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It’s the week of June 9th, 2013 and we’re already in our 4th week in Takoradi. I am amazed at how quickly our time here has passed! Its been a such a wonderful time and we’ve had the pleasure of working with some great people at YMCA – Madam Winifred and Rhoda, Madam Emelia and of course Nana and Ama our key partners who have been such a joy to be around and get to know over the last few weeks. We’ve felt so comfortable and at home here, all due to the hospitality and warmness of the people we’ve met. From the staff at the Worker’s College which includes Cudjoe who is always smiling, to cab drivers, to people walking on the streets who stop to greet you, to the merchants at the market like Auntie Rose who helped me find some materials I needed for one of our workshops – everyone is friendly and a willing to offer a helping hand.
Most recently we worked on environmental awareness workshops, which we had planned to host at 3 different schools: the YMCA Vocational Training Institute, Fijai Secondary School and Bompeh Secondary School. The number of students for these workshops is much smaller than the last workshops we delivered on personal hygiene. The lattar had about 1200 students and although we were able to interact with the students and successfully carry out the activities, the interactions were a bit impersonal due to the large number of people and the activities were a bit rushed. The environmental workshops, however, were with a total of 150 students, with about 50 students in each workshop, which made it much easier to handle and allowed for more interaction between us and the students. The smaller number also allowed for more flexibility with the material we presented.
At first I found it difficult trying to create a workshop on waste and plastic waste management given that waste management issues stem from the lack of provisions for adequate supply of trash bins in cities, separation of waste and recyclable materials, and regularly scheduled municipal waste pick ups. Sadly, due to this lack of regulation, sometimes people resort to their own ways of disposing of the accumulated garbage if the pick ups are late for days or maybe weeks or if there are not enough trash bins around the city. Also, at times people might not be able to afford the polluter pay system here or are not willing to pay for it and so the best option for them is to improperly dump their garbage, burn it or dig a hole to burry it. The polluter pay system is basically people paying for the amount of garbage they create and this can be anywhere from $10 a month for 240L bin collection to about $140 for large communal bin pick ups. After reading some articles about some of the initiatives taking place around environmental awareness put forth by the municipal government and private garbage companies like Zoomlion it became clear to me that educating the students and creating awareness about things like the dangers of improper dumping, burning garbage and plastic, and littering are a vital part of the overall efforts to improve the system.
So in the workshops, we placed emphasis on plastic waste management which is a big issue here. Drinking water is almost entirely consumed out of plastic water sachets or water bottle, which creates a lot of plastic waste. In fact, water sachets make up about 85% of waste in Ghana alone and it’s almost never disposed of correctly. We had an activity planned called ‘pollution plays’ where groups of students were given scenarios such as ‘you just finished your water sachet and there is no bin close by’ and they had to make a 1 minute play acting out the right and wrong ways to handle the scenario. We found this game to be very effective and the students really took it above and beyond by doing their own debrief at the end of each skit discussing the actions that took place in their play as they related to real life. It was really wonderful to see them get so engaged with it and have fun with it. We are hoping to have our last environmental workshop at Bompeh next week which would wrap up the workshops in Takoradi and then we are off to our next city – Kof Town!
- May El Ali, 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
Being a first time volunteer with an international organization such as YCI made me a bit nervous, but after arriving at the YMCA here in Takoradi and meeting everyone here, I was able to relax and get excited all over again and understand what and how we would be helping out in the community.
Meeting the young girls at the local YMCA was great; through conducting a workshop with them we got to learn what they knew about substance abuse. Their level of participation was exciting and surprising at the same time; I was so happy to see how the girls appreciated us being there and how respectful they were with us.
So far my favorite activity has been the substance abuse workshops. The young girls at the local YMCA in Takoradi are amazing! These young girls were so interested and willing to learn, and they have so many questions. Our substance abuse workshop focused on marijuana, tobacco and alcohol. Most of the young girls understood the consequences of taking these substances; in fact, some of them had answers we had not even thought about! I’ll never forget the surprise looks on their faces when they saw what cigarettes were actually made of. That look confirmed that our workshop was a success and that the girls understood how their lives would be different if they did decide to take any of these substances.
We had the girls create a Dream Tree to keep in their classrooms; we wanted them to look at it every day and understand that each of their dreams are possible. I think the Dream Tree is a very important activity. It goes to make sure the girls understand that their dreams are achievable through hard work and continuing their education. Small activities like this mean so much in a place like Ghana were young women receive less education than men.
The entire school participated in the Dream Tree exercise: we started with the first, second, third and final year students, and eventually each class had a dream tree. The girls really surprised me with their dreams; some of them wanted to be nurses, teachers, fashion designers, doctors, and some wanted to have their own catering businesses. We explained to the girls that the substances we talked about in class could be harmful to them and jeopardize their dreams for various reasons. We also explained to them that it was not forbidden for them to take these substances, but that there could harmful be consequences.
What I loved about this workshop is that we made the girls focus on team work and supporting each other. Now when we have workshop with the girls their level of participation and support for each other is greater than we had ever anticipated.
- Afua Helena Kojo, Youth Ambassador, Ghana 2013
My first week of workshops was very eventful. The one incident that stood out most to me was the 2nd year group workshop at the YMCA. We had a number of activities planned, but I noticed that one of the girls was not participating. I called on her to answer a question and immediately the class began shouting, “oh no! She can’t do it, I will!” She kept her head down and said she didn’t know the answer without even trying. My partner and I decided to help Pricilla gain some confidence and show her that if she just tried she could do anything the other girls could.
After the first half of the workshop we started on the group segment and divided the girls into teams. I appointed Pricilla group leader, but she refused. I talked to the girls and told them we would be encouraging and helpful to each another. No one was allowed to laugh, be negative in anyway or insult one another. Most importantly everyone in the group had a job to do and Pricilla must present. I then took Pricilla aside for a private talk and asked her why she thought she could not be group leader; she stated that the other girls were smarter than her. I asked her several questions about the presentation they had just watched and she answered each one correctly. I praised her for this and showed her that she is just as smart as the others and had understood everything that went on thus far. She returned to the group prepared to be group leader.
After the assignment the group presented and as Pricilla answered a question the class began laughing saying her answer was wrong, she hung her head and prepared to sit. I took her hand and joined her at the front and again told the class that we would only be helping and encouraging to one another, and not make fun of each other. I asked Pricilla to explain her answer and she did. I then showed the class that the question had more than one correct answer and Pricilla was indeed correct. She smiled and everyone applauded. At the end the girls wrote their life goal on an apple and stuck it to the dream tree and smiling Pricilla wrote she wanted to become a nurse on hers, walked to the front of the class alone and stuck it on.
After the substance abuse workshops we started a computer awareness project with the girls. Many of them had never used a computer before and we wanted to prepare them for the world of work as many of the fields they aspired to enter called for the use of computers.
The girls were very interested and excited. They understood and progressed quickly with the material given. Right away I realized that our talk about team work and encouragement had been taken to heart. The girls were all helping and working with one another and I was very pleased to see Pricilla participating and her partner encouraging her to take the lead.
We went through the parts of the computer and the use of basic programs such as Microsoft word and paint shop. At the end we had a quiz and the entire class applauded as Pricilla stood and, although a little nervous, answered several questions voluntarily.
- Sheryne Lorde, Youth Ambassador, Ghana 2013
Marlee is YCI’s first “Go the Extra Mile” Scholarship winner, and is now one month into her 3-month project in Koforidua, Ghana. She’s sent us an update on her time so far and how she’s been adjusting to life in Ghana. Read on!
I’ve just passed the one month mark of my stay, yet it feels like it was just a couple weeks ago that I landed in Ghana’s hot, tropical climate and saw my first sight of where I would be living for the next three months. Preparing for this trip seemed as straightforward as getting all the necessities for packing, organizing travel documents, and mentally preparing for what my expectations were at the time.
However, I’ve learned that the best way to plan is doing exactly the opposite; learning to adapt to your environment and adjust your expectations accordingly. My degree in Criminology and interests in human rights, the state of children in developing countries, and the legal aspect of both are what compelled me seek volunteering opportunities like the ones that YCI offers. Being a newcomer to the international development field I thought that such an opportunity would allow me to gain experience and find out where my true interests lie.
So far my volunteer partner, Leigh, and I have taken the lead in developing workshops on substance abuse for youth in junior and high schools in Koforidua. With the help of the YMCA peer mentors, this month we’re tackling entrepreneurship and then sexual reproductive health after that. Working with the youth has been rewarding in many ways; from building up our confidence to talk in front of large groups to developing the relationships by interacting with the students one-on-one. We have faced challenges as well, but we are realizing that one of the most important parts of this work is learning from those challenges and improving ourselves and what we are doing.
As for living in Koforidua, by now we are quite familiar with the town and have become self-sufficient in daily life. Whether our day involves heading to the internet café to work, the market to buy lunch and other goods, or visiting landmark attractions like the beautiful Boti Falls, we have it covered with the help of the many hospitable Ghanians we have met. There is still so much of Ghana to see but we are taking full advantage of the experience, and of course the sun!
- Marlee Jordan Youth Ambassador, Ghana 2013
YCI was able to send 38 amazing youth volunteers and interns to Ghana in 2012 to work with local staff and local volunteers towards creating positive change in their communities. YCI is proud to recognize one of these outstanding local volunteers and to present the Ghanaian Volunteer of the Year award to Reindolf Chambas.
Reindolf Chambas is an enthusiastic and engaged local volunteer with the YMCA/YCI Mentorship program Ghana. His eagerness to participate in all program activities and his passion for community development are exceptional, as is his desire to provide support to other local and international volunteers throughout the program.
Reindolf is an engaging public communicator who can be relied upon to bring his eagerness and enthusiasm when engaging in all program activities. He has excellent communication skills and his passion for community development work is absolutely fantastic. Reindolf brings a lot of energy and has contributed to programs through suggesting innovative ways to carry out the community outreach programs to reach the most people possible. He quickly became a central pillar among the local youth volunteers supporting YCI ambassadors in their community outreach programs; during an HIV/AIDS outreach and testing campaign in the Sorodai community, Reindolf was instrumental in getting local community members to stop by off the street to get tested and receive information. Over 100 people were tested for HIV on that day and more than 250 community members received HIV/AIDS information!
Reindolf also provided support to volunteers when they used the medium of film to educate members of the Zongo community on peaceful elections. Additionally, he was an active participant in the workshops conducted by YCI volunteers; his high level of knowledge and deep understanding in the various areas of the projects, as well as his interaction with volunteers during workshops, is highly commendable. Reindolf demonstrates great leadership skills and works excellently in a team environment.
As a result of his excellent communication skills, knowledge and motivation, Reindolf was invited to be one of the keynote speakers to a global student video conference on HIV/AIDS hosted by the Toronto based NGO, TakingITGlobal. He spoke before an audience of over 100 Canadian and American High School students during the video conference and did a fantastic job communicating a well researched and powerful message about the realities of HIV/AIDS in Koforidua, Ghana. He received excellent reviews from all parties involved.
It’s been two weeks since I have left my comfortable home in Toronto, Ontario, to pursue my passion of working in the field of international development. My five years of studying what Development is, how it came to be and the major theories behind how exactly things can be solved has brought me to this point. Ghana. I had heard it was one of the most vibrant countries in the world; known for its friendly faces, beautiful beaches and of course, the Azonto. Ghana has exceeded my expectations so far.
I knew that once I arrived and started planning and implementing the various projects on substance abuse, entrepreneurship and sexual reproductive health it would be nothing like I had imagined or even practiced in the classroom. I was right! Every day has been a new undertaking. My partner volunteer Marlee and I have completed a manual on Substance Abuse in Ghana for the YAG (Youth Advocates Ghana) to use for future outreach, as well as started conducting workshops in junior and senior high schools. What we thought would be a small class of 20 or 30 turned out to be nearly a whole school! Nerve racking at first, we dove in with open minds and the support of our YMCA peer mentors.
By the third workshop my confidence had grown and the kids made us feel more then welcome. It has been overwhelming at times being the object of stares and laughter, however the hospitality in Koforidua is outstanding. Whether it is running around the corner to grab some fresh mangos or walking through the city to explore the market, Ghanaians are always glad to help or just stop for a quick chat. I think I can get used to this place.
- Leigh Matassa, Youth Ambassador, Ghana 2013
Christopher Sharpe is YCI’s second new intern at our Toronto headquarters. No stranger to YCI, Chris is also a recent alumni of the Youth Ambassadors program in Korforidua, Ghana. Chris has recently decided to pursue a career in the international development field after working several years as an education professional. As a graduate of both the University of Toronto and Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, Chris’ academic interest lies in Canadian government and politics, democratic institutions, voting systems and comparative foreign policy. Chris is passionate about working with youth to foster education and engagement in civil society and advocacy. As such, he is very excited to be the new Public Engagement Intern at YCI!
My name is Christopher Sharpe and I am an education professional currently transitioning into a career in international development. I was born in Toronto and raised in both Canada and the United States (Washington, D.C.). I did my Honours Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Toronto and a Master of Arts degree in International Relations at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.
Since finishing school I have worked as an educator in a variety of capacities. I have been an academic tutor at the University of Toronto, as well as an English teacher in both South Korea and Japan. I have experience teaching people of all ages from small children to teenagers, university students, professional adults and retirees!
My interests in international development include good governance, institutional capacity building and the creation of an educated and active civil society. I am particularly interested in working with youth to help develop their critical thinking and analysis skills as it relates to good governance. This is what brought me to join Youth Challenge International; I spent 6 weeks this summer as a Youth Ambassador in YCI’s project based in Koforidua, Ghana.
While there I worked in partnership with the YMCA Youth Mentorship Program on issues related to HIV/AIDS and malaria awareness and prevention, as well as effective youth mobilization and advocacy in a democratic context. I was particularly excited about participating in the YMCA National Youth Conference, held at the University of Ghana, where I was able to present on “Youth and Civic Participation: The Canadian Experience”.
Since returning from Ghana, I’ve been making the transition into a career in the international development sector in my hometown of Toronto. I joined the education division of the Toronto based NGO TakingITGlobal as their Global Encounters Video Conference Coordinator where I worked to facilitate global issues-based video conferences with high school students from all over the world. Following this, I was incredibly excited about being offered (and accepting!) the position of Public Engagement Intern at the Youth Challenge International Head Office in Toronto. I’m very much looking forward to working on issues of youth development and promoting the many exciting programs that YCI has coming up in 2013!
In my spare time I enjoy travelling abroad, learning new languages, playing the piano and water sports. I particularly enjoy spending time at my cottage in the Kawartha Lakes.
My name is Anne Bouvier and I am a Youth Ambassador placed in Koforidua, Ghana. Before arriving to Koforidua I thought our project would be straight-forward; plan a workshop, present it to a group of students, hand out a pre-test and a post test, write-up a report and bam, done. Little did I realize this could not be accomplished without the Mentors from our partner organization, the YMCA. These ladies and gentlemen have been our support line, our co-organizers, co-planners, our co-presenters, our interpreters, our tour guides, our entertainment, our guru’s and most importantly our new found friends. Today I want to share with you how wonderful they have been to us thus far into our stay at the YMCA.
On my first day here in Koforidua, the five of us volunteers were amazed by the bustling city, I had a perma-stunned look on my face, trying to take in all the information as we were guided to all the different places in the city we needed to know about. I was walking with one of the mentors while he excitedly explained to me how to say different words in Twi. I was mixing up the words and I told him I will keep trying. He stopped in his tracks and said, “No, you will not try, you will do it.” Now reflecting on that moment I understand why they have such a wonderful outlook on life; they are insightful, reflective and state things as they are. No fakeness, just the honest truth. Despite how thrown off I was, I loved it, it left me thinking about what I only put “half my heart into”.
In our first meeting with the mentors (five twenty year olds from Koforidua) I came to realize that they are genuine people who care about their community. After asking them why they decided to volunteer two answers stood out to me, “everyone needs someone to survive, which is why I give.” Another mentioned, “It’s my passion to give, that is why I help my community.” Not only did this inspire me to be a better person to my own community, but it made me realize how giving Ghanaians are to their own people. I understand it is one thing to say something, and another is to act upon what you say. Well their words soon proved to be true. It has been almost three weeks to that meeting and the mentors have found time despite their work schedules, to attend the meetings, put in countless hours to help us organize, meet with individuals within Koforidua and the Eastern Region, and have presented workshops with finesse.
As YCI volunteers we realized our workshops would not be the same without the mentors. Devin, a fellow Canadian, mentioned to me, “We are here to facilitate the workshops and we depend on the mentors to present, without them we are almost useless.” This is quite true, as the volunteers we have been researchers, planners and organizers for the workshops, while the mentors have taken initiative as presenters. They are able to connect with the youth due to the English-Twi language barrier and also because they have an energy, a passion, an engaging presence and a charisma that inspires the youth.
In addition to their help to us professionally, they also have become great friends. They accompanied us on a hike that began at 7am in the morning, they have attempted at giving us numerous dance lessons, they even organized a movie night on Valentine’s Day equipped with their very own personal speakers and a projector. I also have learned how to get things done without becoming stressed, how to enjoy doing work, how to be laid back and to not worry about the time.
Finally I want to take this opportunity to thank you to each and every one of them for showing me the importance in enjoying each moment in life, giving to your neighbour without expecting anything in return and for sharing the passion that that burns in each one of them. The dedication of the mentors makes me eager to reach YCI’s goals through our workshops, and I know they will, as a new friend of mine stated, “get everything they wish for out of life, sometime in the near future.”
-Anne Bouvier, Youth Ambassador, Ghana 2012