Monday, April 17, 2017

Mathew's Experience: The LIFE Cycle

Group photo at debrief

So, our three months are up Sandema are over. I was warned that the three months would go extremely quickly, but I didn’t think they would disappear in the blink of an eye. All members of the team have gone back to their homes, whether they be in Ghana or the UK, and our team leaders have received the next the batch of volunteers working for the LIFE project. Saying goodbye to people we've spent three months with, day in, day out, was extremely emotional. It's a testament to the strong bond we've developed. There were more than a couple tears when it came time to say goodbye.

After a 14 hour coach journey and two eight hour flights the UKV's were home. One of the most common questions I’ve been asked since being back home is “How was Ghana?”. It’s such a hard question to answer, it was three intense months. It was an amazing experience, however, we had some amazing times and some challenging times. It’s hard to condense an experience like that in a couple of neat sentences. If you’ve got a free afternoon I’d be more than glad to talk to you about it.

Visiting the Tongo Hills was a true highlight

I’ve adjusted back into life in the UK much better than I thought I would. I haven’t experienced "reverse-culture shock" or any of that nasty stuff, it helps staying busy. Also, the weather has just been so pleasant and refreshing, but to be honest anything beats mid-40 degree temperatures.

Re-adjusting to the food has also been a bit of a mixed bag. It’s been heavenly to come home and taste my mother's cooking again, however, over the course of the three months I didn’t consume any dairy products and my body is having trouble digesting it (put appropriately). I’ve come home with a new appreciation of the UK. Nonetheless, it’s strange not casually seeing goats and chickens trotting across the road, putting the life of you and your bike at risk.
It’s hard to say that I’ve changed or improved myself throughout my ICS placement, I think perspective is needed to assess any changes. Although, I can say that I’ve learnt a lot about myself, development work, and the complicated issues that surround disability. It’s been an incredible 3 months which I will never forget.

By Mathew Kemball-Cook

Myself, my counterpart, and our host parents 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Once in a LIFEtime

Team LIFE with International Service CEO Jo Baker

After the hectic weeks 7 and 8, weeks 9, 10 and 11 have seemed quiet in comparison. However, these past 3 weeks have still been filled with an array of activities. We had the pleasure of joining our community in celebrating Ghana’s 60th year of independence, we’ve had two school sensitisations, an insightful visit from International Service CEO, Jo Baker, multiple meetings have taken place for the Monitoring and Evaluation Team regarding our Action Research with the DPO, and, of course, we also partook in a range of team social activities, including two parties and a trip to Tongo Hills for a Guided Learning Session.

Our 9th week started in the best way, celebrating Ghana’s 60th year of independence! All members of Team LIFE gathered at the Durbur Ground with the community of Sandema to watch the brilliant parade. The parade consisted of marches from the pupils of various schools, marches from the cadets, speeches from a collection of important members of the community, such as the director of education, and plenty of great musical cultural troupes throughout. One host mother even joined in! The chance to celebrate Ghana’s 60th year of independence in our host community surrounded by our new friends and families was certainly a once in a lifetime opportunity that will stick with all members of Team LIFE for years to come.

The Atomtechaab group, members of the Disabled Peoples Organisation who produce shea butter

The Friday following Independence Day, the 10th, Team LIFE delivered their school sensitisation at San. Prep. School, not once but twice! Due to the size of the school, it was not feasible to present to all students at the same time so, instead, the team were asked to condense their presentation to make time for us to present two back to back sensitisations to the school in smaller groups. This last minute change could have thrown the team but Team LIFE stayed professional and performed to the best of their ability as usual.
The week after on the 17th, Team LIFE delivered their final school sensitisation of the placement at Ayieta School. Our final sensitisation went exceptionally well, although some members of the team had fallen ill and were unable to attend. This meant the presentation once again had to be adapted slightly but, as before, Team LIFE were still able to perform professionally and deliver a successful sensitisation. The sensitisation was presented to 149 students under a tree outside the Ayieta School and all students were engaged and keen to learn. Honourable Gilbert kindly delivered a presentation to the children about how important the church was in removing stigma around his disability and in helping him become the respected member of the community that he is. This speech was positively received by the students, as all his speeches are, and his stories inspired the children to achieve all they possibly can. The sensitisation was a credit to us all and was a lovely way to end our sensitisation work.

On Tuesday the 14th of March, Team LIFE was privileged to receive a visit from International Service CEO, Jo Baker. The team was given the opportunity to share their experiences with Jo and ask questions about both her work and on how we too can become involved in international development in the future. These questions were answered in great detail with plenty of knowledge, which helped the team immensely. Following on from this, we were able to speak to Jo Baker about her own experiences of working in international development and the counties and cultures she had experienced. These inspiring stories raised the spirit and motivation of Team LIFE even higher than they already were. Jo Baker is a wonderful and approachable woman who we were glad to be given a chance to meet and we were all grateful for the knowledge she shared with us.

Team LIFE celebrating our last weekend together with DPO member Paul

Throughout all the busy-ness and excitement of weeks 9, 10 and 11, the Monitoring and Evaluation team have been hard at work with our Action Research project. The Monitoring and Evaluation team are working alongside the DPO to help the members build their business skills and, in time, be able to support themselves financially. The team are working with the woman of the DPO who produce and sell shea butter products, increasing the business skills of DPO members George and Charles who have a small weaving business. The team are also working with the Guinea Fowl Association to help them find a way of rearing guinea fowls to sell at markets. All these projects that the DPO have set up are a way for the members to be able to support themselves and will also help fund the running of the DPO as an organisation. The assistance Team LIFE is providing may not be financial support, but instead we are helping them grow their own business initiatives sustainably by gathering information which can be used by future ICS cohorts.

As our time in Sandema has been drawing to a close, the team have been involving themselves in a plethora of social activities to round off their experience. On Saturday 18th of March, we all put on our best Ghanaian wear to celebrate volunteer Olly’s 19th birthday in grand style! A party full of fun, food and dance was held for him and everybody immersed themselves fully in the festivities. The team have been lucky enough to go on an excursion to Tongo Hills, just south Bolgatanga, for our final Guided Learning Session. We were given a guided tour from a local of Tongo and were shown all the places of interest in the hills. This included the Hyena Cave which is used by the elders as a conference spot, Hiding Cave which the natives used to hide from the British colonials and a small cave which was used as a school before funding was available for a school building. The Guided Learning Session was the perfect way to start our final weekend as a team as it was a chance to see more of our Ghana whilst learning about it’s history. To celebrate as a team and to say goodbye to our final weekend in Sandema, the team arranged a leaving party for themselves and their host families. All members made the time to attend and celebrate our relationships within our host homes and our team.
The impressive geology at Tongo Hills

Unfortunately, during the weeks that this blog includes, we lost our brother Martin Afoko, the firstborn son of one of our host mothers, Madam Faustina. We would like to dedicate this blog to Martin and hope you will all join us in sending your love and prayers to Madam Faustina and her family. Until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Family Chain
We little knew that morning,
God was going to call your name.
In life we loved your dearly,
In death we do the same.

It broke our hearts to lose you,
You did not go alone,
For part of us went with you,
the day God called you home.

You left us beautiful memories,
Your love is still our guide
And though we cannot see you,
You are always by our side.

Our family chain is broken
And nothing seems the same
But as God calls us one by one
The chain will link again. 
 Author: Ron Tranmer

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ayisha's Experience: Confidence in LIFE

Me, being selected as an ICV, I kept asking myself, wondering, "what I am coming to do"? So when I was posted to Sandema and came alone from Tamale to Sandema, I was still doubting until we started the project. Then I realised that I was really going to benefit a lot from it and learn more about other cultures and other people. 

It is never an easy thing to leave your home town, going to a different place and staying with people you have never seen before. But my host family are lovely, my host parents are like my real parents - I feel like I am at home. 

Happy volunteers (from left to right: Majida, Abigail, Ayisha, Matthew and Rahinatu).

Also, when we talk about my project, before I was not confident to talk to people and approach people or do presentations. But with ICS, it has really helped me to know how to approach people, how to write reports and do presentations. When we came we were put in groups. I am part of the school sensitisation team and the communications team. For the first school sensitisation, I was not bold and didn't have much confidence, it was not easy for me. But with time I became used to it. I used to be afraid of crowds, but now I'm used to it. I don't panic anymore. With the second one, I knew that I could do it. If we had more time, I know that I would grow even more confident and bold.

The School Sensitisation Team with resources for the first sensitisation

It is a good idea that ICS is here for the young people in society, it is really helping us to build up our confidence. Even though we were a mixed group with university graduates, and some of us were only high school graduates, we were given the same chances and we can do the same things with the help of ICS. I also wish that there would be a second chance for me to do ICS again to grow more confidence and learn even more. The more you are in ICS, the more you will learn. Maybe one day I will become a team leader... or maybe even the CEO of International Service, like Mrs Jo Baker.

Ayisha presenting on the types and causes of disability at Ayieta School

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Busy Life Makes a Happy LIFE

Abi, a member of Team Life, engaging with the girls at Girls Club

Team LIFE had to work exceptionally hard over weeks 7 and 8, which were potentially the busiest weeks of their placement yet. With the re-established boys and girls clubs starting, our best school sensitisation to date, our first ‘call in’ radio sensitisation, a community sensitisation in Chuchuliga and some great team bonding activities, it is safe to say that we have been rushed off our feet in Sandema.

After multiple meetings and visits to schools to promote the return of the Boys and Girls youth clubs, we finally started the clubs up again on Saturday the 25th of February. The turn out for both clubs were higher than those of previous cohorts with an attendance of 14 boys for boys club and around 80 girls for the girls club, showing that our promotions of the clubs around Sandema had been  successful. The clubs are not only educational and focus on topics the young people of the community need to be aware of, such as hygiene, but are also a fun activity for the children to look forward to on their Saturday afternoons every week.

Week 7’s school sensitisation took place on the morning of Friday the 24th February, and was our most successful school sensitisation of all. We had a great response from not only the children but the teachers at the school too. The sensitisation was held at the English – Arabic School. The small size of the group meant all students were able to interact with the team throughout the presentation and there were even students taking notes, showing a high level of engagement and interest in what we were teaching. In this presentation the teachers were even ready to ask questions and get involved. The headmistress of the school went on to say that we had delivered the best sensitisation the school has ever received from International Service which was a huge compliment to our team and the work we have put in to perfecting our sensitisation and their delivery.

An  informative school sensitisation at the English - Arabic Primary

Our first ‘call in’ radio sensitisation took place on Friday the 24th of February in the evening. The radio sensitisation focused on the rights of people with disabilities and the listeners of Radio Builsa were given the opportunity to call in to the show and give their views and ask questions about human rights and the work our team are doing. Although the spontaneous questions asked to the radio team were difficult, the radio team handled this new situation professionally and answered all questions to the best of their ability, broadening their skills and improvising well under pressure.

Team LIFE’s long awaited community sensitisation took place on Saturday the 4th of March in Chuchuliga, Namonsa and was a hit with the members of the community. The sensitisation included speeches on topics surrounding disabilities, such as the types of disabilities and their causes, false myths surrounding disability and the rights and inclusion of people with disabilities. These speeches were broken up by performances from cultural dancing troupes, which Team LIFE were eager to partake in. Our drama called “The Success of the Dumping Child,” which showed how, when given the opportunity, people with disabilities can and do amount to great things, was the most succesful section of the programme. People shuffled around to get the best views of the drama and all were smiling and fully engaged. Our team was supported by our partner organisation (PCBR) and members of the Disabled Peoples Organisation. Our sensitisation had a final turn out of 298, which was a lot better than we had anticipated. .

Residents of Namonsa enjoying the LIFE Team drama
Despite Team LIFE being busy and completely rushed off their feet, we have still found time to relax and have fun as a team! On Tuesday the 28th of February, the team came together to celebrate Shrove Tuesday with the usual western tradition of pancakes! This was a time for the UK volunteers to show the in-country volunteers a small part of UK culture and also prove that they too are capable in the kitchen, even if the food is different to what we have been eating in Sandema. The pancakes were appreciated by all members of the team and the UK volunteers felt victorious in cooking food that the in-country volunteers enjoyed! As well as this, we managed to have another movie night on Saturday the 4th March after the community sensitisation. This too was a fun way to wind down after our very busy time here in Sandema.

Team LIFE has been working hard and keeping busy with their project but will always be the “LIFE of the party”, and we know that having fun and being a unified team is an important part of any work project!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Sophie's Experience: A Taste of the Good LIFE

Happy Sophie with an Unidentified Flying Pineapple 

One question people at home in England ask me a lot is: “What is the food like over there?” and the simplest answer I can give is – different.

In the UK we are spoilt for choice when it comes to food, with different takeaway options, more restaurants than necessary and supermarkets stocking food plucked from each and every corner of the world. However, this is not the case in Sandema, where all food seems to be locally sourced. But that's not to say the food here isn't as good!

Ghanaian meals tend to comprise one of eight staple foods, including yam, plantain, rice, rice balls, indomie, banku, fufu or TZ and are served with a variety of soups and stews.

To begin with, some of the dishes were a challenge to take, such as banku, as the textures are so different to what I am used to in the UK. However, I have grown to love most of the dishes here, with TZ and guinea fowl being high on my list of favourite Ghanaian meals, along with fried yam and peppe (like chilli)!

Our favourite yam and plantain vendor 

One thing I have found hard to come to terms with is that snacking is not part of Ghanaian life like it is in the UK. People prefer to eat three large meals, rather than having snacks throughout the day and smaller portions at meal times. This means that I have had to adapt my diet to include less snacks and larger meal sizes. Snacks we have been able to come across though are nuts, biscuits, fruit, chocolate (at an exceptionally high price) and ice cream type products which have become the most frequent part of the UK volunteers’ diets.

Something that I was shocked by in Ghana is how little fruit and veg is included in Ghanaian diets due to the cost of them (they are usually more expensive than ice creams!). I see fruit and veg as a luxury that I'm excited to have whenever I get the chance. I never thought that I would become so grateful for the low prices of fruit in the UK. Nonetheless, I can say that the fruits here in Ghana are so much more flavoursome due to the fruits being locally sourced and grown in season.

Roseanna buying fruit
Although it is more costly than the street food we usually buy for lunch, we occasionally go to a restaurant called “Hippos” where we eat fried rice and chicken. We treat "Hippos" as a luxury because the food is served to us at a table and we can eat and socialise as a team. I savour the meal and the time I am able to spend with my team.

In conclusion, the Ghanaian diets vary hugely from what we are used to in the UK and that can sometimes be a challenge, but the foods are filling and full of flavour. For the days when I do need home comforts, I have created some “food hacks” to bring me a little closer to home!

“Food Hacks”:

Fried yam with ketchup and/or mayo – a substitute for chips
Ketchup with Frytol oil – salad dressing
Bofrot with FanIce inside – ice cream filled doughnut 
FanIce in Perk biscuits – ice cream sandwich
Melted FanIce – vanilla milkshake
Plantain with FanIce – banana split
Crackers with chopped tomato, garlic, pinch of salt and a drizzle of oil – hors d’oeuvres

Fruit stall

Monday, February 27, 2017

Majida's Experience: LIFEstyle Changes

Majida outside the PCBR office
I was full of joy and enthusiasm when I saw my name on the list of volunteers going to work on the Sandema LIFE Project. I was so touched that a girl is going to a place where the culture, language, and environment are totally different from what I’m used to. However, I decided to move beyond these challenges and to positively change my new community.

As someone who is so emotional and passionate about changing the life of people with disability, I established some goals and objectives, such as improving my communication skills and my confidence. I want to prove to myself that I am capable of succeeding as a nurse, a career I will pursue after ICS. From the high level of team bonding and the way issues are communicated between the volunteers, Team Leaders and our partner organisation, I feel a great sense of belonging.

Sandema is very different from where I live in Tamale. In Sandema people depend on bicycles, tro-tros and motorbikes as their means of transport. It is normal for women to ride bicycles in Sandema, whereas in Tamale women cannot be seen riding bicycles. In Tamale people usually ride yellow-yellows, motorbikes and taxis. Riding bicycles in Sandema is difficult for me, especially when we climb the hill on the way to our office, because I am not used to riding at home.

Majida interacting with the students at English and Arabic School during our sensitisation

The culture is interesting. I like how the people are friendly and always enjoy greeting new people. They welcome strangers very warmly, which makes me feel comfortable living in their community. The culture in Tamale is very different from Sandema because we have different dances, customs, and sometimes different food. However, I feel like I have adjusted well to Sandeman culture.
People in Sandema speak in Buli. I don’t know how to speak Buli, but I have managed to learn how to greet people, by, for example, saying “good morning”, which in Buli is “Saluk”. In Buli, “good afternoon” is “Kantei”, and “good evening” is “Junui”. In Tamale we speak Dagbani, which is very different from Buli.

In Sandema there are lots of Christians and a few Muslims. I always find it very difficult to access the mosque because it is far from my host home. Instead, I have to take prayers in my room. In Tamale there are more Muslims than in Sandema and there are lots of Mosques, however, in Sandema there are only two.

Members of LIFE Team enjoying their leisure time. Left to right: Evans, Majida, Rahina.
Working in the LIFE Team in Sandema is very touching because I have always dreamt of helping people with disability, so God-willing I was made a member of the LIFE Project. In my project I was put into the Radio Team and Girls Club Team. I was very frustrated that I didn’t know how to start with my group work in the Radio Team, and even presenting it with 11,000 people listening made me more nervous. However, my willingness to challenge myself and from the support of my Team Leaders I managed to pull myself through the broadcast. I have now noticed my confidence levels are high whenever speaking to my team and community members. 

During my leisure time I visit many places, which includes the big dam, which the people of Sandema call “The Beach”.  When I’m not working I also visit friends, read my book, watch movies and chat with my family.

In conclusion, Sandema is a positive, quiet and interesting place. I am really enjoying the project work I am looking forward to the remaining time we have here together.

Left to Right: Majida, Shaibu, Abigail at a birthday party

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

LIFE Lessons

Ayisha and Rahina at Afoko School

Team LIFE has worked very hard over week five and six to deliver successful radio and school sensitisations, as well as improving our relationship with the important stakeholders in the community. We are beginning to appreciate how the strength of our team is being reflected in all the work we do.

On the 10th February, we had our first school sensitisation at Afoko Junior High School. We were able to meet the students and teachers for a sensitisation about disability and human rights, including the correct language to use whilst speaking with and about those with disabilities. We also invited Honourable Gilbert (President of the Disabled People's Organisation) and Mr Paul, both Sandema locals with a disability. 

As part of our presentation, they both came to tell the children about their rights and what they have achieved. Mr Gilbert was the first person with a disability in the Upper East Region to have a white wedding (a momentous occasion which could have been graced by TV presenters), and Paul has travelled to Ghana's capital to talk to members of the British Government about disability. Their stories really touched the students, and were met with mass applause and smiles. According to the children they have changed their view of disability and learnt a lot about how to associate themselves with people with disabilities. 
President of the Disabled Peoples Organisation delivering a speech on the challenges he has overcome during his lifetime

Our second school sensitisation was at Old Primary School on Friday 17th February. Here we had a chance to talk to younger students about disability so that we can change their attitude towards people with disabilities. We spent almost an hour with them, using drama, energisers and interactive talks so that they can also understand that disability is not an inability. We were there with Honourable Gilbert, who is a master at the school, and so his achievements acted as an example to the children of what PWDs can accomplish. 

Team LIFE's second radio sensitisation also came on 10th February at Radio Builsa. The team were once again joined by Honourable Gilbert and Mr Paul to present to the public about the causes of disability, the equal rights of people with disabilities and how the listeners can associate with people with disabilities in the community. Honourable Gilbert and Mr Paul gave inspiring messages and also assisted with the translation of the show into Buli. We feel the radio sensitisation was a great success and look forward to our next programme. 

On 16th February we had our mid term review, in which we met up with two other rural ICS teams in Sirigu. The purpose of the mid term was to learn from our other colleagues what they have been doing on their projects, and share successes and challenges. We had a chance to discuss our team dynamics as well as enjoying games to encourage team bonding and friendly competition. It was a long day, but a good chance to meet up with the other teams and to reflect on our project so far.
Children at Sandema Old Primary enjoying an energiser delivered by the Team Leader, Shaibu
Team LIFE were invited to the Disabed People's Organisation annual meeting on 18th February. Radio Builsa were in attendance to record some of the women story telling and singing local songs in preparation for a programme on International Womens' Day in March. We were able to introduce our team and our mission as part of the recorded programme to create greater awareness of International Service's relationship with the DPO.

As a team, we've been balancing work with down time and so we came together on Sunday 12th February to celebrate the birthday of one of our Ghanaian volunteers, Ayisha. We have enjoyed playing sports together after work, such as cricket, rounders (with a homemade bat fashioned from a branch by volunteer Olly Hounsfield), and an inclusive game of sitting volleyball with Mr Paul and some local children. We also had a movie night watching The Lion King, really capturing the African spirit.

Half way into our project and Team LIFE is growing stronger and working harder every day. We are a unified force for good in the community, and our upcoming school, radio and community sensitisations will undoubtedly reflect this. 

By Ayisha

Team LIFE celebrating the birthday of Ayisha. From left to right: Abigail, Shaibu, Ayisha, Roseanna, Mathew, Olly, Majida, Sophie, Lula, Rahina, Kathy