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Monday, July 3, 2017

The one with hindsight: 10 things we wish we’d known about Tamale in week one


               
                We’re now approaching the end of our project and have a lot of work to complete. It’s been a wild ride from the moment we left Heathrow. On hindsight, we wondered what we would be telling ourselves at the beginning of the project. So here are ten things we wish we’d know about Tamale in week one.

1)      Branch out your food options; ask the locals where the buy the best yams. The best food will always be in the most unexpected place.

Isobel, Katie, Daniel and Nuru at the radio station



2)      Eggy bread for breakfast is one of the best things about Ghana. It’s basically an omelette in a pan-fried, buttery baguette. Establish the eggy bread stations early on so you can make an early trip before work.

3)      Prepare to become overly-friendly. Even the natural extrovert will become overwhelmed by the amount of attention you receive. Just revel in all the attention you get and take the opportunity to have a few great conversations along the way. Those chance meetings are among the moments you’ll never forget.

4)      Buy a spare phone out here; you can get a very nice little smartphone for a fraction of the cost in Ghana.

5)      Ghanaians are very passionate people; you’ll have marriage proposals and constant requests to be your friend. Take it all with a pinch of salt.
Bronte and Katie in Nanton-Kurug

6)      Don’t bring so many clothes, shampoo and conditioner: you can find it all in Tamale. Albeit it is quite expensive with the budget you are given, but don’t expect to be completely isolated from your home comforts.

7)      But bring as much hand sanitiser as you possibly can. It’s very expensive and very necessary.

8)      Bring memory sticks as well. Group sharing of documents becomes a nightmare when you have to do it over the internet.

9)      Start buying fabric and going to the seamstress early. You’ll be tempted to put it off for weeks to search for the perfect fabric, but when you finally get around to it, it’s addictive and you’ll wish you had more time to experiment with the Ghanaian style.

The Team in Nayorku

10)   Finally, don’t be afraid to put your own stamp on the project. This was reinforced to us at the beginning, but it was only by the end that we really got what it meant to take initiative. Take time to learn what the project is, and then start putting faith in your own opinions.

By Bronte

                

The one where they all go to Ghana



                Welcome to Tamale, Ghana. Where else can you get a taxis for twenty pence, wake up naturally at six in the morning and feel cool in 30 degree heat? We, Cohort Seven of International Service have been in Tamale – a city in the northern region of Ghana – for just over a week and already feel completed immersed in Ghanaian city life.

Team Leader Katie's Birthday!


                It’s been a wild ride from the moment we left Heathrow up until now. We arrived in Tamale on the Thursday night and met our wonderful host families. We’ve learnt to navigate the taxis system in Tamale, which functions as a car-based version of the London Underground. We’ve learnt the language and the many different greetings which are used in Ghana, when you will undoubtedly use the wrong answer many times. We’ve learnt when mangos are good for eating (and when they are good, they are good). And finally, we’ve learnt about sustainable development in Ghana and what we actually came here to do.

                We are working for a charity called RAINS (Regional Advisory Information Network System) on a project called ‘Safe choices’ that aims to educate children on how to make better long-term decision for their future. For us, this mainly involves encouraging children to stay in school and teaching them about sexual health. Also we go into the communities to make sure the people there are provided with accurate information about sexual and reproductive health.
Emily, Bronte and Katie in Nanton-Kurugu


This cohort we are beginning to investigate the rates of teenage pregnancy in communities and, by the end of it, we hope to have gathered enough information to establish the first women’s community club. We will also be establishing more Children’s Community Clubs in the communities and doing a lot of baseline research. We believe its important that the children have the right information at the right age but we also believe its important that parents have the information too. So a lot of research will be done on how we can spread information to people and make sure that the work we are doing is sustainable.


                Ghana is an incredible place to live. Everyday something surprises you. Hopefully we’ll be able to wrap our heads around living here soon. But even in the first seven days we’ve had many experiences that we will never forget, who knows what the next three months will bring! 

The One Where Langa Forgave Us!

As part of our job with RAINS we work with five different communities focusing on keeping children in school and sexual and reproductive health. The communities we work with are Nayorku, Langa, Nanton-Kurugu, Zokuga and Gbimsi. For a few years now our relationship with Langa has been strained and the past cohorts have worked towards rebuilding that relationship with them.
                On the 26th of May the RAINS teams travelled to Langa to establish a new children’s community club and take the biggest step in two years to working with the community again. It was our second trip to the community this cohort following an initial proposal to establish the children's community club. Being able to assure Langa professionalism and making sure safeguarding measures were put into place for the wellbeing of children was a huge key to our success to re-entering the community.
Sway, Illiasu and Emily running the children's community club

                On this day we were able to enter Langa and meet with the wonderful peer educators willing to help us at the school and also a group of local women eager  to discuss establishing a women's community club. We decided to keep the children's community club focused on two essential topics for our children's community club: Malaria and personal hygiene.
We started the programme with a talk about Malaria, we saw this as an important issue because of the rainy season. The children were educated on the causes, signs and symptoms, treatment and ways to prevent the breeding grounds of mosquitoes. However, the team focused our attention on the importance of sleeping under a treated mosquito net and destroying the breeding places of these mosquitoes through keeping the environment they live in clean.
The Malaria talk was followed by a Hygiene game to demonstrate to the children how disease can spread from person to person by hand by not keeping them clean. Therefore, we realize that there is a need to educate them on hygiene because it is said that cleanliness is the next to Goodliness for every society to develop. We then enlightened them on personal hygiene, types, benefits and consequences of poor hygiene. From our research we observed that hand washing can prevent most of the diseases around our region.  Proper hand washing was demonstrated to them to also keep their hands clean and safe.
The team with the children of Langa

The day was lovely and the children wanted to have us the whole day, but time wasn’t on our side to pursue that. There was a final bye-bye with children running after our bus.


Written by Godsway and Iliasu












The day was lovely as children wanted to have us the whole day, but time wasn’t on our side to pursue that. There was a final bye-bye with children running after our bus. 



Monday, June 19, 2017

The one with the four-day wedding and a baby naming




                The differences between a British wedding and a Ghanaian wedding are evident from the start. Firstly, there no need for an invitation, because you are invited. Everyone – even if it is your second counsin’s ten times removed neighbour’s nephew – is invited. The whole of Kalpohini (an area of Tamale) was shut for business on Sunday. And a month before-hand there were posters plastered everywhere advertising the wedding, as if it was going to be the next block-buster to hit the cinema. We were told weddings are a key social event in everyone’s calendar and it was promised to be the highlight of our time in Ghana. So, naturally, we jumped at the opportunity to attend.

The wedding lasted for four days. It began on a Friday and finished on a Monday. Throughout the weekend a huge operation takes place all around the neighbourhood, as the meals are cooked for the attendees. Everybody comes together to help with the preparations. We woke up on Sunday morning to find our house had been turned into a cooking operation on an industrial scale. There were trees literally being fed sideways into the fires to fuel the massive feast being prepared.

Once you get to the actual ceremony, the first thing you will notice is the myriad of colours. All the women have traditional Ghanaian cloth cut into a stunning shapely dresses. The men stride up in Islamic robes of white and the bride herself wore a yellow dress embedded with golden sequins and hands adorned with henna designs. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite get the dress code and was told off by a few of the women for not ‘wearing [our] cloth’. Therefore, should you ever get the opportunity to attend a wedding, make sure to get a highly colourful dress made for you by one of Tamale’s many seamstresses. For one you’ll avoid the embarrassment we encountered; secondly, you’ll never again be able to wear such a bold dress as you can sport to a Ghananian wedding.

                And now on to what actually happens at the wedding. It is very much like a British wedding, you get the opportunity to take photos with the bride and very unlike a British wedding you will get money stuck onto your forehead in the middle of dancing with most of the congregation watching you. Across the street peoples’ back-gardens were open to the public and in each house there was another little party going on. Towards the end of the evening we went onto a bus and were driven a good half an hour away to the groom’s house…ahem palace. It was only then we realised that the groom was the grandson of a former president of Ghana – (and the first functioning toilet we’d used in weeks!). We danced a bit more and got dragged into some photoshoots.

                To conclude the weekend we attended a baby naming ceremony. In Ghana a child only receives its name seven days after it was born. The seventh day is when the priest attends to the child and the name is announced to the whole family. Again, free food, photos with the child and greeting the entire of our host family’s community.

This weekend highlighted the wonderful sense of community that exists here in Tamale. All weddings are a party for everyone, every child is everyone’s child to celebrate and everyone contributes to the labour. In Ghana they often say when you enter their home; ‘you are invited’. It not only means you are welcome, but you are welcome to eat their food, dine with them and stay however long is needed. This wonderful idea of hospitality is so defining of Ghanaian cultural that, in the end, it means a few strangers from England can feel right at home in the middle of Northern Ghana.

               







By Bronte Wright

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

It always seems impossible until it is done



The RAINS team have spent the last 11 weeks working in the Nelson Mandela Development Centre, in Tamale, so feel that the quote ‘it always seems impossible until its done’ by the famous South African president, helps sum up our placement nicely.

The team has had some significant setbacks along the way to get to this point. However here we are 11 weeks on, stronger than ever! We have achieved a total of 6 Children’s Community Clubs in 3 different communities in which we have talked about a variety of sexual health related topics, such as personal hygeine, puberty, STIs and teenage pregnancy. We have done some serious research, wrote report after report after report, a Peer Educator and Non-Traditional Condom Distrbutor Training and a whole community sensitisation.

It is fair to say that 11 weeks ago, all of this would of seemed impossible. Three months really does fly by and before we knew it, we were reaching the end of our journey. We are now all looking forward to returning home, whether it’s somewhere else in Ghana or the UK. Our Accra volunteers are looking forward to arriving on the beach while the UK volunteers are really just looking forward to some chicken nuggets.
To say good bye on the final blog post of this cohort we have decided to reflect on our placement together.

What have we learnt? How will this help us when we return home?





One thing we can all agree on is that we have had a great time and will miss each other so much! A trip to Ghana 2018 is definitely on the cards for this team RAINS, we just can’t seem to live without each other!

Although it seemed impossible at times, we have done the work we needed too to help make our mark on our communities so it’s a good bye and a pat on the back for us!

Written by Beth Crawford


Monday, March 20, 2017

Stars of Radio Savanna!

Kingsley, Katie, the radio host and Latifa

As part of our mission to spread knowledge about sexual/reproductive health team RAINS decided to do some radio sensitisations. Radio is a wonderful way to start a discussion on a topic not often discussed openly in Ghana and get much needed information out to people and answer questions!

On Tuesday the 7th of March, 2017. Team RAINS embarked on our first radio sensitisation on ‘Safe Choices’ at Savanna Radio in Tamale. We had a very interesting  and educative discussion on teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). 
Ibrahim, Katie, Latifa and Kingsley


Four members of team RAINS were at the radio sensitisation. Team leader Ibrahim, Kingsley and Latifa were able to deliver the sensitisation in the local language of Dagbani so that our audience could who could not understand English could still understand what we were saying. Katie Mullen also attended and the four of us spent an hour having a wonderful talk with the host and answering questions.


Our message to those who were listening to the radio program was that as a young person and being in school you should abstain from any sexual act. It is important to finish your education and do well at school and to abstain from sex until marriage. Northern Ghana suffers from one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates and this is a huge focus of the Safe Choices program. The more knowledge we can spread and people we can inform on these issues, the better things will be. Many people do not know that the condom is the only contraceptive that can prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.  

Our other message was to urge parents of small children and teenagers to take care of their children and pass on this essential information. Lack of sexual and reproductive health information is what leads to a lot of the teenage pregnancies and spread of STI's. So if we can help educate parents then they can educate their children and the information is shared more. Its a lot of work and things do not change over night but every little bit counts.

Overall the experience at Radio Savanna was wonderful. None of us had been on the radio before so the experience was new and exciting and the host could not have been more wonderful. We got to answer his questions and explain all the great work our team is doing. We cannot wait for another radio sensitisation and the spread more knowledge to people.

Written by Kingsley

Friday, March 3, 2017

Making a Difference


Team RAINS volunteers with the students in Zokuga



One of our main focuses in the Safe Choices Project with RAINS is Children. We know how important it is to teach them things that they might not have learnt yet and give them access to knowledge about sexual health. We do this through Children's Community Clubs. So far we have established these clubs in 3 of the 5 communities we work with and hope to establish them in even more communities as time goes on. Our sustainability goal is that one day the Peer Educators in each community will learn how to run these clubs on their own.

Team RAINS made the first trip this cohort to Zokuga last Thursday. We were holding a Children’s Community Club where we would discuss STIs and teenage pregnancy. A number of clubs have been held in Zokuga by previous cohorts.

We arrived at a beautiful school where we were greeted by the Headmaster and the Community Volunteers. The children, who all looked around 15 years old, were waiting for us under a tree so we began right away. We began with a drama and a presentation on STIs.


From our experience in other communities, we expected them to already be fairly knowledgeable on the topics we were discussing. Therefore, we were very surprised that most of the children could only name one STI (HIV) and many didn’t know what a condom was. We realised then that we could teach these children some very valuable lessons that could help them protect themselves from diseases and unwanted pregnancy.
 
RAINS volunteer Latifah speaking to the students
When we moved on to teenage pregnancy, the children were much more knowledgeable on this topic. They discussed issues such as peer pressure, girls having to drop out of education and the health issues which can occur when someone young and not fully developed becomes pregnant.

The girls were very concerned about what they call ‘Kayayee’. This is when a girl is sent to the city to work with the expectation that she will send money home. Work is hard to get and badly paid so many turn to prostitution and fall pregnant. Some of the girls from Zokuga are forced to do this by their family while they should still be in school.

We also conducted some interviews with the community volunteers who take on the roles of Peer Educators and Non-Traditional Condom Distributors (NTCDs). Peer Educators are the go-to people for anyone who has questions about sexual health. The NTCDs are people who distribute condoms to the community. They often work as barbers or seamstresses or other roles where they regularly interact with the general public. This is so people can go to them discretely. 


We found that the community volunteers here are very pro-active. Providing people all over the community with essential information about sexual health. The NTCDs are even providing condoms beyond Zokuga to people in the surrounding communities. We were really pleased to hear about the progress they have made so far. This only shows us how a little bit of hard work can pay off and bit by bit we are helping make changes in these communities. We cannot wait to continue our work with Zokuga and more communities so that we can keep making changes and educating people!
Volunteers Linda and Rebecca speaking to the Peer Educators in Zokuga
Written by Katie Mullen

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Every day is an Adventure!




Kingsley and the students in Gbimsi 

The weeks of research and hard work that the RAINS team have carried out has really started to pay off now that we are visiting new places and holding educational clubs with rural communities.

Our first outing was to Nanton Kurugu, where we were greeted by the chief in his mud-hut palace and welcomed into the local community. We held a constructive session in the local school in which we built on previous cohorts’ efforts in educating the children about teenage pregnancy and STIs. The children were very warm and engaged, especially after taking part in perhaps the UK’s finest export - the hokey pokey! It was really encouraging to see how much information they had gathered from previous cohorts, and gave the RAINS team a clearer idea of how to take real steps to reduce the risk of teenage pregnancy and STIs in Nanton Kurugu.

The following week, after a jarring 4.30am wake up, we set off to Gbimsi. Apart from a miscommunication over timings which meant our session had to run on super-speed, the community club went very successfully. The children were open and inquisitive about issues to do with puberty and personal hygiene, and because of all the cumulative effort of the RAINS cohorts, we are reaching the stage where the local peer educators are becoming empowered and trained enough to run the sessions without us.
The RAINS team playing a game with the students

 
Not everything has been plain sailing for the RAINS team, with many trips to the hospital and many malarial absentees. But to witness the positive progress such as that in Gbimsi is made more fulfilling by how much blood, sweat and tears our cohort have put into it! We have so much more scheduled in the calendar, so the remaining half of our trip should be an intense but thoroughly rewarding experience!

On top of our project work, the RAINS team has enjoyed learning sessions on topics such as the contrast between the chief system in Ghana and the royal family in the UK, and the difference in how we celebrate Valentine’s Day (14th February is also National Chocolate Day in Ghana, much to our pleasant surprise!). When we’re not working hard, the RAINS team love to relax and bask in the cultural richness of Tamale. This involves wandering around the local market while trying not to get lost, shopping for fabrics at the cultural centre, or testing just how much more fried rice we can tolerate. The difficulty of our work has definitely had the benefit of bringing us all closer together - the friendships between the UKVs and ICVs will remain long after we’ve had our last plate of fried rice and flown back home!
Alice and Beth at the Gbimsi Childrens Community Club



Written by Dylan Caines

Monday, February 6, 2017

Settling into RAINS


For the first few weeks we have been getting to know all the volunteers on the ICS programme. We are beginning to learn and understand Tamale as a city as we try to navigate the city to find the best fabric shops, the best Indomie cafes, and the cheapest oranges.

Now as we enter our fifth week, we have established ourselves and have begun integrating into the community. Last week we have met with the staff of Marie Stopes to learn more about sexual health in Ghana, and how they deal with the legalities and social complications of their support. Also, on Thursday morning we met with the chiefs of Tamale to receive our welcome into the community, and discuss the chief’s passion for development. “In my ancestor’s time,” the chief told us, “we chiefs would fight each other for land and goods, but in this modern time we have to work together to fight poverty and ignorance.”

With this encouragement in mind, we are optimistic about the RAINS project and what we can achieve. We decided to use the chief’s wisdom to talk to our diverse team about why they chose to join the ICS Rains project.


“After working in S.E. Asia for a year I realised I wanted to see more of the world and try to make a change. This programme enables me to make a change and work with an amazing NGO. It also gives me the opportunity to learn more about myself and conquer personal and professional challenges. Also I get to learn how to manage a team and learn skills that will help me get a job in this sector in the future. The ability to get out of your comfort zone and experience a new culture is one of my favourite challenges and Ghana is not disappointing so far.” – Katie B (Team Leader)


Katie B


“To improve my leadership skills and also be an agent of change in our rural communities” - Ibrahim (Team Leader)

IB

“I choose the ICS programme because I want to understand and know exactly what charity is all about and I also want to bring sustainable development to my community and to improve my confidence and my computer skills” – Linda

Linda

“I wanted to be a part of an organisation who is working towards worldwide equality. I also wanted to gain a greater understanding of international development and would be interested in working in this field in the future” – Katie M
Katie M


“I choose to do ICS because I want to work to change the world and help teenagers understand more about their sexual health and human rights” – Latifa
Latifah


“I choose to do ICS because I wanted to build my confidence and improve my communication skills as well.” – Kingsley
Kingsley

 “I wanted to be culturally immersed in a community that was very different to my own, to challenge my own personal limits and make a positive difference in the process.” – Dylan
Dylan

“I wanted to gain more confidence and learn more about myself and what I’m capable of. I also wanted to learn more about a different culture and try and make a small but substantial change in the hope I would impact at least one life.”- Beth
Beth

“I choose ICS to put a smile on the faces of people outside my community while demonstrating that someone somewhere cares about them. I also wanted to explore my career as a care-giver further” – Rebecca
Rebecca

 “I joined ICS because I wanted to make a practical difference after feeling powerless to help stop poverty and suffering that seemed to fill news stories and current events. RAINS was particularly exciting due to my commitment to feminism. Being able to live in another culture emphasises the importance of cross-cultural feminism in a world that often feels divided and detached.” – Alice
Alice

“I choose to do ICS because I wanted to explore the world more since it’s about going out of one’s home community and being fixed in a new one. I also wanted to challenge myself to change my world and to make the things that seem impossible, possible. – Anaamlie
Ana

“I choose ICS because I recently graduated in Anthropology and I thought ICS would provide me with experience to consider a future career in international development. I also particularly wanted to come to Ghana because I was so interested in the culture, in particular the fabrics for making dresses! I have also enjoyed meeting people from the UK and Ghana and overcoming personal insecurities and gaining new skills through the challenges on the programme.” – Elisabeth
Elisabeth


Despite our varying backgrounds and cultures, we are all clearly combined in our passion for our new lives in Ghana and our project’s development goals. We all look forward to getting more immersed in our communities and setting our plans into action!

By Elisabeth Gray and Beth Crawford

Monday, January 23, 2017

Welcome to Ghana!

Team RAINS!

If you ever get the chance to visit Tamale, be sure to bring a camera to take pictures of the cute goats as you wait in the hospital, have a huge amount of energy to traverse the market without wandering into the path of a motorbike, and remember to pack a spare change of clothes in your hand luggage. Or at least that would be our advice after our first week in Tamale, spent largely on frequent meetings with the brilliant and kind doctors of Tamale Teaching Hospital, getting lost, and surviving a week with nothing but hand luggage.

Finally now, it feels as though we can breathe a sigh of relief as we start to enjoy the rhythm and bustle of the city and get stuck in on our project work. Moving into our host homes has been a huge part of this, and it’s thanks to the amazing hospitality of our host parents that we have all started to settle in so quickly. Navigating the line taxis (the main form of transport in Tamale) has been a steep learning curve for UK and Ghanaian volunteers alike, and while initially it was a scary experience, we all feel like we are now seasoned line taxi-commuters.

Our team here at RAINS is split evenly with five volunteers from the UK and five from across Ghana, along with our UK and Ghanaian team leaders of course. From the start, our team has really bonded. The countless ice breakers and team building exercises were fun, but perhaps the best part of bonding as a new team has been the diversity we all bring. Despite some differences in opinion on food – I think all UK volunteers can– agree the food has taken some time to get used to- the cultural exchange that inevitably takes place is definitely one of the most rewarding parts of our time here so far.
Tamale Market

 Of course there are many differences between British and Ghanaian culture (UK volunteers constantly melting in the heat, craving a slice of pizza now and then, feeling jealous of the incredible colours and patterns found in Ghanaian fashion), but every day we seem to discover more similarities between us: we all love fried yams, we are all deeply invested in the Bollywood drama Strange Love, and we all want to contribute to sustainable development in places where it really makes a difference.


                Now with all of our luggage safely arrived in Tamale, a better knowledge of getting around, a stomach full of fried yams and a full understanding of our projects we are ready to go. Next week we will begin work in the communities and it’s safe to say all the volunteers could not be more excited! It has been hard adjusting but this is the new normal and we cannot wait to see what happens next!