‘My First Encounter With Fraud In Ghana’
When I first came to Ghana, I had built up a whole inner world of expectations, as is often the case when doing something radical. Granted the prospects of my journey were not all selfless, later on, I hope to benefit from the experience I will have gained here, but still I expected to be recognised for my goodwill, which first catalysed the trip. I should soon discover that these good intentions I share with a host of other volunteers have been turned into a source of income by a band of unscrupulous people, hiding under the benignly anonymous name of non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
I first came in touch with Volunteer Match Ghana and the founder, Prince Kwame Ec-Lumor, through an internet volunteering umbrella called worldwidehelpers.org. I inquired about a journalism internship they offered that did not seem to require formal journalistic education; all they demanded was writing experience, a firm grasp on the English language, and a genuine curiosity about Africa. The program was totally free of charge it clearly appeared on the page. I felt confident I could live up to the criteria, and signed up for the program.
I quickly got an encouraging reply that assured me in a friendly tone that I was likely to be accepted, and that I should not worry, but instead start applying for a visa to Ghana. And so I started the substantial preparations prior to a trip to the African continent. I booked plane tickets, paid visa fees and insurance bills, got vaccines against various tropic diseases, gathered information, all during which Mr Prince promptly answered any question that occurred to me. As soon as all the formalities were taken care of and the decision to go was only reversible at a very high price, Mr. Prince started mentioning a program fee in a tone that indicated that the existence of such an expense had been made clear to me all along. The fee was to be paid upon arrival, and was unusually high, compared to what it ostensibly covered: desk space, utilities and administrative paperwork. He maintained that despite the fee, the program, food and lodging with a local family was still free, and this was where my European logic clashed with the African one for the first time, causing a concern I could not entirely put to rest thereafter. To me, a fee is merely another way of charging, so, in effect, what he had done was lie about the price.
For both economic and personal reasons, which I will not begin to unravel here, I was reluctant to back out at this point, so shortly before departure. Instead, I sought reassurance from other people who Mr Prince had previously dealt with. I had already read everything there was to read about Volunteer Match Ghana, including handwritten testimonials, and seen phony set up pictures of him surrounded by presumably past volunteers, and an official certificate issued by some sort of governmental institution that all looked very genuine.
I eventually decided to trust them enough to bring the payment in ready money, dollars, as he specified, from Denmark. But my trust was not as deep as to remove my doubts completely. I rolled up the wad of money, and hid it in a microphone I was bringing for a musical side project.
Late in the evening when I landed at the Kotoka International Airport, Mr Prince was there to pick me up, accompanied by four other guys, none of whom I had been introduced to beforehand – not exactly the way for him to settle the doubts of a culture shocked mind. His inconsideration piled up during the taxi ride, as he consistently avoided answering any of my questions, but instead with a smirk, repeated that I would get all the answers I wanted later on. We drove for what felt like a disturbingly long time, until we reached Nungua on the outskirts of town, where I was to be accommodated in what had been referred to as my host family in the email correspondence. It turned out the word family was a euphemism for one indifferent man, Jamal, whose role in the whole affair remains unclear to me, even now. There were other volunteers in the house casually lounging around at the time of my arrival, so I felt inclined to just meet their demand and settle the finances right away. I paid $1,800 up front, money I never saw again, and have had very little value for.
As Mr Prince personally assured me, after handing me my handwritten receipt, my program was to start right after a day of orientation, so that I would not waste time sitting around the house. Ironically, that ended up being what I did for most of January, because of sudden impediments, missed phone calls, and a conspicuous reluctance to inform me about what caused things to drag out. Every time I was set to start, he stood me up, and Mr. Prince left it to his friends or accessories – hardly distinguishable to me – to make his amends for him. During January, I saw Mr Prince no more than a couple of times, and when I did, he seemed extremely uncomfortable, sweating nervously. Not looking me in the eye, he apologised and assured me that betterment was close at hand. It was up to me to find out just how wrong that was. I went to the Daily Guide, where he claimed to have secured my internship months before, and discovered that he had neglected his preliminary duties, and as a result, left me stranded. After becoming aware that my whole point of coming to Ghana was a castle in the air, I gave Mr. Prince sufficient chance to come clean. As he kept dodging me, I involved the police, who, inhibited by limited resources, as well as indifference, were of little help.
I cannot do much to catch my perpetrators, as the public law enforcement has failed in their duties. By telling this story, which I can only assume is far from unparalleled, I want to raise awareness of the immoral speculation and economic gain that some people have made out of the concept of volunteering.
I could not tell exactly who was in charge and who was innocent. Seemingly helpful people always carefully kept me at a distance of the person who deceived me, so I would have no place to direct my frustration, but inwards. Over time, the process grew so intricate that everyone lost track, and perfectly in line with the intentions of the scam artists, even I, began to shrug the whole thing off as a misunderstanding. I am deeply disappointed with the cynicism I have been met with; to these people, I was nothing but a walking wallet, bulging with undeserved money, which could not be farther from the truth.
I do not have high hopes about retrieving my money or lost time, but I do believe there should be a debate about how to treat visitors. Because, in a country as beautiful as Ghana, and with such an immense potential for tourism, it serves against national interests to make foreigners feel unwelcome. So, Mr. Prince and his fellow fraudsters not only broke and presumably continue to break laws and commandments to enrich themselves. They also commit the far wider impacting injustice of jeopardising the standing of all of their countrymen. Reputation is a matter to be taken seriously by anyone with an ambition of growing and thriving, and the wrongs of a few men are contributing to flawing the reputation of Ghanaians in general.
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