Hugo O'Doherty - General Journalism Projects in Ghana
In April 2009, as I sat in front of a computer screen feeling adventurous, I came across the opportunity to go to Ghana as a voluntary intern journalist with Projects Abroad. About seven weeks later I arrived in the irrepressible capital Accra, and within three days I was working.
The three months I spent in Ghana directly preceded my studies in International Journalism back home, and the experience I gained there hugely aided my knowledge and skills in the industry. Projects Abroad organised my work in such a way that I worked for four weeks with a small, privately-owned weekly newspaper, ‘National Trust’, and for six more weeks with the larger, state-owned ‘Ghanaian Times’. The contrasting styles and the different ways in which I worked benefited my understanding of what is going on the media sector of this thriving, developing and beautiful nation.
Armed with a notepad and pen, I covered stories ranging from an aspiring young footballer hoping to move to a Premiership club in England to a Member of Parliament agitating for land rights. The old journalism cliché that ‘every day brings something different’ really does hold true, particularly in Ghana – a place that throws something at you every hour of every day that will make you laugh and smile.
One of the most exciting aspects of my work in Ghana was the lead up to the brief visit that Barack Obama made to Accra and Cape Coast. Even though he was only in the country for one night, the way that local people anticipated his arrival was an incredible sight. Billboards showing Obama alongside the recently elected President Mills hung over stalls selling Obama t-shirts. Locals walked around and taxi drivers shouted out their windows ‘Obama! Obama!’. In his main address in Accra, one of President Obama’s main points was to praise Ghana for having a free press, and this made me realise just how important a vibrant media culture is to development. The visit brought Ghana onto the international stage and added credence to its status as a vibrant democracy.
The friendliness and helpfulness of my colleagues at work and the local Projects Abroad staff cannot be overstated. On more than one occasion when I might have needed help or as my frustration at something became apparent, someone was always there for me. Indeed, this applies to everyone I met in Ghana. The altruistic nature of people in this land is something that I will remember forever.
I didn’t just go to Ghana for work, however. The perfect way to relax after a tough day under the baking sun was to meet other volunteers and enjoy the cheap local beers sold in local ‘spot’ bars and western-style places downtown. The anecdotes that criss-crossed the table about our various daily activities could fill volumes, and discussion of where we might travel the following weekend whetted the appetite for exploration.
Whether it be to one of the few coastal beach resorts that line Accra to the east and west, or the captivating Wli Falls or astounding Mole National Park, travelling away for a couple of days with friends was probably my favourite thing about my time in Ghana. Mole in particular sticks in the mind. Watching baboons trying to steal food from unvigilant tourists was hilarious, and gazing at elephants washing in a lake was to see nature at its very finest. As I sat beholding the endless landscape before me, I knew that if such a place was in Europe or North America I would probably be staring at a golf course. Not so here, where the untainted scenes and mysteries of life play themselves out without undue interference.
For some people, the most daunting aspect of living and working in Ghana with Projects Abroad is staying with a host family. I cannot overstate how welcome and comfortable I was made feel by my host Mama. When I arrived, my flight had been delayed and I eventually got to my new home shortly before midnight. Mama waited up for me, welcomed me, fed me, and showed me to my room – and all with a smile and sincerity that I was to get used to. My housemates were brilliant. We all helped each other when needed, went out together when we felt like going out, and interacted with the host family.
I still miss Ghana. I miss seeing the friends I made there and my host family. I miss tro-tros (local minibuses), red-red (a national dish of spiced beans and fried plantain - it seems that the best things in Ghana are named twice), the impossibly cheap ice cream sold by street sellers, the humour, the sincerity, the noises and the hope of the place. Most of all though, I miss Ghanaians, and this is why I am sure I will return some day.