Friday, December 15, 2017

A U.K. perspective on animals in Ghana.

I have been in Ghana for over 10 weeks now and I have loved it. The one thing I love most is how free all the animals are. In the UK where I am, I have seen animals kept behind fences or kept in cages for their lives. Here in Ghana the animals roam free as they should be. You could be sitting on a rock and a donkey, bull, sheep or even goats can pass you, even walk up to you, roaming and grazing freely as they should. The animals are doing what they are meant to do without the cages or fences barricading them in.

'Chillin on a Sunday'
Photo credit: Natalie Innes
Moreover, Ghana is the first place I have ever seen guinea fowl up close - they are quirky birds! At my host home there is a group of them who I like to nickname the 'Feathered Fiends'. One night I returned home and as I went to put my bike into the storage area,  I heard noises that caught me by surprise. I discovered that these noises were actually the group of guinea fowl,  plunging down into the darkness - without being seen but definitely heard. The 'Feathered Fiends' get up to a lot of mischief. For example, my host family keep some harvest products on the roof - away from the animals. However, the guinea fowl go up there and knock it down to the ground for everyone. It turns into a massive animal party!

One morning, I had an experience with a wild animal I had never seen nor heard of before - a black kite. A black kite is a bird of prey native to Sub-Saharan areas of Africa. I was riding my bike when, out of nowhere, a bird swooped down in front of me and landed a few feet away. There it was, a magnificent black kite. I had never seen a black kite before nor had I been up close to a bird of prey in Africa. It was a spectacular sight and I will not forget it.

At my host home the animals are placed into shelter and night to keep them safe till dawn breaks. The animals at my host home are plentiful and happy. There is a ram (named ‘Hulk’) who has a great personality and has learnt to open the door and enter the house. He is even teaching the other animals to do it as well! The animals are so friendly, and most are not afraid to approach you and say hello. Back in the UK, animals will not come near you unless they know who you are, or approach you in curiosity. However, in Ghana I have only seen animals in cages when they are up for sale. Other than seeing the animals roam freely in Ghana the one other place I have witnessed it is in Scotland, you can get caught up in traffic jams because there is a herd of sheep hanging about in the roads. It’s so funny! I have also enjoyed naming all the baby animals at my host home as each one has a different personality. I even named a baby goat Angel because she reminded me of my dog at home, they are as funny as each other. I hope in the UK more animals would be able roam around more freely as its what animals are meant to do. Free the animals – no cages and no zoos!
'Toby looking for ants to torment!'
Photocredit Natalie Innes

'Where's my mama?'
Photocredit: Natalie Innes

Written By Madison Blickem.

Host Home, Host Home.

When I first heard someone say ‘your host home’, a lot of thoughts came to mind. I was asking myself a lot of questions: what will my host home look like? How will the people in my host home treat me? Fear grasped me, I was very disturbed. I kept asking myself questions, people were gushing their opinions about Sandema – specifically that the cost of living was high. I was going to a community I have never been to, ‘Oh Gosh!’ I thought to myself. ‘How can I stop all these fears when I don’t believe I have the self-confidence, strength or courage?’ I said to myself. ‘I must do the things that I think I cannot do!’
Then, we arrived in Sandema and my host mum, Madame Faustina, came for us. The funniest part of it all was when I was told I would be sharing with the boys. Oh my Gosh (OMG) you should have seen my face. My face looked like I had smelt three-day old faeces, ooh gosh! Then I remembered what I said to myself, ‘nothing is impossible in this world.’

Madame Faustina
Photo credit: Soji
I opened the door to my host home and moved gently to my personal room, the room next door was for the boys. I sat on my bed and asked myself, why me? When all my friends are living with their female counterparts. Then finally I gave up with all my negative thinking and started to take things the way they were. Life is not to be feared nor scared of what is to become, you must make peace with the present. Life is to be embraced, to be the best you can possibly be, and to live the life you dare to dream without any fears.
Speaking from the present now, my host home makes me happier than my personal home. I have a lot of fun with my counterparts, Soji and Barnabas.  They make me happier than any other person. I have learnt a lot from my host mum as well, she taught me how to cook local food. Now I understand why they say ‘when one isn’t at peace nothing makes sense’. I have now realised that happiness cannot come to you when you always have negative thoughts about yourself or worry about what others may say.
I am very grateful for International Service. The project has helped me a lot, both academically and socially. I have so many stories to tell my parents, friends and my sister. Sometimes, I just have to understand that my emotion derives from where my focus is being directed. God knew that this was going to be good for me that is why he kept me here. I used to listen to what others said, and life was directed by others. But now, I am going home to be a different Safia.

Me, Barnabas and Soji
Photo credit: Kate Glover
The LIFE project has helped wake me up from my dream. I never thought it would feel so good to work with people with disabilities. However, now I have experienced the kind souls of those with disabilities, and simultaneously my self-confidence has grown. All the adversity I have faced in my life, all my troubles and obstacles have strengthened me. I just was not realising it when it happened, but now I realise that a good kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.
My host home made my ICS placement unbelievable. I cannot imagine my ICS placement without my new brothers, they bring joy into my life every blessed day. They make me feel more comfortable than ever. Sometimes we sit down and talk about important issues about the future. To Soji and Barnabas, I want to say that I don’t know how my life would be without you guys. Additionally, my lovely friend and colleague Sandra, I want to say thank you so much for making my ICS volunteering a successful one. 

Written by Safia

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Challenge Yourself To Change Your World…

For those who have been following the work of LIFE for a while, you probably already know Paul. For those who don’t, meet Paul:

Paul volunteered with International Service in 2016, and ever since he has been actively seeking opportunities to create change in his community and to develop his own skills. He has since become: secretary of the local Disabled People’s Organisation; an active member of a Guinea Fowl Association; continues to work with International Service volunteers, and still wears his ICS T-shirt with pride! Paul has said that volunteering on the ICS programme gave him many opportunities, and his confidence grew. As a disabled man himself, Paul is determined to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. He wishes to create change and make opportunities, to learn and grow and ensure that being disabled does not mean that a person is not able. He is always thinking of the next idea, always looking for new routes to take or projects to start.

This attitude and desire to create change led Paul to apply for the International Service Alumni Grant. He wanted to facilitate a soap making training as he highlighted a need for young people in the community to learn a skill. This would help them to not fall victim to Ghana’s major youth unemployment problem. Paul has said that there have been soap/pomade/shea butter training workshops in the past organised either by ICS volunteers or by the local Rural Enterprise Project. However, he noticed that these training's were most often benefiting older generations and bypassed the youth. Therefore, he hoped that by including young people, specifically school leavers, as well as people with disabilities, they would have a chance to learn new skills that would help them generate an income for themselves.

Our lovely UK Volunteer Madison sat down with Paul to discuss his motivations for involving young people in the training and the potential opportunities it could offer them. He stated that:
‘The youth are very important when it comes to addressing unemployment in Ghana. By involving the Youth in training like this, they have a chance to develop further and hopefully begin to make a living for themselves. At the moment, the participants are planning to sell the soap they produced during the training and use the money to buy raw materials to continue production. The skills they have gained will allow them to start making money, and also may make them more employable to existing businesses. They will be able to contribute to the economy and ensure they are not dependent on their families.’

The training itself was a great success. Over the course of three days, twenty five participants learned how to make three different kinds of soap from scratch. Former volunteers Raphael and Samuel were on hand to help, as were all of the current LIFE project team, by taking photos and helping with questionnaires as well as learning a little about soap making. The feedback Paul received from the participants after the completion of the training was extremely positive with many thinking of diverse ways to use their new skills. One participant said:

‘I have learned how to make many different types of soap. I can use this knowledge to help other people in the community learn too. I hope we can sell the soaps and use the money to buy materials to continue making soap. I hope it will help us to reduce poverty in our community.' – Afoblikame Mary

Photo Credit: Kate Glover
One of the most vital principles of the human rights based approach to development is EMPOWERMENT.  International Service advocates for beneficiaries not to simply be ‘recipients of charity’. They should be motivated to access their rights and break the cycle of poverty and inequality. Building the capacity of young and vulnerable people, strengthening their skills and abilities to achieve objectives, and thrive in their communities is a necessity to achieve sustainable development goals. The ICS programme and its volunteers are not a permanent fixture in the community. However, while there are go-getters and determined young people like Paul striving to succeed, we feel confident that positive changes are coming.

Written by Kate Glover & Madison Blickem

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Touching the World through Schools

Welcome to team LIFE blog this week. It has been a very interesting week in Sandema for us! We
finally began to see the manifestation of all our ideas in action through school sensitisations.  We had a busy week planned as we visited four schools, which were Success JHS Afoko Iyeta and preparatory Junior High. The planning of the sensitizations was completely up to us as a team, and how we used our creativity was ours to decide.

Firstly, due to our project focusing on disability awareness and the rights of individuals who are getting infringed. We knew we had to come up with scenarios and games that would stimulate the mind of the students on how life is for a person living with disabilities.  This would be the perfect way to help change the perception of the students and create impact for all who attended.

We started off with the ‘diversity’ game. The rules are: the facilitator asks the students to stand in a line then questions are asked. Then, if the questions are applicable to you, you move forward.  A few examples being: ‘If you’re from Sandema step forward’; ‘If you have ever helped a person with a form of disability step forward’; ‘If you’re aware that mental health is a form of disability step forward’.

Reading the questions I am sure you can understand that we asked questions to stimulate responses and also give us a basic understanding of where the students were in regards to their knowledge of disability. The response from the students in all schools we attended was captivating to see.  When they stepped forward, they immediately looked around at their peers and realised that no one is the same in society and we all illuminate diverse aspects of creation.

Next on the agenda was the facilitation of discussion between us and the students on equality. The
aim was to get a feel for how they felt about
everyone being equal in society.  So we asked the students are we all equal? How are we all equal? And if not how can we promote equality in society today? The kids always interacted, however they started to realise that people with disabilities unfortunately aren’t treated equal in their local communities. It was touching to see them give answers that will begin to promote equality and inclusion in their local communities.

By this time the kids had started to gain a basic understanding of the picture we were trying to create in their mind. Next, it was time to make them actually experience the limitations that people with disabilities experience on a daily basis. So, what better way of doing that than to create the illusion of being visually impaired? We asked them to close their eyes and pick an object up without seeing it. We then created the illusion of being physically impaired by asking them to pick up an object without using their arms.

The activities went amazingly because it created impact through experience.  Seeing the students try and pick up an object without being able to use their hands or their sight helped the others begin to expand their thought process on  how people with disabilities live in their communities. There is nothing better than actively participating in an activity to gain a better understanding.

To emphasise the effect of disability on one’s
life, we decided to invite someone with a disability to speak with the students. So, we welcomed the legend and past volunteer of the ICS program Paul to come and speak to the kids about his life story.  He aided us in changing perceptions on how people with disabilities are stigmatized in the local community. He created massive impact by telling the students how they should not judge others with disabilities as we are all one - we are all human. After Paul had said his part, it was evident that the message he delivered had got through to the students as they were all captivated by his story.

In conclusion, Paul’s story, the ‘illusion of having disabilities’ activity, and our communications with students throughout, all came together to create a fun and educational sensitization. It was a rewarding experience for both the students and ourselves!

Thank you for reading the blog and remember, it is all of our jobs to CHANGE our WORLD.

Written by Akinsoji Akinnawo

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Arriving in the beautiful community of Sandema


I would like to introduce you to our wonderful new LIFE team.  
Our project aims to promote inclusion of those with disabilities into education and society in general. From left to right we have: Hakeem (Mr Chatterbox), Barnabas (Mr Swag), Safia (Miss Fashionista), Madison (Miss Responsible), Sandra (Miss Laughter), Soji (Mr Meditation), Adija (Miss Up and Coming Popstar), Natalie (Miss Positive) and Kate (Miss Sass).
Hakeem and Kate are our fabulous team leaders and the rest of us will be picking up the reins from the last cohort!

The Warmest of Welcomes.

We have all been astonished at the warmth spread since our arrival. Firstly, from setting our first foot on the ground of Sandema. Our host mums were told to ‘come and meet your children’ and we were given the biggest of hugs. It was the perfect start to our new adventure.
We have since started meeting the community of Sandema. We have Hippo - the guy to know - he has a cafĂ©, bar and hosts a regular radio show. He has welcomed us with open arms and has already let us join him on radio (which I will be discussing later). There is David, whose incredible story of overcoming his disability whilst facing adversity has inspired us all. We have Paul, who is a key member of the DPO (Disable Person Organisation) and has already given us much laughter in our meeting. The list could go on and one. 

Furthermore, we have excitingly met the Chief to ask for the ‘key’ to Sandema. In other words, to ask for his blessing to continue working with his community. He welcomed us happily and stated: ‘the work of the previous team was very good, but do not follow in their footsteps, make your own path and do even better.’ I saw these as excellent words of encouragement. We are all here to achieve the same overall goal. Yet, he highlighted that with each new cycle of volunteers brings with them new qualities. Thus, with so many unique brains adding to the same project, we can achieve more and more. The completion of the LIFE project’s goals become more visible with each new team, with the addition of each new individual.

Already Busy, Busy Bees.

Seeing as we have only just completed week one in Sandema, we have already been up to quite a lot! We have participated in a radio show, attended a workshop to educate on disability and have been helping individuals with their activities within the community.

Firstly, we were invited to discuss ‘woman’s empowerment’ on Hippo’s radio show. This consisted of Adija, Soji, Hakeem and I discussing the importance of inclusion with regards to gender. We had a great time, and we had some very positive feedback. Madison’s host father even said: ‘I listened to the radio, it was great, go woman’s empowerment!’ However, this experience also brings us to one of our first challenges. It was clear due to some callers’ messages that this subject was not altogether well received. For instance, we had one caller saying, ‘I’ve had enough of women’s empowerment’ and another saying, ‘woman make their own problems.’ Whilst this was frustrating, it also emphasised the importance of our work. We need to keep on repeating our messages until everyone is willing to listen.

Secondly, we attended a workshop that educated on disability. This was an equally rewarding experience as it showed us that people were wanting to learn more on the subject. Additionally, it informed us further about what strategies need to be put in place to combat discrimination against those with disabilities, specific to the region of Sandema.
Furthermore, we have been working alongside Paul to help advertise his upcoming training on making soap. He hopes to create more opportunities for young women and those with disabilities within his community. He has certainly inspired us with his enthusiasm and innovative ideas to help those most vulnerable in Sandema. After all, this is what our project is all about!

Plans for the future.

We have decided to host several school sensitizations and youth workshops to educate on the broad subject of disability. These will aim to further educate young people on different types of disabilities and the importance of inclusion.  We want to include a range of games and activities to engage the children and teach them how those with disabilities are just as important as everyone else. They will not only be educational, but also fun.

Remember to keep up with our latest blogs so that you can join us on our journey!

Written By Natalie Innes

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Personal Paradise

I always visioned that one day I'd find myself in Africa. I didn’t know where and I didn’t know when but, one day, flicking through Facebook (as I usually did in my mindless trance), I was suddenly awoken by a page called 'International Citizen Service'. I instantly knew that this was my sort of thing, so I clicked ‘like’ and scanned the page for pictures and more details on what the organisation was about. It just so happens I loved it and…I applied!
A bustling market day (every 3 days in Sandema)

Six months later, I found myself landing in a place I had always dreamed of, AFRICA - a place full of potential and opportunity! As we made our way through the Northern and Upper East Regions of Ghana I couldn’t believe my eyes! The sights before m were scenes I had previously only ever seen on TV screens – it was as if my visions and expectations had merged into one! Everything I could have ever imagined, and more, was right there in front of my eyes -women who balanced their livelihoods on their heads in buckets and baskets, whilst their baby stayed comfortably strapped around their waist. There were trucks loaded with livestock, hundreds of motorbikes weaving in and out of gaps so tiny you hold a breath on their behalf, honking horns, traders busy selling and buyers willingly investing. All this, and goats roaming loose whilst chickens are on the run. As I looked around and observed my environment from an open glass window, I tried to soak up everything. It took me a good few weeks after our arrival until I could honestly say that my eyes stopped flickering from place to place. But, that feeling of ‘I’m here’ never really went away - I felt content.

Collecting water in the scorching heat!
Although poverty is high and people’s struggles are real, I felt like I was seeing Sandema at its finest. When I look around I see so much potential, and that excites me! It is important to recognise different cultures but also understand when things need to change. Interventions like International Service promote positive change within communities especially in education, healthcare and human rights awareness. Grass root charities alone have a major influence within rural communities because they’re able to help motivate and encourage people. The work helps change negative mind-sets and everyone involved act as a positive advocate for people whose voices may not usually be heard. There’s a lot to take in when working within this environment, but it is experiences like this that helps motivate me for my own personal future.

Memory "dust" lane
As our time is coming to an end here in Sandema I’ll be truly sad to say goodbye. I have taken a lot from this experience -the relationships between family, friends and strangers, the simple luxuries of eggy bread and running water, the opportunities we’ve had, the difficulties we’ve shared and the goals we’ve achieved. For me, this is still an ongoing project when I leave Ghana. I am incredibly passionate about continuing to empower vulnerable groups all around the world. 

Until next time, Ghana!
Love Megan Huggins

Monday, September 4, 2017

New Relationships; New Perspectives

New experiences can open your eyes; and making relationships with people from entirely different cultures can help you see the world from a fresh perspective. I have lived my entire life in Ghana, hearing myths about 'the white people' (and their supposedly dangerous nature), which I never questioned. This 'fear', passed down from our fore-fathers, has stopped some people from travelling outside of Ghana. Some people are hesitant to leave, even for the sake of their education – with some parents expressing concern for the safety of their children. I have heard of many friends declining scholarships to study in European countries for this reason. I believe that such misconceptions have prevented many in Ghana (and other African countries) from fulfilling their full potential in our small world.

My counterpart Robert, a friend of mine, and I.
But being part of International Service, and working alongside a diverse group of volunteers, has taught me to question such myths. I told my counter-part, Robert, some of the popular stories, such as that there is only one TV Channel in the UK; or that people 'make love' in public – this was met with a mixture of laughter and confusion. It's easy to see how such ideas can spread in rural Ghana: with most people living their lives without travelling or interacting with people from other countries. For this reason, other people, particularly Europeans, are viewed as very alien, perhaps even possessing super-powers. Since learning that my perspective may be wrong, I've become very interested in learning from other people's culture: and I have encountered plenty of interesting differences!

For example, the general UK attitudes towards marriage, are certainly surprising – I was shocked to find that some people wish to marry with no intention of having children. I doubt this would ever happen in Ghana; as infertility is one of the most common reasons for divorce.  In fact, the UK attitude towards the family and community is almost entirely different: some often prioritise work and individual needs. For this reason there are less clearly defined roles for men and women; women for example aren’t as stigmatised for choosing not to breastfeeding their child, or for their virginity status– but are instead given the choice and are viewed more as equal contributors to the economy. Throughout the placement I've learnt to question these taken-for-granted gender stereotypes, even if accepting this means I have to (reluctantly) do more cooking and cleaning! In everyday interactions I've noticed that the UK volunteers also have different priorities.

In the UK, people have a more direct way of talking; they are not prone to keeping secrets; and unlike in Ghana, they place little significance on which family they come from. Unexpectedly, I've learnt from the UK Volunteers the importance of being aware of your language: I now realise that it is insensitive to refer to someone simply by their disability, be it mental or physical. Myself and the other in-country volunteers had become used to calling those suffering from mental illness 'mad' or ‘crazy’, however we now understand that this can belittle people and ignore their condition, which only worsens the stigma they face in society. Similarly, nobody is just 'blind', they are people with a 'visual impairment'.  Such insensitive language, even amongst some government officials, is a major issue in Ghana; and I hope to spread this message to others; because everyday actions, such as inclusive language, ultimately helps integrate the most vulnerable of our society into the community. In terms of social change, I've also realised the importance of social policy in bringing about positive change.

Government policies towards education can have a huge impact on society: in the UK I was surprised to hear there are very few illiterate people – this is because the government provides free education for students, right up until their first degree. In Ghana, the main reason some people drop out of education is due to financial restrictions. Education is very important in empowering those throughout society; and I now strongly believe the young people of today should lobby for better funding in this department.  To make people aware of social issues we need to change our work-style, which has changed considerably during my placement.

The "loveliest" team L.I.F.E ever!
I have definitely learned to be more assertive – a skill I've noticed helps with group communication, and helps to achieve our goal more effectively. I've learnt that unlike in school, we should not just wait to be called upon, but instead actively contribute when required: this is challenging as it involves constantly being prepared and informed; but it keeps me engaged.

I had heard great things about International Service, but the placement so far has exceeded my expectations. As someone who has never left Ghana before, ICS has been an eye-opening adventure. I've learnt a lot of things, and despite being more scientifically minded, I have become interested in social action and how it can change our society for the better. Going forward I'm excited to learn more and teach others in my local community to make a practical and lasting change.

By Abaaween Raphael