Heather, Melissa, Disa, Nick, Vivianne and I arrived at the Accra airport Monday evening. Although the sun had already set it was a warm evening, particularly since I was clothed in jeans and a light sweatshirt – YCI’s clothing policy strongly recommends volunteers wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts to protect against mosquitoes as Ghana is a country with a high prevalence of malaria. After collecting our luggage we met Fred, our program manager, for the first time. He has a wonderful smile and put me at ease right away. We would be staying in Accra for a week of orientation, after which we would split up into two teams.
Disa, Nick and Viviane were members of the Youth Ambassador group that would be working in Koforidua. Heather, Melissa and I would be working in Takoradi, a port city which has been significantly impacted by the emerging oil industry in Ghana. Fred took us all to the YMCA to meet the remaining two members of our group, Ali-Chuma, who is originally from the DRC but became a Canadian citizen just this past August, and Jake, who is from the Finger Lakes, in New York State. Jake is the only American in the group. We’ve already had a few laughs about the cultural differences between Canadians and Americans.
Since there wasn’t enough room for all of us at the YMCA, Fred took Heather, Melissa, Nick and I to stay at the Obruni House, a compound of guesthouses in Accra. “Obruni” means “foreigner”; we have all quickly become accustomed to passers-by calling out to us when we walk through the streets, particularly young children. The people here are very friendly. Even strangers have come up to us to talk with us. I’ve noticed that many Ghanaians shake hands when greeting one another, whether they are complete strangers, meeting for the first time, or even if they are already well acquainted with one another.
On Tuesday morning we met with CIDA, who gave us an overview of Canada’s development objectives in Ghana. We also enjoyed a presentation on Ghanaian culture, given by the program support unit which is comprised of Ghanaian staff. It was interesting to learn the funerals are much more elaborately and publicly celebrated than weddings, which are a more intimate, private affair. Tuesday for lunch we got to try local Ghanaian dishes for the first time, like yams with palava sauce, joloff rice, and red-red. Palava sauce is made from spinach and is spicy. Joloff rice is a traditional Ghanaian rice dish which is also spicy. Red-red is beans and plantains in a spicy red sauce. All the dishes were very tasty but spicy. It will take some time for me to get used to the spice.
Tuesday afternoon through to Thursday morning we were engaged in orientation activities. Activities included an overview of YCI’s role in contributing to Ghanaian development, as well as more in-depth explanations of the activities that each of the two teams would be carrying out in their respective locations. We also participated in workshops in group dynamics, communication and gender awareness. On Thursday afternoon the Takoradi group met the Youth Empowerment Synergy staff in Accra. On Friday the Takoradi group – Heather, Melissa and I headed out to Takoradi, accompanied by Fred.
During the second week we met with the staff of the YMCA Vocational Institute in Takoradi, as well as with representatives of YES, including some Youth Advocates, to get a sense of the scheduling of the activities that we are hoping to do. In our first meeting with Emelia, the principal of the YMCA Vocational Institute in Takoradi, we discussed the types of activities we will be planning to carry out with both her students, the High Ys, and with the Youth Advocates who work with Youth Empowerment Synergy (YES) Ghana. Emelia expressed the need for her staff to know how to write proposals as well. We learned that some time ago, she had written a letter to the Ghana Cement (GHACEM) Foundation to request cement for rehabilitating a classroom that could be used as a kitchen facility for the catering students; however, after submitting the letter, they had never heard anything back from the GHACEM Foundation. As part of our project , we set dates to hold a two-day workshop (two morning sessions) for the staff of the vocational school on Thursday the 29th, and Friday the 30th. We got a copy of the funding requirements for the GHACEM “Self-Supporting Initiatives” program as well as a copy of Emelia’s letter, did some research on some other organizations that fund projects in the education sector, and designed a basic proposal writing workshop.
Over the course of our two-day workshops, we introduced and explained the key components of a basic proposal, including a simple budget, and then got the teachers to draft their own letters requesting funds for some of the school’s needs, including rehabilitation of the existing kitchen, and kitchen equipment. Another group worked on drafting a letter to request funds for expanding the school library. The workshop was well-received –all of the teachers had never before written a proposal so it was good to see that by the end of the workshops they were able to name the key components of a proposal, and were able to apply their understanding of these components in drafting their proposal letters. Next week we will be visiting a couple of hospitals to get some information about STI rates in the area, and also meeting with the Youth Advocates again. It has been an eventful and rewarding first two weeks in Ghana. I am truly looking forward to see what new knowledge, experiences and connections the next ten weeks will bring.
– Victoria Ng, Youth Leadership Team, Ghana 2011.
Victoria is currently placed in Ghana on a 12-week project to complete her international placement for the International Development Post-Graduate Certificate Program at Humber College with a small team of students from the program.