Reflections on Local Hospitality and Hosting Environmental Awareness Workshops in Ghana

May and Alec with some students from Fijai Senior High School

May and Alec with some students from Fijai Senior High School

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.

Madam Winnifred, Vice Principal of YMCA Vocational Training Institute

Madam Winnifred, Vice Principal of YMCA Vocational Training Institute

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.

A local plastic collection point for recycling

A local plastic collection point for recycling

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

May’s First week in Ghana – Program Planning to Meet Youth Needs

Today is Wednesday May 29th, our second official work day in Takoradi which came right after a relaxing long weekend in celebration of African Union Day. Our first two days so far have consisted of organizing and discussing our work schedule for the next couple of weeks along with meeting the YCI stakeholders and partners of these projects.

Today began with a scheduled meeting with the Regional Coordinator of the National Youth Authority (NYA), Mr. Papa Assan. The NYA is a branch of the Department of Youth and Sports in Ghana responsible for implementing and overseeing various policies and programs aimed at empowering Ghanaian Youth in the areas of education, employment, environment, Health and HIV/AIDS, just to name a few – all of which aligns with the focus areas of many of YCI’s projects as well.

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On Tuesday we also met with Ghana Education Service (GES), a branch of the Ministry of Education. The purpose of the meeting was to acquire permission from the Metro Director of Education, Mr. Nana Imbeah to allow us to work with the schools in Takoradi. This is a requirement that all NGO’s and private organizations working with the schools in the community must attain before they start any projects. The meeting went very well and we acquired the approval with flying colours – the officials were very enthusiastic about the YCI projects we have planned.

One thing I really appreciate so far about these last couple days were the meetings with the GES and the NYA and the active involvement of the government with YCI projects in Takoradi. As an NGO, YCI places strong emphasis on the engagement of members within the communities and on their partnerships which includes the Government. The fact that we sought permission of the government before we proceeded with our work with the schools, really shows how much value YCI places on aligning our work with the expectations of the communities we are working in before any work is done. This greatly reassures me as a non-local that my work here has been approved by the people that will be benefiting the most from it – the youth.

Here is an overview of the projects we have planned in Takoradi, which is the Western Region of Ghana also known as ‘Oil City’.

1. Personal Hygiene Workshop: This workshop will be focused on educating men and women in three selected schools in Takoradi about the best ways to wash hands along with personal, food and kitchen hygiene best practices in an effort to prevent prevalent diseases such as cholera and diarrhea, among others.

2. Environmental Iniatives: We will be creating workshops focusing on waste collection, waste management and recycling plastic in 3 selected schools working alongside waste management companies in the area. The initiative is also aimed at helping to establish environmental groups in each of the selected schools which will be responsible for organizing activities such as clean-up days and tree-plantings as well as sustaining environmental awareness within the schools.

3. Research on Youth Entrepreneurship: Working alongside our partner YMCA and local volunteers, we will be conducting a baseline questionnaire with local young entrepreneurs to find out more about their experiences, challenges and successes with starting their own businesses. The questionnaire will be analyzed to produce a report. The report then will inform the next group of volunteers who will design workshops addressing the findings of the surveys in terms of types of training and information the entrepreneurs could benefit from, e.g. how to write a business plan or ways of attaining capital to start a business.

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

The Dream Tree

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.

Dream Tree

The Dream Tree

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.

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- Afua Helena Kojo, Youth Ambassador, Ghana 2013

Ghana Project Update: Journey to Confidence

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.

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Pricilla

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.

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Pricilla’s apple on the Dream Tree

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.

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Computer class

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.

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Pricilla and her partner working on the computer

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

Ghana Update: Marlee Jordan

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.

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Some delicious Ghanaian food!

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!

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Marlee

- Marlee Jordan Youth Ambassador, Ghana 2013

Ghana Volunteer of the Year 2012: Reindolf Chambas!

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.

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Reindolf

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.

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Reindolf at the HIV/AIDS outreach in Sorodai community.