The beginning of this crazy, new, exciting, once in a lifetime journey…

I’m not going to lie; it was hard to leave home. Although I’ve done it before, it’s never easy to leave the comfort of your home, lifestyle and especially your family. It was especially hard this time around, because it was the rare occasion where my whole family was at the same place at the same time. But when you’re given an opportunity like this – to go to Ghana and immerse yourself in a completely new culture and experience – you have to look past that.

It’s only Week 1, and still very early on in this journey, so there’s not too much to share but my travel and first impressions. Getting to Bolgatanga (Bolga), Ghana was a journey in itself. Normally a 14-hour bus ride from Accra, I had it easy with a 1-hour flight to Tamale and only a 2.5-hour car ride. Leaving from Toronto, it took me about 2 days to get to where I needed to be. After flying into Accra in the early evening of Sept 5th, I got settled into my hotel. I was able to get some food, touch base with my family and get some rest, knowing I couldn’t get used to this comfort.

Flight from Accra to TamaleThe following day, I jumped on a plane to Tamale and then took a 2.5-hour car ride to get to Bolga. I wish I could say there was tons to see, but the scenery consisted of tiny huts, stray baby goats and trees. As I dozed off, I started to imagine and picture what it would look like where I was headed, and think about what I had gotten myself into! After arriving in Bolga, I was picked up by the Director of my organization, Widows and Orphans Movement (WOM), Aunty Fati. She was extremely generous and kind as she dropped me off at my guest house and took me out for dinner. I started to learn more about the organization, what it stood for and about my role. It was nice to finally get acquainted after the many emails back and forth but more importantly, it helped me understand my purpose and reason for why I wanted to venture out on this journey in the first place.

It has been a couple days since I have gotten here and started working. Meeting everyone in the office, I really got to experience the Ghanaian hospitality. Everyone made me feel very welcome and comfortable. Work thus far has been quite slow as I am just starting, but I again, got a better understanding of what I will be doing. I will be a part of the Finance team at WOM, and helping the organization with their various microcredit/microfinance projects, as well as helping the team with their various financial reporting processes, monitoring performance and also transitioning to more paperless bookkeeping. I have slowly been trying to get myself settled in by getting a SIM card and unpacking my things. The real mission here so far is trying to exchange money because no one in this small town needs foreign currency. Finding food to eat has also been on a day to day basis, as I have not yet figured out where all the stores and restaurants are. I had also just experienced my first (of many, I’m sure) power outage here in Bolga – but good thing my mom made me pack a portable battery powered lantern (moms really do know best)!

City street in BolgaAs I continue to settle in, I’m looking forward to the impact I can have on the organization and the local community. I know it will take a little bit of time to get used to everything and make myself comfortable with what I have – but hey, no one said it would be easy. I have come to realize that the best way for me to enjoy and make the best out of this experience is to have an open mind and to stay positive. Regardless of how things turn out, I’m thankful for this opportunity and excited to see what’s in store for me next as I continue to explore the rest of this journey!

James Thalla-Joel is working as a Financial Management Specialist with ACIC partner Widows and Orphans Movement (WOM) in Ghana