After over twenty four hours of traveling, our large group of tired UK volunteers arrived at a Ghanaian hostel for training and in-country orientation. We had a few days of being briefed on safety and cultural awareness as well as having a language session (the language spoken where I am living is called Buli). We also met the Ghanaian half of the ICS team and were given more information about our plan for the LIFE project . After another long haul of travelling on a hot bus, on the evening of Thursday 12th we arrived in our host community – Sandema, Upper East Ghana. Since then, myself and my team have spent time familiarising ourselves with the town where we will be living for the next few months and getting to know our host families.
Sandema is a beautiful town. It’s main road is lined with a canopy of trees which provide grateful shade on our cycle to and from work in the week. As far as typically “African” animals go Sandema is pretty low on the ground, but farm animals aplenty roam the streets, settle in our back garden and occasionally make their way into our office (I have nearly cycled over a herd of goats and a pig thus far). The market happens every three days and brings a busy atmosphere to the centre of town as well as good food for our team to buy for lunch, my most common choice being fried yams or plantain (aka chips or sweet potato). We’re currently in the Harmattan season, so the air is dusty and dry but I’m grateful for the breeze once it hits the hottest part of the day.
I’m adjusting to the laid back Ghanaian pace of life where people (particularly family) take priority over work. Unlike in England, if you meet an old friend on the way to work you stop and catch up even if you are several hours late for a meeting. This has lead to a running joke amongst the team that despite Ghana being in the same time zone as England, Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) is replaced with a rather delayed Ghana Man Time (GMT). For project work, however, we are of course running on Greenwich time.
The friendliness of people on the streets is something I really love. Conversations with kind strangers wanting to know more about England is a daily occurrence and you cannot cycle far without a group of cute children shouting ‘smallie, smallie!’ – this has no relation to my height, but is an affectionate name for pale-skinned foreigners like myself. Having been in Sandema for over a week, it’s nice to be able to wave at people I now know as I cycle into town and say ‘Kantwi’ (Good afternoon) to familiar faces and stall owners.
I have been blessed with a very lovely host home, a friendly, chilled and large host family and my wonderful Ghanaian counterpart, Ayisha. I’m learning to love the refreshing coolness of bucket showers in the evening, drinking water out of plastic sachets, watching Indian sitcoms (these are very popular in Ghana), eating extremely carb-heavy meals, going to a lively gospel church, painting the faces of my new younger siblings and letting them play games on my iPad. There’s been a lot of learning experiences so far: Working out how to eat with my hands “properly”, getting my hair braided and working out how to manage my new do, and learning to hand wash my clothes was a fun one (particularly because my host family found my incompetence so amusing).
Work has also commenced! For those who don’t know, the project my team are working on is called LIFE (Local Integration For Empowerment) and aims to empower the disabled community through inclusive activity. For the start of our project work we have been focusing on building a cohesive team by learning each others strengths and settings our objectives, doing research into the cultural and historical background of the community we are working in and making ourselves more aware of disabilities and their effect on people in Sandema. ICS only works in communities that have requested help, and the need for the LIFE project in Sandema is very real with over 40% of the 5,000 people living here suffering with a disability. Our project plan is still going through finance checks, and so I can’t confirm our plans “officially” until next week, but we hope to be re-establishing the Girls and Boys Clubs that previous cohorts have started, deliver several radio shows raising awareness of disability issues, and run sensitisation workshops in the community and in local schools. One of my roles at work is being part of the Communications team, so I’ll be part of a group of people running our LIFE Project blog, so you can follow that to keep up to date with project work too.
The highlight from the first week of work in Sandema was Friday 20th when our team had our official community entry. We made our way around the various official buildings in Sandema (the police station, hospital etc) to formally introduce ourselves and what we’ll be doing in the community and finished off at the Chief’s Palace. Chiefs in Ghana are culturally and politically very important, carrying the gravitas equal to politicians and a community will follow their Chief’s instruction over the word of the Prime Minister if necessary. Sandema’s Chief is also the Chief of the whole of the Bulsa district, so having his seal of approval for our team was very important for our project to be a success. The Chief and Sandema’s elders thoroughly welcomed us into the community and also tried to persuade any of the white females in our group to stay in Sandema to be his Queen.
Home sickness has crept in every now and again (not helped by a spell of actual sickness), but I really do have a wonderful team of fun and supportive people around me. I’m excited to begin our project work very soon and will keep y’all updated of LIFE here in Sandema (pun intended).