Jamie Benson - General Journalism Projects in Ghana
I knew as soon as I finished school I wanted to go into political journalism. I loved reading, writing and public speaking, so journalism seemed like the natural path to go down. The next step was choosing a country to go to. I knew I wanted to go to Africa, because I’ve always been interested in African history and politics, and it’s such an exciting and culturally rich continent!
I didn’t know much about Ghana at the time. It is a country that doesn’t make the news a lot in the West because it has thankfully been spared from the worst of Africa’s problems, partly due to the friendly, peace-loving nature of the Ghanaian people. After reading a bit about Ghanaian culture and customs, I knew it was the place for me! Ghana is such a friendly country and it would be impossible to leave without making some life-long local friends!
I was a volunteer with Projects Abroad for five weeks in Ghana. I was 18 at the time and I decided to do a Journalism project for a period of five weeks, with an additional five day’s independent travelling time, which I used at the end of my placement.
I had an absolutely fantastic time with Projects Abroad! Their friendly staff and calm, clear organisational skills helped make this experience the most fulfilling one I’ve had in my life so far. The experience of living and taking part in a local community so different from the quiet English countryside I’ve grown up around has taught me so much, and I feel like this placement changed my life!
My Journalism placement
I was placed in the town of Winneba, on the coastal highway between Accra and Cape Coast. I was working with Radio Windy Bay, a small community radio station ran by students and staff from the local university.
My Journalism placement wouldn’t have been the same without the amazing and friendly staff helping me along the way and actively encouraging me to push myself to achieve. I got so much out of this experience because they didn’t hold me back at all; they were keen for me to do anything and everything at the station so I got a really varied and worthwhile experience.
Almost straight away when I arrived I was made the News Editor. It was my job to pick the news stories from online sources and gather some local news, and then prepare it for the brief 10am news bulletin, and the major 5pm news bulletin. After about two weeks, they allowed me to become the news reader as well!
After three weeks I was invited by the presenter of the morning breakfast show to take part in the newspaper review every day from 8am, where we read the main national newspapers and discussed certain stories and headlines. I also appeared on the evening sports programme; in what the presenter called “ten minutes with Jamie”, where I discussed some of the major international sports headlines from a British perspective.
The jewel on the Windy Bay crown, however, was when they gave me my own hour long slot on a Wednesday evening to write, produce and present my own radio chat show, which I called the Obroni Hour (Obroni means “White Man” in Ghana). I had two shows, on the first one I invited the local Projects Abroad co-ordinators to come and talk about Projects Abroad and volunteering, and on the second I invited the radio staff to talk about their experience having me!
Finally, I also had a chance of researching, recording, producing and presenting my own documentary about the state of the local beach. I got some really valuable experience recoding sounds and interviews, and editing clips, and the Windy Bay staff helped me all the way.
I couldn’t have asked for a better placement than the one I was given - all of the staff we so friendly and helpful. I was in the unique position of being the only volunteer that they had taken in ten years, and I hope they take more after me. At the beginning, the staff at Radio Windy Bay were my work colleagues, but when I left the station they were all my friends.
Living with a Ghanaian host family
I think I was extremely lucky with my host family because I was placed in a family who included a professional cook. Living in a host family is by far the best way to experience local life, and make the most of your stay in another culture. At first it can seem a bit nerve-racking, having to live with a whole different family, but they’re so friendly, and soon enough you will become part of their family!
Be prepared for nosy children too, my host brothers and sisters loved to show the volunteers to their local friends!
I had no complaints about the food - it is undoubtedly different from the food I’m used to, but so long as you have an open mind and aren’t afraid of something different, the food is great! I usually got cornbread in the morning, followed by a stew with rice at lunch and some rice or fried/boiled plantain in the evening. As a small way to say thank you to my host family, I cooked them a meal of spaghetti and tomato sauce on one of my last evenings. I think they enjoyed it!
Free time in Ghana
Winneba didn’t have many other volunteers and at one time there were just 3 of us, but that was fine as we became like a family. Every weekend we went travelling to a different part of the country, mostly we went to Cape Coast by local public transport.
We mostly went by Tro-Tro, a minibus-taxi hybrid, which is an experience in itself. They’re cheap, crowded, and usually falling apart. The first one we got on, to go to Cape Coast, had 21 people, two chickens and a priest who was doing a sermon as we were driving along!
We did plenty at Cape Coast. There’s a very nice beach, a castle and it’s easy getting a taxi to the breath-taking Kakum National park. One of the fondest memories I took back with me was tackling the famous canopy walkway, which is great if you have a head for heights! On my first trip to Cape Coast we also helped a local t-shirt salesman who organised a party for some local children. We washed their hands, and gave them a meal and some sweets.
Travelling with the local volunteers gave me the opportunity to mix with other Western cultures, and to share some of my own! For my final weekend in Cape Coast I was the only British person amongst 3 Canadians, 1 Slovakian and 4 Americans. As the only British person, they were really interested in learning more about my culture, and they all had a go at doing British accents!
Every Wednesday, the other volunteers met at a location and did an activity. I had to organise a quiz one week, and the next week we had a go at painting a local school. These experiences contributed to making the volunteering experience as fulfilling as it could possibly be.
The fondest memory I have of travelling was visiting the far-eastern Volta region with my two Canadian friends. The region was the most beautiful place I visited in Ghana, filled with cascading waterfalls, impenetrable rainforest and towering mountains. We spent about ten hours travelling, all in the dreaded Tro-Tro, but being greeted with paradise made the journey worth it.
All in all, volunteering with Projects Abroad was the best decision I have ever made in my life. This experience has taught me so much, and I have made so many life-long friends in Ghana and across the world. The memories of my 5 and a half weeks in Ghana will stay with me for the rest of my life.