Developing a just society based on equity and equal opportunities for all with respect for diversity.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

A Lasting Positive Change Lies in Passion and Service: Part I

Here at ICS-RAINS (Regional Information and Advisory Network System), we are working very hard to facilitate the education of children and women regarding sexual and reproductive health, teenage pregnancy and the importance of staying in education. Our cohort is currently focusing on why people choose kayayei, its dangers and its prevention. 

Kayayei (single Kayayoo) describes young women who carry heavy goods and wares for a fee. Girls and young women aged between 8 and 45 years, mostly from the rural areas of Ghana namely the Northern, Upper East and West Regions. These women and girls have limited or no education and originate from these poor socio-economic backgrounds. The three sensitizations held in the three communities we work with, namely Nanton-Kurugu, Zokuga and Langa all in the Savelegu District focuses on questions related to kayayei. Questions such as what is kayayei, what makes someone choose kayayei, how can kayayei affect sexual health, what are the dangers of Kayayei and what should be done to prevent them from practicing kayayei. Their feedback to these questions made realize us that, the meaning of kayayei and the dangers related to kayayei is not really known to them. 

Community Sensitisation in Langa
 Photo Credit Harriet Braithwaite
We do our best to educate these communities on what kayayei is and possible dangers these young women face when practicing kayayei. We do this education through the research we conduct in the office as a team. After the questions and answers, we then act out a short drama, on a seventeen year old girl called Amina, who lives with her mother and siblings in the Northern Region of Ghana. She decided to go to Accra to practice kayayei due to lack of money at home. She was sexually abused by countless men on the streets of Accra, she got pregnant and decided to go back home because of the bad weather conditions and the abuse she endures on the streets of Accra. On her arrival back home, Amina visited the Health Facility for a check up, she found out that she was HIV positive, and she regretted ever going to Accra to engage in kayayei. 

Myself playing Amina in the kayayei roleplay
Photo Credit: Harriet Braithwaite
I played the role of Amina, playing that particular role of Amina, on our first sensitisation made me feel very special because the role made me realize what young girls like me face on the streets of Accra. I feel these young women and girls deserve good and quality education or vocational training.  In time i hope this is what government officials can provide for these young girls who travel from their towns to the big cities just to practice kayayei, because they feel that there is nothing to do in those rural areas. I hope that, in one way or the other, this role play will go a long way to educate both the young and old in these various communities on what girls like Amina go through on the streets of Accra.

Fellow Volunteer Salma and I in the kayayei roleplay
Photo Credit: Harriet Braithwaite

By Abigail Darko

Friday, November 10, 2017

A Warm Welcome from Zokuga!

On the 8th November, under the shade of a beautiful tree, we were welcomed by smiling faces of the people from Zokuga and the formal 'crouching down' greeting. Zokuga is my personal favourite out of the communities we work with because of their peaceful appreciation of friendship and love amongst the members and their guests. We are eager to get started; community sensitisations are always highly anticipated due to the chance to interact and learn with such wonderful people. The peer educators are full of energy, and their participation in the organisation and smooth running of the day is amazing to watch and we couldn't do it without them.

Here on the ‘Safe Choices’ project at RAINS we are raising awareness on kayayei through a series of community sensitisations where we focus predominantly on why people choose kayayei, its dangers and its prevention. The definition of kayayei itself may not seem to link to the sexual health work we do on the ‘Safe Choices’ project, but the sexual health related risks of kayayei which include sexual assault, STIs, HIV and unwanted pregnancies will be prevented through the awareness raising and prevention of kayayei.

"Tosa" in Zokuga
Photo Credit: Charlotte Bartholomew.
We began our sensitisation with a game called ‘Tosa Tosa’, a personal favourite of our cohort. In between the rhythmic chanting of ‘Tosa’, the children take it in turns to spell their names; a great way to get them all involved and energised. My role for the day was photographer, and I loved spending my time figuring out ways of capturing some of the beautiful moments that took place on the day.

The main bulk of our sensitisations takes the form of a question and answer session whereby the audience, divided into smaller groups, answer the following questions:

Kayayei Q&A
Photo Credit: Charlotte Bartholomew
  • What is kayayei?
  •  How can your sexual health be affected by kayayei?
  • What are the dangers of kayayei?
  • What makes people choose kayayei?
  • What can be done to prevent people from choosing kayayei?
We then offer explanations and hypothetical, relatable examples. This question and answer session can take up to 45 minutes and once this has been completed, we lead the group in another ice-breaker called ‘Make it RAINS’ to get everyone up on their feet and energized. As I am taking photos of this activity, I look over to the bench near where the sensitisation is taking place and see that the chief of Zokuga has come to watch and is enjoying watching the game; this was so unexpected and made us feel welcomed and supported by the community.

‘Make it RAINS’ was developed by Maddie, our team leader, and involves the portrayal of a rainstorm using the various different sounds made with our hands and feet, turning the name of our project partner into a simple and fun activity.

After this, we perform the play that the team wrote and rehearsed in preparation to give the audience an interractive portrayal of kayayei. The play follows the story of a girl called Amina, played by volunteer Abigail, who moves to Accra to do kayayei in order to earn more money to send home to her family living in a rural Northern community.
Volunteer Abigail playing Amina in the kayayei roleplay (in Nanton-Kurugu)
Photo Credit: Harriet Braithwaite

I play Abigail’s mother, who asks Amina for financial help, and I was given a real baby by one of the women to hold – she was absolutely gorgeous, only a few months old, and she didn't cry! Definitely a big highlight of my week. Amina experiences homelessness, extortion, exposure to bad weather and disease, lack of medical service and eventually sexual assault, HIV and unwanted pregnancy, before returning home ot her mother.

What a Cutie!
Photo Credit: Andrew Spiers
The women and children are always very attentive, and after the play we are able to open up a discussion with them on what they learnt from our performance and how they think they can work to prevent women and young girls turning to kayayei.

A big part of our work here is sustainability and community involvement, so a few of the main suggestions to ensure that people don’t turn to kayayei include the improvement of livelihoods and alternative trading opportunities as well as the promotion of education and vocational training. It is vital that we listen to the community themselves when we are determining ways in which to improve sexual health and living conditions. 

The day was a big success and we rounded it off by taking lots of photos with the women and children, the chief and the community. A young boy and a young girl, about the age of 4, followed us round and I have very fond memories of their big smiles when we showed them the pictures of them on the camera. It was a beautiful day and I am so grateful to have been a part of it.

By Charlotte Bartholomew

Monday, November 6, 2017

Working Together to Create Change

My name is Yakubu Salma Mamaawey, I am from Tamale and a volunteer working for International Service in Ghana, precisely in the Northern Region. When I was selected to be part of the ICS RAINS project I was very happy because I knew that my passion to help the youth actualise their dreams will come to past.

The Safe Choices project is aimed at creating awareness on issues that has to do with sexual health and also on kayayei, through community and radio sensitisation. We also include community members who voluntarily work as peer educators.

Our First Community Sensitisation in Nanton Kurugu
When people come together to achieve a particular goal, their differences becomes invisible and their willingness, similarities and passion stands out. This is what our team stands for. Working with the UK volunteers has shown me the importance of the concept of diversity to be able to successfully work together in a cross-cultural context.

My team members from the UK are very friendly and accommodating, they are always willing to help and share ideas that will bring positive results concerning our project. Their interest to learn the Ghanaian culture as well makes them lovely and irresistible to work with.

Currently the Safe Choices team have worked hard to create a sexual health manual, which covers a lot of sensitive health topics that are essential to our day-to-day lives. Some of these topics include: teenage pregnancy, the menstrual cycle, masturbation, infertility in both men and women, STIs and a lot more. The manual is to help our readers and the communities that we work with have more knowledge and control over their sexual lifestyles. By addressing these subjects, we hope to provide long-lasting support to young people, in order to keep them in school so that they can achieve their potentials and become great people in future.

We are seriously working on creating the awareness on kayayei, and how it endangers the lives of young girls who leave their communities to the capital cities in search of money. Our first community sensitisation took place in Nanton-Kurugu, and we look forward to doing more in our other communities, Zokuga and Langa.

Abigail and I during the kayayei role play section of the sensitisation

By Yakubu Salma Mamaawey

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Complexities of a Different Life

Sometimes you can make a change for better, but the majority of the time things will always be for the better, you just might not have realised it yet.

That is the mantra I have lived by during my first 3 weeks in Ghana. So much has happened and so much is going to happen, it's making me feel really excited about the work we are going to do.

Adjusting to life here is difficult because of all the different cultures that people have, for example I have to sleep on a mattress rather than a 'proper' bed which I am accustomed to. Something else that's very different is the food. It feels like I haven't had British food for at least a month. There are many cultural delights when it comes to food including Fufu, Banks, Waakye, Jollof Rice and Tuo Zaafi. All of the food I have had so far has been amazing, I have especially loved Fufu and Banku. This is very different to the 'home comfort' foods that I have come to know and love, like steak and roast beef. 

In Ghana, food is mostly eaten with hands, this includes both Banku and Fufu. Banku is served with meat and is a ball of fermented maize, whereas Fufu is a ball of yam or rice that also is served in a bowl of stew. There aren't many differences between these dishes, the stew it's served in is relatively the same but if you've had both you can tell the difference because of the texture and taste.

Life in Ghana is comfortable, but filled with changes and adjustments from my usual life that serve as a reminder that I'm far away from home.

So, on to the matter of why I'm here in Ghana. I'm working on the RAINS Safe Choices project to help people be educated on issues of sexual health. As Andrew talked about in the previous blog, this cohort of volunteers has decided to introduce a new dimension to the program, and talk about the subject of kayayei within our communities. 

This week we have been doing so much to help improve knowledge on the subjects we work with. Firstly, we have all been working really hard on a Sexual Health Manual. The purpose of the manual is to provide factual support to the community peer educators to open the minds of the children community clubs and women community clubs on subjects like puberty, teenage pregnancy and the reproductive system. A large aspect of this has to do with challenging misconceptions and providing factual information on traditionally 'taboo' subjects.

The First Draft!

We are doing many things to try and help all of our community peer educators. This week, we have hosted a training session with our peer educators and a local sexual health NGO called NORSAAC. NORSAAC is an NGO that helps communities by training peer educators in many different topics and refreshing the training for the volunteers who we have worked with in the past.

NORSAAC Representative Tamara Delivering Sexual Health Session to Peer Educators and NTCDs

It feels like we have achieved a lot in just two weeks. Overall, it has been an exciting and different experience to what I have known in the past and I can't wait to see what challenges we will overcome.

By Jack Wilkinson 

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Unknowns: Moving to Ghana and Kayayei

RAINS Cohort 9 meeting the Chief at Nanton-Kurugu

Two weeks ago I threw off the chains of an easy-going English suburban lifestyle and jumped into the unknown life as an ICS volunteer in Ghana, working for the charities International Service and RAINS. To get this far I had to overcome a lot of fear and anxiety; the amount of unknowns surrounding where I would be living and how well I would be able to cope scared me, but by pushing past my anxiety the rewards have been plentiful. Here I want to focus on one of those rewards: the education I have received from the previous RAINS cohort concerning Kayayei in Ghana.

Unless you have lived in, or are very familiar with Ghanaian culture it's probably a safe bet to say the term Kayayei is very foreign to you. Hopefully by the end of this blog you will have a basic understanding of the term and will understand why RAINS' "Safe Choices" project, which concerns sexual health education in rural communities, is taking action to raise awareness around the issues surrounding Kayayei.

Kayayei in Accra

Kayayei is the term used to describe the women and girls who make a living by carrying goods on their heads in Ghana's big cities. Estimates suggest that over one million Kayayei work throughout Ghana, many originating from rural towns and villages, migrating to the big cities in the hope of finding a more prosperous life.

Unfortunately most find life as a Kayayei a gruelling and dangerous one. Days can last up to 16 hours and the work can lead to crippling back problems. Additionally, many Kayayei live on the streets as they often arrive to the city with very little and so are extremely vulnerable to sexual assault, prostitution and extortion.

So why do so many women choose life as a Kayayei? The unfortunate truth is that the women migrating from rural communities rarely know the dangers they are getting into. Also, once they arrive in the city many become trapped trying to earn enough money as a Kayayei just to survive.

Much needs to be done to empower Kayayei so they can lift themselves out of poverty; however our RAINS project works with rural communities, so we must be proactive. Therefore this cohort shall be working to educate three rural communities on the struggles Kayayei face by running sensitisations (consisting of presentations, group activities and dramatisations).

Many women in rural communities chose to become a Kayayei in an effort to fund the furthering of their education. But many others are fleeing the fierce obstacles they face living in rural Ghanaian communities. For starters, income sources in these regions are highly dependent on farming, and so are very unstable. Other difficulties arise due to cultural norms and practices, such as teenage pregnancy, child marriage, female genital mutilation, widowhood rights, and girls having a higher school dropout rate than their male counterparts. These issues need addressing and the Safe Choices project has already begun tackling teenage pregnancy by educating young people about contraception and introducing non traditional condom distributors in rural communities.

These issues push women away from their communities, leading them to choose to throw off the chains of a hard-going Ghanaian rural lifestyle and jump into the unknown life as a Kayayei. My education on Kayayei since arriving in Ghana has certainly offered a lot of perspective to the now seemingly insignificant challenges I have faced in getting here. Now as volunteers we aim to help educate rural communities on the realities of life as a Kayayei, allowing women to make an informed choice as to whether they wish to choose the Kayayei lifestyle, which in turn will hopefully reduce the number of women choosing to abandon their local community to become a Kayayei.

A picture of me posing in our beautiful RAINS office

By Andrew Spiers (ICS Volunteer)

To read more on Kayayei, please visit: