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Friday, March 18, 2016

Of the People, By the People, For the People

Lewis Ancrum, 23, UK

‘One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors’ – Plato

Lewis holding a quote from his political idol Tony Benn
'If we can find the money to kill
people, we can find the money to
help people'.
It is my deeply held belief that a key requisite for ensuring sustainable development is civic and political engagement. Political engagement allows us all, across the globe, to hold authority and our governments to account and to make sure they are working for the betterment of their populations. The change we often seek in international development, particularly here at International Service where we focus on the human rights of marginalised populations, is precarious until the population takes collective action to enshrine those changes in law.

This may seem like an abstract concept but it has been a low burning theme here at Rains during my entire time in Ghana. During our second week, Jacob and I delivered our team’s first reflection on the role of politics in international development. Admittedly, our reflection was met with a little hostility as many find politics ‘boring’ as one UK volunteer joked. Many discussions I have had in the UK have shown that political apathy is very common and this has been mirrored through discussions I have had with my counterparts here in Ghana and with my host family. What Jacob and I attempted to show was that politics allows us to enforce the change that we as a society want to see. Our vision for Ghana could be achieved through collective action. I was unsurprised to find that we were not very convincing in our argument but nevertheless, since that point (if you will excuse the exaggeration), Rains has become a hotbed of political agitation.
Jacob holding a quote from former
South African President Nelson Mandela
'Money won't create success, the
freedom to make it will'.

During this cohort we have been provided with a valuable opportunity to learn the important lessons of civic engagement in a practical manner. I can talk and lecture all I want but there is no substitute for actually involving yourself and trying to make a change. The ICS scheme and International Service have undergone a period of change during recent times which has highlighted the challenges to our expectations and vision of what ICS and our experience should be. These changes to our circumstances whilst here on placement motivated the entire team, both UK volunteers and Ghanaian volunteers, to take action. Without realising it, the style of action we were advocating bore a startling resemblance to the political and civic engagement Jacob and I had been encouraging in our first reflection.   

Traditionally when people think of political engagement the only thing that comes to mind, in the UK at least, is voting once every five years in a general election. In actuality we can do a lot from attending meetings to discuss issues, lobbying MPs both in the UK and in Ghana, and even engaging in peaceful protest. The scale of the action we at Rains have taken has been admittedly on a much smaller scale, with International Service staff taking the role of government, and the volunteers fulfilling the role of citizens. But even in our minor example of tin pot democracy it has become apparent the role politics can play in ensuring change.
                
Huzeima sharing her wisdom with us
'We may be different in a million ways but the need for love, 
respect and change have made us similar in a billion 
ways we can never imagine'.
Before we carried out any correspondence or action, the Rains team held a number of group discussions to discuss our issues with the programme and what we hoped to achieve. This was also greatly beneficial for our personal development as it forced us to confront our motivations for coming to Ghana and gave us a better understanding of our work. We designed emails, taking the form of petitions that contained our grievances, to lobby the International Service staff. Finally we had a number of meetings, both as an entire team and as individuals, with the International Service staff to better explain our vision and our reasons for approaching the leadership here in Ghana. I took great pride watching my colleagues demonstrate their willingness to engage and take responsibility for their environment. This process also granted International Service the opportunity to open a dialogue with its volunteers and better explain some of the changes. The reality of our scenario here in Ghana is that much of what has changed is either out of everyone’s control or for our safety but hopefully together we have gained a mutual understanding so that what can be improved, will be improved. I am however choosing to focus on the wider lessons that this action has taught us.
               

Abdul Latif holding a quote from the first president 
of  independent Ghana Dr Kwame Nkrumah
'Those who would judge us merely by the 
heights we have achieved, would do 
well to remember the depths from 
which we started'.
This cohort has provided all volunteers, both from the UK and from Ghana, with the valuable experience of challenging authority and of engaging politically with their environment. The methods of how we discussed our issues and went about voicing our concerns can be applied to actual society so that when we return home, we can hopefully apply these lessons to make society better, wherever we live. For those that previously demonstrated a lack enthusiasm with politics I hope this example of collective action will inspire more action at home to be an active citizen. The lessons we here at Rains have learnt this cohort will better equip us to bring about real and sustainable change in the future.

‘Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “what are you doing for others?”’ – Martin Luther King Jr