I’ve been home for a very short but sweet four days and am currently in transit to San Jose, Costa Rica (thank you Jesus for airport wifi). Here’s a short attempt to answer some of the questions about my time in Ghana that people have asked whilst I was briefly on home soil.
“So, what was the BEST thing?”
As you might expect, it’s quite hard to pin down a BEST thing from living and working in a foreign country for three months. Ghana is a very charming nation. The people I met and befriended were so welcoming and open and kind. You were always invited to people’s homes, their food and their family. However, the thing that will probably stick with me most is when we were able to see the tangible impacts of our project work. As I’ve written about in previous posts, volunteering short-term for a project with a long-term aim means that as an individual you don’t get to see a lot of the fruits of your labour. Change comes gradually, but sustainably; and three-month-long volunteers will only see a small part of that. So when we were able to witness our project work making direct impacts on people’s lives, it was really amazing. The best example of this was when our team delivered a community sensitisation to the Namonsa community, educating them about disability to reduce stigma and increase awareness of human rights. The sensitisation involved presentations about the types and causes of disability and the importance of including people with disabilities (PWDs) in community development, inspirational messages from influential PWDs and a drama showcasing the achievements of a child with disability (plus our team got to dance with the local cultural troupe). There was such great engagement from the 400 strong audience and it was so clear that they were taking on board the key message of our project: disability is not an inability. The fact that people were howling with laughter at the African style slap-stick comedy in the drama and bursting into spontaneous applause throughout the inspirational messages felt, to me, like a community saying amen to all the things our team were trying to communicate and change.
“What did you learn?”
A lot, but the biggest thing was what community development looks like in practice. I think I had quite a glamorous or naive picture of development before ICS, but I’ve realised it’s a much slower, frustrating process with far more challenges than I imagined. I envisioned eager community members who were willing to work hard alongside our ICS team and beneficiaries keen to learn and be part of our work. Sometimes that was the case, and sometimes it wasn’t. There were times when our team would wait one or two hours for a scheduled meeting only to find that those we were waiting for were too busy or had other things to prioritise. We would turn up to a project activity and the appointed leaders would fail to attend, with no notice given. So in the face of adversity we had to work a little harder and chose patience and persistence, not frustration and surrender.
“What did you find the hardest?”
Missing home felt very real sometimes, but reminding myself of the value of our work helped. The hardest thing was probably when we experienced the opposite of my ‘best’ thing – a lack of engagement or progress. It was demoralising when the excitement and commitment we had for our project was not reciprocated by community members. However, that’s one of the great things about a long-term project, there are more volunteers on the way. Perhaps some of our project work was not as successful as we hoped, but the next cohort of young people will have new ideas about how to stimulate change in the community and that gives me hope.
It’s difficult to sum up experiences like the one I had on ICS. It was challenging, wonderful, heart-warming, heart-breaking, and empowering. It was one of those things that feels simultaneously like a blur and decade. I’m so grateful to those who donated to International Service which enabled me to go out to Ghana, and grateful that I live in a country where my government is not only stable and peaceful, but believes in investing in young people by funding opportunities like International Citizen Service. So here’s a shameless shout out for ICS. If you are, or know anyone, who is 18-25 and wants to see a new place, make a difference in people’s lives, understand more about global issues, and start to change the freakin’ world, then jump on the ICS bandwagon – you won’t regret it.