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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.
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.
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.
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
Meet Benedict. Like many Ghanaians, Benedict has a day job – working with our local partner, the Entrepreneurship Training Institute, as a successful Account Officer. But also like many Ghanaians, Benedict dreams of someday starting his own business to help both his family and his community. Benedict is also currently a student with the LEADER Project’s entrepreneurship course and was one of the first students to participate in our one-on-one coaching sessions for entrepreneurs.
Q: Tell us about your background and what inspired you to start a business?
My mom is a physician assistant so she has a medical background. I have realized that first aid is a necessity and a requirement by law, but not many people or businesses are fulfilling this. Therefore, my business idea is to sell first aid kits and provide first aid training. I see that there is a need for this product that everyone wants but the product does not exist.
Q: How have you found the LEADER Project to be helpful?
Initially I thought entrepreneurs are people who have lots of money or a big business but I see now that you just have to prioritize and start with what you have. Looking for opportunities – especially with today’s cases – these are not things that people in Ghana would have thought of. Now I see all of these problems as opportunities.
Q. What does success look like for you and your company?
Success would mean a lot – just the fact that people mention your name and say “this is a thing Benedict is doing” would mean a lot. Success also means that people are safe in their house. If people have first aid in their house, they can tackle medical problem like bleeding before getting medical personnel, which can be expensive.
Q. What is some advice you would give other entrepreneurs?
It’s really not about money; it’s about getting the idea. Being an entrepreneur means looking for a problem you can solve.
Since 1991, the Ivey LEADER Project’s vision has been “To equip entrepreneurs, and aspiring entrepreneurs, with the business decision-making skills to progress the prosperity and well-being of the regions in which they live.” In recent years, LEADER has expanded our focus from simply inspiring participants to “think entrepreneurially” to also enabling the launch and scale of their ventures. During the three weeks that we spend in Ghana, we provide both teaching sessions and 1-on-1 coaching to achieve this goal. Our curriculum uses cases and lectures to give participants the tools and knowledge to achieve their business goals. However, it is essential that these participants continue to receive support even after the project has ended. The partnership established between the Entrepreneurship Training Institute and Youth Challenge International makes this possible.
The participants we have been working with over the past few days have demonstrated a strong interest in launching new ventures. Most have an idea and are looking for validation and guidance to take the next step. One thing that has surprised us over the past week is students’ interest in gaining access to capital and funding. This is the biggest challenge faced by entrepreneurs in Ghana. As a result, we have adjusted our teaching points to address the idea of a “lean start-up” to further cater our curriculum to the needs of our entrepreneurs.
Thanks to YCI, we are able to extend the impact of this program beyond our three-week engagement to a more comprehensive entrepreneurial support system. As we continue to develop our curriculum, this increased engagement provides greater learning opportunities for both the entrepreneurs and the Ivey LEADER Project.
The greatest challenge of my latest trip to Zanzibar, was balancing my enthusiasm for exploring the island and meeting new people, with my need to protect my safety. Though I come from East Africa, and had traveled to Zanzibar a few times previously, I was unsure of how to protect my safety amidst unfamiliar surroundings, unknown people, and a lost language. Swahili was my first language, but I lost much of it after my Toronto elementary school principal told my parents to switch from speaking Swahili to speaking English with us at home. With my limited ability to communicate, when I first arrived in Zanzibar, I was wary of strangers, while surrounded by them. I was warned by colleagues, and my homestay family, not to walk alone after the sun set at 6:30pm.
As I started to learn my way around, and relearn Swahili, I felt more comfortable. I started to walk longer distances on my own, even after sunset. One day as I walked along the ocean in Stone Town, a man greeted me with a big smile and enthusiastic “Hello Sister!” Another called out to me, from a bench nestled in a parkette, to say “Hello. Nice to meet you. I appreciate you,” and yet another said “Karibu!” Swahili for “Welcome.” I was surprised and reassured at the same time. Surprised at their kindness, warmth, and generosity to a stranger. And reassured that the region of my ancestors still reflected the warmth I remembered, the warmth I long for when I’m in my Toronto home.
I often find it hard to express complex and intense emotions in words. But the word “Karibu” says so much. It captures the heart of Tanzanian and broader East African culture. It is used so frequently, as a greeting to welcome you to a place, and then again when saying “goodbye,” letting you know that you are welcome again, or that you are always welcome. It is one word that evokes powerful emotions, and feelings of inclusion. I think we should use the word “welcome” more in our English interactions.
In East Africa, it is so ingrained that it is even spoken in unexpected places and interactions. One Sunday, a colleague and I were anxious to get one more weekend swim in before I left Nungwi, the village she was based in, to take the bus back to Stone Town. We didn’t want to swim at the local beach where we were, because women did not typically swim there. We walked to a nearby large, expensive, hotel, and approached the security guards behind the gates. We asked if they could let us in to use the beach in front of the hotel. While confirming, then explaining to us that they could not let us in, they couldn’t help saying “Karibu” multiple times.
Another time, my colleague and I stopped at a high school ,mid bike-tour ,to use their bathroom. It was a Sunday, so we weren’t expecting any students to be there, but there were a number of them using the classrooms to study for upcoming exams. A peer school monitor in a special uniform approached us, and started explaining his role. I braced myself for him to reprimand us for coming onto the school property, and politely but firmly ask us to leave. Instead he said “Karibu. You are welcome. A school is a place of learning, so it should be open to anyone.”
Even when “Karibu” isn’t expressed explicitly, an implicit welcome infuses the way people treat each other. I was warmly and immediately welcomed into my Youth Challenge International and Zanzibar Youth Forum work teams, as if I had always been a part of them, and always would be. If I faced any professional or personal challenges, my colleagues took responsibility for them as if they were their own. Our project goals were collective goals that we all contributed to achieving. We supported each other, and worked together to problem solve and address project challenges big and small. We celebrated our achievements together. I wanted to bring that approach home with me.
One evening at sunset, I went for a swim in the ocean in front of a Stone Town hotel. I was reveling in the beauty of the water with flecks of orange from the surrounding sunset dancing in the waves. A group of young men started swimming towards me, and I went into fight or flight mode. I tried to get the attention of one of my colleagues who was swimming with me, but he had gone too far out into the water for me to get his attention. So I instinctively swam away from them, feeling grateful that I was a strong swimmer. They called out to me, “Zanzibar ni mahali ya amani!”/“Zanzibar is a peaceful place!” and I laughed at their audacity. “We just want to talk with you,” they added. I slowed, then stopped, and relaxed into the calm water. I let them catch up with me and welcomed them with a smile. We talked and laughed as the orange sky enveloped us with warmth.
Farah N. Mawani, Youth Innovator in Zanzibar, 2014
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
- Women empowerment
- Child marriage
- Street kids
- Corruption in government
- Drug abuse
Encompasses a small list of what my students are interested about. Their average age is mid-twenties and they’re all interested in tackling issues of this size. They want to volunteer at their placements and on top of that, observe other class members who have gone into at-risk communities to do their research on community assessments to identify problems and try to find solutions for those communities.
To complete a year long course of “Emerging Leaders” program, they are to complete two grant proposals from the research they have done from the previous course in how to assess communities. They find the weakest links of the communities and address those issues. As part of this, I have given them the opportunity to also be placed in another NGO that best matches their interests and to begin working on the issues at hand.
Not one friend I know back home actively pursue the interests of these likes, of course to each their own, but the idea of contributing time to make real changes in the world, especially with all the harsh criticism that’s vocalized almost everyday and spewing onto Facebook. The only thing I see back home are people complaining about what’s wrong with the world. Few take charge to write to their MPs. Even fewer still goes out to protests. And still, even less – and at this point I’m scratching the bottom of the barrel to say anyone I know – goes out to volunteer time, effort and commitment to try and change anything that they’ve complained passionately about in hot debates while we were hanging out.
Why do I feel like we carry this huge misconception in the “West” that everyone else in the world is lazy if they’re not “rich”. It seems the “West” is even lazier and all we know how to do is complain.
It’s not that the people in the country don’t want change. Everyone I’ve come across is adamant about it. They want change in the biggest way.
Even more so in the less developed world. I see the most enthusiasm for change here than at home. In fact, they are working toward it starting with the community level. Changes there influence key decision makers that eventually gather momentum. Most approaches and methods include contacting politicians and key decision makers to accomplish change.
I was not prepared for the amount of enthusiasm and energy my students want this change. They crave it. They are so hungry to do something about it. They are so motivated to make the world a better place. If we soak up even just 1% of their motivation and apply it to ourselves in Canada, the impact from that would ripple a thousand times and create change in the direction that all Canadians want.
My students are doing it, how are we as a more “developed” country so far behind?
From water sachets to our workshops, everything has been great so far.
Talking about a water sachet may be a weird place to start, but it helps to unlock the way everything has gone so far. Water sachets on first glance are very interesting and curious items. They are new to me, can be fun to play with (and indeed, a bag of 30 sachets broke when I was carrying it for the first time) and are ultimately refreshing and a very important part of daily life here.
Ghana so far has been very interesting and fun. It is also still incredibly new to me and a refreshing change from life at home. From watching football matches in an old sea container with a TV set up inside, to sitting in a tro-tro for four hours down something that apparently qualifies as a road, Ghana has been full of surprises and I am greatly enjoying my time here.
We have done three workshops so far, one on financial literacy for young girls, where we went to four different schools in Koforidua, a second one on gender for members of ENACTUS, a local student organization, and one on monitoring and evaluation, proposal writing and report writing for a coalition of health NGOs. Regardless of how important the information is, the most important thing I have taken away from the workshops so far has been how enthusiastic many of the participants have been. Many of the people have enjoyed the workshops and were really pleased to have taken part in them. This makes our jobs as facilitators a lot easier and more fun.
We’ve also gone on trips to Boti and Akaa Falls, hiked to the Umbrella Rock and spent a day in Kumasi, where we went to an Ashanti Palace and attended a wedding. If there is one thing these side trips have taught me, it is that everything is part of the experience. From the bumpy roads to getting the jump seat on the wheel well in a Tro Tro, it may not be the most comfortable thing, but who cares! In a weird way it’s kind of fun and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.
So, like a water sachet (which I am totally bringing back to Canada as a thing), Ghana has been something new and unique for me and I am enjoying everything about being here. We’re heading to Takoradi in a couple of weeks and I can’t wait to see what new experiences await us there.
- Robert Rankin, Youth Ambassador, Ghana 2013
It has been two weeks since our group arrived in Ghana.
In just two weeks, I have met so many interesting people and have already gotten the opportunity to experience the beauty of this country. This year I was fortunate enough to celebrate my birthday in Ghana. From the outset I knew that this was going to be a different and exciting new experience for me and one I greatly anticipated. The highlight of the weekend was a Saturday day trip to Boti Falls.
Our gracious homestay mother, Mama Inima, organized the trip for us and decided to come along for the ride. After a bumpy thirty minute drive we had arrived at our destination. My fellow partners, Rob and Candace, and I had been anticipating a visit to these falls since we arrived in Koforidua. The twin falls were truly a sight to behold. After about half an hour of taking pictures we decided to take the long hike to the infamous umbrella rock. The grueling hour long journey proved to be worth it, as we were able to take advantage of the lush green Ghanaian landscape.
So our day seemed to come to an end, but was it really over? The answer is no. While on the way home we made an unexpected stop at another waterfall in the area called the Aka Falls. These falls were nestled away in the jungle and were just as spectacular as Boti Falls. After another half an hour long photo session our day had finally come to an end.
After a week of hard work and Financial Literacy workshops this was the perfect way to end the week. Overall, this was a birthday weekend I will never forget.
I would like to recommend that future volunteers take advantage of any opportunity they get to see the beauty of this country. It is still early in our 12-week project and so hopefully in the coming weeks we will be able to continue to explore Ghana and its many attractions and landmarks. But for now it is time to prepare for another week of research and workshops. Until next time…
- Yurii Malakhov, Youth Ambassador, Ghana 2013
!Inspired to get involved? YCI is recruiting for a 4-week project in Ghana this Winter.
The entire team here at Youth Challenge International is very excited to announce our inaugural charity climb fundraiser event: The Kilimanjaro Climb to Give Thanks.
This event will take place over Canadian Thanksgiving from October 12 – 19, 2013, and has been organized with the goal of raising $100,000 for YCI’s youth development programs.
We’re proud to offer the opportunity for up to 30 individuals to travel with us to The Republic of Tanzania where they will trek the 5,895m up Mt. Kilimanjaro to reach the summit, Uhuru Peak. As Africa’s highest mountain and the highest freestanding mountain in the world, Mt. Kilimanjaro offers a great challenge for climbers and a unique opportunity for YCI to raise awareness about our youth development programs.
YCI believes that young people have a central role to play in their development and directly engages youth in creating solutions to the challenges they face. Currently, we have youth development projects in four different locations throughout Tanzania, and we continually recruit talented Canadian and international youth volunteers to collaborate in partnership with the local youth in these locations to achieve innovation and development results. Last year, our volunteers reached over 5,600 youth in Tanzania, providing access to valuable resources and education to support improved access to livelihoods, health, and leadership opportunities.
Bryan Cox, YCI’s Executive Director, is excited to offer any individuals with a passion for adventure and philanthropy the opportunity to participate in this remarkable event. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity that will help change young peoples lives. “After working with young people for the past five years I have found that young people want one thing; the opportunity and the tools to succeed, not a handout”. Bryan said “I am looking forward to leading this challenge with committed people from across our global community”.
We have exciting news! There has never been a better time to volunteer for the first time and fall for a new place.
YCI is pleased to announce we are offering 10 Scholarships for our October Projects! We are looking to award 10 exceptional youth (18 – 35) with either a $1,700 scholarship towards participation in our 8-week volunteer placement in Tanzania or a $1,000 scholarship towards participation in our 4-week volunteer placement in Costa Rica. The scholarships are intended to provide young leaders with the opportunity to turn positive civic involvement into global action.
• Applicants must be between 18 and 35 years of age
• Applicants must be applying for one of YCI’s autumn programs
• Only first-time applicants, currently not already registered on a program, will be considered
• Scholarships must be used towards the Tanzania or the Costa Rica program
For more information on applying for the Tanzania or Costa Rica Scholarships, click HERE. Scholarships will be awarded to suitable candidates on a rolling basis, so don’t delay!