06/26/2015 01:36 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why I Chose to Volunteer in Ghana


More often than not, when folks find out where I am volunteering, their first question is, "why Ghana?" Sometimes, that question is followed with a secondary (and rather disappointing) "wait, is that in Africa?"

Let's start with the easy question first. Yes, Ghana is in Africa. West Africa to be exact.
No, I will probably not catch Ebola and yes I am bringing a mosquito net. The answer to "why Ghana?" is not as easy. Back in May, sitting at my desk staring blankly at my computer, I questioned the point of it all. How does this one email possibly matter? Will this Tweet change lives? I am going to die and my gravestone will have the engraving "Effective Internet Communicator." It felt disappointing and futile. My body was floating through time and my feet hadn't touched ground in months. (Copyright: WikiCommons)

When I came out of my trance, my tropical beach screensaver mocked me. Almost angrily, I put my fingers to the keyboard and down I went through the rabbit hole of travel Pinterest boards and AirBnB listings. My posture straightening and my attention focusing as I swiped past beautiful beach after beautiful beach.
While this searching was all well and good, it was hard to imagine taking another vacation would help me find purpose. I had already spent a year and a half backpacking Australia and Southeast Asia after college and while the experience was amazing, it felt a little like escapism from the real world. I realized I didn't want to escape the real world; I just wanted a better real world. (Copyright: WikiCommons)

How was I going to make my world better? What could I do that would let me travel, meet new people, have new experiences but also guide me to a higher purpose? Volunteer work! It was perfect. I would help myself by helping others.

By the time I got to The International Volunteer Headquarters' website I was perspiring with purpose. The selection beckoned me like a giant mansion on Halloween night. Wildlife sanctuaries in Madagascar! Carnival planning in Brazil! Teaching English in Cambodia! My newfound options poured over me as I greedily read each and every description.
2015-06-25-1435265053-756721-ScreenShot20150625at1.13.57PM.png When I landed on the Child Care Program in Ghana, I knew I had found what I was looking for. That blissful combination of fear, nervousness and excitement that makes you feel utterly alive. For the first time in months, my feet landed on the ground. Hard. I was ready to feel raw and vulnerable and totally out of my element. I applied for the program on a Wednesday, got accepted on a Thursday and put my notice into work on a Friday. (Copyright:

The best part for me is the uncertainty of it all. I don't know if this will help me find my purpose. I don't know how I will handle showering in a bucket and caring for 40 children for six weeks straight. What I do know is that sitting in front of my computer day after day waiting for my purpose to find me is going to get me nowhere. At least now, I'm going somewhere.

Post written by Lindsay Cooper

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