Fashion in Ghana

By: Katherine Lemay

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

New Intern: Introducing Lena

Lena has recently joined YCI as the Communications and Marketing Assistant. Born and raised in Toronto, she is a recent graduate of McGill University, where she studied Political Science and Communications.

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I became interested in international development through my studies of international politics during university, as well as through my involvement with various charity organizations at McGill. I am specifically interested in youth engagement and community development, and believe that a youth-focused appraoch to international development is incredibly valuable. Having spent several years working with Canadian youth in various capacities, it’s really interesting to gain a new perspective on youth outreach in the development field.

Because I enjoy research, writing and media, I’m thrilled to be able to work in a communications role for an organization that does inspiring work. In my role as Communications and Marketing Assistant, I am responsible for managing YCI’s social media platforms by searching for and publishing content, promoting YCI’s projects, and engaging online with our friends and supporters. I also curate and publish content on the YCI blog, where we share stories from YCI alumni. I enjoy this role because I have the opportunity to learn a lot about YCI’s projects as well as the broader international development world as I read and curate articles, and can also utilize my own creative skills when I write my own content. This role has given me an opportunity to develop my own professional skill-set, as well as be part of an awesome team!

New Intern: Introducing Rachel

Rachel was born and raised in Montreal, Quebec, home of poutine, the Montreal Canadiens, and smoked meat. She has had a passion for humanitarian work since grade 8, when she first realized that she wanted to make a difference in the lives of people who live in difficult circumstances. 

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Rachel at the YMCA in Takoradi, Ghana

My mother was the one who inspired me towards this field, with an awareness and compassion that she passed on to her children. I have since focused my education on humanitarian work, and I plan to do the same in my career. In high school, I was a part of my Social Justice Committee and fundraised for Free the Children. I went on to a program called North South at Dawson College, which was my first real experience overseas in Nicaragua for 5 weeks, where I participated in two work projects and lived with two local families. I learned a lot about myself on this trip, and forged some lifelong friendships along the way.

Afterwards I went on to receive my bachelor’s degree in International Development Studies at McGill University. After my graduation I was looking for a way to get involved, and found Youth Challenge International. This past March I participated in a 4-week volunteer program in Ghana with YCI focusing on gender empowerment and health among Ghanaian female youth. I was impressed with YCI’s organization, efficiency, and drive, so much so that when I got home I applied to one of YCI’s open internships in Toronto! Here I am now, YCI’s Volunteer Program Assistant for the next 4 months!

I’ll be processing volunteer applications, assisting in the interview and selection processes, and helping each volunteer prepare for their trip. This includes extensive fundraising support, preparing orientation guides, and updating important information on the volunteers’ online preparation pages.

YCI really helped me forge my personal and professional goals and I’m hoping that over the next few months I’ll help others do the same. I’m so excited to be a part of the team!

Lessons that Propel Entrepreneurs


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Submitted by: Charis Jung

As an Entrepreneurship & Innovation Intern, my work with YCI involves teaching entrepreneurship workshops and organizing the Micro-Enterprise Conference, a culminating event for the workshop participants. In line with YCI’s focus on improving youth livelihood, these workshops are offered to young entrepreneurs in the Takoradi-Sekondi region who are passionate about pursuing their business ideas, or are already operating their own businesses. The start-ups vary in products and services, ranging from hair stylists and fashion designers to caterers and maize/rice vendors. The entrepreneurs also have different levels of business education with many of them having little or no prior business training.

In Ghana, the informal sector is a large contributor to new employment opportunities, and it represents a growing segment of the workforce in Africa. Over 90% of businesses in Ghana are small and a medium-sized enterprise, which means many people make a living for themselves through their family businesses or start-ups. Both the active informal sector and the widespread SMEs are evident in Ghana, where you can witness stores, street vendors, hawkers, and small family shops in neighbourhoods. The reason for focusing so much on youth is because 26 to 35 year-olds own over 30% of Ghana’s SMEs. In other words, they are the driving force of the economy. These are the same people who drive innovation, adapt quickly to changes and work with passion.

I’ve now completed three out of four modules for the Entrepreneurship Workshops, and it’s been a humbling experience. It’s been rewarding for me to facilitate these workshops, covering introductory business concepts that will hopefully give the participants that extra edge to steer them towards success in the marketplace. It’s remarkable how simple lessons on branding or cost and pricing strategies can make a large difference for these young men and women, as they find ways to differentiate themselves from competitors in their respective industries.

I’m all the more excited because I’ve witnessed how this program has made a difference for some entrepreneurs who participated in last year’s pilot program. For instance, Joseph who is a furniture-maker at By Grace Furniture went from working with “rough plans” for the past eight years to applying strategic goal-setting this year. The workshop motivated Joseph to start building his own furniture showroom, design a large signage/banner for his storefront, and print additional business cards for effective networking. The showroom had only been an idea prior to the workshops, but the sessions pushed him to put things into action. “I learned the importance of advertising through different methods, like the signage, and complementary [business] cards. Now, I print pictures of my furniture on calendars and distribute them to companies and banks,” Joseph told me enthusiastically during our interview. It was evident that Joseph had been deeply impacted, and I’ll continue to work with the anticipation that we see more stories like his in the near future.

Charis Jung, Youth Entrepreneurship & Innovation Intern, Ghana