Tips For Volunteers
Welcome to Ghana! Here are a few tips that you might find useful during your stay with us:
Visa: The Ghanaian High Commission in Ottawa website states that processing takes 3-4 business days. To save yourself much anxiety, allow more time! Please check your visa stamp to determine the length of its value. Unfortunately, most single entry visas are now only valid for 30 days which is both inconvenient and another expense if your placement is just more than a month. Obtaining a multiple entry visa usually allows for a 60-day stay and that might be better option. Visa extensions are possible at the Ghanaian Visa Office in Accra.
Phone numbers: Joanna is our head librarian and she will be responsible for your stay. She can be reached at 027 745 2380. This is also Kathy’s number when she is in Accra. Joanna’s second number is 024 683 8171.
From Canada, dial 011 233 27 745 2380. Phone cards with no connection fees are the best value.
From Ghana to Canada, dial 001 plus the area code and number
There is a cell phone for volunteers to use while they are in Ghana 027 452 4932 but you will be required to buy the necessary units to ‘feed’ the phone.
Only give out your phone number to trusted individuals or you may receive calls at all hours. Also be cautious about giving out your home address. Any mail can be directed to Kathy for onforwarding.
Internet: There are many internet cafes around in Accra. We strongly suggest that you do not use them during the evening because they are not safe with the exception of Busy Internet.
Canadian High Commission: It is a good idea to register with the Canadian High Commission in Accra when you arrive so they are able to contact you in case of an emergency. You can preregister online from home. Then drop in (10 minute visit) to confirm your presence in the country upon arrival. Bring your passport.
Medical form and emergency numbers: Give one copy to Joanna and send another to OCLF’s address. Always carry some identification and Joanna’s contact number whenever you are travelling, especially out of Accra.
Money: Money is exchanged at a fixed rate at all foreign exchange bureaus. The bank rate is usually slightly less. It is better to bring over $50 and $100 bills as the rate of exchange is slightly better. N.B. The Ghanaian currency has been revalued recently, and many people still quote in the old system, especially at local markets. It can be really confusing and so be mindful of this. Ask Joanna to explain. Credit cards are seldom accepted but ATM machines are available. Please be careful when withdrawing cash!
Time: Ghana is on GMT – same as Britain.
Electricity: 220 volts as opposed to Canadian 110. Bring a converter for anything that runs on 110, and an adapter so the plug will fit the shape of the plug. Ask Joanna about the plugs. She is very conscientious about making sure the power to the plug is switched off before plugging in appliances.
Transportation: Taking a trotro (shared van) is an informal and inexpensive system of getting around in Accra, as there is limited official public transportation. For safety’s sake, make it a habit not to sit in either the very front or back row, if possible. Ask Joanna to explain the routes and fares. Shared taxis are slightly more expensive and run regular routes. The most expensive and convenient mode of traveling is hiring a taxi or ‘dropping’ as it is known. A good habit is to sit in the back and, ideally, with a seat belt on (wipe it first with a cloth to remove the dust). When traveling out of town, it is very important to reach your destination before dark because the roads are not always safe and accidents happen all too frequently. For long journeys, it is better to travel on State Transport Company buses known locally as STC.
Water: Joanna keeps a supply of filtered and safe water in the fridge. We urge you to use these and help in the battle against plastic.
Medical: We strongly urge you to see a travel clinic prior to your departure and you must buy comprehensive travel insurance including coverage for evacuation. If there is a chance that you might extend your stay we suggest that you buy additional insurance before leaving. Most policies allow for a refund for the time not used but will not allow you to extend your insurance if you decide to stay longer or are too ill to travel. You will need to carry proof of an up-to-date yellow fever vaccine.
In the guest house (bottom drawer of the chest in the bedroom), there is a supply of basic medical needs. A good private doctor in Accra is Dr Jane Ansafo-Mensah. Phone to confirm her hours (021 76 8681). Pay cash. The clinic runs a laboratory and dispenses drugs. The Military Hospital clinic is also very good and is open around the clock.
Clothing: Skirts or dresses are best for women, pants (coloured or khaki are good because of the dust) for men. Half-slips are required if the skirt material is unlined. Red and black colours are associated with funerals. For travelling to the north, below-the-knee skirts are required and shirts or tops should not be sleeveless. Ghanaians always look smart with freshly-ironed clothing and polished shoes.
Dirty clothes should not be kept in plastic for a long period because mold develops quickly. It is much better to keep them in a vented container (one is provided at the guest house).
Ask Joanna to show you how to wash clothes with minimal water. She carefully separates the lights from darks and uses different washing products for each. Clothes should be ironed if dried outside to avoid problems with the tumbo fly. It will be possible to pay someone to do laundry.
Customs: Do not receive and give anything with the left hand, greetings from right to left, and always give a greeting before asking a question (e.g. good afternoon etc.)
Suggested personal items to bring to Ghana:
Battery recharger, if required
Extra batteries for camera (these are available but expensive and not always of a good quality)
Converter for a plug
Sunscreen with high sun protection factor
Wide brimmed hat
Bug repellent – Deet works best but keep in small container in case it leaks.
Malaria precautions as advised by a travel clinic
Underwear, easily washed out at night
Towel – quick drying towels are best
Purse which can be worn crossways over the shoulders. (All valuables can be left safely at the guesthouse)
Small suitcase lock, especially helpful for travel outside of Accra. The guesthouse is safe and in the desk there is a locked drawer for valuables
Any special medications you require, together with a copy of your prescription
Battery-operated alarm clock
Zip-lock bags are handy, especially for the Harmattan season. Cameras should be double bagged to protect from the dust during this time.
Ear plugs (the guesthouse has some unusual nighttime noises!)
Needle and thread
Granola bars are great for those occasions when food is not easily available.
Kathy’s Guide to Arriving at Accra Airport:
Passing through the airport is very easy—
You get off the plane, board a bus for 75 metres.
Stand in a line with other foreigners to get your passport stamped. Make sure that you take the addresses you used for your visa because you will have to fill out contact names, residential and postal addresses and phone numbers.
Pick up your luggage (there are free baggage carts and you should decline help).
If you have taken a box of books as part of your luggage allowance, the box may be placed behind the luggage carousels. Feel free to ask for guidance.
Go through to “Nothing to Declare”, and if the customs official asks questions, point to the letter on the box (if you have taken one) indicating that the books are for libraries (they know the Nima Library).
Proceed down a long ramp and through the doors. Wait just outside the doors until you meet whoever is picking you up. Don’t leave this area as it is more secure and protected from others waiting for guests. If for some reason you don’t meet with the person who was going to pick you up, go to another foreigner who is waiting and explain your situation. Ask the person to phone Joanna at 027 745 2380.
If this doesn’t work, take a taxi to the Golden Tulip Hotel, very near the airport, and wait there. The hotel has a foreign exchange bureau to change enough money for the taxi ride. To date, all volunteers – and there have been many – have been picked up on time. No need to worry!!