From my personal experience, I chose to spend 16 weeks in Ghana however, any volunteer could choose to stay for a period of time ranging from 1 to 24 weeks. Thus, I saw a lot of people come and go from the project having only taught 4 times at a school or taken part in 1 malaria-testing outreach at a local community. Sustainable development demands time and it is unrealistic thinking that a couple of weeks will have a real positive impact in the community. Due to the short amount of time most volunteers spent in the community (mine was in a village called Frankadua), we had a very short briefing in the morning in Accra before we were taken to our specific projects. We were taught some words in the country’s most spoken language, Twi (ironically, where I was staying they spoke Awae so at the end of the day I was not taught a lot about the place I was really going to). The briefing was short and generalised, not all of the volunteers were going to the same projects and every project seemed to be unique. We were not aware, for example, that Frankadua had a population of 5000 people with over 30 different churches and religions. Understanding the culture was thus something I had the opportunity to do because I chose to spend a longer period of time in my trip. However, such understanding should be one made before the trip. Another key understanding people need to make before taking on humanitarian missions is that these take time in order to be meaningful and impactful. Thus, it is key to be suspicious of any short-term volunteering trips and we must ask ourselves the question- how will my actions have a long-term effect in the community I am trying to help?
The cost of these trips can be a big red flag and an issue in their long-term impact. When researching volunteering trips abroad, the first results are of paradise-like locations like Costa Rica, Madagascar or Zanzibar by companies like Frontier and Kidogo Adventure, where prices start at £245 but can go up to £845 a week. These fees claim to be going to the food and accommodation of the volunteers but when looking into these programs the volunteers are only expected to work on projects in the mornings and are free to take on “activities” in the afternoon. These activities are a range of touristic options depending on the location, giving the name to the phenomenon of “voluntourism”. The amount of money that is spent on these trips could be a lot more useful to have an impact in the community by hiring local builders to better the facilities at a local clinic or fund a new classroom in a school. A lot of money is spent on short-term, low impact volunteering which could allow for a lot bigger, long-term impact if placed in the right projects and hands.