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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.
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.
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!
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.
Andrea Paolini, Youth Innovator, Ghana 2014
Valerie has recently joined YCI as the new Public Engagement and Outreach Assistant. This foodie and self-proclaimed music nerd has an Honours Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and European Studies from University of Toronto. Val looks forward to be involved in human rights education for development organizations. Between trying out new dishes and listening to new indie tracks, Val is cooking up her next travel adventure in some remote places.
How did you get involved with YCI?
As a graduate of the Post-Graduate Program in International Development Project Management at Humber College, I was often exposed to the work being done at YCI through their strong and complimentary relationship. Many previous students were largely part of the YCI alumni network, and would often come in and put on presentations of their volunteer experience with the organization, and how the skills of the program had prepared them or had been further developed. As such, I was interested in learning more on how NGOs operate, and decided to apply for an in-office internship in order to gain a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of day-to-day operations of international NGOs.
What does your position at YCI entail?
In my role as Public Engagement and Outreach Assistant, I am responsible for reaching out to potential volunteers and young adults regarding our programs and opportunities for community engagement through recruitment fairs. I also prepare and arrange constructive activities and opportunities for our alumni volunteers, in order for them to stay connected with YCI. Administratively, I work on data analysis and updating reports, as we are reaching the end of our fiscal year. Furthermore, I have been largely responsible for managing and leading our Live Below the Line 2014 Campaign.
What do you think is the biggest issue facing youth today?
I think there is still a large lack of representation in regards to human rights issues around gender and access to education. I have found that there are a lot of great organizations doing really good work advocating for youth and youth rights, however, I find that there is still a gap in addressing specific needs that target different genders or ages. Whether it is through development or humanitarian work, we need to evaluate the underlying reasons that youth are unable to live out their full potential. Access to education for youth is a universal right, thus, the need to address these barriers, whether it be related to gender, social, economic or political, is vital. Furthermore, I think one of the biggest issues facing youth globally, is the job market. It is getting evermore difficult for youth of different ages and various levels of experience, to be a part of the global market and develop their livelihoods.
Outside of work, what are some of your favourite things to do?
I am a music nerd. I am constantly searching for new acts to check out or for great steals on ticket prices. I also love having great conversations over some great food! I try to make dinner dates with some friends, whenever I’m not busy running around from one work to the next. Checking out new restaurants and trying different dishes is always a great time! Other then that, I enjoy being outdoors, relaxing and planning future adventures with some friends.
- Valerie, Public Engagement and Outreach Assistant Winter/Spring 2014
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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…
- Andrea Paolini, Youth Innovator, Ghana 2014
There is a global momentum for championing women’s equality. In Ghana, there have been new efforts to promote gender equality, women’s economic empowerment, and political participation.
Ghana has seen women rising into high level positions in politics, private and public sector in recent times. During the 2012 General Elections, three political parties had women as their Vice Presidential Candidates. Two other women led two different political parties as the Presidential Candidates, even though their parties couldn’t contest, one of them being the former First Lady of Ghana, Nana Konadu Agyemang Rawlings.
The current Chief Justice, the Commissioner of Human Rights and Administrative Justice, the National Commission on Civic Education, and the CEO of Ghana Investment Promotion Centre, are all occupied by women, just to mention a few.
There, however, remain gaps to fill as far as Gender Equality, especially where women empowerment and elimination of all forms of abuse against women is concerned.
Each year on March 8th, women mostly gather to celebrate International Women’s Day with few statements being made by Heads of States and Institutions to mark the day and I have always wondered why women will gather to celebrate women on International Women’s Day.
Therefore, as a Program Manager and a Gender advocate, I have been looking forward to planning a program that will have men celebrate the social, political, and economic achievements of women.
Youth Challenge International, in co-operation with our local partner, the Ghana YMCA Takoradi Branch, with support from the National Youth Authority Western Regional Office, selected 40 young women between the ages of 13 – 29 from Junior and Senior High Schools and community clubs. These young women underwent training on Leadership, the Millennium Development Goals, and Basic Project Management Skills. After the training, the girls became empowered to come up with work plans of activities they want to undertake to achieve the MDG’s in their own communities.
At an all-girls Summit, the 40 girls formed 7 groups and read out their plans to other young girls. This was a remarkable day, seeing how these young women were passionate in talking about what they are going to do in their communities to promote the Millennium Development Goals.
Even though March 8th is globally recognized as International Women’s Day, Youth Challenge International will hold an event on the 26th of March, mobilizing especially men both young and old to celebrate the achievements of the young women in this project, to inspire other young women to become leaders and agents of positive change in their own communities.
Ayekoooo (“Good Job”) to all Women, especially those who continue to inspire their families, communities, and nation.
- Frederick Dadzie, Senior Program Manager, Youth Challenge International Ghana
In 2013, YCI sent 80 exceptional volunteers to Costa Rica, Ghana, Guyana, and Tanzania over the course of the year. Together, this dedicated group of young people contributed over 37,000 hours to our international programs.
YCI values our youth volunteers who have demonstrated outstanding performance and skills, upheld our values as representatives of YCI, and for being continuously involved in their local communities. In recognition of these achievements, YCI is proud to present three awards this year: the 2013 International Volunteer of the Year award to Jessica O’Reilly; the Local Volunteer of the Year Award to Omar Mohammed Bakar; and, the Runner-Up award to Kayleigh Gaspari,
Jessica joined YCI during the summer of last year to volunteer in Guyana. Not only was it Jessica’s first time travelling outside of Canada, but also it was her first time on board a plane!
In Guyana, Jessica worked with students at a small education centre, conducting life skills session on self-esteem, communication skills, career guidance and IT classes. Jessica made strong bonds within the community, attending three weddings in the Guyanese community.
Since returning to Canada, Jessica has become involved with many different organizations and continues to make a difference. She helps students with learning and behavioural disabilities at Trent University Oshawa and is part of a Pen Pal program where University students are paired with elementary students.
Aside from her school-related volunteer work, Jessica took the initiative to contact, Restoring Hope International, the foundation that built the educational centre she worked with in Guyana to let them know about her experiences at the centre. The Foundation was so impressed with Jessica that she spoke at the foundation’s annual fundraiser in New York last October.
Right now, she’s back in school at Trent University Oshawa, but she also sponsors two children that she taught at the educational centre. Now that’s dedication.
YCI also recognizes inspirational young leaders from the local communities that we serve. We’re proud to present the Local Volunteer of the Year Award to Omar Mohammed Bakar from Zanzibar.
Omar first became involved at YCI as a participant of the Emerging Leaders program in 2012. Omar was incredibly dedicated to the program and joined as a local volunteer after completing the Emerging Leaders program.
Omar is a valuable asset in Zanzibar and has had a tremendous impact on every volunteer; supporting all YCI volunteers with advice, adjusting to the local community, and translation. He also goes out of his way to be a friend to volunteers, show them around, and to share cultural experiences. And of course, volunteers love him. Aside from his friendly nature, the Emerging Leaders program would not have been successful without his translation and facilitation assistance.
Omar is a very dedicated leader in his community and serves as an inspiration to the Emerging Leader participants along with the YCI volunteers. He likes to share what he has learned, not just from the Emerging Leaders program, but also from the volunteers who come from different backgrounds.
This year, we’re also pleased to honour and present the runner-up for the Volunteer of the Year, Kayleigh Gaspari.
Kayleigh was part of a custom project in Ghana with the IVEY Business School Sustainability Club. She is a strong and independent person, taking on additional responsibilities over the course of her placement to host extra entrepreneurship trainings to youth organizations that needed additional support. Kayleighy was able to develop and make clear, coherent and professional formal presentations while conducting eight workshops during the Micro-enterprise conference she and her group organized.
Kayleigh is described as always ready to take initiative and stood up for every challenge that came her way. She is an inspiration to entrepreneurs who are encouraged by her examples.
So there you have it, our inspiring volunteers who have made differences in their own way. Become a YCI volunteer to make a difference yourself.
When I first arrived on Zanzibar Island off the coast of mainland Tanzania, it was my first time setting foot on the continent I had longed to travel to. Africa had always attracted me. Everything about it drew my attention; it’s rich ethnic and linguistic diversity, its vast landscapes and wildlife, its unique history and often troubled political climate and its vibrant and lively people. So you can imagine I was thrilled when I got the opportunity to volunteer in Zanzibar for six weeks teaching the Emerging leaders program with the NGO Youth Challenge International. Being an overseas volunteer virgin I was not sure what to expect but what I found was challenging, surprising and a whole lot of fun!
The first thing that struck me when I arrived on Zanzibar island was the assault on my senses, the sights, smells, tastes, and sounds were all new to me. As I walked through the endless array of market stalls in Sokoni, Mwanakwerekwe the smells of fresh octopus and fish hit me immediately. I was not prepared for the sheer amount of market stalls brimming with fresh fruits and vegetables, spices and herbs, grains and rice, and the assortment of fresh sea food from red snapper to octopus, laid out expertly for my eyes to feast on. I wandered the endless pathways looking like a child in a candy store admiring the fresh produce stacked in their neat piles and enjoying the waft of cloves and cinnamon that filled the air around me.
I smiled politely as the stall owners attempt to sell me everything from dried octopus skin to sugar cane juice spiced with ginger. I declined the former and savored every sip of the latter. The local stall owners and fellow shoppers seemed to find my presence both surprising and amusing. I was visiting a market rarely frequented by foreigners or mzungu as the locals refer to me as, I am sure I looked out of place and disoriented by my surroundings. However, they took my naïveté in stride and politely welcomed me and offered me their produce at “the best price”. Once I emerged from the hustle and bustle I was carrying three spice boats, a loaf of Zanzibar bread, one pineapple, and two passion fruits and the store owners I purchased from smiled at their small victory. I felt 9,000 tsh lighter but I was thoroughly satisfied. I awkwardly dodged my way through the pedestrians, dalalas, street venders, and the occasional donkey cart to Kivulini Street. I only know the name of the street because I was told so, there are no street signs to speak of and I recognize the street based on the size and quantity of potholes that adorn it. One risks the integrity of their vehicle undercarriage attempting to cross its narrow rocky crevices.
Thankfully for this journey I am on foot. As I make my way through the street; I pass local shop owners, a car repair shop and a welder who looks up from his work to greet me with a large smile “Karibu Kwetu” (welcome to our country), “Asante sana” (thank you very much) I reply and pause to admire his handicraft. He is expertly welding gates for residential purposes the hot sun is beating down on him as he completes his work. His hands show the signs of hard work and his face years of experience, he holds his welding mask in his left hand, unused while he works. I give him a thumb up to acknowledge his craft he smiles and I decide to leave him to his work.
As I continue down the road I notice here are several goats grazing in the soccer field adjacent to my homestay and they look up as I pass by unimpressed with my presence. The hot mid-day sun ensures that football field is devoid of presence unlike after sunset when the throngs of young football hopefuls flock to practice their skills. As I walk, the neighborhood children call out to me mzungu…mzungu…mzungu…I smile and greet them with “mambo” to which they reply “poa” I give them high fives and they follow me with more children gathering as we walk. I turn right down the next road and make my way to my modest homestay, a refuge from the hot African sun.
Christine Hunter, Youth Innovator, Tanzania, 2013
YCI is currently recruiting for an 8-week project in Tanzania this May 6 to July 1st to work with our partners on leadership, health and education initiatives.
I recently travelled to Mwanza, Tanzania with Youth Challenge International, to volunteer with a local NGO, Kivulini Women’s Rights Organization as a Monitoring and Evaluation Innovator. While I was there, I lived in a rural village with a host family who had 13 children.
Before I left for Tanzania, I was told that my host Mama (mother) had 6 children living at home. Imagine my surprise as I pulled up in the middle of the night to my host family’s home to discover my host Mama leaving for a party and a small sized classroom of children waiting for me. That first night the oldest sibling was the only one to speak to me: “Karibu (welcome), feel free,” she mentioned many times. During my first few days whenever I was approaching the children ran away laughing, and hid behind the doorways or potted plants. I quickly came to understand that the majority of the children living on the family compound had lost their parents due to illness. My Tanzanian Mama and Baba (father) had taken the children in to become a part of their family.
Everything was different in Mwanza. I walked to work on dirt – and often flooded – roads, past farmers and free roaming cows and goats. I took cold showers and slept under a bug net. There were daily power outages and we only had access to an unsanitary water supply. The ants bit, and my host sisters and brothers ate their meals with their hands while sitting on the kitchen floor. It was easy in those first few days to feel isolated and a bit misunderstood.
After a few days, the children became less shy around me. As I did not speak Kiswahili and many of the children did not speak English, we had to find ways to begin to communicate with one another. One night during a power failure, I was wearing my headlamp and began to make shadow puppets on the kitchen wall. As the children and I played, I continued to ask them for the Kiswahili names of the projected animals. After this, the children took every opportunity to point to objects, tell me the word in Kiswahili and to ask for the English word. We began to learn from, and about, each other.
The village I was living in consisted only of other family homes and I initially believed that the nearest store was in town, a 40-minute dala dala (a minibus share taxi) ride away. However, as time went on, the community structure began to reveal itself to me. I soon learned that the little straw hut where two women cooked over an open fire was a restaurant serving the best chapati and ginger tea around; the house a small ways down the dirt path also doubled as the local general shop where you could purchase soda, maji baridi (cold water), phone credit and even toothbrushes; and the farmer I passed on my way to work was the man who sold my host Mama the vegetables that I ate every night for dinner. Everything I needed existed around me – I just hadn’t learned how to look properly. In Canada, stores, streets and even bus stops are clearly marked, but where I lived in Mwanza, you are only privy to this type of knowledge when you are a member of the community.
My host sisters and brothers work incredibly hard everyday to complete their household chores. They start their day at 6 a.m. with a prayer and have the house cleaned before breakfast. They are the ones responsible for the majority of the cooking, cleaning and often, taking care of each other.
I wanted to be included in all aspects of a Tanzanian family life. I helped to prepare meals, went to the market and played games with my host sisters. I helped my host sisters and brothers with their homework and went to church with my host family. I even learned how to braid my host sisters’ hair! I found myself becoming a member of the household.
By the end of my six-week stay, I had realized that regardless of differences in language, culture or religious beliefs, when you take the time to understand, live with and care for someone, they become a part of your family. I’ve heard it said that once you have travelled to far away lands you will never again feel at home; your heart is split between the family you were born into and the one you create for yourself. It was hard to leave my new family behind, but I know I will always be welcome back home.
-Stephanie Hanson, Youth Innovator, Tanzania, 2013
YCI is currently recruiting for an 8-week project in Tanzania this May 6 to July 1st to work with our partners on leadership, health and education initiatives.