As you may know, I’m working with a human rights-based development charity out here in Ghana. The overarching aim of our project is to create greater awareness of human rights to promote equality and integration between people with and without disability. One of the phrases we’re really pushing forward in all our work is ‘Disability is not an inability’. So far, we have delivered three assemblies in schools, three radio programmes, helped establish both a Boys and Girls Club (which have had their first sessions) and had many, many meetings for our research on increasing livelihood opportunities. Every successful activity feels like a pat on the back.
As the main focus of our work is awareness raising and education (what we call ‘sensitisation’ work), sadly our team may not see much of the fruits of our labour whilst we are out here. Something I’ve been learning is that development work is a long process and not a quick fix. I guess the clue’s in the name – development. Our team won’t have the satisfaction of laying the last brick of a classroom block that we could have built for a new school, or drinking the water from a well that we could have dug for a rural village. We’re building on the work of previous cohorts, and relying on the hard work of more volunteers to come. But, the success of our work will be clear when a school girl with a disability is invited to play with her peers during break time, because they are no longer afraid of her differences. Our mission will be accomplished when pregnant mothers chose to give birth in a medical facility instead of at home, to reduce the risk of birth complications which could cause disability. We’ve achieved our aims when parents who give birth to a child with a disability allow them to go to school rather than shutting them in the house out of shame.
Children taking notes during our assemblies, listeners of our radio programmes saying how much they have learned, and teachers inviting us back to educate their children further are all little glimpses of how people are engaging with our mission. Changing cultural attitudes is a long-term challenge, but our team have been encouraged by the words of the President of the Disabled People’s Organisation: that community attitudes towards people with disability have changed since the ICS project began here in Sandema.
I’m blessed to be volunteering and living alongside a cracking bunch of people. Working in a cross-cultural team provides both challenges and richness to the ICS experience. People have different personalities, modes of working and opinions. Throw in the odd language barrier and differing cultural attitudes and you’ve got yourself a very diverse group of people working on a project. I’m happy to say that conflict amongst our team has been very minimal and instead the cultural diversity has proved to be extremely beneficial. The UK volunteers are reliant on the Ghanaian volunteers, and they equally depend on us. You can find out more details about all our project work on our LIFE blog, but now I’ll try to answer some of the questions you may have about my life in Ghana.
We work Monday to Friday (and often Saturdays), but our free time is chockablock too. Hand washing clothes, trying to learn how to cook Ghanaian dishes and going to the market are all part of the weekly routine. My host family are great and I spend a lot of my down time playing with my younger brothers and sister or hanging out with my counterpart. The team have also made good friends with some Sandema locals and enjoy playing sport and going for drinks for them.
Water-wise, we only drink from satchets of filtered water, unless you want to spend a long time on the toilet. My house does have two taps, one in the kitchen and one in the bathroom. Occasionally the supply of water in the house will run out and so we’ll have to replenish it with the reserves outside. The heat is intense some days (we’re hitting the 40s now) so bucket showers are really quite refreshing, but oh it is a very joyous day when the shower pipe flows (about twice a week) and I can have a normal shower.
In general, I’m really enjoying Ghanaian food. It’s a very card-heavy diet and so that has taken a while to adjust to (as well as the MASSIVE portion sizes), but some meals are definitely on my ‘attempt back in the UK’ list. Banku, TZ and Fufu are all balls of sticky carbohydrate which you eat with soup, and these, plus rice and noodles, are the staple foods for most people across the country. My favourite is probably Banku, with a heart warming ground nut soup (imagine peanut soup and you’re basically there) or a dish called Red Red which is plantain (think deep fried sweet potato) and beans. Nevertheless, my inner-vegan has drawn me to the market to stock up on vegetables and salad which do not play a significant part in the Ghanaian diet. My eyes have never been so happy to set eyes on a plate full of greens.
I’m attending a local Methodist Church with my host family, and I feel very welcome amongst the small but strong congregation of about thirty Jesus-loving, gospel-singing Ghanaians. It feels like a small family and I’m very encouraged by the service every week, especially with all the joyful, upbeat worship that goes down in that large, semi-constructed building.
It’s definitely reached that strange part in any new and exciting experience when you feel as if you’ve always lived in a place, but also like you’ve only just arrived. Most of the team are feeling split between loving being here and equally longing to go back to family and friends and the familiarity of all that is home. But there’s still more project work to be completed, more things to do and learn, so I’m keeping my home sickness at bay with the odd cup of Vanilla Rooibos tea, quiet times with Jesus and calls home. If you’re a praying person who’d like to receive my prayer updates to support me whilst I’m away, drop me a message via the ‘contact’ section and I’ll pop you on the list. It’s been a great journey so far, and I’m looking forward to what weeks 8-12 hold for me and my team in Ghana.
Thanks to my team mate Sophie for some of the pics of the school sensitisations we’ve been doing!