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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.
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.
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.
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…
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
Ghana’s 20th century history, while often forgotten, is important for all of Africa.
Ghana, led by Kwame Nkrumah, played a pivotal role in the decolonization of Africa after the Second World War. The first African country to gain independence in 1957, Ghana’s history to that point, and after it has been a very interesting, if not sombre, tail. It is this history that we had the pleasure of looking at while in Accra over the past weekend. After some goodbyes in Koforidua, we headed down to spend the weekend in the capital as a stopping point before venturing onwards to Takoradi.
Some of the sites that we saw in Accra included Black Star Square and Gate and the Kwame Nkrumah mausoleum. For me, the most interesting thing was going to the mausoleum and viewing the museum attached to it. Many people underestimate the importance that Nkrumah had, not only in Ghana, but in Africa as a whole. With Ghana being the first country to gain independence, Nkrumah sounded the alarm to the colonial powers that people were not going to take it any longer. Indeed, after a coup in 1966 removed him from power, Nkrumah went to Conarky and continued to write and fight the colonial chains around Africa. For me, Nkrumah was a pioneer and he wasn’t afraid to attack the injustices he saw. He might not be as popular as Patrice Lumumba, but what he did and what he represented was just as important. I was happy to pay my respects to him.
We have now settled in Takoradi. While we’re just beginning our projects here, it looks like it will continue to be a very positive experience for all of us. Plus, with the beach not less than a 10 minute walk away, there are ample opportunities to decompress after a long day of work. But that’s it for now. From the Soviet inspired monuments around Accra to the beaches of Takoradi, I bid you adieu.
- Robert Rankin, Youth Ambassador, Ghana, 2013
YCI is currently recruiting for a number of projects in Ghana this Winter- check out our Program Calendar for more information!
It’s Wednesday, June 12, and today we did the second of three workshops on hygiene and hand-washing. Our workshop was at Adiembra Secondary School for about 700 students! There actually wasn’t a physical space for that many students, so we had to split up. I took half inside, and my fellow YCI volunteer May, worked with the other half outside. Both of us were supported by Nana Peperah Antwi – YMCA’S Western Regional Clerk , Fred Dadzie – Senior Program Manager of YCI Ghana, and Ama Josiah – a YMCA Volunteer.
We ended up with more time and people then we had planned on, but we still managed to have what seemed to be a successful workshop. Although we were primarily lecturing, students were attentive and appeared interested in what we were saying, which was just wonderful.
On Monday, we gave a workshop to 50 students at the YMCA Vocational Training Institute. A less daunting task, the workshop at the YMCA was just straight-up fun. We played a few games designed to give different messages about hand-washing, and it seemed like many of the students understood the messages we were trying to convey. The games had been developed partially by Alex, an intern at the Accra YMCA.
Last week was mostly focused on administering the Youth Entrepreneurship survey we wrote in conjunction with our project manager, Fred Dadzie. Administering the questionnaire was a truly fascinating experience for me, because it gave me a glimpse into the daily lives of several entrepreneurs in Ghana. Both May and I traveled all around the Sekondi-Takoradi area talking to different young entrepreneurs with the help of Nana and Ama. The contributions of these two individuals truly cannot be emphasized enough. The research would not have been remotely possible without their assistance.With their help, May and I got to speak to ordinary business people about their experiences starting and running businesses.
Living every writer’s dream, I got to walk up to people operating their businesses and ask them to tell me their stories. Of course, our interviews were structured around pre-determined questions, but each interviewee told a unique story. It was fascinating to see how each individual story unfolded as the questions progressed. We interviewed a wide variety of people, ranging from someone selling shoes on the street to running an online tech sales company. Regardless of the type of business, each entrepreneur demonstrated an impressive business capability and a drive to succeed.
It was really interesting to me that many expressed an interest in importing, exporting, and manufacturing because traveling for international trade is viewed as a particularly important marker of success in Ghana. This aspiration seemed to be related to a hope on the part of many business people that they could have a transformative effect on Ghana with their business. I was greatly impressed by this strong concern for the general welfare of others. Now, I just hope I can match it!
- Alec Lynch, Youth Ambassador, Ghana 2013
This blog was originally posted on March 10, 2013 on http://emilyroyer.wordpress.com/ by YCI volunteer Emily Royer.
This past Wednesday was Ghana’s 56th Independence Day! Independence Day is a National Holiday so with the day off work I was finally able to explore the huge market that Accra has to offer. Independence Day celebrations included school children marching, flags everywhere (the Ghananian colors of red, yellow and green are painted on virtually every tree and little stall possible), fireworks, and a day of general relaxation for locals. I, on the other hand, was on a mission. Before coming to Ghana I was told by many people to pack lightly as there are so many fabrics to buy here and talented tailors who can sew virtually any design you show them. I imagined a whole new wardrobe at my fingertips. Unfortunately, time has flown by and it was only this past week that I was able to actually go shopping for fabrics. Makola market is one of the biggest markets in Accra and has an entire area dedicated to fabrics. If you turn down a narrow alleyway you walk through a long line of fabric shops. Every kind of fabric you can imagine with bright colors and bold patterns lives in this narrow alleyway. This is not a productive place for an indecisive soul with a touch of ADD. After wandering through a number of stalls and draping every color of fabric over myself, I was finally able to pick two fabrics which I am hoping to have made into dresses. Stay tuned on how those turn out!
On Thursday, myself and Alex (another Canadian intern working with the Ghana YMCA from the Greater Toronto YMCA) travelled to Takoradi to participate in the All Girls Summit that the YMCA was putting on for International Women’s Day. Takoradi is a booming town along the West coast of Ghana and is the center for oil and gas in Ghana. The 5 hour bus ride from Accra was very picturesque – luscious green trees, rich orange soil, and the expansive ocean. Upon arriving in Takoradi, we were met by the acting Regional Secretary for the Ghana YMCA Western Region, Nana. Nana is a young guy who has a lot on the go – he is the acting Regional Secretary, he is taking an accounting course, he is the lead singer of his church choir, and much much more. He welcomed us with incredible hospitality, taking us on a mini tour of Takoradi and inviting us to his home for dinner where his mom cooked a delicious (non-fried!!) meal. On the way to dinner we had to make a pit stop to talk to one of the speakers for the All Girls Summit. The speaker is a Chief (part of the traditional government) for a town in the Central Region and we were lucky enough to get to look at her photo album from her coronation. The coronation was a beautiful celebration full of color and tradition. The Chief is also a savvy business woman and owns and manages a Fan Ice (my favorite ice cream snack) distribution centre. As Fan Ice is my favorite treat, I was very very excited.
The following day, the All Girls Summit took place at the YMCA Takoradi Vocational School. The vocational school is an all-girls school that is the equivalent educational level to high school and students learn skills in sewing and catering alongside necessary curriculum like math and English. Two YCI volunteers have been in Takoradi for the past two months designing and implementing development workshops and they organized a fantastic event to celebrate International Women’s Day. Three female guest speakers (including the Chief, the principle of the vocational school, and a professor) talked about their experiences and gave advice to the room of girls to be confident and determined, find positive role models, and believe that they can be successful. After a delicious lunch (prepared by the girls who take catering classes) the two YCI interns gave a presentation on entrepreneurship. I was very impressed with their presentation. Although everyone speaks English in Ghana, there are times when it feels like we are speaking completely different languages. Especially when speaking to a large group, the speed we talk as foreigners, our accents, and the way we construct sentences means that sometimes a lot gets lost in translation. Watching the girls conduct the Entrepreneurship session, I was reminded of classes in University where my professors had heavy accents and no matter how much I wanted to listen and learn, it was very difficult to stay engaged. The YCI volunteers had a lot of patience while conducting their session and were able to engage the girls despite the language barriers. After the program wrapped up, I had the opportunity to test a marketing tool that I created – a questionnaire/template to generate articles and testimonials about the program that can then be easily used for the Ghana YMCA website, newsletter and Facebook page. The template was well received and I believe people generally understood the goal of the tool. I received some great feedback that will contribute to the overall marketing and communication strategy.
As for the name of this blog post: As I get more comfortable in Accra and Ghana and am developing a routine, I find myself forgetting that I’m in Africa. There is a lot that I love here – the fresh mangos (Mom you would LOVE them), the beaches, the friendly people… That being said, there are some things that truly make me appreciate how lucky I am at home. Ghana is rationing both power and water, so power outages have become more and more consistent with the power being off more often than it is on and water rationing means that running water is a treat rather than the norm. Although my place is quite clean, I came across a massive cockroach in the kitchen and huge spider in the washroom the other day. This is all part of the experience and I’m learning to take the good with the bad!
- Emily Royer, Youth Ambassador, Ghana 2013
I’d like to take the time to talk about some of the fun I have been having in my downtime here in Ghana. This weekend my YCI partner and I travelled to Accra for a impromptu Leadership conference, as well as some beach-time. I got the opportunity to speak to an inspiring student organization in Ghana called ENACTUS [which is actually one of YCI's newest partner organizations in Ghana]. I was able to share my experience as a student in post-secondary education to the students. The bright young minds in the room were overwhelming. Their drive, their questions and their passion was inspirational.
After the conference we spent the rest of the weekend relaxing on the beach and soaking up Ghanaian culture in the big city. Accra seemed like a different world compared to Koforidua. Its hustle bustle was not just in the center of town, but existed everywhere…with much more Western flare.
Accra is a fantastic spot if you are a beach lover like myself. It has many to offer and they are all gorgeous. Labadi Beach is my favorite so far, but I hope to check out more before I leave Ghana. There’s something for everyone at Labadi – horse rides on the coast, restaurants and bars, lounge chairs, shops, chop houses, and of course many people selling beads, paintings and other souvenirs. I might just do all of my shopping from a horizontal position in the sand. One thing you have to watch out for are the huge waves the Ghanaian coast has; strong enough to pull you right out to sea.
Night life in Ghana is amazing. The music is vibrant and there are many ex-pats living here. Living in Koftown, I sometimes feel like the only white person for miles, but in Accra I was nothing special. Individuals from around the world flock to the capital city on business, as well as for pleasure.
I also must make a quick note about the bead markets on Thursdays in Koforidua. Every Thursdays, vendors come from all over the Eastern Region to sell their beautiful beads. They are authentic, and hand crafted so we have been told some of the best in Ghana. Its hard to choose your favorites since they are all so gorgeous but its best to look before you make impulsive purchases or you will go home with a lighter wallet.
March 6th is Independence Day in Ghana and we plan on going to Accra for the day to join in the celebrations. Although Koforidua is a relaxing, laid back place to be, Accra seems to be appropriate for this occasion. I will be sure to give an update as to how it goes! Also on the agenda for travel is Takoradi, to visit the other city that hosts YCI volunteers, as well as Cape Coast to see the slave castles. 6 weeks has never felt so short!
- Leigh Matassa, Youth Ambassador, Ghana 2013
When travelling to a new place you inevitably assess how this world is different from your own. The sounds, the smells, the sights, the temperatures, the tastes- the barrage on your senses is a constant reminder that you’re very far from home. However, eventually this foreign place becomes home, the streets become familiar, the smells lead you to your favourite tea stall, the morning heat wakes you up for an early start to the day – and if that doesn’t work, there will certainly be a loud rooster to do the job. For me, it is at this point that the lines between North America and Africa begin to blur and I no longer see what makes us different but how we are the same. One great example of this is music.
Wherever I’ve travelled in the world, I’ve always felt welcomed by music. Even with the use of different rhythms, languages and instruments, each place on Earth has it’s own love ballads, songs of triumph, hymns of praise, and music to just dance to. Ghana, of course, is no different. What I have particularly loved about my time in Accra, the nation’s capital, and the smaller town of Koforidua, is that there is always music in the air, like a continuous soundtrack to my daily life. And it’s pretty awesome.
I feel that the daily Ghanaian soundtrack could be classified into four distinct and wonderful genres:
a) Classic African music that is always upbeat and makes you smile;
b) Reggae- Bob Marley and Jamaica paraphernalia are abundant;
c) Radio tunes that you remember from the 90’s;
d) And of course, the sweat-inducing, bass-thumping beats that bring both young and old to the dance floor.
I feel the most interesting are the latter two categories. Firstly, there isn’t a place in town you can go without hearing the powerful pipes of our favourite Canuck, Celine Dion. There is nothing like wandering a rural town in Ghana’s Eastern region when the melody of It’s All Coming Back To Me Now comes blaring from a car repair shop. Also in the songs-I-used-to-know-every-word-to category comes the smoothest 90’s R&B group – Boyz2Men. It’s a wonderful moment when your 4 hour trip, on a pothole-filled road, in a trotro (minibus) overcrowded with 14 people, 3 babies and a chicken, is interrupted by a bus-wide sing-a-long to the Boyz’s End of the Road.
Lastly, I must have a shout out to the African dance jams that have made this country such a fun place to be. Currently, a popular tune is Azonto, a song about a new dance craze (Locomotion anyone?). Dance moves have been created to go along with the song and almost everyone we’ve met has been able to show us a few. From the beach, to the general store, to even the streets of Koforidua, you can see young school children and adults dancing along when Azonto comes on the radio. We’ve made it our mission to find the perfect teacher to show us obrunis (white people) how to properly Azonto. And so, I leave you with the song that has been playing in my head for the past 3 weeks in hopes that you too, can join in, and Azonto, Azonto, Azonto!
-Danika King, Youth Innovator, Ghana 2012
My daily life in Accra…
As with daily life back home in Canada, each day here in Accra is slightly different and yet the same. I will however try to give you a taste of my life here.
Hello, my name is Linden and I am the Gender Advisor for the YMCA of Ghana, a position I obtained through YCI’s CIDA International Youth Internship Program (IYIP) program. My mandate here is to help the YMCA of Ghana create a Gender Policy, which will impact the administrative structure, and their programming. To do this I have begun gender trainings for staff and volunteers to build up their knowledge of gender issues in Ghana and how a Gender Policy will help them move towards gender equality within the YMCA and in its programming.
So what is my day like?
First it is important to acknowledge that Accra, while it is the capital of a developing country, it is an international city that offers many things that are not found in other parts of Ghana.
At 6:45am my alarm goes off, but I am often awake long before this. Why? Well, I wake up with the sunrise and not because of the light as many of you would imagine, I wake up because the sun brings with it an upswing in temperature.
I live in a flat with 5 other expats, two of which are also CIDA IYIP interns with other organizations. Most of us get up around the same time, which means lovely breakfast company and espresso made by my German flat mate.
Around 7:45am I leave my flat and walk to the bus stop near my house. While it is called a bus stop, buses as we known them are not found in Ghana (accept school buses and long-haul passenger buses). The transit system here is made up of private taxies called ‘dropping’ taxies, shared taxies that run a set route, and mini-buses called ‘trotros’ which are mostly crowded, beaten up, and the cheapest form of transit. I am very lucky my commute to work is along a shared-taxi route that is inexpensive and direct, many people commute for more than two hours, and the traffic coming into the city can be terrible.
I arrive at the YMCA between 8 and 8:30 am. As the YMCA is a faith-based Christian organization, devotions are held every morning at 8:30am. Devotions are faith meetings for the YMCA staff and are intended to give inspiration for the day, while also functioning as a morning staff meeting. Devotions normally last 20-30mins and then the day’s work begins.
My office is on the west side of the building and the best time to work is in the mornings as the afternoon sun turns it into a sauna. My work is primarily independent and consists of research, policy analysis, developing workshop activities, and facilitating workshops and focus groups. Office work is similar all over the world, the main differences here are that people work slowly because of the heat, and the YMCA office environment is less informal than I am used to. My work plan is full and I have to make sure that I stay focused and not relax too much with the other staff as 7 months is hardly enough time to complete everything on my plate.
Currently there are many international visitors from the African Alliance and the World Alliance of YMCAs, including a delegation from the YMCA of Greater Toronto, so the office is very busy preparing for them and arranging meetings. In addition, the National Youth Conference is being planned and I have been asked to help out in the organization and facilitation of workshops. My workload grows…
So my work day is a like any other, a mix of meetings and independent work from 8am-5pm, with1 hour for lunch – always Ghanaian food from the canteen attached to the Y.
After work…well this is when things changed daily. For example – last night I went out for Thai food, then to the Alliance Francaise compound to watch a Spanish movie that was a part their EU film festival. Tonight I will go to the gym (yes I have a gym membership) and then go to the Coconut Grove Hotel for their salsa night. A few days ago some friends made dinner for all of us – a large salad festival of sorts which was amazing. We cook for each other at least once a week.
This Saturday I will go with my YMCA colleagues to meet the Chief of Accra, and later in the day the YMCA is hosting a banquet dinner in honour of our colleagues visiting from abroad. In the evening we (my expat friends) will go dancing with some of my YMCA colleagues.
My days are full. Work is busy and rewarding most days. My social life is full and exciting thanks to all Accra has to offer.
I wish I had some funny stories to share with you or some examples of culture shock. I have transitioned really easily to life here, it has in fact been much easier than I expected…except for the heat, which is oppressive. Dancing in the rain is reality here! And besides a weekend trip up to Mole National Park that included: two 16hr bus rides, a 6hr trotro ride that included 2 breakdowns, two safaris, no elephant and fabulous company the whole way… life here is as normal for me as it can be while living in West Africa.
- Linden Deathe, IYIP Intern, Ghana 2011
Linden is currently featured on the YMCA-Ghana website for her work Facilitating Gender Mainstreaming at the Ghana YMCA.
For more International Youth Internship Program (IYIP) blogs, check out our IYIP section.
Ahh.. that familiar tarmac. The steam rising up from it, brought on by the morning rain and the hot sun that soon follows. Its 8am. I just killed an hour at the Piarco airport in Trinidad after flying through the night. That red eye never gets easy, even if it is my seventh time doing it. I’m in Guyana – where it all began 8 years ago. But I’m getting ahead of myself – lets skip back four months where this latest burst of adventure began….
When February of this year rolled around I started to mentally prepare for the intense months ahead. Four YCI trips in four months. All for different reasons, all to present different challenges and rewards.
First came Guyana in March. Purpose: The annual YCI alliance meeting. Every year representatives from five of YCI’s oldest partners come together to review lessons learned over the year and discuss new opportunities within our networks. This was my third alliance meeting and I revel in the opportunity to get everyone together. I see many of these faces independently throughout the year, but it is only on this occasion that they are all in the same room. Australia, Vanuatu, Costa Rica, Guyana and Canada…..it’s YCI’s own little world summit.
Following this trip, April brought Grenada. Well….Carriacou to be more specific. We have been running a YCI program here on this beautiful tiny island for a few years now and this is my third trip. I’m greeted by an old friend – Mrs. Rosemary Ballen, the head of Carriacou’s ‘Adolescent Development Agency’ and a fantastic partner of ours. Purpose: I’m here to help close out YCI’s one-year project and discuss moving forward together with CIDA internships and new program directions. In the midst of all of this I get taken out to a ‘maroon’ in a tiny town called Mt. Pleasant. A maroon is essentially a celebration of harvest; appreciation of the current and well wishes for the future. Its roots are entrenched in African traditions, with big drum and regional dance being a huge part of the whole thing. I’m reminded of why I love this little island so much.
After a week and a half back home, I hop on another plane – this one headed for Accra, Ghana. A significantly longer journey then the previous two trips to the Caribbean, I find a hidden gem in the Amsterdam airport at the halfway point. It’s a lounge upstairs…with reclining chairs and images of the city tossed onto a large screen. Those of you who have spent any time traveling to and from Africa may have found it. If you haven’t – I recommend you do. It brings tranquility to even the weariest of travelers.
As I touch down in Accra I am greeted by the friendly face of our new Ghana program officer, Robyn Agoston. Following two successful pilot projects in Ghana, YCI is now moving forward with an extensive 2-year program. Purpose of this trip: to get Robyn up to speed with YCI, her role and the program. Together we comb through countless resources, develop new risk management systems, work through budgets, reporting requirements and meet with new potential program partners. The excitement of starting something new and promising is in the air.
Back in Canada and doing a load of wash before another trip back down to Guyana. It’s June and it’s the last of this four-legged journey. It feels appropriate to begin and end this adventure with Guyana – it iswhere YCI began for me. In 2000 I was a YCI volunteer in Guyana. After that a GL and later HIV program coordinator here. It’s my home away from home. I have some great friends here and am lucky to be able to visit as often as I do. Purpose of this trip: to assist where necessary in the CIDA-commissioned evaluation of YCG’s programming, as well as a few reporting projects on the go. It is also the last time I will see my former boss, Eve Patrick, in her role as Executive Director at YCG. She’s moving on and as I walk off the runway and condensation from the ‘Welcome’ sign at the airport drips onto the back of my neck I think about how many adventures I have had in this country. How many times I’ve grown here and how full of life I feel every time I walk off of this particular plane. I think I’ll share that thought with Eve when we go out to dinner this week.
-Ryan Tucker, International Programs Director