Lessons learned

Most of the lessons we learned, both in the project and in the Ghanaian way of living, are related to cultural differences. Already before the internship we learned about the cultural differences between development countries and developed countries and we were prepared that we would face lots of challenges during the internship. However, the real lessons were learned in Ghana, when we could actually experience all the dif- ferences ourselves. In this chapter also the reflection on our internship is described. All the other experiences related to culture are described in the next chapter ‘The Ghanaian culture‘.

Stay motivated

First of all the project itself taught us how to deal with challenges and setbacks, but also how we could get the most satisfaction out of our achievements. It begins with having not too high expectations of the achievements in advance. When we were in Ghana we realised that already a tiny change can have a huge impact on someone’s life, so it is important to be also satisfied with small achievements and get more motivation for the project in that way. Besides, a good preparation is very important, but that does not always mean results are more easily achieved. For example in Delft we focused on clay cookstoves, but in Ghana we soon found out that a metal cookstove would be a good consideration as well. We had to redo a lot of preparation work, but at the end it gives more satisfaction if a better prototype has been delivered. Especially when the Ghanaian people are very happy with the results, it gives a really good feeling that you made a difference in someone’s life.

Make concessions

It is also better to have low expectations because of the short period of time. Percep- tion of time and efficiency is a big difference between Ghana and the Netherlands and that can cause much delay. Here we found out it is important that both the Ghanaian students and we had to make concessions. We asked them to be on time for meetings and they learned us that it is better to start working early in the morning instead of in the afternoon, when it is very hot. 

Take initiative

We also learned that we were the ones who needed to take initiative in the project, because the Ghanaian students are not used to take initiative and will not come up with tasks. They are used to someone telling them what to do. If we really wanted to meet a deadline, we were mostly responsible planning.

Being the ones taking initiative also meant that we had to be critical all the time. The management of KITA, the Ghanaian students and also other Ghanaian people were very often willing to believe everything we said and would not doubt whether it was true or not. So it was very important that we checked everything to make sure we did not make any mistakes. The only exception was when we suggested something they were not familiar with and then they would sometimes not believe us.

For the project it could have been better if we would not have been insecure about drastic changes. It turned out to be very difficult and time-consuming to change some- thing radically and there is a chance the results can be disappointing, but sometimes it can be worth the effort.

Collaboration with Ghanaian students

We learned a lot from the collaboration with the Ghanaian students. Unfortunately it was not the equal collaboration we hoped for. The main cause for this was the fact that we had a different planning and a different assignment than they had. During the third and fourth week of our internship they had exams, so they did not give the project their priority. It was especially during these weeks that we really needed their help.

There was also a difference in motivation. The fact that the assignment the KITA stu- dents had differed from ours, resulted in different work pressures, because we had to finish a lot of things earlier. Besides this almost all KITA students have holidays from the fifth week until the tenth week and only the students that were collaborating with us had to stay on campus. That was not really motivating for them.

During the meetings with the Ghanaian students we soon realised that it is really im- portant for them that we listen very carefully to their ideas and consider all their sug- gestions. It was very important that they were not afraid to ask us anything and that they could just tell us if they did not understand something. Although they have a to- tally different educational background they did absolutely have more knowledge about the Ghanaian culture and could give very interesting input.

Be creative

A difference between executing a project in the Netherlands or in Ghana is that infor- mation is very limited available on the internet in Ghana. In the Netherlands we use the internet for almost every part of the research, but now we had to ask the Ghanaian people or the staff of KITA if something was possible or available. Information is very limited and there are often no fixed prices. We learned to be creative and flexible with the limited possibilities and amount of information. Sometimes that was a big challenge and it could also cause setbacks, but especially then it is essential to keep looking for solutions. We learned that Ghanaian people easily say that something is not possible, however if they rethink it they often come up with very creative solutions. Mostly they only need someone to ask more questions. This learned us not to stop looking for solu- tions when someone said something was impossible.

Make clear agreements

We also learned a lot about finances. Already in Delft we encountered some budget problems with our previous partner Africa in Motion. The outcome was that TU Delft ended their partnership with them and we had to discuss the budget with KITA from that moment on. We learned that it is essential to make clear agreements on the bud- get and on how to spend the money. These agreements should always be made and written down before the money is transferred.

Make a planning

Making a planning can be a bit frustrating, because for most parts you rely on other people and it is difficult to influence the planning yourself. For example when there is no electricity, some tasks could not be executed anymore (like welding) and then the whole planning needs to be changed. This requires a very flexible mind-set and it is necessary to keep different scenarios in mind. This is also one of the major lessons we learned of living in Ghana. Many things happen unexpectedly and everything can turn out to be totally different than expected. Flexibility and creativity are the real keywords to handle almost everything. 

Be respectful

Last but not least, it is really important to stay kind and respectful. Although it can be a bit annoying when someone shows up three hours later than planned, he or she will be more helpful if you stay kind. It is also common in Ghana to greet everyone and often make a small talk and people will be disappointed if you are not willing to do so. After all it is very nice that everybody is so friendly and it makes living in Ghana very pleasant, safe and easy. We definitely learned a lot. Sometimes it was difficult, but at the end it was a great experience that we will never forget.