Akwaaba!

Written by: Kimalee Phillip, YCI Volunteer in Accra, Ghana

Akwaaba! Having arrived in Ghana on January 13th after an almost 24-hour journey, I was ecstatic to have once again, set my feet on African soil – Ghanaian soil to be exact.

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My name is Kimalee Phillip and I was selected to be a Program Development Innovator  with Youth Challenge International – a Toronto-based nonprofit organization that  focuses on sending youth volunteers to various parts of the world to undertake and  support educational, organizational development, health and wellness initiatives. During  my stay in Ghana, I am tasked with creating a fundraising strategy for an organization  called Enactus, Ghana and a programming/skills development training for the YMCA  (the Y) in Accra. I only have 5 weeks to complete these important and detailed tasks  therefore the pressure is definitely on but the challenge is exciting!

There’s a level of familiarity that I feel here in Ghana. Perhaps it’s because the chances of  this land being that of my ancestors since I am an African, born and raised in Grenada is  quite high. In fact, I’m pretty sure that that this is the reason; however whatever it is,  being here feels right and I am truly humbled to have been granted the opportunity to  return.

The YCI staff, Naana, Fred and Nii warmly greeted me in Accra and their continued  support throughout my journey is welcomed and appreciated. Completing my assigned  tasks, more or less on an independent basis, presents its own challenges so I was encouraged when after having met Kwabena and his team at the Y and Baba and Beatrice at Enactus, and realizing how warm and excited they were about working together; I am convinved that the actual process of completing these strategies will be more informative and enjoyable than the final product which is great!

The YMCA

Kwabena Nketia Addae – Executive Director of the YMCA

Kwabena has been at the Y since 2002 and remains motivated by the work done at the Y because he has witnessed the changes and impacts that some of the Y’s programs have had on the lives of young people. At the end of his tenure, he would like to see more young people empowered and motivated to take on additional leadership positions, both at the Y and beyond.

Kwarteng Frimpong – Programs Coordinator

Kwarteng has been with the Y Ghana for a little over a year and is motivated by his desire to make changes in the lives of the youth members of the Ghana YMCA. He is hoping to witness a transformed and more vibrant Ghana YMCA.

Enactus

Baba

When asked why he works with Enactus, Baba said that as a businessperson, he has always been interested in connecting business to the broader community and thus for him, Enactus’ three-pronged approach of linking business to academia and to the community (and environment) was an immediate draw. He also sees his work as an extension of his own spiritual beliefs and responsibilities to humankind and the environment.

Beatrice

Beatrice was first introduced to Enactus while still at school. She appreciates Enactus as it has allowed her the opportunity to actualize the theoretical and pedagogical learning in tangible and practical ways. Currently, Beatrice is exploring her options to pursue further schooling here in Ghana.

I’ve only highlighted a few of the people that I’ll be closely working with however, many lovely people who greet me everyday and who help to make my everyday experiences comfortable must be named. Veronica, Linda, Ben, Reginald and Mr. Adams at the Y, thank you. Of course, there’s still Mama Mina, Francis, Ama, Mina and the lovely people at my homestay but that’s a topic for another post.

To this journey continuing. Medasi pa.

Hidden Traffic Rules

By: Ting-Yu Wei

To know what the local rules are is critical for a newly arrived traveller. In developing areas, these rules can be unpredictable or implicit. One must learn from experiences. Here is my story.

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“You did not take your passengers to the destination and you charge me for the full amount?!” I stared at the fare collector of the tro-tro and questioned him.

I had been on the bumpy road for hours. This was the third vehicle that I was on. My first taxi was inspected by the police, which dragged the time. The second tro-tro crashed with a taxi and everyone, luckily unharmed, had to wait for another transfer. The fare collector of that tro-tro had returned the full fare to us. Now the third one announced that they were not going forward anymore. This journey should have been a straightforward one and under three hours. I should have been at my destination by this time.

The tro-tro crash

The tro-tro crash

Another passenger took me with him and found another tro-tro going towards our destination. However, the collector of the previous vehicle appeared and demanded the full fare of the ride. I had the fare ready, however I did not think that I should pay him as the tro-tro had failed to get us to the destination. He was busy collecting money, yet firmly blocked me from boarding the next tro-tro. I tried to reason with him, yet he did not respond.

The fourth tro-tro was about to depart. If I missed this one, I would have had no idea how long it would take for the next one to come. Irritated and tired, I handed over the seven cedis to the previous collector and re-stated my previous question; was he still making me pay even though he had not taken his passengers to their destination?

He let me pass. I settled on the seat and turned my stare to him again. The next moment, I found him paying the three-cedi fare to the fare collector of the tro-tro we are on.

I took a deep breath. I misunderstood his behaviour. In this case, I did not have to pay more for this ongoing tro-tro, as I originally suspected. Later on, I confirmed the rule with our local program coordinator. In Ghana, oftentimes, if one tro-tro fails to take the passengers on, they pay another tro-tro with the fare for the remaining journey to send the passengers to their destinations. Yet sometimes, they would return the full fare as the collector of my second tro-tro did after the accident had taken place. Regardless of which action is taken, people take responsibility and do their best to send you to the right place. Honourable people, the Ghanaians.

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It takes time to realize how things are being done locally. There may never be a standard procedure to deal with these incidents. There is always space to learn. Living in a foreign land, we encounter people who behave differently from what we are accustomed to. Any tiny bit of difference in perspective could cause misunderstanding, as both sides perceive things through different lenses. Be respectful, be receptive, be observant and be introspective in these encounters. You will find yourself not only able to connect with the locals you work with, but will also come to see yourself in a truly universal context.
Looking into the world, be wide and open-minded
Ting-Yu Wei is a YCI Youth Ambassador who worked in Ghana in August 2014.

To learn more about YCI’s Ambassador Programs in Ghana, Tanzania and Costa Rica, check out our program calendar.

From the Field: Adjusting to Life in Takoradi, Ghana

By: Claire Whitty, Jillian Head and Caroline Kent

Experiencing a new culture is very exciting, but it can also be overwhelming at times. Even though we are slowly settling into our surroundings, there are new surprises every day! Everyone in Ghana is exceptionally friendly and welcoming. Our home-stay family is intent on ensuring that we are comfortable and at ease in our new home. However, there are many things in Ghana that are extremely different than in Canada. Consequently, it is vital that we take extra good care of ourselves in order to avoid some of the negative effects of culture shock.

Our first view of Ghana from the plane

Our first view of Ghana from the plane

The food in Ghana is unique in comparison to other areas of the world. Local delicacies include fufu (dough that is dipped into a soup), fried plantain, and red red (a bean dish with fried plantains). The dishes usually contain a staple of rice or beans. Furthermore, the food is generally much spicier than most North Americans are used to. While enjoyable to those who like a little “kick” to their meals, it can be quite shocking to those who are not well-adapted to spicy dishes. Regardless of the spice, however, the meals are delicious. Therefore, the food is definitely going to be easy to get used to!

The sun in Ghana is very strong. Regardless of the time of day, it is constantly hot here. After a summer in Canada that was not particularly warm, the heat here was quite a surprise! We are always drenched in sweat, and finding an air conditioned environment feels like a miracle. We are lucky that water is widely available here, but you have to be careful what brands you purchase. Voltic Water has been a favourite! We are also lucky to be so close to the ocean, as the beautiful view makes the heat worthwhile.

This is where we held our first lunch meeting with the YCI staff. Beautiful view of the ocean, and very productive meeting

This is where we held our first lunch meeting with the YCI staff. Beautiful view of the ocean, and very productive meeting!

Nausea is something that has really hit us hard here. It is difficult to tell whether it is the heat, the water, or the different types of food that is upsetting our stomachs. We are assuming that it is a combination of everything. Additionally, certain types of malaria pills can cause nausea. Since we have arrived in Ghana, we have all experienced some kind of sickness due to the new environment. This was to be expected, though, as it is tricky to get used to any new environment.

Lastly, the difference in sanitary conditions is huge. In Canada, soap and clean water is generally available everywhere. In Ghana, however, tap water is not always available and is never clean enough to drink. Our home-stay, for example, rarely has water flowing out of the taps. We take bucket showers, usually with cold water, which has been difficult to master. We are down to about 4 buckets each, which we consider to be successful!

The view of Takoradi from our home-stay

The view of Takoradi from our home-stay

Overall, Ghana is a wonderful country with lots of assets. You cannot go anywhere without meeting friendly and generous people who want to get to know you. It is just a matter of getting used to a new way of life here. The food, climate and sanitary conditions are very different in comparison to Canada. We are gradually overcoming culture shock and beginning to enjoy the many things that Ghana has to offer. We are just lucky that we have so many supportive Ghanaians here to help us along the way!

There are lots of goats and other animals running loose around the neighbourhood Just another one of the neighbours

There are lots of goats and other animals running loose around the neighbourhood Here is one of our neighbours!

Claire, Caroline and Jillian are Youth Ambassadors currently working with YCI in Takoradi, Ghana.
To learn more about YCI’s ambassador programs in Ghana, Tanzania, and Costa Rica, check out our program calendar.

Development Projects in Takoradi, Ghana

By: Claire Whitty, Jillian Head and Caroline Kent

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To date we have been a part of two development projects. We have put on two HIV/AIDS workshops at the YMCA Vocational School. The school caters to girls from disadvantaged homes, offering them a high school level education in a trade of their choice (either catering or sewing). At the same time, the YMCA wants to ensure that they are educated in some basic high school courses like English and basic accounting. As young women from disadvantaged backgrounds, these girls are particularly vulnerable to a rising rate of HIV/AIDS in Takoradi among their cohort. We were able to spend two hours with each group of girls to teach them some basic knowledge about HIV/AIDS facts, transmission, myths, prevention and treatment. By offering an interactive workshop we were able to teach the girls some facts they will hopefully remember and share with family and friends.

Development in Takoradi 1Currently, Ghana is facing a cholera outbreak. This outbreak is fueled by an unsanitary water system and poor hygiene practices. The Ghana Education Service (GES) in collaboration with the YMCA and YCI put on a workshop for School Health and Education Program (SHEP) Coordinators. The purpose of the workshop was to deliver information about cholera and Ebola, while also teaching the SHEP Coordinators how to implement Water, Hygiene and Sanitation (WASH) practices in their schools to decrease the rate of transmission of any illnesses passed through water or air among children and teachers in schools. Our role was to give a brief information session about basic project management skills, including how to get funding for programs. The aim of our session was to encourage teachers to implement health and sanitation programs in their schools even if they think they need outside help and resources. Our goal was to give them the information and skills they need to design and implement a successful project or program.

Development in Takoradi 3In the coming week we will facilitate three workshops on environmental sustainability in schools in the community. These workshops will teach the students about the negative effects of poor environmental practices in their communities – such as excessive littering or open defecation. In the second half of the workshops we will do a neighbourhood clean-up with the students. We hope to encourage them to stop littering and to use sustainable environmental practices while also helping to clean up some neighbourhoods around Takoradi and Sekondi.

Claire, Caroline and Jillian are Youth Ambassadors currently working with YCI in Takoradi, Ghana.

To learn more about YCI’s ambassador programs in Ghana, Tanzania, and Costa Rica, check out our program calendar.

Me Ma Wo Awoda Pa!

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.

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A birthday breakfast feast

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.

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The children sang and enjoyed the breakfast spread.

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!

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Breakfast spread

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.

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As if I hadn’t been sufficiently spoiled, Naana from YCI surprised me with a cake and a visit.

Andrea Paolini, Youth Innovator, Ghana 2014

To read more about YCI’s programs in Ghana, click hereTo read more blogs from our volunteers in Ghana, click here.

YCI is currently recruiting for a 4-week project in Ghana this July 29th to August 26th

 

Like a Breeze

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.

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Bananas growing outside my bedroom window in Accra

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.

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Bougainvillea along the dirt road

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.

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Along my path from the home stay in Nima to Asylum Down Circle

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…

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The sun sets on Cape Coast, Ghana

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

To read more about YCI’s programs in Ghana, click hereTo read more blogs from our volunteers in Ghana, click here.

YCI is currently recruiting for a 4-week project in Ghana this July 29th to August 26th to work with our partners on entrepreneurship initiatives. 

 

You see a girl, we see the future

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.

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Girls at our ‘Your Voice Matters’ Workshop from Nana Brempong Yaw School.

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.

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The Nana Brempong Yaw School group.

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.

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Practicing before a small audience on the stage at the YMCA.

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.

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The first group of YMCA girls after the 1st SRH Workshop.

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.

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The second group of YMCA girls after we delivered our 2nd edition of the SRH Workshop.

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.

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Engaging the group during the Sexual Reproductive Health workshop hosted at the YMCA.

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.

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The YMCA Environmental Group gathers for a quick group shot before getting back to work!

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.

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The YMCA’s Environmental Group hard at work for their Environmental Sustainability MDG Project, restoring the YMCA gardens.

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

To read more about YCI’s programs in Ghana, click hereTo read more blogs from our volunteers in Ghana, click here.