I arrived in Ghana with seven months ahead of me and a pretty demanding job description, ready to hit the ground running.
Five and a half months later, I don’t know where the time has gone and I sometimes feel like I haven’t accomplished anything. Working in Ghana has been a bigger adjustment that anything else; I’ve gotten used to the weather, the transportation system and the food, but work still challenges and mystifies me at times. As is the case with many overseas work or volunteer assignments, my mandate could easily employ one person for years or an entire team of people. But there’s only me, seven months and the resources available in the field.
Surprisingly, the toughest part has been just figuring out what I need to do and how to get it done. I’ve learned that I have to ask the same question many different times and in different ways before I will get an answer; this is just one of the ways that I’ve had to adjust how I work.
Having studied international development, I came into this situation with certain expectations for how I would go about my work—involving all those buzz words like “participation,” “sustainability” and “capacity building”—but things haven’t exactly panned out as planned.
What I think are priorities (often long-term planning and how this will work down the road) aren’t necessarily the priorities of the organization I work for—which tend to be more practical and about “What do we need now?” On top of that, getting people to participate in the process is another challenge. When I ask “what do you need” the response I often get is “what can you do?” or “what do you want to do?”
So it has been a constant balancing act to find the middle ground where all parties involved feel comfortable with the progression of the work. Between figuring out how things function here, working and reworking my workplan several times, it feels like I haven’t produced much along the lines of tangible outcomes in the last five and a half months. So here I am with a month and a half to go, and now is when everything is coming together. I finally feel like I’m making progress and will leave having accomplished what I set out to.
I do look back on my time here and wish that I had done certain things differently, until I remember that finding all of the puzzle pieces and figuring out how to fit them together is all a part of the learning process and is making this a richer experience.Add this article to your reading list