The Best Policy…

As we are now approaching the halfway point of the programme, it feels like an apt time to mention some of the trials and tribulations faced by volunteers during the placement. The overwhelming majority of blogs are resoundingly positive, which is in no small part down to intrinsic pressure caused by the entire endeavor: it can be difficult for people to admit they have fundraised large sums of money for imperfect projects. 

As I write this I am currently holding a kettle in one hand, waiting for a rat I have recently seen to appear from it’s usual crevice. This is all in spite of the formalized complaint made to the charity two weeks ago. Often prior to departure, organizations can give the impression of slick, organized outfits. We are reassured that our health and safety will be paramount, yet the cookie crumbles in an ever so different way. 

The thickness of skin needed for these trips cannot be understated. Fellow volunteers have made comments of an ableist, sexist, and anti-mental health nature, and no individual has yet to be dismissed, or even suspended. One volunteer has left partly due to discrimination from their project team, with the response from senior figures within the charity being an unmoved shrug of the shoulders. The entire situation gives the appearance of a charity which is only concerned about the amount of funding they can receive from DfID, and the main prerogative is to perpetrate the image of a successful, cohesive project. 

That is not to say that all members of the organization aren’t of brilliant character. Some of the most genuine, caring, and honest people I’ve ever come across wear the same shirt as I. Unfortunately, it is also true that people who hold abhorrent views, contrary to the values of egalitarianism and basic human rights also bear the same uniform. 

The entire organization of the trip for UK volunteers is nothing short of a shambles. Relatives of mine will be aware that I was forced to wait until just over a week before departure for my travel details. Despite this lackadaisical approach, phone calls were constantly made to volunteers regarding their fundraising targets. This behaviour continually perpetrates the impression that the UK volunteers are only seen as a quota, to keep the money rolling in, and the curtains raised. 

International Development can be a cruel mistress, of that there is no doubt. However the ICS programme is, at it’s heart, a youth development project. I have no doubt that the individuals involved will go on to challenge the injustices of our world, this floating rock we inhabit is a better place because of them. I will work tirelessly to make a positive change within Tamale, and I genuinely believe the work we do has an overall positive impact. 

It will be interesting to see the response from the organization. So fixated on maintaining their image and income are they, that I ultimately expect swift rebuttal. Considering that they are a human rights charity, I will be fascinated to see how they justify their silencing of free and honest speech, from a volunteer who is about to assault a small rodent with a kettle. 

Christopher. 

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Cohort in Effect

Religious gatherings in Britain tend to be of a serene and impertubable nature. Spirituality is something private and personal, introspective and meditative. In Ghana, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Religion and expression coalesce in a plateau of singing and prayer. You get the feeling that if someone or something out there is listening, they would be deafened by the chorus. However, it appears the joyous nature of some events is truly universal. We were fortunate enough to be invited to a local wedding, and despite the cultural differences, the celebratory feeling was all too familiar.

Our cohort is embarking on our first community entry today, and with all of our preparation done, we are ready and raring to go. In the meanwhile, the group enjoyed a brilliant team-building session with the rest of the office. It was heart-warming to see everyone take a few hours out of their day to laugh and enjoy the sun. Often our work can be of a cumbersome and difficult nature, and the importance of untethered fun cannot be understated.

Further exploration of the market reveals a labyrinth of shops and alleyways. Young girls carrying goods on their heads traipse between peering locals. Despite their age, they are used to the commotion and chaos of the market, the sight of outsiders would ultimately be just a footnote in amongst a painfully long day. It is difficult to empathise with them honestly, manual work of that intensity and duration simply doesn’t exist in modern Britain.

If anything proves that the market is a single living entity, it is the reaction to the weather. Within seconds of the first drop of rain falling, goods are flung back into the store and onto carts. The pace and synchronicity of it can give the feeling of a rehearsed play, actors reacting to a cue on stage. However, given the ferocity of the storms that batter the region, it is necessary for merchants to act with such haste.

Once again, I’d like to say thanks to everyone who has donated their hard-earned money to get me here. Your money has not only gone to a fantastic charity that does truly amazing work, but has also given me a once in a lifetime opportunity. It is truly a gift to be able to work alongside such driven, motivated and generous people. Despite not even being halfway through the project, the personal development of some volunteers is nothing short of inspiring.

And to Nyima, get better soon!

Come Rain or Shine

The rainy season in Tamale is in full effect. Perhaps it should not come as a surprise that such a religious country would suffer from rains of such biblical proportions. The rain can be as merciless as it is surprising, cutting off power, destroying roads, and claiming lives in the process. However, the past two weeks have not at all been reflected by the weather; birthdays and project work have provided a deluge of opportunities to laugh and learn. 

The realization has also struck that living in Tamale will always be a learning experience for an outsider. However, whilst societal norms vary wildly between Britain and Ghana, one thing that has become abundantly clear is the overwhelmingly welcoming nature of the locals. Greetings are exchanged between complete strangers, as if they were lifelong friends, a concept that is sadly now alien to most Westerners.

The RAINS team have been hard at work, our planning phase is now complete, and we have swung into the meat of the project with a renewed passion. Already we have had meetings with local reproductive health organizations and community members, and our first community entry begins next week. Special mention must be made to individuals in the team who have persevered through illness and homesickness, and still have the strength to contribute with enthusiasm and care, they are a testament to themselves, and to the programme as a whole.

The quartet of birthdays have been a blessing amongst the project and the weather, featuring homemade cakes, party games, and a lot of dancing! It has been lovely to relax, unwind, and to watch people from entirely different cultures celebrate in unison. Parties in Ghana are often whole family affairs, and regularly end in someone being soaked in water. Music is an essential part of the experience, and it appears that louder equals better is the general rule of thumb. Interspersed between important project work, these parties have been a true gift. 

So much has happened in the past two weeks that it feels futile to try and condense the experiences down into a single blog post; it has been a whirlwind of elements, people, noise, and joy, but to sign off for the week, here is a photo of us having a swim in the rain.

Christopher

One Week Down…

Our first week in Ghana has gone in the blink of an eye. During this time, we have completed our essential training, met our project team, and enjoyed a swathe of Ghanaian culture. Excluding the mammoth journey (Which consisted of over thirty hours, three plane rides, and a lot of time in airports), it’s been an amazing and eye-opening week.

Of all the sights we have seen thus far, the town market sticks in the mind most prominently. An absolute barrage of sights and smells, it typifies the Ghanaian entrepreneurial spirit. All kinds of goods are sold here, and it also serves as the hub of the town; taxis swarm and people gather, the noise is incessant and the smells are persistent, it is brilliant to the outsider, and everyday to the local.

Our work space however is in stark contrast to the noise of the market. The RAINS office is a beautiful workspace; trees and greenery combine with the structure of the building to create a peaceful and serene office. Work on our project has also begun in earnest, the planning and preparation phase is going well, and it is reassuring to see the team working together in such a good spirit.

At the end of the work day we return to our host homes. Based in the community of Sagnarigu, my counterpart and I have been made to feel extremely welcome by our hosts. Aside from cooking some fantastic local cuisine for us, special mention must be made for the patience and humour with which they put up with my Dagbani skills!

I’d also like to take this opportunity to say a genuine and wholehearted thank you to the people who have donated to my journey. None of this would have been possible without you, and I owe you more than you can possibly imagine!

Furthermore, I’d like to thank my counterpart Joachim for putting up with my incessant questions, and my team for taking to our work with great humour and a clear spirit.

Lastly, I want to say thank you to the all of the ICS volunteers taking part in this cohort, the trials and challenges we will face over the next ten weeks will test us, but we are brilliant enough to overcome them.

(To Florence and Meera, I hope you feel better soon!)

Christopher

 

Welcome to my blog! 

Thanks for reading my ICS blog! 

Over the course of the next ten weeks I’ll be volunteering with International Service in Ghana. Working with the RAINS project based in Tamale, it’s my hope that we can make a genuine, sustainable impact, whilst enjoying an enriching experience!

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