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 is 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

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Kathy's Experience: Religious LIFE in Sandema

The Catholic Church, Sandema 

After stepping off the plane in Accra I was greeted in arrival by five grown men dressed as Santa Claus dancing to traditional music to welcome international visitors. This is when I first realised how fun-loving and energetic the cultural spirit is in Ghana.

Energy and fun are in abundance within the religious activities of local people in Sandema. Every church I have visited has been full of songs, music and joy. Spending the morning at church goes quickly with all the activities and music, so much so that I find myself exhausted afterwards from the concentration of not wanting to miss something interesting!

During my first visit I had my feet washed by a local pastor as part of a congregational religious rite. It is believed that the feet are connected to every organ of the body and so if you wash the feet then you cleanse the body and soul. Washing the feet of every person in the congregation takes a while but the choir kept singing throughout with no breaks for water.

When I attend church in the UK it is for an annual event or celebration, such as carols by candlelight for Christmas. During these events the carols are sung in unison, similar to the songs in Ghanaian churches, but they are a mixture of hearty anthems about good cheer alongside more sombre melodies about the journey of Mary and Joseph. They’re sung at mid volume with everyone reflecting on the important messages they hold. This is contrasted with the gospel music commonly sung in Sandema; songs here are sung at full-volume with as much gusto as everyone can manage! They produce a different type of communal energy with catchy beats that you cannot help but move your body to. The songs also hold important messages and will often be linked to the sermon delivered by the pastor.
Union Chapel - Islington, London

Religion forms an integral part of community life in the Upper East and people will regularly extend invitations to their place of worship to share goodwill and cheer. This fosters positive community relations and religious tolerance is high in Sandema. You can attend a religious service no matter what religion you are, Christians and Muslims stand by side as neighbours and friends. Our team enjoy learning from each other about our beliefs and Sandema is the perfect place for this. In Sandema everyone is an uncle, aunt, brother or sister regardless of biological ties and there is nothing better than being surrounded by family when you are far away from home.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Team LIFE Goes Live

Team LIFE with Nab Francis, Chief of Chuchuliga 
This last fortnight has seen Team LIFE continue planning for future events, complete a second community entry, and accomplish the first practical elements of our project work which brought a real buzz to the team.

Previous cohorts have successfully completed several community sensitisation workshops within Sandema and so our cohort will be delivering a community sensitisation in a neighbouring town called Namonsa in Chuchuliga. On Friday 27th January the team travelled to meet the assembly man of the area and Chuchuliga's Chief - a very inspiring and friendly leader who believes humility is key to his role in order to connect with his people. We were once again thoroughly welcomed to Ghana and to the town, and left with a crate of snacks as a gift from the Chief. We hope to deliver our community sensitisation in Namonsa in the next few weeks in order to decrease stigma and create greater awareness of the causes and challenges of disability.

Friday 27th January was a busy day in terms of project work. After community entry in Chuchuliga, we also had a guided learning session presented by two members of Team LIFE, in which we discussed poverty and social justice issues. We then went as a group to support the radio team who delivered our first radio programme on Radio Builsa at prime listening time that evening. The team of four introduced our group and talked about our aims, speaking with confidence and clarity live on air in both English and the Buli translation. We are planing and looking forward to our next radio programme on February 10th.

The progress towards re-establishing Girls' and Boys' Clubs in Sandema has been slow but steady. Rather than rushing to establish the clubs, our team has decided to focus on creating a sustainable foundation for the clubs by re-assessing the leadership structure, delivering training to youth leaders, and marketing the clubs in local schools to create a large attendance of both children with and without disabilities. Although meetings, research, phone calls and planning have not felt like action-packed development work, our team is learning valuable lessons about patience and persistence. Our team are positive that the groundwork we are laying out will help to ensure the long-term continuation of the youth clubs here in Sandema.

Those in our School Sensitisation team have been working hard over the last two weeks preparing for our first sensitisation at Afuko Junior High School on the 10th February. They will be giving an engaging and fun assembly to children to educate them about disability and human rights.

One of our aims for our twelve week placement is to create an action research report on the livelihood opportunities for people with disabilities (PWDs) in Sandema. This journey began on Wednesday 1st February when our team marched through the centre of town with the wonderful members of the Abilyeri Ayigichaab Women Association, singing songs in Buli and dancing along the road. The ladies, who are an integrated group comprising those with and without disabilities, were aided by previous LIFE cohorts and local Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to attain the skills needed to create shea butter products, which they currently sell at the local market as a means of earning money. We will be researching ways to aid the increase of their shea butter sales through improved branding and by expanding their market base. Members of our team gave a presentation at the Women Association weekly meeting on Thursday 2nd February, putting forward initial ideas for our research and the improvement of their organisations' efficiency and business knowledge. These women really would be the life and soul of any party. They believe in the power of unity and the importance of the female voice. Their group hope to demonstrate to the community the value of women in society through their hard work and solidarity. It is a privilege for our team to be working alongside such a joyful and inspiring group of women.

Members of the Albilyeri Ayigichaab Women Association

Team LIFE's hard work seems to be coming together, and our actions so far have set a good precedent for all that is ahead. We look forward to our upcoming events with anticipation.