This section will give you an overview of the country and what it is like to live here.
Accra, situated on the coast, is the capital city of Ghana and is home to some two million people. It is a sprawling city with surrounding towns merging into the suburbs for 20km from the city center. The city is not without its share of poverty but this is a thriving business center and you will probably be struck by the obvious wealth you see around you.
About five hours north-west of Accra is the second largest city, Kumasi, at the heart of the Ashanti Region. This is a gold mining area and the gateway to huge cocoa plantations further west. Going north from Kumasi takes you into a drier part of the country with green forests giving way to a semi-arid savannah in the Northern Region.
Dominating the map of Ghana is the mighty Lake Volta. Although there has always been a lake on the Volta River, it was greatly enlarged by the creation of the dam at Akosombo in the 1960's, and it is now one of the world’s largest artificial lakes. To the east of the lake, the mountains rise up towards the Togo border. Although the highest point in Ghana, Mt. Afadjato, is only about 100m above sea-level, the Volta highlands are good to escape the heat during the dry season.
The southwest of the country has the rainforests. Years of logging have reduced the forests to a fraction of what they once were, but conservation efforts are successfully protecting important areas. Both Kakum National Park in the Central Region and Ankasa Reserve in the Western Region allow visitors to experience these amazingly rich ecosystems.
There are ten regions in Ghana, and these are:
Greater Accra Region
Ghana's rainy season is from June to September, with most rain usually falling in July. During these months it can rain extremely heavily, sometimes for days at a time and sometimes just for an hour or so before the sun returns. The nice thing about this time of year is that the temperature is somewhat lower, usually between 20o and 30o.
December to January is the Harmatan season, when wind blows down off the Sahara bringing with it part of the desert in the form of lots of dust! This is the height of the dry season although the hottest time of year is usually slightly later, in March.
On the coast, the sea breeze keeps temperature and humidity down somewhat. The low-lying inland areas within a few hundred kilometers of the coast are the most humid with the highest humidity in the rainforests of the southwest. Generally speaking, the climate becomes drier as you go north.
Ghanaians pride themselves on being among the friendliest in Africa. Although tribal groups span many national borders in this part of the world, the Ghanaian people have a great sense of nationalism. It is an English-speaking country, isolated in a French-speaking part of the continent and is one of the relatively few countries in West Africa that can claim to be a true democracy.
The population is around 24 million people and is comprised of people from many different tribal backgrounds. Around the capital of the Ashanti Region, Kumasi, Akan and Ashanti people make up 44% of the population, 16% are Mole-Dagbani from the north, 13% are Ewe from the Volta Region, and 8% are Ga from the south around Accra.
If there is one thing most volunteers remember most about their time in Ghana, it is the people they met. Take the time to initiate conversation with people from your work place, and you will learn a great deal about the fascinating culture.
In the south of the country, where some of our volunteer placements are located, Christianity is the dominant religion! You do not have to walk far without seeing a small business with a name like "By His Grace Beauty Salon" or "Jesus Lives Engineering Works."
The Church, whichever one of the many denominations you choose, is very important to most Ghanaians. Sunday service lasts anywhere from two to three hours, and people go through great trouble in dressing up for the occasion.
Much of the north of the country is predominantly Muslim and many villages have mosques built from mud. One of the most famous of these mosques is in the village of Larabanga in Northern Region.
Although in most areas traditional beliefs and worship of ancestors have been replaced by Christianity or Islam, all religions still have a distinctly African feel to it.
Society and Customs
Most Ghanaian families are very traditional by western standards. The family is very important here and children are often highly protected by their parents. Most families will be in bed by 10:00 p.m. and will be up at or before dawn.
Greetings are taken very seriously, when entering somebody's office, for example, you may be considered rude if you don't say hello and shake hands with everyone who is present. When approaching a person on the street perhaps to ask the time or directions, you should begin with a polite 'good morning, how are you?” Simply walking up to someone and saying "excuse me, what is the time?" will be seen as rather blunt.
Cape Coast also has good bars, like the Oasis on the beach near the Castle. It is popular and sometimes has impressive live drumming and dancing shows. The night club at Cape Coast Hotel has Ladies Night on Fridays with free entry (gentlemen pay 5 GH cedis).
On almost every street in Ghana, you will find at least one spot bar, which is anything from a few plastic chairs outside a shack selling beer and local gin, to large garden bar serving a wide range of food and drinks. Spot bars are usually relatively inexpensive and the sorts of places local people go to for a beer after work.
Learning some Twi or Ewe and even Ga from the locals as the sun goes down while sipping an ice-cold Star or Club beer can be a great and very cheap evening out!
English is the official language of Ghana and is widely spoken in the cities and larger towns. Of the local languages, Twi is the most widely spoken. It is the language of the Ashanti and the Eastern Region including the Akuapem Hills, but it is commonly understood throughout the country. Ga is the language of the natives in Accra but is not widely understood in other areas. Fante is spoken in the Central Region including Cape Coast, Winneba and Takoradi, and Ewe is spoken by the people in the Volta Region (Keta, Anloga, Ho, Hohoe, Kadjebi).