First Week in-Country and Ghana’s History Lesson at Cape Coast

By: Charis Yung

It has been one week since my arrival in Ghana. From the sound of the rooster crowing in the morning and neighborhood children giggling happily outside, to the busy honking noises on the streets, they’re all becoming more familiar. Although May and June are part of the rainy season in Ghana, I’ve found the weather rather sunny with occasional rain showers. When the sun is out, the days are still hot, with temperatures reaching up to 40 degrees Celsius with humidity, but cool breezes flowing under the shade is helping me ease into the heat and welcoming me to learn more about this beautiful country.

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After the first three days in Accra and Takoradi, I traveled to Cape Coast to join in with five other volunteers who are staying in the Eastern region of Ghana. Apart from walking along the scenic beaches of the Atlantic Ocean along the coast, the visit to the Castle was a phenomenal experience. At first, I had been skeptical and somewhat frustrated by the mandatory guided tour that came with a hefty entrance fee for foreigners. However, a pre-tour walk around the museum completely changed my perspective and appreciation for Ghanaian history of the African slavery trade. Although I’d briefly learned about the African slavery trade and independence movements in school, it had been awhile since I last encountered the subject and had not known that the Castle would contain so much history within its walls. Exploring the museum, I was impressed by the descriptive timelines. They laid out the painful history behind European colonization and the role this particular Castle and the surrounding ports played in the imprisonment, containment, separation, death, and brutality of the people who were captured and sold to different continents.

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Ghana had been known as the “Gold Coast” during colonial times due to its richness in natural resources, particularly gold. This made it a coveted area for European powers to vie for, and its strategic geographic location along the Atlantic coast developed it into a prominent trade area. Out of the thirty castles located along the Atlantic coast, about twenty-seven castles are located in Ghana, which testify to its key position in the Triangular Trade between the Americas, Europe and Africa. Beyond the trade of goods, slavery trade was widespread and active until the eighteenth century.

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During the tour of the Cape Coast Castle, I had the opportunity to listen in on detailed descriptions on the parts of the castle. I was struck by the irony between the beauty of Cape Coast and the cruelty of the atrocities committed, which almost seemed more punishing. Hearing the side of the story from the victimized party was invaluable, told with much more pain and reverence than I had ever experienced. Back home, topics surrounding the African slavery trade, independence movements of African colonies, and African-American segregation had always been filtered through Western lenses, inevitably biased towards its authors. Thus, this visit to Cape Coast was one that has helped me to appreciate and understand the Ghana’s pride on being called the “Hope of Africa”, as symbolized by the black star on its national flag.

Charis is a Youth Ambassador with YCI currently working in Ghana. For more information on how you can get involved, visit http://www.yci.org/html/volunteer/globally/calendar.asp

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. 

 

Through the Lens of History

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.

A Day Out in Accra

A Day Out in Accra

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.

Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum

Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum

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.

A beach in Takoradi

A beach in Takoradi

- Robert Rankin, Youth Ambassador, Ghana, 2013

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

YCI is currently recruiting for a number of projects in Ghana this Winter- check out our Program Calendar for more information!

Alec Lynch – Learning About Ghanaians Eagerness to Learn & Their Boundless Ambition

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.

From Left: Nana, May, Ama and Alec.

From Left: Nana, May, Ama and Alec.

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.

Students Listening to the Hygiene Workshop

Students Listening to the Hygiene Workshop

Alec, Ama and May Helping to Engage Students in an Activity Demonstrating How Cholera Spreads

Alec, Ama and May Helping to Engage Students in an Activity Demonstrating How Cholera Spreads

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

 

Blackouts, Water Shortages, and Bugs, Oh My!

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!

Myself, Alex and Nana in Takoradi after the All Girls Summit

Myself, Alex and Nana in Takoradi after the All Girls Summit

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

Ghana Update: From Korforidua to Accra

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.

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Leigh presenting

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.

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Marlee and Leigh

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.

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Labadi Beach – horse ride anyone?

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.

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Beautiful beads from the Bead Market in Korforidua

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

Dancing in the Street

Ghana celebrated their 55th Independence Day on March 6th and, of course, there was dancing!

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

YCI is currently recruiting a volunteer team to work in Ghana for 12 weeks starting May 7th. For details on the project click here to see the project description.