Progression, Growth, Change
DASIBA (It means hello in Dagbani)
January 2016, I was sat in the basement of my University, amidst a pile of work from the final hurdle of my law degree. I felt a sense of relief knowing my degree was nearly over, but my intuition was telling me this was the beginning of a battle with the real world. I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the humanitarian sector. The question was, where do I start?
My instinct led me to searching for volunteer projects abroad, so I could gain experience first-hand. It sounds cliché, but I wanted to help people, even if it was just one person. I wanted to give my time to others, as I had spent so much time stressing over my law degree.
My worry began as I scurried through the internet clicking on voluntourism projects exploiting the oppressed and less fortunate, which was the last thing I wanted to do. I clicked on facebook whilst procrastinating and an advertisement appeared for International Citizens Service. A volunteer led program mostly funded by the UK government to encourage young people to engage in active global citizenship. Anxiously scrolling, I was trying to find the catch, but there wasn’t one. The challenge was to fundraise £800 towards projects and investment of future volunteers, which was prodigious considering most other projects required you to contribute thousands of pounds.
To cut a long story short… I applied and I got a phone interview which led me onto being partnered with The United Nations Association International Service, which is a human rights organisation located in York, England.
Before I could batter an eyelid, I went for an interview, assessment, two days of extensive training (which by the way, is VERY important) Then a few months of fundraising later…. I flew to Tamale, in Ghana!
I’ve always wanted to write a blog breaking down my experience, I really hope the following encourages you to reach out your hand to help others. Thank you for reading this far, I hope you enjoy.
International Citizens Service and The United Nations Association International Service (UNAIS)
International Service (UNAIS) was previously a partner of ICS – they alleviate poverty by helping people from marginalised communities access their Human Rights. This is done by providing educational services to women, children and men. Their innovative business models have helped improve shea butter businesses in Ghana which advances the willpower of women to be able to look after their children without resulting in sexual exploitation. For more information about ICS and their project partners, please click here
“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned” – Maya Angelou
My home in Ghana was the highlight of my three months volunteering. My host family were the core to my growth. They guided me and helped me through the most difficult times. They radiated light, positivity and love. The family consisted of Davida, Gloria , Rose , Junior , Eric , Ernest, Vincent and my parents Maria and Kofi. Maria and Kofi both work in the education system further to Kofi’s training to become a pastor. I lived in a humble, homely twin set of bungalows in the center of the Education Ridge. I was accompanied by an abundance of animals: cats, dogs, ducks and chickens to name a few. In other words, a farm! Everyday I’d arrive home to the dogs and the children running at full speed down the mud path to greet me. On the most difficult days, this is what kept me smiling.
Entertainment was never an issue. I was never bored. The children kept me entertained by singing, dancing and acting out dramas. The Education Ridge was full of welcoming families, so walking around for an evening stroll was never an issue. Our favourite game was a traditional African board game called Oware. It was very much competitive, and probably one of the best past time. Google this game! I’m sure you will love it too!
My family were inquisitive to know my background and the way I lived my life back home. We belong to separate cultures and religions, but that didn’t hinder the love they showed me. My host parents were very encouraging of me practising my faith as a Muslim. It was beautiful, as they were practising Christians. I attended Church a few times, sat at the back and listened to my host father preaching. I didn’t engage in their worship, nevertheless I remember looking at my host mother and father and thinking “wow, I want my love to be bound by God one day” – They were happy, and it was apparent they loved one another for the sake of God.
Before I knew it, the home became my home. It was my sanctuary of peace away from the riff raff of the bustling city. On the days when work got a little too much, I was eager to go back home and share mangos and chocolate with my family as we watched the sun set.
To my Ghanaian family, you are the embodiment of love. Thank you for loving me and giving me the opportunity to grow in your home. Saying goodbye to you was one of the hardest things I have had to do in my life, I can’t wait to see you all again!
“Sissi I didn’t know If I would be able to put up with you” – My counterpart Courage”
Courage Azalekor, my amazing counterpart who became my sister. On the program, each UK volunteer is assigned a Ghanaian volunteer to share a host home with. Courage and I are the same age, so we had a lot in common. We often bickered about silly things. We laughed until we cried and spoke about worldly topics until the sunset. Much loved time was spent with Courage on early Saturday mornings when we would rise at dusk to wash a bulk of clothes. Of course, all by hand, in the heat. We would sit around basins of water for a few hours and sing songs as we gained muscle from scrubbing clothes. Courage will always be my sister. She is fierce, wonderful and determined to be a positive change in her country! I can’t wait to see what her future holds.
“Food is just food, you eat it then you get rid of it in the toilet” – My host mother Maria
On arrival to Ghana we were given plantain, beans and rice, which was delicious! Although, this dish was accessible in Tamale, your average home cooked dish consists of corn starch which is milled; fermented over night and mixed into hot water until it forms a dough ball. There were different variations called: Banku, Kenkey and TZ. Fufu was one of my favourite dishes! This was the ultimate treat! It consisted of plantain and cassava dough which were pounded together in a dough ball and served with a soup. Another favourite of mine was peanut soup with sticky rice balls, it was such a simple yet hearty dish.
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t difficult to eat the fermented dishes. It took a while for my pallet to get used to the taste and texture. However, I came to realise how efficient and cost effective banku was. It was cheap to grow the corn and there was enough to feed large families.
The Women Support Activist Group – “Your village name is Tunteeya”
WOSAG are a small grassroot NGO based out the outskirts of Tamale city center. I volunteered here with four UK volunteers and six Ghanaian volunteers. WOSAG’s vision was to have quality of life for women and all vulnerable groups and their mission was to work with women’s groups, local communities, and develop partners to improve the quality of life for women and other vulnerable groups through grassroots institutional capacity building, promotion of human rights, security rights and access to the sustainable use and management of natural resources. We worked in two communities called Bamvin and Kanvili. Our main focuses were Sexual Reproductive Health Rights and Domestic Violence. We tackled the issues through analysing previous research which had been collected and implemented. We then implemented our own research through a mixture of qualitative and quantitative questionnaires which helped us complete sensitisations and awareness raising sessions with community groups and schools.
WOSAG partnered The Domestic Violence Center of Tamale and Marie Stopes International which was an amazing opportunity to receive support from in country professionals. This aided us to extend our resources and ultimately built a solid platform to engage with the communities better.
Girls dream of big careers in Ghana but end up facing child labour, sexual exploitation and abuse. For most women, it’s difficult to look after their children due to the lack of resources and inaccessible rights systems. WOSAG was a root to connect community leaders to the laws that governed Ghana. I have no doubt that Bamvin and Kanvili will strive in the future due to their dedication, willpower and resistance.
Equality between men and women was vital. Male classes commenced alongside women’s classes which exhibited a recognisable positive result. The communities reciprocated our message well. WOSAG’S highlights were securing a relationship with Days for Girls who are a sustainable sanitation charity who produce and train girls to create sustainable, renewable sanitary towels. It was a common fact that girls did not attend school because of menstruation. Now, Days for Girls work in Tamale facilitating workshops on how to make sustainable sanitary towels, so each girl is protected whilst on her period.
Religious leaders were also contacted to steer social change in the communities. Ghana is a faith led country. God is at the heart of everything they do. In both Islam and Christianity, it is not a preferred practise to harm your spouses. We hoped that Involving the religious leaders helped the men and women understand their rights, not only from a legal prospective, but a moral one. Faith perspectives of development are very important and will be touched upon in the future on this website. Keep an eye out!
I was named Tunteeya by the women of Bamvin – “Tunteeya means the progression of work” – I have held this name close to my heart since returning to the UK and face every project or new challenge as an upward progression.
I loved working with the WOSAG team. Our memories, difficult days and office banter will never be forgotten!
“With every difficulty comes ease”
I could speak for hours about my three months in Ghana. It was one of the most challenging but rewarding experiences I have had in my life. Ghana led me back to practising my faith and helped me discover my identity. It was the tool that sparked my passion driven career to transfer my law degree into working in International Development. My confidence grew and my love for travelling transpired. I made wonderful friends I still speak to and regularly keep in contact with my host family. I have had amazing opportunities to work with ICS and I became an ambassador and advocate for International Service which assured the idea of sustainability and continuous global citizenship. I look forward to the day I get to work in Ghana again!
Kasi and I returned from our travels and spoke for hours about starting our own charity or community group. We hope someday our love for charity, empowerment and social justice will lead to A Woman’s Wish being a sustainable organisation to help women in our local community and around the world. This website is the foundation to build our community, so I really appreciate it if you have read this far!
If you have any questions or want to discuss WOSAGs work, leave a comment below!
All my love