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

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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 www.umoja.com.au or emailing me at sponsorship@umoja.com

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!

Work Placement in Paradise

My six-week work placement in paradise (aka Nungwi Zanzibar) had me working from the local office of Labayka! Labayka specializes in environment, social activities, and entrepreneurship. In my first week here, I jumped in with both feet and toured the town and ran interviews to help me understand life here. This was crucial for me to understand environmental issues so that I could re-vamp a presentation on the environment created by a past YCI volunteer. I modified it to make it into a two day workshop for local trainers of trainers. Seeing the town dumping sites and fish markets were definitely highlights as they are so central to the environmental issues in the area.

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I have been really busy in my second and third weeks, running 8 days of workshops for a total of 80 people coming from a variety of Northern Zanzibar villages! This has been an enriching experience for both the participants and me. I put my facilitation skills to use and learned how to work with a translator. It was also interesting working with people from various levels of education and how their learning needs varied greatly. I am hoping to run a follow-up workshop at the request of the participants in my remaining weeks as well as to draft a project proposal for future donors.

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 Megan Firth, Youth Innovator, Tanzania 2014 

To read more about YCI’s Innovator programs in Tanzania, click hereTo read more blogs from our volunteers in Tanzania, click here.

 

Home Stay

It’s been three weeks since I landed in paradise (aka Zanzibar)! Even from the beautiful 20 minute puddle-jumper flight, Zanzibar showed-off its beautiful beaches lined with palm trees and people so friendly and welcoming, you feel at home upon arrival. I find myself living in the beautiful northern village of Nungwi for six weeks to run environmental workshops with the community.

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Megan and the puddle jumper

I am living with a local family throughout my stay which is helping me to better understand the daily life of people in the village, their food and of course Swahili. My home stay dad is the only one in the family who speaks English, so he helps me to understand what is happening within the home and how I fit in. While my Moma does not speak much English we communicate with a lot of gestures and plenty of laughs!

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There is always something new for me to experience, whether it is learning how to do laundry by hand for first time (much to the amusement of my Moma, her two friends and the 14 children who watched me learn how to do laundry in my first week). Or getting used to having a family of chickens living in our front room. The children definitely find it very funny that the chickens that accidentally wander into the kitchen while we are eating dinner, are constantly startling me!

I am very thankful to have breakfast and dinner provided to me, carefully made by hand each day. But more importantly the time that my host family spends with me during the meals, often humoring my wide range of questions! They definitely do their best to make me feel welcome and at home.

- Megan Firth, Youth Innovator, Tanzania 2014 

To read more about YCI’s Innovator programs in Tanzania, click hereTo read more blogs from our volunteers in Tanzania, click here.

Me Ma Wo Awoda Pa!

It was just after seven in the morning. My bag was packed and I was headed to the breakfast table when Fiona, a volunteer from Germany, appeared at my bedroom door.

“Good morning Andrea. Mama Mina says that you must stay in your room. Ok?”

“Ok…” We shared a curious glance and before I could say more she was gone.

I slipped off my shoes and sat back on the bed. Twenty minutes passed. Tiny beads of sweat began collecting at the nape of my neck. Surely it was alright to venture out as far as the front patio for an update.

“Sorry. Sorry. Ten more minutes and we will be ready for you,” Francis, a jovial, young man who lived and worked at Mama Mina’s home stay, shouted as he ran past.

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A birthday breakfast feast

It was nearly 8:00, my start time at the YMCA. I would need to call and-

“Good morning my dear Andie,” Mama Mina exclaimed. Taking my hand, she led me to the outdoor area where the volunteers ate morning and evening meals.

Balloons hung from the trees. The table was set with a flower arrangement. All the volunteers were present, along with the street children who came to Mama Mina’s in the morning for lessons and a meal. Everyone began singing and Francis appeared with the kettle to fill my mug with hot water. The table was full with plates of fruit and baking. Warm, sweet and savoury muffins, crepes, toasted sandwiches, bread for butter and jam. Papaya, mango and pineapple. When had Mama Mina arranged with the volunteers? How early this morning had Francis and the kitchen staff begun preparations? Did I want a crepe or a muffin? Breakfasts were normally very modest. Bread with margarine. Maybe jam. Coffee and tea.

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The children sang and enjoyed the breakfast spread.

Mama Mina called everyone’s attention for prayer. “Thank you Lord for our volunteers and thank you for bringing us together today to celebrate…” My eyes began welling with tears. I knew that I would linger a bit longer over my coffee that morning. After work I planned on visiting Makola market to purchase fabric for a dress. In a moment of weakness I might hand over my cedis for an exorbitantly overpriced jar of Nutella. Me ma wo awoda pa!

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Breakfast spread

I had only been awake for a few hours and already the day exceeded my expectations. This YCI experience has brought me closer to my personal and professional goal of working in international development, and so for this reason just being here in Ghana felt grand. Making a wish, here on my birthday, was tastier than the fattest spoonful of chocolate spread, straight from the jar.

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As if I hadn’t been sufficiently spoiled, Naana from YCI surprised me with a cake and a visit.

Andrea Paolini, Youth Innovator, Ghana 2014

To read more about YCI’s programs in Ghana, click hereTo read more blogs from our volunteers in Ghana, click here.

YCI is currently recruiting for a 4-week project in Ghana this July 29th to August 26th

 

Like a Breeze

My first morning here I woke to red earth, yellow hibiscus and a massive, waxy banana tree outside my window. Be present, I told myself. These six weeks will blow in and out like a breeze. Today I mark the half-way point with this blog entry. It has been three weeks since I left the snow and chapped skin of an inhospitable Canadian winter, since the airplane landed and immediately filled with steam when cabin doors clicked open to a humid Accra night.

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Bananas growing outside my bedroom window in Accra

I feel most at ease in the early mornings, when the temperature has not yet begun its ascent, when after a cool shower I feel momentarily refreshed and ready to press start on my work day. Following a simple breakfast of fresh bread and instant coffee, I begin my commute with a ten-minute walk along a meandering dirt road. Strewn with garbage and fallen bougainvillea blossoms it is a striking contrast of rot and beauty.

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Bougainvillea along the dirt road

I head towards Asylum Down Circle, a bustling traffic circle where city dwellers converge to catch taxis. All around, vendors sell phone credit and coconuts, toiletries and water sashes. Pots of oil sizzle with deep frying fish and bofrot, (sweet gooey balls of dough). In the distance I watch as the taxi I hoped to join putt putts away. Another will be along shortly to fill with passengers.

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Along my path from the home stay in Nima to Asylum Down Circle

Back in Toronto I often shut out the city soundscape by listening to a news podcast. But here, I want to hear all that I can. The shouts of “obroni” (white) from street children, requisite Bob Marley layered over chart topping dance hits and the morning call to prayer, wonky horns and ringing bells warning me to get out of the way.

A few minutes later I hand the driver one cedi thirty pesewas (approximately 65 cents Cdn) and wait to alight at the cathedral. Landmarks, rather than numbered addresses are used here to navigate the city. From the cathedral I walk a few more minutes, past Accra’s psychiatric hospital (hence the area name, “Asylum”) and past Paulina, a local merchant who has befriended me. She is stoking a fire in preparation for roasting yams, plantains and groundnuts.

Once at the YMCA I greet the staff and settle at my desk. The six of us will gather shortly for prayer and morning announcements. Today, in addition to updating the Facebook and Twitter accounts, I must finalize a press release for the upcoming Inter-Cultural Youth Festival. The festival will be held in Cape Coast, July 19-29, 2014. I was fortunate to visit Cape Coast my first weekend in Ghana. I remember lingering on the castle balcony, lost in the long stretch of sand, crashing waves and a fat, pink lollipop sunset…

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The sun sets on Cape Coast, Ghana

Yes, these final weeks will blow in and out quickly and before I know it I’ll be back in Toronto, riding the subway to work, ordering a grande extra hot soy misto from Starbucks, wishing for the breeze that as I type this last sentence, I presently savour.

 

Andrea Paolini, Youth Innovator, Ghana 2014

To read more about YCI’s programs in Ghana, click hereTo read more blogs from our volunteers in Ghana, click here.

YCI is currently recruiting for a 4-week project in Ghana this July 29th to August 26th to work with our partners on entrepreneurship initiatives.