And now, the end is near…

by Ben

And so I face the final curtain. This time next week the first -and best- ICS team placed in Ghana will be boarding a plane and heading home. Home to reality. Home to bills, rent payments, job hunts and so many other issues ducked and dodged whilst away for 3 months. But also we’re home to friends and family, real cheese and a meal without rice. While I will be sad to leave a country that has given me so many great memories and experience, ultimately, I really like cheese.

It’s strange the things you look forward to: After 3 months of soaring heat, mosquito nets and sweaty nights my duvet finds itself high up on my list of ‘Things I missed.’ Likewise rain will be a welcome treat and so will layers. I’d go as far as to say ‘layering up’ is one of my top priorities in the UK. I’ll be making sure my hoody and gillet combo is at the top of my suitcase. Easily available for those first wet, cold steps out of Heathrow airport.

Paradoxically I will of course miss the weather. Maybe not the heat and temperature but how can one not miss the sun? I’ll miss the goats and I’ll miss the adventures. Hell, I might even miss Tolu 🙂 Ghana has given so many great memories and grateful to have met so many great people: The other amazing volunteers I’ve been with, the people we’ve worked with at RAINS and IS and the people in the community often with so little and still so gregarious with their time.

With only one week left to go we’re preparing for our last adventure. We wrap up in the office today and we have one last day with International Service on Monday before we fly south to the capital: Accra. Here we hope to see another side of Ghana and enjoy their beautiful beaches, visit the Akosombo dam, see Lake Volta and visit old slave forts on cape coast.

Our final chapter, our final adventure. I’ve lived a life that’s full while I’ve been here. I’ve travelled each and every highway, but much more than this, I did it my way. Ghana, you’ve been amazing. Lets finish strong.

Greatest hits slide show:

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The musings of an African volunteering in Africa

by Tolu

Exercises in Africa

Tolu takes an impromptu lesson in Daboya no.2

Me: I’m going abroad to volunteer for a couple of months
Other: That sounds interesting, where are you going?
Me: Ghana
PAUSE
Other: Oh…..that’s cool

The conversation with a lot of people when I told them I was going to volunteer in Ghana usually went along those lines. Some would go on to question why I would choose to go to Ghana at all. Now this had nothing to do with the alleged rivalry that exists between Ghanaians and Nigerians (as I am Nigerian). For some it had to do with the preposterous idea that I would choose to volunteer in a country so close to home. If I got a paid job in Ghana, now that would be a different story – but volunteer?! If I wanted to volunteer, why not choose a more exciting option like Bolivia or Palestine? After all, Ghana is less than a day’s drive from home if I ever needed to visit.

This reaction is not unique to just me on the team I’m sure. Ghana being a safe, stable and relatively silent country in the media doesn’t make it a particularly exciting place to tell people you plan to volunteer. Take Burkina Faso for example; the very fact that a lot of people have no clue such a country exists makes it exciting.Couple this with the fact that it is facing instability due to problems unfolding in neighbouring Mali and to top it off, they speak French! I don’t know why, but the fact that their official language is the language of love makes it even more exciting than English which is the official language of Ghana. Is English even the language of anything?

However, it was not these reasons that made me seriously consider the choice to volunteer in Ghana; it was something entirely different.  It was the fact that I was an African going to volunteer in Africa. It was the fear that because I look and speak like Ghanaians, I would be overlooked at the expense of my white colleagues. I have justifications for this fear, as it will not come as a shock that people tend to look at others of a different colour and culture with a sort of curiosity and wonder. This not only translates to shouts of ‘white person’ as white people walk the streets but also large crowds flocking to them in the belief that they carry the answers and help they need. While this will not happen in every African country, I was haunted by the experience of my friend who volunteered in a Central African country. She told of her opinions being disregarded and those of her white colleagues celebrated despite them essentially repeating hers. The glorification of her white colleagues’ opinions over hers is not her colleagues’ fault but has to do with redefining the mentality of these Africans not only to see past colour but to not be essentially racist to their own race.  But that is a topic for another blog post.

It was stories like this that made me apprehensive about volunteering in Ghana. Being the only African on my team from the UK meant not being able to talk to anyone about it. Therefore I prepared myself that I would have to work harder to prove myself and show that I was competent of providing some valid and intelligent ideas. However, my time in Ghana has completely quenched my fear. It’s been the opposite experience as I feel that being African has allowed me to easily interact with the Ghanaians I meet both at work and outside it. I feel more confident in having conversations as I am familiar with some of their banter. Taking a keen interest in Ghanaian politics has also helped. Also, being mistaken for a Ghanaian works as an advantage, as it provides a conversation starter when I explain that I’m actually Nigerian. And while I still get disregarded in some situations, I am grateful that this has never happened at work. This has gone a long way to allay my insecurity issues and is a small testament to the development of Ghana as a great country.

So almost 3 months into my time in Ghana, my advice to any Africans looking to volunteer in Africa is to go for it! There may be various blows to the ego along the way but my experience has taught me that you see it as a life lesson and move on. While it is a positive thing that people from different continents are helping in the African development effort, there is the need for more Africans to tell and redefine the African story.

Time flies…

Validation meeting

Today we had a Validation Meeting at which we presented the results of our project report to 20 stakeholders including community members, RAINS and International Service staff.

Tomorrow, it’s our last day in the office before flying down to Accra next week.

This has been a VERY short 11 weeks… we seem to have lost track of time.

(Something that we must have caught from the Ghanaians we met, as most of them didn’t turn up until 1 1/2 hours after our meeting was supposed to start.)

Awesome Africa

Happy Red Nose Day!

I hope that all of you watching in the UK enjoy the entertainment and dig deep for those who most need help in the UK and in Africa.

But like I said in my previous post, there’s SO much more to Africa than you can see in charity appeals like Red Nose Day. So today, upload a picture of Africa onto facebook or twitter (#awesomeafrica) and show your friends what an amazing and diverse continent it really is. Here are a few of the pics we’ve received already:

 

Comic Relief relief

by Zoe

I’ve always loved Red Nose Day. When I was younger, I would stay up until the early hours watching all the amusing shows and the seeing the fundraising total reach ever more incredible heights.

But there’s a dangerous side to Red Nose Day – and this is it: for many people in the UK, the stories about a wee girl in the slums who was born with no legs, and her brother who spends every day picking through broken glass to find grains of rice that he can sell (cue heart-wrenching music) are all that they have seen of Africa.

I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m going to bang on about it again. Africa is not a country. There are 54 African states, in which over 2000 languages are spoken. There is, of course, incredible poverty in Africa. There are also gold mines. There are mud huts. There are also five star hotels.

If you choose to visit ‘Africa’, you can: climb mountains; visit the beach; see the Pyramids; taste locally made wine; go white water rafting; see elephants and giraffes; visit ancient ruins; see a soothsayer; go to the largest waterfall in the world; ride a camel in the desert; go wind-surfing; sit on a crocodile or visit the rainforest.

It’s true that every picture tells a story. But it’s also true that every picture omits to tell a different story. For example…

…these are both photographs of African children:

Ghanaian lady and childCrying Ghanaian baby

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…these are both photographs taken in African cities:

Rubbish heap GhanaCairo

 

 

 

 

 

…these are both photographs of African wildlife:

giraffe kenyaboat goat pelican Gambia

 

 

 

 

 

…and these are both African businesses:

nandosMabiley Pork Show Ghana

 

 

 

 

This Red Nose Day (Friday 15 March), please give generously. Comic Relief does amazing work, and we’ve been lucky enough to meet some of the beneficiaries during our time here.

But once you’ve given generously, try to do just one small thing to spread the word that there’s more to Africa than slums and starving children. Tell your friends about something or someone African that has inspired you. Put a positive photograph depicting somewhere or someone in Africa on Facebook or Twitter (#awesomeafrica). Help to spread the word that this continent, which accounts for 20.3% of the world’s landmass, is far more beautiful, diverse and inspirational than you might ever realise if you only watch the sob stories between Rowan Atkinson and Peter Kay’s Red Nose Day appearances.

Into the woods

by Ben

Throughout our time in Ghana we had heard people talking about and recommending we visit Mole National Park and so last week the whole of the ICS Ghana team got together to see just what all the fuss was about. Cramming into our little bus, kindly lent to us (driver included) by our host charity, we set off on a 200km journey down ‘Death Road’ to see Ghana’s premier tourist attraction: elephants.

The Mole Motel and its swimming pool and restaurant are pretty nice, all the rooms have air-conditioning and there’s western food on the menu. The restaurant and swimming pool overlook a watering hole used regularly by the elephants and you often see baboons and warthogs poking their noses around. You can sit and enjoy your breakfast,watch the elephants bathing in the water and have a cheeky dip in the pool yourself before nipping back to your air-conditioned room and heading out on your safari. Sounds great doesn’t it? Not to us. Being the first ICS team in Ghana has empowered us with feeling of being intrepid explorers – we’re path finders, we’re trend setters, we’re reckless and we’re out of control . Letting our guinea pig instincts take over, we turned our nose up at the luxury on offer and we opted to stay in Mole’s treehouse. Air-conditioning is for the weak. Real adventurers sleep under the stars.

Mole treehouse Mole National Park treehouse

Real adventurers sleep under the stars…

To be honest we had no idea what we were signing up for. We’d found out about the treehouse through word of mouth. There’s no website for Mole and our attempts to find out about the treehouse online resulted in some nondescript blogs and a picture of a staircase. When phoning Mole, the whole arrangement for booking it seemed so casual that we weren’t even entirely confident that we wouldn’t turn up and find another group claiming they’d also booked it. Like Robert Scott and Sir Ranulph Fiennes before us, we pushed on in the face of doubt and uncertainty.

Mole treehouse maximum 10 people

10, 12… what’s the difference?

What we found out in the jungle was a treehouse befitting my childish aspirations, although it explicitly said it held only 10 people. According to the person on the phone, though, they’ve had up to 19 in it before, so we persevered; surely our band of 12 (including the guide who stayed overnight with us) would not be the straw that breaks the camel’s back? Being the organised group that we are, we had brought foam to sleep on, so we didn’t need to take up the offer of ground mats – and we threw caution to the wind and opted against putting up mosquito nets, which we’d brought with us but were also available to hire.

Mole treehouse sleeping platform

Plenty of room for everyone!

The guide told us that if we were quiet would be able to hear baboons, hyenas and all manner of creatures in the night; All I could hear was one of our team leaders snoring and incessant laughter, which no doubt scared away anything in ear shot. The treehouse itself has a raised central ‘table’ which can double up as a sleeping platform, and benches around the outside that you can sit or sleep on whilst watching the animals go about their business. The whole experience is certainly one none of us will forget. At points it was about as uncomfortable as you can imagine, even if some of our group were adamant the wooden bench they slept on was the African equivalent of memory foam. However, that didn’t take anything away from the experience – in fact it’s hard to suggest it didn’t heighten it. The shared experience of sleeping under the stars and waking up in the jungle is one none of us is likely to repeat again and while some of our friends stayed in the hotel and enjoyed it, they won’t be writing a blog post about it any time soon!

Mole National Park treehouse

Fresh-faced after a night in the treehouse

Despite it all we’d thoroughly recommend it. You can’t put a price on the experience or the laughter that we shared; there are too many private jokes to even list from that night and its antics. In the morning we set off from the treehouse on a walking safari where we stared death in the face as an elephant confronted us and then attacked our guide – but that’s another story for another time…

PS. The treehouse costs 30 cedi per person per night, and sleeping mats or mosquito nets can be hired for 3 cedi each. It took us a while to track down the telephone number for the Mole treehouse… send us a message if you would like it!

Happy International Women’s Day!

Being a woman is not easy, International Womens Day Ghana

It’s true… but what happens if you phone the number?

by Zoe

Happy International Women’s Day from Ghana.

We’ve met a lot of amazing women since we’ve been in Ghana, and we’ve been privileged to be working with RAINS, an organisation that strives to make improvements in the lives of the inhabitants of Northern Ghana, particularly for women and girls.

But the fact remains that here in the Northern Region, only 25% of women are literate, and 60% of women have never attended school at all (2010 population and housing census, Ghana Statistical Service) – that’s a long way off achieving the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education.

In addition, women in the Northern Region of Ghana work longer hours than men, and earn significantly less than men.

International Women’s Day is a reminder of what a privilege it is to have grown up in a country where education is often taken for granted. Check out the USAID infographic in our previous post, to see just how important girl child education really is.