IYIP Blog: A Shot for Peace

Camaro West and Devin Woods, YCI’s two CIDA IYIPs working with the Ghana YMCA.

My time in Ghana is coming to a close. As the Communications Officer with Youth Challenge International’s Partner the Ghana Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), I have experienced a diverse many aspects of Ghanaian life.

Recently, I had the opportunity to play a role in a global event held by YMCA’s around the world. The event, “Hoop Springs Eternal” is a YMCA World Alliance Challenge and aimed to mobilize five million youth throughout their network to take basketball shots simultaneously. Each event held its own theme. The Ghana YMCA chose, “A Shot for Peace Towards a Peaceful Election 2012”. Held on October 13, 2012, close to 400 Ghanaian youth took part in shooting for a peaceful election.

Guest speaker his Eminence Nii Guate Asuasa II, Supreme War Lord of the Ga State taking his shot for peace.

During my time in Ghana it has been abundantly clear that the people of Ghana are and continue to be deeply concerned about the prospect of violence before, during and after their fast approaching presidential and parliamentary elections. With the elections slated for December 2012, it is hoped that this event will further bring awareness to the issue and remind Ghanaian youth of their commitment to peace.

The event, held at the University of Ghana, Legon carried important messages for youth. Key note guest speaker his Eminence Nii Guate Asuasa II, Supreme War Lord of the Ga State engaged youth on their role as future leaders and highlighted them as the key resource for the nation. Mr. Reynolds Kissiedu, Chairman of the Ghana YMCA also urged all parties involved to strive for a peaceful election period.

Youth pledge their commitment to peace.

The event also involved the coming together of the ‘Big Six’ youth movements. These movements include the Ghana YMCA, Ghana YWCA, Ghana Scouts Movement, Ghana Girl Guides, the Ghana Red Cross/Crescent, and the International Award. Together these organizations represent a large portion of Ghana’s youth and their joint commitment to peace is seen to be a significant voice.

My role here at the Ghana YMCA is to initiate a new era in the way the Ghana YMCA communicates with the public, its members, and its key stakeholders. This means using new and traditional methods of communication to both engage and educate target audiences on the work of the Ghana YMCA.

Some young members of the YMCA Ghana.

Please support the work of the Ghana YMCA by liking the Ghana YMCA Facebook page.  Also check out this short video I have put together about the Hoop Springs Eternal event:

-Devin Woods, Communication and Mobilization Officer, CIDA International Youth Internship Program, Ghana 2012


Meet Norbert!

In country, YCI volunteers are supported by a number of local youth. With today’s blog, we would like to introduce you to a Tanzanian youth volunteer in Morogoro. Here is Norbert (courtesy of  Kaitlynn Tidwell): 

Norbert Shayo, 20 years old, at the office.

Norbert Shayo is one of YCI’s local volunteers, but before working with us he was a beneficiary of our partner organization Faraja Trust Fund. His mother died in 1999 and his father died in 2000 from AIDS infections, and sadly Norbert got HIV from them. He has an older brother as well as a younger sister, but at the time of his father’s death there wasn’t a way for them to stay in their home. They moved in with Norbert‘s aunt and uncle She was very discriminatory towards Norbert because of his status. His older brother didn’t have education at the time, after not scoring high enough to go on after 4th level. They were stuck in that living arrangement  for 2 years and a half.

Norbert started going to Faraja after his Aunt introduced him to their programs to get resources for school. His older brother was able to be sent to school through Faraja and eventually went on to attend teacher’s college. He is now finishing his first degree in Arusha and comes down to Morogoro to visit. Norbert was a part of Faraja’s programs with other youth attending their workshops and education sessions before being introduced to YCI.

Norbert joined us to start giving back to the community. The work the Faraja staff do was inspiring and made him want to work in NGOs, prompting him to become one of our local volunteers. He is an excellent translator and asset to our team. Norbert has been a fantastic help, I don’t know what we would have done without him and I can’t wait to see what else he will accomplish in the future.

Norbert Shayo and Frank Kilongola at our programming in Mgulasi.

– Kaitlynn Tidwell, Youth Ambassador, Tanzania 2012.

YCI’s Volunteer of the Year

During the past year, YCI had an incredible amount of fantastic volunteers who contributed over 32, 000 hours worldwide to our international programs. Through their effort and hard work, YCI volunteers were able to create positive change in communities in Tanzania, Ghana, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Guyana. We are pleased to announce this year’s Volunteer of the Year and recognize our other finalists and nominees.

YCI’S Volunteer of the Year: Lonny Chen

For Lonny the most important part of his YCI experience has been building relationships and maintaining them after he leaves a place. Congratulations Lonny and Thank You!

Lonny first became engaged with YCI as a Tanzania program volunteer in 2008. As a volunteer, Lonny spent 8 weeks supporting our partners in Morogoro, the Faraja Trust Fund, in establishing Computer and Employment Skills development initiatives for unemployed youth. Lonny spent his time building relationships with community members, youth and staff and prides himself in his ability to sustain strong and meaningful relationships quickly and effectively.

Lonny’s zeal and passion for both his work and Tanzanian culture brought him back once again in 2011 as a Youth Innovator. Last year Lonny spent four weeks supporting our partners Faraja Trust Fund in Morogoro, Tanzania as a Youth Innovator. In this experience, Lonny played an integral part in contributing to the drafting and editing of Faraja Trust Funds Strategic Plan 2010-2014. Lonny was a tremendous addition to both the YCI and Faraja Trust Fund team as he was always helpful and eager to contribute to the overall capacity building initiatives. Lonny’s passion, drive and enthusiasm translated into his engaging as a Youth Innovator once again in 2012. Lonny has just completed an 8-week placement as a Youth Innovator in both Zanzibar and Morogoro. Lonny’s background and expertise in Information, Technology and Communications has been invaluable in supporting our partners to increase their computer literacy.

Lonny, during a recent website training, with ZANGOC.

To date, Lonny has dedicated over 800 volunteer hours to YCI. Lonny’s dedication to YCI and his contribution to our international partners is absolutely invaluable. We thank him and are proud to honour his contribution by naming him YCI’s Volunteer of the Year!

Finalist: Angela Mak

Angela working with children in Guyana

Angela Mak is a standout volunteer who made a significant impact in her 5-week volunteer placement in St. Cuthbert’s Mission, Guyana. Before her arrival in Guyana, Angela’s creative flair shined through in her fundraising efforts. Events like “Dance or Die: and a “Spin-a-thon” resulted in Angela quickly exceeding her fundraising target! Once in Guyana, Angela successfully engaged young learners through innovative curriculum development initiatives, educational activities and compassionate instruction. She was instrumental in improving literacy and education in and out of the classroon. Angela’s friendly, outgoing personality was a supportive and positive addition to St. Cuthbert’s Mission. She integrated extremely well into the community, forming many close relationships–she even had a baby named after her! Angela’s can-do attitude and overall zest for life is absolutely inspiring. Angela has been one of YCI’s most active Alumni and has remained engaged through writing blog posts using new media (From Guyana With Love), onboarding new volunteers and even local volunteerism in Toronto. Her recent efforts at the KPMG Aeroplan Campaign impressed YCI staff and Board Members alike.

Finalist: Lisa D’Alimonte

Lisa in Ghana

Lisa D’Alimonte began volunteering with YCI in the fall of 2010 as part of the Humber College youth leadership team and has remained engaged with the organization ever since. Shortly after her 10-week placement in Ghana, Lisa was selected as the YCI IYIP Good Governance Intern in Tanzania. Working with our partner ZANGOC, Lisa was instrumental in their strategic planning and the creation of the Gender Equality Team in the organization. Her love of Ghana and commitment to YCI has brought her back as an Innovator in two capacities for our Ghana program . She recently completed a Program Development placement to formalize the YCI-YMCA mentorship program and is currently assisting our partner YES Ghana with designing a Monitoring & Evaluation toolkit for their projects. Lisa has also remained an active representative of YCI in Canada. When she is in Toronto, Lisa is one of our most enthusiastic advocates at universities and colleges alike, speaking about YCI and the CIDA IYIP program.


Thank you to all the volunteers who were nominated. We have included them below with a link to one (or more) of the blog posts where they shared their experience. Please read what they had to say. 

Matt Leslie, Youth Ambassador, Tanzania: Preparing for Tanzania and Alumni Update 

Hyun Park, Youth Ambassador, Tanzania: Gender Equality Team of ZANGOC

David Caughey, Youth Ambassador, Ghana: Culture Shock and The Harmattan

Ben Yurkiw, Youth Ambassador, Tanzania: Karibu- YCI Orientation in Tanzania and A Lesson in Selflessness

Alumni Update: Sureet Rai

Sureet and the students she worked with on her last day in Tanzania.

It was this time last year that I was planning for fundraisers and preparing for my trip to Tanzania – not knowing the extent to which travelling and working in Arusha was going to change my life. It’s been seven months since I’ve returned home, but Tanzania is still a big part of my life, even though I’m no longer there. This trip has taught me a great deal, of which the top five lessons I will share:

1. To appreciate what I have. Although we were living in a pretty comfortable home in Tanzania, living there still taught me to appreciate what I have in Canada. Taking hot showers, getting clean water from the tap, and using my phone in public are just small things I now appreciate. Having a chance to go to school, having a job, and being respected as a young person are the bigger things that I have learned to appreciate after coming back from Tanzania.

2. Friendships can also be long distance. I am lucky to have kept in contact with many of the people I met in Tanzania, including the students, the family we stayed with, and other friends that we made along the way. Whether they are my co-volunteers on the other side of the country, or friends from the other side of the world – we all have a special and unbreakable connection.

3. I have the travel bug. A couple of months after coming back, I found myself on a plane again, this time to New York. After travelling to Tanzania, I know how much fun travelling can be and how much I love it!

4. My passion is to teach (everywhere). Before my trip, I had a lot of experience teaching locally, but being able to teach in another country was one of the most rewarding experiences yet. I was able to learn a new culture, share my own culture, and learn a new language, all while doing what I love – teaching. This trip has definitely proved to me that I want to teach wherever a plane can take me.

5. I can do whatever I set my mind to. Having travelled alone and being away from family for a whole summer, I can no longer give myself excuses as to why “I can’t.” This experience continues to push me to get out of my comfort zone to do what it is I really want to do, because I know that I am capable.

Sureet in New York City next to the Tanzanian flag.

Once I came back to Canada, my normal schedule kicked in, and I found myself back into the ‘robot school-mode’ of life. Not content with this, I find myself reflecting on my trip a lot. I often find that small things spark my memory back to my trip, thinking about the fun times and amazing connections I shared with so many people. This is great motivation for me, because it keeps me appreciating the amazing experience I had and it gets me excited for what my future holds.

-Sureet Rai, YCI Alumni, Tanzania 2011

To find out more about what our Alumni are doing now, check out the Alumni Update section of our blog. 

The YMCA Mentors

YCI Youth Ambassadors and the YMCA Mentors

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

Anne is on an 8 week Youth Ambassador placement in Ghana. Check out the upcoming opportunities in Ghana  by clicking on our Program Calendar

YCI volunteers engage Assembly-members in Koforidua

The first activity my team planned in Koforidua, Ghana was a two day workshop on good governance, the Millennium Development Goals and community mobilization. The workshop included five local Assembly-members. Our goal was to create a community action plan with each Assembly-member outlining a task that they would like the next group of YCI volunteers to help them with in their communities (so any summer volunteers reading this should get excited) however before we go into that a little background on Assembly-members in Ghana.

Katelyn presenting to the Assembly-members

There are approximately one hundred and twenty four District Assemblies in Ghana. Each is made up of a mix of elected and appointed members. Thirty percent of the Assembly is appointed by the President and the remaining two-thirds are elected by their electoral areas. Elections are held every four years and Assembly-members run for office on a non-partisan basis.

A Presiding Member or chairperson is elected from the elected members of the Assembly, while the District Chief Executive is appointed by the President. Subcommittees are formed to study issues in depth and make policy recommendations to the executive committee, who then present to the entire Assembly where decisions are made. There are five mandatory subcommittees: development planning, social services, works, justice and security, and finance and administration. However, the Assemblies are free to create further subcommittees or joint committees when necessary. Every Assembly-member must belong to at least one subcommittee.

We ended up having three Assembly-members on day one and four on day two. The first three were all women: Honorable Lucy, Honorable Joyce and Honorable Esther. On the second day Honorable Martin joined us. We came up with some great community action plans. At first it was a little difficult to get the Assembly-members to focus on small initiatives that we could accomplish in the short term. Thinking big is awesome but unfortunately we could not commit to building public toilets in six weeks with the next group of volunteers. Finally we settled on a plan for each: Honorable Lucy went with a community clean up, a microfinance seminar for the women in Honorable Esther’s community, Honorable Martin, who is twenty-five and was appointed to be a representative for the youth on the District Assembly, wants to do a workshop on leadership skills and empowering youth, and finally Honorable Joyce wants to sensitize her community to the issues surrounding HIV/AIDS and malaria prevention.

The team in Ghana with the Assembly-members in Koforidua

I felt honored that these busy Assembly-members would take the time to come work with us and I felt I learned a lot listening to them discuss the issues they were facing in their communities. I was impressed with the work that Honorable Lucy was doing with the girls in her community and felt the frustration that seems to come with development work. We cannot fix many of the issues that they brought up in the short period of time that we are here but can focus on the small incremental projects that we have the resources for at the moment.

-Allison Bystrom, YCI Youth Ambassador, Ghana 2011. Allison is currently taking part in a 6-week project in Ghana. The team will be working with local Assembly-members, the YCI-YMCA mentorship program and on health and environmental community initiatives. 

For more volunteer blogs, check out our Travel Diary category.

Youth & the MDGs

On June 14, 2010, Emmanuel Eduzie of  Youth Empowerment Synergy, one of YCI’s partner organizations in Ghana, presented to the United Nations in New York during the thematic session on “Building a Better Tomorrow: Local Actions, National Strategies and Global Structures.” Below is a copy of the statement Emmanuel presented to the UN:

Thank you Mr. President for the opportunity!

During the first decade of implementing the MDGs, development partners including UN agencies, the bilaterals, national governments and civil society organisations have regarded youth as targets for development programming. However, as the world enters the ‘last lap’ of the 2015 deadline, it is imperative to pay more attention to the role of youth as actors in the struggle to achieve the MDGs.

To be achieved, the MDGs must reflect local realities, engage people and be locally owned. This is in recognition of the fact that, unless the MDGs are understood and adapted to local, sub-national realities combined with capacity development for strategic planning, implementation and monitoring, it will be impossible to make any meaningful progress towards success in 2015.

This localization agenda will help in combating poverty and social exclusion, enable full participation and open space for social mobilization, and develop a greater capacity for citizen’s monitoring of progress. The focus on the local level combined with appropriate linkages to national poverty reduction strategies will bridge disparities, socio-economic, gender and ethnic inequalities and thus fosters more rapid, equitable and sustainable development.

In this context, young people form a significant cohort at the local level, both as targets of and actors in the localisation process. Any serious policy for social, political and economic development must therefore recognize the importance of young people, especially in promoting social progress, reducing political tension and maximizing economic performance.

The pace, depth and scope of localisation of the MDGs therefore depend on how well youth resources are nurtured, deployed and utilised in the process. The challenge for all stakeholders is to provide sufficient opportunities for young people to join in this localisation process, especially as it relates to monitoring and reporting at the grassroots.

Thank you!

Currently, YES Ghana is the most extensive non-governmental youth organization in Ghana, run by youth, for youth. YES and YCI have partnered to work on key programming areas throughout Ghana. These include a “Youth Employability” project, which enables Ghanaian young men and women successful earn a sustainable living through employability skills training, entrepreneurship and business creation, as well as an “Active Citizenship” project, which encourages young people to take leadership roles in their communities and ensure their voices are being heard.