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

Development in Takoradi 2

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.

First Week in-Country and Ghana’s History Lesson at Cape Coast

By: Charis Yung

It has been one week since my arrival in Ghana. From the sound of the rooster crowing in the morning and neighborhood children giggling happily outside, to the busy honking noises on the streets, they’re all becoming more familiar. Although May and June are part of the rainy season in Ghana, I’ve found the weather rather sunny with occasional rain showers. When the sun is out, the days are still hot, with temperatures reaching up to 40 degrees Celsius with humidity, but cool breezes flowing under the shade is helping me ease into the heat and welcoming me to learn more about this beautiful country.


After the first three days in Accra and Takoradi, I traveled to Cape Coast to join in with five other volunteers who are staying in the Eastern region of Ghana. Apart from walking along the scenic beaches of the Atlantic Ocean along the coast, the visit to the Castle was a phenomenal experience. At first, I had been skeptical and somewhat frustrated by the mandatory guided tour that came with a hefty entrance fee for foreigners. However, a pre-tour walk around the museum completely changed my perspective and appreciation for Ghanaian history of the African slavery trade. Although I’d briefly learned about the African slavery trade and independence movements in school, it had been awhile since I last encountered the subject and had not known that the Castle would contain so much history within its walls. Exploring the museum, I was impressed by the descriptive timelines. They laid out the painful history behind European colonization and the role this particular Castle and the surrounding ports played in the imprisonment, containment, separation, death, and brutality of the people who were captured and sold to different continents.


Ghana had been known as the “Gold Coast” during colonial times due to its richness in natural resources, particularly gold. This made it a coveted area for European powers to vie for, and its strategic geographic location along the Atlantic coast developed it into a prominent trade area. Out of the thirty castles located along the Atlantic coast, about twenty-seven castles are located in Ghana, which testify to its key position in the Triangular Trade between the Americas, Europe and Africa. Beyond the trade of goods, slavery trade was widespread and active until the eighteenth century.


During the tour of the Cape Coast Castle, I had the opportunity to listen in on detailed descriptions on the parts of the castle. I was struck by the irony between the beauty of Cape Coast and the cruelty of the atrocities committed, which almost seemed more punishing. Hearing the side of the story from the victimized party was invaluable, told with much more pain and reverence than I had ever experienced. Back home, topics surrounding the African slavery trade, independence movements of African colonies, and African-American segregation had always been filtered through Western lenses, inevitably biased towards its authors. Thus, this visit to Cape Coast was one that has helped me to appreciate and understand the Ghana’s pride on being called the “Hope of Africa”, as symbolized by the black star on its national flag.

Charis is a Youth Ambassador with YCI currently working in Ghana. For more information on how you can get involved, visit

LEADER Team Second Update: Q & A


Meet Benedict. Like many Ghanaians, Benedict has a day job – working with our local partner, the Entrepreneurship Training Institute, as a successful Account Officer. But also like many Ghanaians, Benedict dreams of someday starting his own business to help both his family and his community. Benedict is also currently a student with the LEADER Project’s entrepreneurship course and was one of the first students to participate in our one-on-one coaching sessions for entrepreneurs.


Q: Tell us about your background and what inspired you to start a business?


My mom is a physician assistant so she has a medical background. I have realized that first aid is a necessity and a requirement by law, but not many people or businesses are fulfilling this. Therefore, my business idea is to sell first aid kits and provide first aid training. I see that there is a need for this product that everyone wants but the product does not exist.


Q: How have you found the LEADER Project to be helpful?


Initially I thought entrepreneurs are people who have lots of money or a big business but I see now that you just have to prioritize and start with what you have. Looking for opportunities – especially with today’s cases – these are not things that people in Ghana would have thought of. Now I see all of these problems as opportunities.


Q. What does success look like for you and your company?


Success would mean a lot – just the fact that people mention your name and say “this is a thing Benedict is doing” would mean a lot. Success also means that people are safe in their house. If people have first aid in their house, they can tackle medical problem like bleeding before getting medical personnel, which can be expensive.


Q. What is some advice you would give other entrepreneurs?


It’s really not about money; it’s about getting the idea. Being an entrepreneur means looking for a problem you can solve.

LEADER Team Ghana update


Since 1991, the Ivey LEADER Project’s vision has been “To equip entrepreneurs, and aspiring entrepreneurs, with the business decision-making skills to progress the prosperity and well-being of the regions in which they live.” In recent years, LEADER has expanded our focus from simply inspiring participants to “think entrepreneurially” to also enabling the launch and scale of their ventures. During the three weeks that we spend in Ghana, we provide both teaching sessions and 1-on-1 coaching to achieve this goal. Our curriculum uses cases and lectures to give participants the tools and knowledge to achieve their business goals. However, it is essential that these participants continue to receive support even after the project has ended. The partnership established between the Entrepreneurship Training Institute and Youth Challenge International makes this possible.


The participants we have been working with over the past few days have demonstrated a strong interest in launching new ventures. Most have an idea and are looking for validation and guidance to take the next step. One thing that has surprised us over the past week is students’ interest in gaining access to capital and funding. This is the biggest challenge faced by entrepreneurs in Ghana. As a result, we have adjusted our teaching points to address the idea of a “lean start-up” to further cater our curriculum to the needs of our entrepreneurs.


Thanks to YCI, we are able to extend the impact of this program beyond our three-week engagement to a more comprehensive entrepreneurial support system. As we continue to develop our curriculum, this increased engagement provides greater learning opportunities for both the entrepreneurs and the Ivey LEADER Project.


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.


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…

sun set

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.