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.


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.


 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.


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!


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.


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. 


You see a girl, we see the future

It is the end of Week 3 on Project. We’ve completed 5 workshops across 3 schools covering very important topics of confidence and self esteem building through Public Speaking and Sexual Reproductive Health focusing on menstrual hygiene and birth control. After a very productive and successful week, we’re now reflecting upon our experiences.

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Girls at our ‘Your Voice Matters’ Workshop from Nana Brempong Yaw School.

All of our hard work preparing for the workshops has really paid off, as our girls really showcased their talents and skills during their practical Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Project activities. During the workshops, we motivated and empowered 5 classes (approximately 90) young women.

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The Nana Brempong Yaw School group.

Our “Your Voice Matters” Public Speaking workshop aimed to train our MDG girls for their upcoming project showcase at the Go Girls Summit Event. It was great conquering the stage fright, and watching the young leaders blossom before us. We witnessed the personal growth of most of these girls, which was truly rewarding. On the health aspects, we educated our girls on the importance of sexual reproductive health. Battling teenage pregnancy rates in the Western Region of Ghana at the grassroots level, girls were educated on effective birth control methods and general hygiene practices. We leveled the playing field of gender equality, empowering the girls to believe in the power of their own decisions and their voices.

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Practicing before a small audience on the stage at the YMCA.

We were privileged to see the girls in action on their MDG projects. We met up with the MDG groups this week to track their progress and ensure they were preparing for the upcoming event. The first two groups from Nana Brempong YAW focused on: eradicating extreme poverty and achieving universal primary education.

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The first group of YMCA girls after the 1st SRH Workshop.

The first learned how to make artisanal crafts to emphasize self-sustainability. The second are making presentations to their classmates who have difficulties making it to class about the importance of school.

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The second group of YMCA girls after we delivered our 2nd edition of the SRH Workshop.

Both groups were passionate about their topics and it really showed. The other two groups from the YMCA decided to work on: environmental sustainability and gender equality.

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Engaging the group during the Sexual Reproductive Health workshop hosted at the YMCA.

The group working on environmental sustainability initiated their project from their own school with the motto of charity starts at home. They formed an Environmental Club and cleaned up their school grounds.

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The YMCA Environmental Group gathers for a quick group shot before getting back to work!

The other group held a workshop of their own on Women Empowerment and Leadership to their classmates. We were proud to see these girls carry out their workshop in such a professional manner and with passion. Overall, it was a very moving experience to see the progress these young women were making right in front of us. These girls were on fire! Absolutely unstoppable. This is just the beginning for all of these groups, but we are hopeful that they continue these projects after we leave, as there is so much work to be still done.

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The YMCA’s Environmental Group hard at work for their Environmental Sustainability MDG Project, restoring the YMCA gardens.

Next up, our grand finale, the Go Girls Summit on March 26th, 2014. We are so proud of the girls’ progress, and cannot wait to see their presentations and their continued leadership in their communities!

- Edna Quan, Rachel Ouellette and Rakshin Saroha, Youth Ambassadors, Ghana 2014

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

What? Tanzania isn’t poor at all!

“Do you want paintings? Very cheap price for you!” He said. I was volunteering in Stone Town in Zanzibar in Tanzania, East Africa.

This is the gazillionth time I’ve been approached by touters trying to make a quick buck at unsuspecting tourists. Who knows the actual prices of these paintings?

“How much is cheap?” He offered a price. I couldn’t remember what it is now. Nor does it matter. “And what is it painted on?” After all, my degree was in Art History, big help that was in landing a career.

“Banana leaves!” He exclaimed. Ok. That’s pretty interesting. Trying to get out of the tout, I humoured him.

“Do you have the big 5? And a big painting of it on banana leaves?” He explained that he could search for it. With sincerity. He also explained that his grandfather painted them, who knows if that was true.

“All right, I’ll be around for 5 more weeks. I’ll find you here at Shangani Park!” Which wasn’t a lie. I was interested to see if he could get “The Big 5″ referring to the 5 biggest animals in Africa: lion, elephant, hippo, leopard and the buffalo. He told me his name was Joseph.

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The artist

A few weeks later I bumped into him again with him touting the same thing. He clearly doesn’t remember me but was shocked when I called him by name. Again, I told him I’d be around for a few more weeks and not to worry.

I had forgotten about Joseph for 3 weeks since. I did want a painting before I left though, of something from Zanzibar. I decided I was going to find this Joseph, but hadn’t spotted him hunting for tourists. Finally after New Years, I had wandered with a group of friends into the depths of Stone Town got lost

“Hey! My friend! How are you?!” Joseph pops out from the side street. He was as excited to see me as I was to him. Our brief encounters before were quite jovial, despite the obvious hard sells. I told him I never see him around anymore.

“I’m learning to paint now!” That got my attention. This young man, probably just hovering around late teens went from a street peddler to a painter over night. I wondered what his game was.

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His associate doing other paintings

“I just have a few paintings now, but later I will have more! I have a teacher!” I suddenly felt I had to support this man in his endeavors. We traded numbers and discussed how I could find him later on. After all I had 2 more weeks here.

I’ve known and seen several people in my travels just give up in life in poor economic conditions and resort to the drink or whatever cop-out drugs they can find. Economically ranking in the 2012 UN census, Tanzania sits 177th out of 194 countries. There are only 17 more countries poorer than Tanzania where Somalia stands in last place.

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Coral bricks and metal sheets for houses

In Zanzibar, a tropical paradise, economically devastated, where resorts for the rich Westerners, mzungu’s, are juxtaposed beside the poor shanty shacks made of coral rock and metal sheets, where locals have very little hope in achieving the wealth of a tourist, this man had pulled his life together and is going to make the best of his situation.

A few days later I had made a specific run down to see Joseph to get art and he took me to another store where he was painting. These paintings were all done with a palette knife and also negative spaced lines where the paint is scraped off. Humanoid figures depict the Masai people from Arusha closer inland to Mount Kilimanjaro. Bulbous stomachs, nose, and breasts make up the gist of the references of the body and the negative spaced depicted the jewelry they often wear.

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Me and the artist

“I know you wanted to support me and my art rafiki. I’m really giving you a good price now.”

After shopping around for art, I knew his prices weren’t bad and he had already reduced them. I could be a nasty haggler when I know I’m being ripped off. Whatever price he named I was willing to give. With my buddy, Christine, we had bought pretty much the 3 paintings that he had available to encourage him to continue on the path that he is going to pursue.

With that, he packed it into a cardboard tube, we shook hands and departed. This artist is already rich and he doesn’t even know it yet. (And I don’t mean money).

Ian Chow Youth Ambassador, Tanzania, 2013. Originally posted in Ian Chow’s blog

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

Where the Girls Are

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YCI Ambassadors lead the girls in a warm up

As a YCI Marketing and Communications Innovator I will assist the Ghana YMCA in creating a vibrant and sustainable social media presence to engage youth and promote its programming. Towards this goal, I travelled to Takoradi, where in partnership with the Ghana YMCA, YCI provides mentoring and youth training to girls in junior and senior high school. Upon arrival in Takoradi, located four hours west of Accra, I met with YCI Ambassadors Rachel Ouellette, Edna Quan and Rakshin Saroha. The following morning I accompanied them, first to the YMCA to conduct a physical education class for some forty teen girls and then onto Nana Brempong Yaw, a local junior high school. Here the Ambassadors spoke to girls, ages 13-15 about the importance of education and then they facilitated a workshop on public speaking for ten girls selected to be peer educators. As Frederick Dadzie, Senior Program Manager at YCI Ghana mentioned in a recent blog post, these workshops are part of a larger strategic plan to help girls promote and achieve the Millennium Development Goals. I was immediately struck by the confidence and poise with which they told their stories. They sought a future rich in magnificent colour, one in which they succeeded and supported their families.

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Students on campus

I do not know the exact circumstances and complexities that were these girls’ realities. Perhaps it is for this reason that I took such comfort in what I did know. At that exact moment as girls across Ghana hawked wares along polluted and dusty motor ways, these girls — among them Mercy, Patience, Cristobel, Lovely, Gracie, Millicent and Elizabeth — were in a classroom. Safe. They were not statistics or factoids. They were captivating and inquisitive young girls who, in addition to enjoying music and dancing hoped someday to be doctors and teachers, journalists and mothers. How I hope, that despite the very real obstacles that face them, these girls continue to thrive… I am here in Ghana for and because of these girls…

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The girls with their teacher

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.