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Dear future Ghanaian YCI volunteers,

Wow, what an amazing four weeks I have had in Ghana. I have learned so much about myself and the people that live here. There are so many things that I want to write about, it is hard to pick one. Because of this dilemma I think I will talk about my favourite project and give words of advice for volunteers that will come in the future.

Youth Challenge International is doing amazing things in Ghana and we, as volunteers, are an important part of this. I would recommend YCI to anyone who wants to learn about themselves, be humbled, and create positive change through empowering youth.  The projects that our group worked on included Malaria prevention education in the form of door to door surveys and a community outreach event. Additionally, as a way to empower young females our volunteer group created and facilitated two workshops on entrepreneurship and starting one’s own business. During the workshops we also connected youth with micro-finance institutions for loans and financial support.

I personally enjoyed the Malaria project the most. I found the door to door survey to be quite fun. It was fascinating to meet families within the community. Hearing their concerns about Malaria became a valuable learning experience. I also found that reaching out to community members and distributing the Insecticide Treated Nets (ITNs) to families with young children and pregnant women to be very rewarding.

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To make the most out of your project and time in Ghana (it goes by fast, trust me!) I feel it is important to get advice from those that were here before. So without further ado…

  1. Ask questions. You are in a different country; things are not always the same as at home. So ask. It will save you a lot of guesswork. People in Ghana are more than willing to help you and answer your questions. In fact, they will probably find it quite amusing.
  2. Your fellow volunteers are your best friends, get to know them, confide in them and indicate respectfully when you have concerns or frustrations. It will make things a lot easier and your memories will be a lot better.
  3. Your homestay family will be your African family; you are tied to them even when you go home.  They are your life line and key to Ghanaian culture. They will help you feel less homesick and your bond with them will be strong. Take pictures and keep in touch, you will miss them.
  4. Everything in Ghana is much slower than at home: the travel; start times; workshops; food; even laundry. People at home might call it inefficient, but it is just the way it is. Learn patience, it will be a huge asset to you.
  5. Nothing will go according to plan, you may experience power outages in the middle of a workshop, being late for important meetings/events, or last minute changes to your program. My best advice to you is to not panic but rather take a deep breath, suck it up, and get creative. You will laugh about it later I promise, but if you want things to run smoothly don’t sweat the small stuff and just roll with the punches.
  6. Remember you are here to empower people. You have valuable skills you can contribute, even if it doesn’t always feel that way.
  7. Don’t forget to have fun. You don’t need to be a robot volunteer, you are human, so let loose a bit and experience some of the wonderful things Ghana has to offer. Our group went to Kakum National Park and spent a night in the jungle. It was terrifying, but a blast. Those moments and memories will make your trip worthwhile and prevent you from burning out.
  8. Lastly, be proud of yourself and the work that you do here. You will get to work with some amazing Ghanaians and you will learn as much from them as they will from you. Make your work count, not everyone has this amazing opportunity.

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All the best!

- Samantha Skinner, Youth Ambassador, Ghana 2013

To read more about volunteer experiences overseas, check out our Travel Diary

Hello!

After 2 weeks in Ghana, we have successfully completed our first project! We were all very excited to work with AMPA resources on malaria outreach in the small community of Otoase.

Last Wednesday, we went home to home, conducting a survey on malaria. The results were really fascinating. We found that over 75% of households had actually experienced malaria firsthand, illustrating the importance of our project in Otoase. Further, only 45% of those households who had nets were using them.

Malaria Nets

As a follow-up to our survey, we held a community outreach event on Thursday to educate the community and hand out nets to households which had any pregnant woman or children under 5. These groups are most vulnerable to contracting malaria. It was really rewarding to see the community so engaged and asking many questions to Kingsley, our speaker from Ghana Health Services.

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Ghanaians love it when you try to embrace their culture and speak to them in Twi, the language commonly spoken in Koforidua (and Otoase). I made some friends as we went from home-to-home just by saying “Ma Chi” (Ghanaian for “good morning”) to everyone I met. The locals quickly learned my Ghanaian name was Abena (meaning I was born on a Tuesday) and at the community outreach, they were thrilled to see me at the community outreach and kept calling me sister Abena.

I also loved handing out stickers to the children at the outreach.  Everyone was slightly confused at what stickers were, but quickly found a way to use them (usually by sticking them somewhere on themselves)! I couldn’t help but smile when I saw a child walking around with a Canadian flag plastered on his head.

I’m having a lot of fun getting to know my fellow volunteers, homestay family, and community members. Time has flown by, and I can’t wait to see what the next two weeks will bring!

- Vicky Au, Youth Ambassador, Ghana 2013

Christopher Sharpe is YCI’s second new intern at our Toronto headquarters. No stranger to YCI, Chris is also a recent alumni of the Youth Ambassadors program in Korforidua, Ghana. Chris has recently decided to pursue a career in the international development field after working several years as an education professional. As a graduate of both the University of Toronto and Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia,  Chris’ academic interest lies in Canadian government and politics, democratic institutions, voting systems and comparative foreign policy. Chris is passionate about working with youth to foster education and engagement in civil society and advocacy. As such, he is very excited to be the new Public Engagement Intern at YCI!

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Christopher and the YCI team in Ghana

My name is Christopher Sharpe and I am an education professional currently transitioning into a career in international development. I was born in Toronto and raised in both Canada and the United States (Washington, D.C.). I did my Honours Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Toronto and a Master of Arts degree in International Relations at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.

Since finishing school I have worked as an educator in a variety of capacities. I have been an academic tutor at the University of Toronto, as well as an English teacher in both South Korea and Japan. I have experience teaching people of all ages from small children to teenagers, university students, professional adults and retirees!

My interests in international development include good governance, institutional capacity building and the creation of an educated and active civil society. I am particularly interested in working with youth to help develop their critical thinking and analysis skills as it relates to good governance. This is what brought me to join Youth Challenge International; I spent 6 weeks this summer as a Youth Ambassador in YCI’s project based in Koforidua, Ghana.

While there I worked in partnership with the YMCA Youth Mentorship Program on issues related to HIV/AIDS and malaria awareness and prevention, as well as effective youth mobilization and advocacy in a democratic context.  I was particularly excited about participating in the YMCA National Youth Conference, held at the University of Ghana, where I was able to present on “Youth and Civic Participation: The Canadian Experience”.

Since returning from Ghana, I’ve been making the transition into a career in the international development sector in my hometown of Toronto.  I joined the education division of the Toronto based NGO TakingITGlobal as their Global Encounters Video Conference Coordinator where I worked to facilitate global issues-based video conferences with high school students from all over the world.  Following this, I was incredibly excited about being offered (and accepting!) the position of Public Engagement Intern at the Youth Challenge International Head Office in Toronto.  I’m very much looking forward to working on issues of youth development and promoting the many exciting programs that YCI has coming up in 2013!

In my spare time I enjoy travelling abroad, learning new languages, playing the piano and water sports. I particularly enjoy spending time at my cottage in the Kawartha Lakes.

After weeks of preparation, we, the T611A group in Arusha, Tanzania have proudly and successfully completed our community projects!

For me, this day has been the culmination of everything that we have worked for so far while volunteering here in Arusha. With the help of students at the Umoja Centre in Arusha, the other volunteers and I began our project three weeks ago by completing a needs assessment of the various communities that the Umoja students come from. The students performed interviews with family members and other members of their communities and identified many issues in their communities that they were interested in addressing. The main problems that we identified were litter, drug and alcohol abuse, HIV/AIDS and malaria.

Moshono group photo

Each of the four volunteers worked with a group of Umoja students from one of four nearby communities. The group that I worked with was from Moshono, and decided that the issue that they would most like the address in their community was malaria, focusing on prevention and recognition of symptoms.

As a group, we decided that the best way to present the information to the community would be in the form of a dramatic presentation. The students were so enthusiastic about performing in front of a crowd and really loved having the opportunity to showcase their natural talents. The students decided that they would also like to hand out mosquito nets to people in order to further our impact on the community and help to stop the spread of malaria!

Although we practiced the skit and went over the logistics of our performance many times before zero hour, I have to admit I was pretty nervous that the whole thing would be a train-wreck. I had visions of an empty market in Moshono, with nobody showing up, of my group standing there with 20 mosquito nets and no one to give them too, or of everybody forgetting their lines or getting stage fright and refusing to perform.

However, about 30 seconds after arriving at Moshono, I knew that I had nothing to fear. Immediately after hopping off the dala dala, the students got straight to work on hanging up the posters that they had prepared, handing out malaria information flyers and recruiting the audience for our performance. They then proceeded to stand in the middle of the market and sing songs at the top of their lungs in order to attract attention and recruit even more people to educate about malaria – and it worked! After 20 minutes or so we had accumulated a crowd of about 50 people, and then got to work on our presentation. The skit was performed better than it had been in any of our practice sessions, with a comfort and ease comparable to true professionals. I watched from the sidelines in a little bit of confusion because the whole thing was performed in Swahili, but it was clear to me that the students knew what they were talking about, and were getting the message across to the community members.

Umoja students Asante and Gladness asking the audience questions about malaria, and rewarding answers with personal mosquito nets!

Jessie, Jacob and Michael distribute mosquito nets to families in Moshono.

A group of primary school students arrived just as we began our “malaria quiz”. They really knew their stuff!

I was so happy to see each and every student beaming with pride as they handed mosquito nets out to community members, and how thrilled they were that they were able to go into the community and educate their neighbours and friends. It was without a doubt my favourite day on project so far and I will never forget the experience!

- Jessie Flear, Youth Ambassador, T11-6A

Jessie and her team have been busy in Arusha working with the Umoja Centre as YCI’s first pilot project in the community. The Umoja Centre is YCI’s newest partner and we’ve been excited to read about about the success of their project. Great work T11-6A!

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

Health is a dynamic process affected and determined by biopsychosocial interplays between an individual and his or her environment. In consideration, for the past few weeks YCI GH11-6A Youth Ambassadors have collaborated with YCI-YMCA mentors, health professionals, and youth associations to organize a health awareness community initiative in the community of Effiduase, Koforidua Ghana. The event took place on June 11, 2011.

It was attended by community chiefs, Assemblyman Honourable Boakye, Municipal Youth Coordinators, ninety youth delegates from three high schools, educators, nurses, and delegates from youth groups.

In planning for the event, the decision was made to design a program that was informative, yet engaging and interactive.  To achieve this, information pertaining to STIs, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B, cholera, malaria, and tuberculosis were related through speeches, music, and plays. A key highlight of the program included two musical features by a local band, Kof Town Records, which talked about malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS.

Following a formal presentation on the health topics, youth had the opportunity to visit several health booths: games; STIs and condom demonstration; tuberculosis (TB), cholera, and malaria; nutrition and sanitation; health screening for HIV/AIDS and TB; and lastly a resource table where each youth was given a resource kit. Each resource kit included a fact sheet on STIs, hepatitis B, diarrhea, and hand washing; hand sanitizer; male and female condoms; and lube.

During the distribution of resource kits, one youth out of every 10 was asked to complete a short evaluation of the event and some were asked to provide a testimonial. The evaluations and testimonials consisted of five questions phrased to determine whether the information conveyed was relevant and timely, and if anything was excluded that they wanted to learn, or if there were any topics they wanted information on that were not covered. Analysis of the evaluation reported that the majority of youth found the information about nutrition, sanitation, tuberculosis, cholera, and malaria to be most informative and useful. It was surprising to learn that of the youth evaluated only 25 percent visited the STI station. When asked why, the rational was that there were too many people at the station.

Going forward, the youth that attended this event will be organizing information sessions at their respective high school or youth association to disseminate the information to peers who were unable to attend the Health Awareness Community Initiative. As health is a dynamic process, it behoves each person to enhance his or her own wellbeing and educate others in order to collectively heighten the health of a community.

- Sasha Jordan, Youth Ambassador, Ghana 2011. Sasha Jordan, a nursing student with a passion for health promotion and preventive medicine.

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

On June 10th, Faraja Trust Fund staff and Youth Challenge International members travelled to Kinole, a rural community about an hour from Morogoro Town. The Bonanza event was planned and prepared by many and its purpose was to educate and create awareness to the community regarding HIV/AIDS and Malaria. The event took place at Tandali Primary School, since school was cancelled that day for the students.

The event kicked off with a football game, and all the primary students along with some community members were present. As time went on, loud music played, and more and more community members, friends and family began to arrive. Introductions were made, and the purpose of the event was discussed. During and in between football games, there were information sessions on HIV/AIDS and Malaria, as well as dancing competitions and prizes given out. YCI volunteers did a presentation on Malaria, which included demonstrating the proper use of a mosquito net. During half time of football games and the netball game, YCI volunteers provided the team members with condom demonstrations and how and why to use condoms. The teams were very interested and it proved to be an important aspect of the day’s various activities. Community members were also provided an opportunity to receive condom demonstrations if they were interested, and this was also done by YCI volunteers. There were 3 football games and 1 netball game played in total, and the crowd grew larger as the excitement and thrill of the event went on. After the final games, more presentations were done by Faraja staff. An HIV education/awareness group of students called Zinduka and run by a Faraja member, shared with the audience metaphorical games to represent HIV in humans; as well they sang multiple songs about HIV/AIDS and Malaria. The Drama Club did skits on Malaria to depict and supply a strong message to the audience.

Throughout this event, the Mama’s from Faraja Trust Fund also provided community members an opportunity to get tested for HIV in a separate testing area. A total of approximately 110 adults were tested, which is a remarkable and noteworthy amount.

At the end of the day, prizes and awards were given out to the final winners of the sports games, as well as to community members who participated in dancing or other topic-related competitions. Prizes included mosquito nets, condoms and sports related items (example: team jerseys for the first placed teams). Thank-you’s and a debriefing session were made as the event came to a close.

Overall, despite a late start, the event was a great success and provided approximately 1000 students, community members, friends and family with the knowledge and awareness surrounding HIV/AIDS and Malaria.

Faraja staff member Norbert, drama club members and YCI volunteer dancing to music as audience gathers around.

Football team members are being educated on the proper use of condoms through a demonstration

YCI staff were thanked by the MC’s and audience and then were asked to dance in front of the crowd

- T11-8B (Anthony Gatti, Jamie Hurrell, Devon Malcolm & Jennifer Wagenknecht), Youth Ambassadors, Tanzania 2011

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