Leave For Change Wrap-up

Well, after a long trek home, I’m back in Niagara and adjusting to the cold weather and the relative calm. I must say, it seems a bit strange not to be surrounded by the hustle and bustle of Accra – no cars honking, no chickens or goats wandering about, no roadside kiosks, and while there are a lot of shoppers out and about yesterday in Niagara, I didn’t see a single one balancing their wares upon their head. I must say that I definitely miss Accra!

So a quick recap of my final week….

Makola Market:

Last weekend provided another wonderful glimpse of life here in the city.

Following the advice of some of my co-workers at CRI, I went to Makola Market, a very large market in west Accra. The women that I work with suggested that it might be a good idea for us to enlist a local to accompany us, as Saturdays are the busiest day for the market. Kojo is a taxi driver that lives in our neighbourhood – he gives us a lift to work each day. He’s a terrific guy – always providing details about what we are seeing en route to work. As it turns out, Kojo was free on Saturday and routinely shops at Makola, so he agreed to join us for the morning.

Well, this turned out to be a very good idea. Makola was overwhelming with heat, colours, shoulder-to-shoulder crowds and the constant noise of buying/selling, as well as cars honking. That said, it was amazing and one of my favourite experiences!

Makola Market

Makola Market

Makola Market Patrons

Makola Market Patrons

Makola Market Shops

Makola Market Shops

Take a look at the photos above – the colours are incredible and you can buy anything – there are enormous sections of the market, each selling different types of goods – food, produce, footwear, clothing, fabrics, jewelry, household stuff, etc. Men and women are weaving their way through the crowds to restock their the kiosks, all carrying their goods on top of their head. I saw a woman about my size carrying a refrigerator on her head. Not kidding!

It is an enormous market that the locals use for themselves. No tourists – a true working market. All prices are bargained for – and you know that is not my strength – so Kojo was a great help in ensuring we did not pay far too much. Most is outdoors in the blazing heat, but they do have some sections indoors – many tiny kiosks crammed inside some very very old buildings. To be honest, that part was more than a bit unnerving – very old structures, packed well beyond capacity. Unsettling to think of what could happen. All in all, a very cool experience/adventure. For those of you familiar with any of the Niagara markets, St. Lawrence Mkt in Toronto, or even Keady (south of Owen Sound) – hate to say it, but they pale in comparison:)

Signs from the Road:

First off, Twi is the primary language here. While most speak some English, everyone speaks Twi. Children learn English in school – it is typically the language of instruction – but home and community are a blend of Twi with English.

Some of my favourite sights were the roadside shop signs. It seems like it may lead to good fortune if you include some religious references in your shop name. Some of my favourite shop signs:

Rome was not built in a day
Nearer my God Fashion Centre
Jesus Metal Works
Christ the Builder’s Friend
God Willing _____ Enterprise

U of Ghana, Legon Campus:

University of Ghana

University of Ghana

Residence at the University of Ghana

Residence at the University of Ghana

Library at the University of Ghana

Library at the University of Ghana

Street through University of Ghana

Street through University of Ghana

Welcome sign at the University of Ghana

Welcome sign at the University of Ghana

On Sunday I made my way over to the University of Ghana – Legon Campus, which is north-east of Accra in an area called Legon (not far from where I was staying). As it was Sunday, I unfortunately did not get a chance to chat with any representatives, but we did have a chance to wander throughout the campus. It was a really great experience – the campus footprint is very large – seems to cover much more space than Brock does, and is much more spread out. But there are some features that seemed familiar. Residences were a hive of activity with students out playing football (soccer) in front, laundry hanging up outside dorm rooms, etc. What I believe was the main administrative building is set up high on a hill, with a lovely view of the university campus, as well as the city in the distance. The library is building was beautiful, with a large fountain and landscaped area in front. The campus almost had a Spanish feel to its architecture – tile roofs and lots of archways. I believe this campus is home to approx. 25,000 students, so quite substantial.

Final Week at Child Rights International:

During my final week, we moved offices and I have no doubt the staff will really enjoy the improved space. The old office presented some challenges – while I did not encounter much rain during my time in Accra, (it was the beginning of the dry season), they had endured significant flooding, with routine loss and damage to computer equipment etc. The new spot has most offices on the second floor, meaning much less risk.

During my time at CRI, we submitted 2 project proposals for funding and we worked on improving internal communications (not easy with a central admin office and several field offices in small communities across several regions of the country) and strengthening procedures for hiring and training. I am hopeful that the ideas that we worked on will improve efficiencies and help to clearly communicate the great work that CRI does in advocating for the protection of children.

Global Transitions:

On my last day in Accra, I had the pleasure of meeting some outstanding Brock students participating in the Global Transitions program, offered with the assistance of WUSC.

This is a one-of-a-kind ‘gap year’ program designed to provide a select group of high school graduates with an opportunity to begin their career as Brock students, while taking some time away from traditional studies to participate in an international development project. Our students were being recognized by their host placements (two elementary schools here in Accra) and the team at World University Service of Canada (Ghana). The students were wrapping up 3 and a half months here in Accra and preparing to head home. Most will begin full time studies next fall, using their time until then to work and travel. I can’t tell you how impressed I was with these students – they each took a huge leap of faith, taking an unconventional path to a continent and country that they had little experience with. Their confidence and maturity was incredibly impressive! The impact that they’ve had in their placements was evident – the host teachers raved about their commitment and contribution to classroom life and shared genuine sadness at their departure. It was a real treat to see our students shine!

Leave for Change – Final Thoughts:

Participating in the Leave for Change program has been a wonderful experience, both professionally and personally. I was given an opportunity to learn and apply my knowledge and skill set in an entirely different professional and cultural setting – it was challenging, refreshing and so very rewarding.

Working in a different cultural setting was a highlight. I knew little about Ghana prior to volunteering, and while I am not yet an expert, it is one corner of the world that I now have a better understanding of. And you can bet that next spring when the World Cup is on, I’ll be cheering for the Black Stars!

If there is one piece of advice I can offer, I’d encourage you to seek out opportunities such as Leave for Change if you have a chance. Pushing myself into unfamiliar territory was both exciting and rewarding – and a bit scary at times. It was definitely a challenge, in a very good way!

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Pictures from my trip

As my time in Ghana is winding down, I thought I would share some photos from my trip.

Women carrying gear

This picture was taken at a taxi/market station and shows some women carrying gear, as well as one with a young child in a type of sling - this is a pretty typical sight.

Suma Court

This is Suma Court, our guest house - this picture was taken from the street.

Container Shops

This picture and the next show container shops - these are similar to freight cars/containers, but with a roof and front porch - they are often painted up in fun colours and situated along the roadside to create a shopping area. At the end of the day, the gear is stored back inside, and a padlock put on it until the morning.

More container shops

More container shops


Finally, this is a picture of a trotro (a kind of shared transportation) - the driver waits along the roadside until it is full, and then has an established route that he follows - most get to work using this system. I am a wimp - I've been sharing what is called a 'drop taxi', which picks you up and drops you at a specific place, rather than just at the taxi stations or trotro stops. A bit more expensive, but quicker because without the frequent stops along the route. The picture is similar to the type of vehicle we took back from Cape Coast last weekend - the driving is 'exciting'.

I’ve greatly enjoyed my time in Ghana, and I hope that this blog has given you some insight into life in Ghana, and the Leave For Change program.

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Brock Connections in Ghana!

Surprising to me, particularly given the short time I’ve been here, I’ve already made two Brock connections!

Adwoa Appiah is a current student at Brock and she grew up in Accra. She works part time in Student Awards and Financial Aid. I’ve not yet had the pleasure of meeting Adwoa in person, but believe it or not, I’ve met her family here in Accra.

Her parents own a wonderful shop very close to where Child Rights is located – Dzorwulu is the name of the area -if you find your way to Accra, you must go! It is primarily a fabric store, but also has a wonderful selection of women’s shoes and bags.

The fabrics here in Accra really stand out – vibrant, colourful patterns and complex designs are everywhere – the women in particular really take pride in showing their African traditions by wearing elaborate outfits. They are most visible on Sundays (for church) but are also the standard for Fridays (I guess the equivalent to Casual Fridays held in North America workplaces).

In any case, Adwoa’s mother Victoria is the proprietor and I would have to say that my visit to Kosakos Enterprise Ltd was a highlight – they have the loveliest fabrics and excellent customer service!

Brock connections in Ghana

My second Brock-Accra connection is with Carleigh Guiry, one of my co-workers right here at Child Rights International. Carleigh is a WUSC participant, but on a long term placement (rather than the short term Leave for Change program). Equally important, she is a proud Brock grad!

She studied Tourism Administration at Brock and then went on to do a post-grad in International Development. She has been Ghana for a year, and will be here with WUSC until mid 2014. Her area of expertise is in grant writing, so she is an incredibly valuable resource to an organization such as Child Rights International. I’ve had a chance to collaborate on some of the proposals that are underway and it has been a great experience – the process is very similar to what I’ve seen in the Niagara non-profit world. It is highly competitive as there are limited funds, and no shortage of need.

It has been really gratifying to see Carleigh’s contribution as a very capable Brock grad! Field projects and grant writing are the lifeblood of many NGOs, and a big part of how CRI is able to carry out the good work that they do.

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Weekend One Adventure

A trip on the bus to Cape Coast (city) and Cape Coast Castle (historic landmark)

This was my first weekend adventure and it was a very full day! Everything starts early, likely due to late-day heat, and traffic congestion. I traveled with another WUSC volunteer from the U of Guelph – we left at 6:30 am and made our way by taxi to Kaneshe Market and Bus Station. It was approx. 40 minute taxi and you’d be amazed at how ‘awake’ the city is by that time of the morning. Enterprising people seem to be everywhere – the roadside kiosks are already operational, as are the ‘hawkers’ (that is the term used for selling goods at intersections) – it is slow going!

Just before we got to the bus station, we inched our way down this long lane way that was jammed with people buying and selling buckets and baskets of car parts – the taxi drivers take care of their own vehicles, and this is where they go for parts – whatever you need, you can bargain for it here!

So then you round the corner and you hop out (quickly – it is bedlam!). The buses (the regular coach buses and smaller 14 passenger vans) are parked all over the place, and people are clamoring to get on. There is tons of yelling (Twi is the local language – I am not sure anyone is actually angry, just talking loud so that they can be heard) and as an outsider, it is really hard to figure out if there is a system of any kind. There didn’t appear to be any signs indicating which buses were headed where, so we asked around (people were quite friendly and helpful). I think the biggest challenge was that there are more people wanting to buy tickets than available seats, so everyone is trying to get the attention of the ticket sellers and not a lot of personal space!

Eventually we got onto the bus and inched our way out of the station area and onto the highway, heading west of the city to Cape Coast – should be approx. 3 hours. One feature of the bus ride that took me by surprise was the preacher that stood up as soon as we started to move, and delivered a sermon, prayers, and songs – lasted about an hour and most people on the bus were completely engaged. He took donations at the end, and I guess this is quite common – religion has very high participation rates in Ghana.

We made many stops along the highway to let people off, but somehow our request to get off at Cape Coast got lost in translation – we overshot it by at least a half an hour – the driver pulled over and told us to get off, cross the road, and flag a taxi going the other way. The adventure continues!

Cape Coast Castle

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

So eventually we make our way to Cape Coast Castle – although, I feel as though ‘castle’ is not the right word – it was initially built as a trading post and fortress (gold was one of the biggest commodities initially), but eventually the Slave Trade took over and Cape Coast Castle became a dungeon of sorts. It held up to 1000 captured Africans at a time in horrific conditions, as they waited to be loaded into ships bound for South America, Europe, and North America, (including Canada). Needless to say, it was an incredibly sad place. If I understood the tour guide correctly, there were approx. 10,000 people exported annually through those doors and somewhere between 25-40 million people exported from Africa over the course of the slave trade – mind boggling.

We eventually made our way back to a transit station in Cape Coast (also the name of the city) to make our way back to Accra. We had hoped to also visit Kakum National forest, that day, but because of our earlier transportation mishap, we missed the opportunity – it gets dark shortly after 5 pm so we have to save that for another day!

Made our way back to Accra and once again the traffic was crazy, but the scenery was so interesting – saw glimpses of some beautiful coastline, salt flats, fishing villages, and amazing wooden fishing boats with their crew pulling in the nets (entirely a manual operation).

This time, we traveled in a 14 passenger van, and lets just say, our driver was ‘exciting’. There is a lot of honking – in part to tell someone to move out of the way, in part to tell someone that you are beside them (mere inches away :) ). Eventually made it back to the guest house around 8pm – long day but so interesting – once again, the transit was half the adventure!

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Child’s Rights International

So I made it through my first week of work here in Accra. Many of you have asked about the organization that I’ve been placed with – below is a brief recap:

The organization I’m working with is called Child’s Rights International and their work is far reaching into many communities across the country. Accra is where their central office is located and that is where I go each day. The large majority of their work is ‘field work’, working to establish children’s programming in smaller communities, and in the secondary schools.

Child's Rights International

I’ve shared some aspects of their work below and further detail can be found at cri-ghana.org

One particularly far-reaching activity is the establishment of Child Rights Clubs in secondary schools across the country. The idea is to recruit and train teachers and community leaders to facilitate the clubs, and ingrain a sense of responsibility in the children to advocate for children’s rights, particularly as they get older and find themselves in positions of influence. Some of the activities might include: scholarships for underprivileged children in the communities, providing children with educational materials, construction of facilities for schools and communities.

One young man that I’ve gotten to know a bit (Kenneth) here at the office is a former Child Rights Club executive member (sort of similar to a student government model) – he was a very active leader in his school and community as a young student, and now is involved with CRI as a field worker, helping to train the teacher and community leaders selected to initiate a new club, as well as working with the students on community projects. He feels that he benefited from being involved as a young person, and wants to ensure that others have similar opportunities.

Easter School for Children is another project – it is an annual event organized by Child’s Rights International (CRI) in cooperation with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), providing forum for children to actively participate in an open discussion about critical issues that affect their welfare and their enjoyment of their rights. During the Easter School, children from across Ghana and from diverse backgrounds come together to share a common platform and affect positive change through constructive dialogue with each other and with policy makers and government officials in Ghana. They typically gather in a school facility (during a holiday break), and the event rotates from one region to another on an annual basis.

Service learning is another key element of the work of CRI and it involves teaching and training children about their rights and responsibilities and then providing them with opportunities to translate this learning into action through their involvement in community service activities. In most community programs, child rights club members act as peer educators in their communities on issues such as HIV/AIDS, orphans and vulnerable children and child labor in the cocoa sector.

So that is a quick summary of some of the work of CRI – my role is more about growing capacity in their administrative office. It is unlikely that I will get out to a field location, as my time is pretty short – next time!

I work closely with their administration manager (Jennifer) and have been helping with grant proposal documentation and will do some work around setting procedures for improved internal communications, hiring/training. The mandates for volunteers are general in scope and set several months in advance. The hope is that we will fine tune our work-plan once we get here, and determine what the greatest needs are, in conjunction with the volunteer’s skill set.

There are only a handful of people in the Admin office and they are a dedicated bunch, wearing many hats each day, and stretched across a long ‘to do’ list – not unlike the staff in most of the local non-profits in Niagara!

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Hello from Accra, Ghana!

Hello from Accra, the capital city of Ghana, in West Africa! I’m here as a Brock volunteer, through the Uniterra/WUSC program called Leave for Change.

I am essentially a rookie international volunteer – while I have participated in a Habitat for Humanity build in El Salvador, beyond that, my experience is limited. That said, I’ve had a wonderful start to my three weeks here and I’d like to share a bit. I should also tell you that I am not a great story teller or travel writer, so I may be off to a rocky start. I’d initially thought I’d start a blog, but I think mass emails will work just as well.

First, you may be wondering ‘why Ghana?’. Well, when the opportunity to participate came up, I was quite deliberate in my choice – each fall some of our students participate in a program called Global Transitions, a modified ‘gap year’ experience at Brock – I have met several of these students and heard their amazing tales. They, (and the many others) inspired me, and when Brock decided to pilot the Leave for Change program, the timing seemed right.

I’m nearing the end of my first week and have viewed many wonderful sights, met some warm and gracious people, tried some very tasty dishes, and am having an opportunity to work alongside some terrific folks, (both at the Accra World University Service of Canada office, and at my placement (Child Rights International).

So attached are some first glimpses of life this week – most are taken in the area surrounding my placement location – sorry about the picture quality! The morning rush hour is quite something – it takes me approx. 45 minutes to get to work (by taxi – I’ll explain transportation in another email), and a lot of that time is spent barely moving along narrow city streets completely packed with vehicles. But it is nothing like sitting on the QEW! Far far more interesting. The roadsides are packed with tiny kiosks selling anything from living room furniture, to paving stones, to breakfast fare, water (in tiny little pouches), cell phone sim cards, women’s clothing, beautiful fabrics, and iron gates (for the gated properties that are the norm). In addition to the kiosks, you can also purchase goods from people at most corners – they are walking in between the lanes selling a range of products, most, carried in huge trays or bowls, balanced effortlessly on their heads. Now that is a skill! Colourful clothing, young children in school uniforms walking to school – it is all so interesting!

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