interested in pursuing.
What type of visa do I need?
You will need a Tourist Visa. For information about the visa and to obtain an application form, please visit the website of Ghanian Embassy in your country. For US nationals, please visit the Ghanaian Embassy in Washington DC's website or one from a private visa company like visacentral.com or travisa.com. There are a number of options for how to go about getting your visa and the sooner you look into it, the more prepared you will be as they have different turnaround times.
If you are planning on traveling to any other countries with the intent of returning to Ghana, you should obtain a multiple entry visa.
Where will I live?
You will live in the GHEI volunteer house in Humjibre. The house is built in the style of a Habitat for Humanity house. It consists of two large bedrooms, a smaller room serving as the hallway/dining room, and an outside patio. The house has electricity, and each room is equipped with power sockets and ceiling fans.
Will the house have running water?
There is no running water in Humjibre, however, we have a running water system on the GHEI compound. We have our own well, and a pump that fills a 500 gallon polyethylene tank. We do not recommend drinking water directly from the tank, well, or pump. Drinking water can be bought in small and purified 500ml bags in the village market and will be provided for you.
What are the washrooms like? Are there showers or toilets? Is there a kitchen?
A separate utility block next to the volunteer house contains a kitchen, which is equipped with a refrigerator and a propane gas stove for cooking.The toilet and shower room is just past the kitchen block and contains three flush toilets and three showers, which is a rare commodity in Humjibre. When you are in a nearby town or traveling in Ghana, most toilet facilities will be a latrine and bucket showers. Please note that shower water is not heated, but you can boil water on the stove for a bucket shower if you'd like to take a hot shower.
Drinking Water & Food
Is the water safe to drink?
Most water sources in Humjibre are NOT safe to drink, although you will notice that many locals drink water without treatment of any kind. Purified water is readily available and will be provided for all volunteers during the entirety of your stay. In order to avoid diarrheal illness, we also recommend that volunteers only eat fruit with a peel, or peeled and cooked vegetable.
Should I bring a water filter with me? Are there other options for water safety?
Most volunteers drink the purified water that is sold all over Ghana and will be provided for you. It is generally not necessary to bring a water purifier with you to Ghana. However, always make sure you have enough water with you at all times and plan ahead to ensure you have enough water for the day.
What will I eat when I am in Ghana?
Summer Serve and Learn volunteers will have two meals a day (lunch and dinner) cooked for them. Meals usually consist of Ghanaian sauces and vegetables with rice, starches (yam, plantain, etc.), pastas, and beans. The meals can be adapted to be vegetarian (volunteers with dietary requirements should notify GHEI of their needs before arriving). The diet is low in fresh fruits and vegetables, so please plan accordingly and bring any supplemental foods you require such as protein/fiber bars or dried fruit. We also recommend bringing fiber supplements/bars as your body may not be acclimated to the diet right away.
Breakfast is not provided by GHEI. In the past, volunteers requested that it not be included as they found they preferred to set their own schedule with regard to breakfast and enjoyed going into town to purchase bread and other items. The cost for breakfast is extremely low, and 15 USD is more than adequate for breakfast purchased locally for the duration of the stay. Some breakfast items that are available in Humjibre are porridge, eggs, bread, and instant coffee sachets. Some volunteers also bring cereal/protein bars and snack items.
Are there cultural restrictions as to what I can wear while in Ghana?
While in Humjibre, we strongly encourage volunteers to respect local tradition and dress conservatively. Females should wear skirts, dresses, shorts or pants that end at or below the knee. Tank tops are acceptable as long as bra straps are covered.
Volunteers wear flip-flops most of the time, but we highly recommend bringing close toed shoes, like sneakers or Keens, that can get dirty for hiking and working at farm. The climate in Ghana is extremely humid, so clothing will often mildew. Please be aware of this and bring clothing that can get dirty and/or dries quickly. Volunteers will need to bring a few nice and conservative outfits (collared shirts for males, and bottoms past the knee, and shoulders covered for females) for church and meetings with the elders.
Prior to coming, your volunteer coordinator will send you more information on what to pack.
Will I be able to do laundry while in Humjibre?
There are no washers and dryers available, but you are welcome to handwash your laundry any time during your stay. You can bring detergent with you or buy individual packets at any local shop. There are clothes lines next to the volunteer house that you can use to dry your clothing. Local staff can help show you how to best wash your clothing using buckets, it may be different than what you are used to, but it works well and is often a fun experience.
What is the political situation in Ghana right now and do you think it will affect any potential trips?
Overall, Ghana is regularly cited as one of the most safe and friendly countries for foreigners in Africa, but we always recommend that you visit the State Department's website for more information about safety and the current political situation in Ghana.
Please keep in mind that you will be living in a rural village where people are very friendly. GHEI has been in existence in Humjibre since 2001 and none of our past volunteers have experienced hostility or violence during their stays.
I am very concerned about safety, especially since I have never traveled to Africa before. Will I be safe?
When you are out in the community working on your program, you will always be with someone from GHEI. After some time in Humjibre, you might feel more comfortable and go out on your own or with your fellow volunteers. As always, use common sense when alone or with others. We cannot guarantee safety, especially outside of the village, but if you use common sense while traveling you should have no problems.
Also, the people of Humjibre will step in very quickly if you are being troubled as no one is a stranger here. Ghana is a safe, stable country, with a culture of deep respect.
How often will I be able to contact home via phone or email?
Upon first arriving in Accra, you will have the opportunity to use an internet café to write emails. Afterwards, the volunteer coordinator will have a cell phone that can be used in case of an emergency. Additionally, there is internet access in Humjibre, and you are always welcome to use it to send emails. However it is not strong enough to place a call on Skype, so if you need to communicate with your family or friends at home, we recommend contacting them via phone.
Do you recommend buying a cell phone once in Ghana?
You will not need one while you are volunteering with GHEI. However, if you already have a phone you'd like to bring, you'll simply need to purchase a local SIM card upon arrival.
What is the best way to access money in Ghana?
On arrival, we suggest that you change $100-$200 cash at the airport as it is convenient and has comparable rates to ATMs. It is also possible to visit an ATM or have your money changed at a forex bureau before travelling to the village. It is recommended that you have a VISA ATM card as Mastercard is often NOT accepted. It is also a good idea to carry about $200 USD in cash in cash of an emergency. Some volunteers prefer traveler’s checks to cash or ATMs, but those can only be exchanged in Kumasi or Accra.
Keep in mind, you will spend very little money in Humjibre, but it is a good idea to have some money for breakfast, snacks or souvenirs.
Will there be any free time? What can I do with it?
Yes. There will be some unscheduled time. There are many things to do in the village, such as hiking, running, going to farm, and helping out with GHEI projects, such as painting the classrooms. The amount of free time depends on the specific session and day, as the schedule varies considerably. Reading is a great option, as well as chatting with other volunteers and locals. Taking walks in Humjibre is a great way to learn more about the culture as well as practice your Twi. Each group will have Twi language classes with one of the local teachers 1-2 times during your stay. Finally, for those who enjoy a drink now and then, there are many “spots” located around the village. However, because you are a guest in the village and representing GHEI, we ask that you drink responsibly.
Will I be able to buy some of the essentials in Humjibre or do I have to bring enough for my entire trip?
There are a few stores in Humjibre and Bekwai (4 miles from Humjibre) where you can purchase laundry detergent and a few other basic items. If you are brand-loyal, then you will want to bring enough supplies for your entire trip. Essentials like shampoo, soap, feminine hygiene products, razors, insect repellent, anti-itch ointments, and medications can be bought in Accra but we recommend including those in your packing list.
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