Student Blog: Mark van der Veen on his Internship in Ghana in Sustainable Energy and Environmental Solutions

Last July, I travelled to Accra, Ghana for 20 weeks to do my internship at the Institute for Sustainable Energy and Environmental Solutions (ISEES). ISEES is an institution involved in research, education and training, consultancy, community development, and the development of innovative solutions in renewable energy and efficiency, water sanitation and hygiene, agriculture, and forestry – all with the ultimate goal of improving the livelihoods of people, their environments as well as small enterprises in Ghana.

Sustainable Energy and Environmental Solutions (ISEES). I learnt an incredible amount during my internship; Ghana is looking to diversify its energy resources as it is well-endowed with renewable energy sources which are yet to be fully exploited. These include biomass, hydropower potentials, wind potentials along the coast, and high solar irradiation. Renewable energy currently only forms around 1% of the country’s total energy use and the aim was to achieve 10% by 2020 which sadly isn’t possible. During my internship, the institute was developing clean cooking stoves and solar lighting solutions for off-grid rural and peri-urban households and food vendors. The goal is to provide sustainable and clean fuel-wood stoves to replace traditional stoves (which produce a lot of smoke and kill over 18,000 women according to report by the WHO and the Global Alliance for Clean Cooking).

Before I left for Ghana, I read about the country, but nothing could have prepared me for the real thing. First, the working environment is very different from in the Netherlands; youth unemployment in Ghana is higher than in the Netherlands. There are, in short, only two ways to make a living as a young individual in Ghana. The first option is to find employment, which is only possible through connections. The people I talked to who sent application letters told me they never received any calls for an interview ever; it is only through connections that you are able to get a job. The second option is to start your own business; in fact, there is somebody selling something almost every couple of steps you take. Almost every house has a shop in front of the house selling something small to make extra income. Most people I talked to use both ways to make income.

Additionally, the weather was indescribable to anyone who has not experienced it. When I arrived and walked out the doors of the airport, I couldn’t imagine how I was ever going to get through twenty weeks in such warm weather. Fortunately, your system starts to adjust quickly and before I realized I was okay with it. After a couple of weeks, I started touring through the country in the weekends. Traffic in Ghana is generally hectic; there are few pedestrian crossings so you will have to run through the traffic which is fun and terrifying at first. Sometimes people will walk up to you and help you. Sometimes somebody looking at you will help you by giving you a cue to cross the street and will shout “go!”.

Furthermore, Ghana is a very religious country with a church on almost every street. People do not seem to understand when you tell them you are an atheist; some will ignore you and some will ask you repeatedly to explain the concept.

In addition, I had plenty of time during the weekends to explore the country. To get to most places the only way is by using a 'trotro', a minibus where you are crammed together with a whole lot of people (and some cargo is jammed in between as well). The trotro only drives when it is full; so, this usually means it takes an hour before it leaves. On one extreme occasion it took four hours of waiting, and on some rare occasions it still won’t go for a while even after it is full, but once you have left, it is worth the wait.

In between major cities there are beautiful natural landscapes, and interesting small villages. In the major cities there are many great things to see. Many countries have colonized the coast (including the Netherlands). In fact, I visited a couple of the forts and heard some interesting stories about colonization and how the country gained independence.
In short, I had a brilliant time in Ghana and I highly recommend Ghana for anyone who wants an adventurous internship.