From the Field: Adjusting to Life in Takoradi, Ghana

By: Claire Whitty, Jillian Head and Caroline Kent

Experiencing a new culture is very exciting, but it can also be overwhelming at times. Even though we are slowly settling into our surroundings, there are new surprises every day! Everyone in Ghana is exceptionally friendly and welcoming. Our home-stay family is intent on ensuring that we are comfortable and at ease in our new home. However, there are many things in Ghana that are extremely different than in Canada. Consequently, it is vital that we take extra good care of ourselves in order to avoid some of the negative effects of culture shock.

Our first view of Ghana from the plane

Our first view of Ghana from the plane

The food in Ghana is unique in comparison to other areas of the world. Local delicacies include fufu (dough that is dipped into a soup), fried plantain, and red red (a bean dish with fried plantains). The dishes usually contain a staple of rice or beans. Furthermore, the food is generally much spicier than most North Americans are used to. While enjoyable to those who like a little “kick” to their meals, it can be quite shocking to those who are not well-adapted to spicy dishes. Regardless of the spice, however, the meals are delicious. Therefore, the food is definitely going to be easy to get used to!

The sun in Ghana is very strong. Regardless of the time of day, it is constantly hot here. After a summer in Canada that was not particularly warm, the heat here was quite a surprise! We are always drenched in sweat, and finding an air conditioned environment feels like a miracle. We are lucky that water is widely available here, but you have to be careful what brands you purchase. Voltic Water has been a favourite! We are also lucky to be so close to the ocean, as the beautiful view makes the heat worthwhile.

This is where we held our first lunch meeting with the YCI staff. Beautiful view of the ocean, and very productive meeting

This is where we held our first lunch meeting with the YCI staff. Beautiful view of the ocean, and very productive meeting!

Nausea is something that has really hit us hard here. It is difficult to tell whether it is the heat, the water, or the different types of food that is upsetting our stomachs. We are assuming that it is a combination of everything. Additionally, certain types of malaria pills can cause nausea. Since we have arrived in Ghana, we have all experienced some kind of sickness due to the new environment. This was to be expected, though, as it is tricky to get used to any new environment.

Lastly, the difference in sanitary conditions is huge. In Canada, soap and clean water is generally available everywhere. In Ghana, however, tap water is not always available and is never clean enough to drink. Our home-stay, for example, rarely has water flowing out of the taps. We take bucket showers, usually with cold water, which has been difficult to master. We are down to about 4 buckets each, which we consider to be successful!

The view of Takoradi from our home-stay

The view of Takoradi from our home-stay

Overall, Ghana is a wonderful country with lots of assets. You cannot go anywhere without meeting friendly and generous people who want to get to know you. It is just a matter of getting used to a new way of life here. The food, climate and sanitary conditions are very different in comparison to Canada. We are gradually overcoming culture shock and beginning to enjoy the many things that Ghana has to offer. We are just lucky that we have so many supportive Ghanaians here to help us along the way!

There are lots of goats and other animals running loose around the neighbourhood Just another one of the neighbours

There are lots of goats and other animals running loose around the neighbourhood Here is one of our neighbours!

Claire, Caroline and Jillian are Youth Ambassadors currently working with YCI in Takoradi, Ghana.
To learn more about YCI’s ambassador programs in Ghana, Tanzania, and Costa Rica, check out our program calendar.

Development Projects in Takoradi, Ghana

By: Claire Whitty, Jillian Head and Caroline Kent

Development in Takoradi 2

To date we have been a part of two development projects. We have put on two HIV/AIDS workshops at the YMCA Vocational School. The school caters to girls from disadvantaged homes, offering them a high school level education in a trade of their choice (either catering or sewing). At the same time, the YMCA wants to ensure that they are educated in some basic high school courses like English and basic accounting. As young women from disadvantaged backgrounds, these girls are particularly vulnerable to a rising rate of HIV/AIDS in Takoradi among their cohort. We were able to spend two hours with each group of girls to teach them some basic knowledge about HIV/AIDS facts, transmission, myths, prevention and treatment. By offering an interactive workshop we were able to teach the girls some facts they will hopefully remember and share with family and friends.

Development in Takoradi 1Currently, Ghana is facing a cholera outbreak. This outbreak is fueled by an unsanitary water system and poor hygiene practices. The Ghana Education Service (GES) in collaboration with the YMCA and YCI put on a workshop for School Health and Education Program (SHEP) Coordinators. The purpose of the workshop was to deliver information about cholera and Ebola, while also teaching the SHEP Coordinators how to implement Water, Hygiene and Sanitation (WASH) practices in their schools to decrease the rate of transmission of any illnesses passed through water or air among children and teachers in schools. Our role was to give a brief information session about basic project management skills, including how to get funding for programs. The aim of our session was to encourage teachers to implement health and sanitation programs in their schools even if they think they need outside help and resources. Our goal was to give them the information and skills they need to design and implement a successful project or program.

Development in Takoradi 3In the coming week we will facilitate three workshops on environmental sustainability in schools in the community. These workshops will teach the students about the negative effects of poor environmental practices in their communities – such as excessive littering or open defecation. In the second half of the workshops we will do a neighbourhood clean-up with the students. We hope to encourage them to stop littering and to use sustainable environmental practices while also helping to clean up some neighbourhoods around Takoradi and Sekondi.

Claire, Caroline and Jillian are Youth Ambassadors currently working with YCI in Takoradi, Ghana.

To learn more about YCI’s ambassador programs in Ghana, Tanzania, and Costa Rica, check out our program calendar.

Third Time’s the Charm: Tanzania 2014

My name is Danielle and I am back in Africa for my third time but this is my second time in Tanzania with Youth Challenge International. I arrived in July and will be here until March 2015! Once again I am working at the most amazing youth centre, the Umoja Centre, in Arusha. I have many roles at the centre including teacher, dance club instructor, sponsorship coordinator and fundraising innovator!

I have another wonderful group of young adults who are at our centre because they want to further their education and improve their futures but they do not h ave the means to do it on their own. As the sponsorship coordinator and careers teacher it is my responsibility over the next few months to advise our students on their options upon graduation from the centre and to ensure that each student has a sponsor that will be able to support their chosen path.

Danielle and Emoja students

Danielle and Emoja Students

Currently, we have 10 out of 40 students sponsored and able to further their education in January. Unfortunately, without the support of sponsors, our students will not be able to continue their education after graduating even though they have the skills and potential to succeed. I have partnered with a few schools back in Canada who have chosen Umoja to be their development project. Each school will sponsor a student and conduct fundraisers to raise the fees. This will hopefully encourage individual families to also support Umoja and potentially sponsor a student themselves. My current general fundraising campaign are 50/50 draws in the workplace in support of Umoja. Tickets are sold for $2 and at the end of the work week one ticket is drawn from the bunch. Half of the proceeds go to the winning ticket and the other half go to support the Umoja Centre. We hope people will participate because a) they have the potential to win money and b) they are supporting a good cause.

In Careers, students have been identifying their interests, strengths, skills and attributes in order to select a suitable career path. To assist with their search, I have been organizing Careers Days twice a month in which a professional comes to the Umoja Centre to talk to the students about his/her career. In September Adam Bemma, a Canadian journalist from Farm Radio International, came to speak to the students about his work in international journalism. The following week, I took a group of interested students on a field trip to visit Farm Radio and see what Adam does.

Danielle New and Adam Bemma

Danielle and Adam Bemma

Through my connection with Farm Radio I was also able to connect with their mental health program through the Guidance, Counseling and Youth Development Centre for Africa. This organization is trying to raise awareness in secondary schools about youth issues affecting boys and girls in Africa such as mental health problems, HIV & AIDS, adolescent sexual reproductive health, alcohol and drug abuse. Their program will begin at the Umoja Centre in January and provides our centre with a full mental health curriculum, weekly workshops, training for our social worker, peer education training for our students and mental health support services for our staff and students. This program will greatly benefit our students as many of them are from backgrounds of extreme poverty, stress and disadvantage. This program will provide them with the necessary support to succeed and the tools for resiliency.

In October, the Umoja social worker and I will be attending a ‘Woman’s Career Day’ hosted by AfricAid in which successful Tanzanian women share their stories of how they made it in a male dominant work force and the challenges they experienced. We are hoping to meet with some of these women and ask them to come speak to our young girls at the Umoja Centre. The workforce is not a friendly place for many of our young female students and they often deal with issues such as discrimination, transactional sex and overall gender inequality. I hope that hearing some of these women’s stories will inspire them to push through and know that they have people on their side.

Danielle, Pascalina (office manager) and Chuki (social worker)

Danielle, Pascalina (office manager) and Chuki (social worker)

As a final note, I would also like to share a section from my personal blog. One of my early careers classes really impacted me and reminded me why I’m here helping these amazing students.

September 15, 2014: This week in my careers course we were talking about the challenges we all face in achieving our goals. As part of the lesson, I thought it would be a good idea to have the students share their stories with the class and tell us how they arrived at the Umoja Centre. In that class, I heard some of the most inspirational stories and I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with these students and hopefully improve their lives. In this post, I thought I would share some of their stories in the hopes that you would want to help improve their lives as well.
The first student, he’s 19. He grew up in an abusive home where his dad beat his mom, siblings, and himself. His mom left and took her children with her. They lived on the streets barely making it by. None of the children went to school because his mother was afraid that the father would find them. This student stopped going to school after grade 3. He lived on the streets for 7 years helping his mom with odd jobs to make a little money. Over the years, he made friends with kids who were in school and would borrow their books so he could try to learn. He heard about Umoja through a family friend. He is now studying in his second year at Umoja because when he arrived last year his education was extremely low. But he is quite motivated and is continuously improving his skills. Next year he plans to continue school to either be a tour guide or an IT technician.

The second student is 23. He grew up in a Masai village and did not attend school. His parents wanted him to stay home and help with the farming. He always wanted to go to school but couldn’t because of his parents and the 4 hour walk to school. At age 11, he was finally old enough to make the journey to school on his own and asked to enroll. The school denied him because they didn’t want an 11 year old starting primary school (grade 1). He persisted for days until the commissioner of that area was contacted and ultimately let him attend school. He studied hard and was at the top of his class. At 17 he was ready to start secondary school – which is grade 8. He worked hard to save his money and convinced his parents to sell a cow to send him to school. His parents agreed but on one condition – if he failed once, that was it. The first 3 years he did well and passed, but in the 4th year he studied hard but failed. That was it for his schooling. He stayed at home for one year, working on the farm while his family tried to set him up with a wife. But he knew that this was not the life for him, he wanted more education. One day, he received a call from a friend who told him about the Umoja Centre. His friend had just finished his year at Umoja and told him that they were having interviews the next day for the class of 2014. He was hours away from Arusha and had no money to get to the city. So he went to the nearest shop in his village and sold his phone to get enough money to make it to Arusha. He made it to the interview and was accepted into Umoja. He is now doing well and plans to pass form 4 (which is in secondary school) and become a doctor.

The third student is 14. He came to Umoja last year to interview to be a student. He failed the interview and did not get in. After that, he sat outside the gate of the school from 8-4 every day waiting and asking to be able to come to school. The teachers kept saying no and told him to go home. However, once the director heard about this stubborn boy sitting outside she knew she had to talk to him. He had so much motivation and determination that she had to let him in. After a while of being at Umoja, the teachers realized that he was a broken kid who was getting severely beaten by his step father. Everyone could see he was a great kid with a lot of potential, but his home life would not allow for him to succeed. The director referred him to live at a local children’s home called House of Happiness where he now lives. He has flourished and become the happy kid everyone knew he could be. He is in his second year at Umoja, since he lied about his age the previous year to get in. He is thriving at school and will go to secondary school in January. His plan is to be a journalist.

These are just three of the stories of the many students that Umoja helps. It is heartbreaking to hear their stories, but they all realize that education is important and they want to succeed. If helping these youth is something you are interested in, please consider visiting the Umoja Centre website or emailing me at

Danielle is a Youth Innovator currently working with YCI at the Umoja Centre in Tanzania. To learn more about YCI’s Innovator positions and how to apply, click here!

Fashion in Ghana

By: Katherine Lemay

Kathering blog photo 2

As anyone prepares for a trip abroad either to backpack, volunteer, work, and/or study, you are overwhelmed by the information about what to eat and what not to, culture shock, landscape, the people, the language, security and health issues etc. But when do we ever hear about the fashion unless it is exceedingly unusual?

In Ghana, to my surprise, I dressed no different then I would in my home country Canada. I work for a Member of Parliament, and although my case might be an exception since I held entrepreneurship workshops, I was not standing out if I was wearing my typical office outfit.

This made it very easy for me to dress every morning, although there are some standard fashion items in Ghana that you can’t leave without experiencing. The first would definitely be having an item of clothing hand picked and designed for you. You start first by walking around the different markets and shops and finding a material that catches you eye. Which are your favourite colors and favourite material and patterns? Once you have chosen your material, you then decided on a seamstress. Either you ask for a referral from your host family or people you already know. If you don’t have any recommendations to work with, there are so many seamstresses in the market to choose from and you can even ask them to show you examples of their work. The more frequently you go and refer other people to this seamstress the better the price of all of your items.

Katherine blog photo 1

The seamstress will then measure you, and you can ask for them to make you anything! From skirts, socks, to men’s dress shirts or hair bands. Head to toe … literally. They will measure you, so that the fabric you chose will fit you exactly right. A week later you go back to the seamstress to try out the work, and have them adjust it a bit if need be. It’s amazing to see what they can do with the patterns they provide you with. Don’t worry! If it doesn’t fit you right the first time, make sure to mention and to get it fixed, or else you will be stuck not wearing an item that you paid for.

Katherine blog post 4

Secondly there is the fabulous side of Ghana, which has to do with their bi-weekly bead markets. Just outside of the town of Koforidua you can buy beads and strings and have them made and fitted on your right before your eyes. It’s quite amazing. Don’t forger your bartering skills as well. You’ll need them, especially if you are buying many for all your friends and family.

Katherine blog photo 3Katherine blog photo 5

All this to say, the people of Ghana dress very nicely. Men will be dressed in suits, and women in wonderful matching pieces. So be sure to not bring to many pairs of khakis and old shoes, you will stand out, and not in a good way.

Take advantage of dressing up, its all part of the experience!

Katherine is a Youth Ambassador who worked with YCI in Ghana. Click here to learn more about how you can get involved with YCI’s projects abroad.

Alumni Feature: Jambo From Fawaz!

Jambo! My name is Fawaz Suleiman and in April of 2010, I applied and was accepted into an 8 week project with Youth Challenge International in Zanzibar, Tanzania. I was very excited upon hearing of my acceptance into the program for several reasons. Firstly, I was excited by the opportunity to work in youth development with YCI and the local grassroots organizations YCI had partnered with. Secondly, though my previous work and travels had made me familiar with the African context, Zanzibar was a new area to me which presented new and exciting experiences, prospects and challenges.

Zanzibar is an archipelago located off the coast of Tanzania in east Africa. The diversity of its inhabitants is only matched by the warmth of its people. With historical links to Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, this diversity is not only visible in the ethnic makeup of the island, but also reflected in the architecture, culture, languages and religions practiced.


As a Youth Ambassador, my main responsibilities were to coordinate youth development programs focused on delivering professional skills training and sexual health awareness campaigns. My workday often consisted of preparing materials and lesson plans for the computer workshops I ran three times a week, (an advanced level, a beginner level and a practical). Participants were very excited – often showing up early – to take part in the workshops as some had little experience utilizing computers on a regular basis.

Additionally, I participated in the implementation and organization of sexual health campaigns called `USHUJAA` – Tswahili for the courageous one – designed to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS and local testing and treatment facilities. The campaigns focused on HIV/AIDS contraction, prevention and the stigma often associated with it. The campaigns intentionally delivered its message through popular media, including music, plays and dance to not only to attract the target youth audience but also to do so in a way that is entertaining with long-lasting effects. One of the most memorable moments was witnessing entire communities coming out to not only watch but actively engage and participate in the campaigns with open minds and a determined purpose to address and tackle the community’s challenges.


My home stay was one of the most exciting parts of my time in Zanzibar. I lived as my host family lived and ate as they ate. They were often curious as to life back home in Canada and they were as eager to teach me Tswahili as they were for me to teach them English, which I was happy to do. Like most families, they got together after a long day at school or work to talk about their day, have dinner and watch a little television (Soap Opera shows seemed to be a favourite with my homestay family). My meals often consisted of local foods like ugali, fish, palau, cassava, potatoes and bananas to name a few. Being an island, seafood is available in abundance. One of the main highlights of my time was when my homestay family took me on a tour of the Forodani market, where all sorts of seafoods are displayed out for locals and tourists alike to eat by the sea.

My advice for volunteers looking to volunteer abroad with YCI is as follows.

  • Work on as many areas of your project as you can: it’s very rewarding work!
  • Have a backup plan: power cuts are frequent and you’ll often need to be flexible.
  • Get to know the locals: They are often as eager as you are to learn about the new culture they are exposed to through you.
  • Grow to love local foods: They are very delicious and make for a nice change from `western` foods.
  • Bring your local favourite food item that you just cannot do without; but bear in mind many are available locally.
  • If you have a netbook, bring it: Its small size made it relatively convenient as both an education and an entertainment tool
  • Go on Safari or climb Kilimanjaro (if you have the energy for it) while in Tanzania
  • Travel locally and internationally: It’s not often that you`ll be in that part of the world. Use the time before or after your project to travel and explore locally, nationally and internationally.


Beyond solidifying my interest in international development, my experience in Zanzibar has certainly had a lasting effect on me. Recently, I have completed my MSc degree in International Development and currently work in fundraising for an international development organization in Toronto. I have also maintained my relationship with YCI as an alumni, often representing YCI at various events, including volunteer recruitment drives and the Aeroplan `Go the Extra Mile` campaign. I shall continue to remember my time in Zanzibar as an exciting eye opening experience for many years to come.

Fawaz was a YCI Youth Ambassador working in Zanzibar. He remains an active member of the YCI alumni community. 
Click here to learn more about YCI’s Ambassador programs and to get involved.

Gearing up for a week of Social Entrepreneurship at YCI

As we gear up for social entrepreneurship week at YCI, we had a chat with Josh, our marketing and communications lead, about social enterprise and global youth development.

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Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Josh Layton and I am one of the marketing and communications leads at YCI, a social entrepreneur with a design for social good company called LOOP, as well as a YCI gender innovator in Mwanza, Tanzania.

What is Social Entrepreneurship to you?

I believe that social entrepreneurship is the next-generation’s way of tackling capitalism and the ways that business interacts with the world. I think it is so exciting (and inspiring) that we’re at a stage where we can develop radical new products and services to tackle major global challenges, and also make a decent dime doing it. Traditionally, services aimed at advancing social missions have been carried out by non-profits and NGO’s, but recently, I think we’re waking up to the fact that the world’s evolving and traditional non-profit models are finding it difficult to survive. By weaving business acumen into the social missions of non-profits we’re given a more sustainable and impactful way to facilitate change on a much larger scale – and that is a really exciting prospect for the future.

Where were you introduced to the idea of social enterprise?

The concept of social entrepreneurship is still being figured out, but I think its presence is growing at home and around the world. I was introduced to the concept when helping a team from the London School of Economics on a presentation for the finals of a global student competition called the HULT Prize. Coined as the world’s largest student competition, the HULT prize pushes students to develop a viable business of scale to tackle a major global challenge every year. We collaborated with a project called SOKOTEXT, which aimed to transform how fresh food made to market in urban slums in East Africa by leveraging basic sms technology and traditional supply chains. With the SOKOTEXT system local residents in urban slums would be able to save up to 30% off the price of fresh produce, a level that would afford a much more diverse and nutritious diet for slum dwellers. Watching this idea, along with many others come to life, learning about how simple ideas addressing major challenges could potentially bring in and impact millions was truly inspiring, and has become an important driving force in my life.

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Why is social enterprise such a powerful tool to advance global youth development?

I think social entrepreneurship is the next way forward for advancing youth livelihoods and development. I think we’re reaching ideal conditions for social entrepreneurs to bloom because there are so many unemployed youth at home and around the world who are eager to contribute but may not have the skills or resources to do so. There are also numerous social challenges to be faced. I think social entrepreneurship and funding of social entrepreneurship as a development tool creates a system that empowers youth, giving them responsibility to shape their own futures and those of their communities. It’s being seen the world over as well. Companies developing and selling solar lighting using innovative financing structures, companies finding new ways to produce and bring food to market, and increasingly mobile technologies that can be used to advance social causes. By investing in skills and resources of possible social entrepreneurs, we create solutions that are more sustainable and far reaching than traditional aid could ever be – because it’s within the passion and control of the people who need it most.

I’m proud to collaborate with an organization like YCI who see the potential in social entrepreneurship as a tool to improve the livelihoods of youth all over the world. Although it’s challenging, it’s important for young people to be introduced to the tools that can allow them to reach their potential, and the potential of their communities. Over the next few weeks we’ll be dedicating our blog and social media platforms to sharing stories of social entrepreneurship from our partners in the field, and from others around the world.

Check out our upcoming entrepreneurship projects in Tanzania here.

New Intern: Introducing Jordan

Jordan was born and (mostly) raised in Edmonton, Alberta but seems to have had a tough time staying there since she was 17. She loves South American cultures and since grade 11 she has lived in Chile, Halifax, and now Toronto, and has worked and studied in many Spanish-speaking countries.

Jordan photo for blog

Having been raised by parents who were always in service of others, I was exposed from a young age to the idea of “service over self.” I didn’t specifically understand what this meant to me until participating in a Rotary Youth Exchange to Ovalle, Chile in 2007-2008. It was simultaneously the most terrifying and exhilarating experience of my life, and it was during this year in South America that I decided I wanted to make my living working in underdeveloped countries.

I went back to Edmonton to finish grade 12 in 2008 (my mom made me promise not to stay in Chile forever before at least finishing high school), but I didn’t stay long. After graduating high school, I went to Dalhousie University to study International Development and Spanish and Latin American Studies, during which time I studied abroad in Salamanca, Spain and Havana, Cuba.

After studying development for four years, I found myself questioning what sort of development organization I wanted to work for. I was given the unique opportunity to work for a UN Development Programme-funded teaching project in Chile after graduation, and have continued to look for ways to work with organizations that focused on participatory development. My skepticism led me to YCI, who’s youth-led and grassroots development model really impressed me.

I am already learning so much about how international development organizations function “behind the scenes” and am looking forward to learning more over the next four months. I am hoping this internship will help me learn the technical skills I need to achieve my goal to work in the developing world.