Many (over 100 applicants)applied for Team Leader Positions, some (15) were called for arguably one of the best and most robust assessment processes I’ve ever seen and a few (4) were selected in the end as Ghanaian Team Leaders (TLs) to work with UK counterpart TLs and partner projects to challenge ourselves to change our worlds.“Challenge yourself to change your world” actually means challenging yourself to eventually change the world as the world is made up of individuals like you and I. Summarizing 6 months’ experience in such a limited space is a herculean task but I will be objectively selective to touch on every aspect of my experience. It has been a top notch experience (2 cohorts, from June – August and September - December 2015) interspersed with unforgettable moments right from the assessment and training, host home/community, partner/counterpart relations, team dynamics, health to volunteer development on placement. This does not mean everything has been perfect and I will make some suggestions/feedback/comments which in my considerate view will help improve the International Citizen Service (ICS) programme.
The tiny village of Sandema (host community) and the Local Integration For Empowerment (LIFE) project (disability awareness/integration) was my final destination – two new areas of endeavour for me but I was up and ready for the challenge. Going to a new place and project for the first time, one is bound to have some perceptions or information about the place before arriving and the experiences in the place will either confirm or deny/defy your perceptions. I must say my experience in Sandema (the capital of the Builsa North District of the Upper East region of Ghana, about an hour and half drive from the regional capital, Bolgatanga) has changed me a lot and will have a life-long impact. Sandema is such a beautiful small city in the heart of the savannah, with average daily temperatures of between 36-40 degrees, a short rainy season and a prolonged dry season as the rest of northern Ghana, inhabited by really friendly people who speak the local Buili language. Sandema is ruled traditionally by the paramount chief of the Builsa Traditional area, a very powerful, enigmatic chief, supported by a number of sub-chiefs and the people pride themselves in their annual Feok festival (Late December) to celebrate their bravery against slavery and give thanks to their gods.
International Service works with the Presbyterian Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR), a local faith based NGO which was established in 1991, and funded by the Presbyterian Church among others. The focus of the organisation is to improve the living conditions and status of persons with disabilities (PWDs) in their operational areas though the implementation of five key interventions (education, health, livelihoods, social inclusion & empowerment and advocacy). ICS volunteers work on the LIFE project (which metamorphosed from the Local Inclusive Festival into Local Integration for Empowerment project) under CBR with the overall goal of improving the living conditions and recognition of the rights of People living With Disabilities (PWDs) and mainstreaming them into society and the local education system. We do this through Training (Inclusive ICT Workshops, Inclusive Sports programme, Disabled Peoples’ Organisation training), Peer education (Inclusive Girls Clubs in Sandema and Wiaga), Action Research and Awareness raising/sensitisations in schools, communities and on radio.
|Girls run the world, Wiaga Girls Club|
I had a tale of two host homes over my two cohorts, both families were lovely and caring, awesome foods, decent accommodation and treated me like their son. I did not feel like I was away from home as everything I needed in a home was provided. My host families surprised me by showing me love, so much attention and kindness which re-emphasises the fact that it is not only one’s biological parents that can show love and kindness to you. I am glad to have stayed with them alongside my counterparts but sad at the moment to leaving them, what I do take solace in is the fact that I have homes and families to stay with in Sandema. It was fantastic staying with local families, the sumptuous food (not totally different though)and being fully integrated into the local Builsa community, it is great avenue for cross-cultural learning and sharing, for both volunteers and host families alike. The bond is so strong between host families and volunteers to the extent that it has been become a crying ritual at the end of every cohort. The strong rapport, professional and personal relationships with individuals and organisations in Sandema especially and Wiaga, Kadema, Chuchuliga and Siniensi to some extent built over the period will be long-lasting.
|Team LIFE 13 with Paramount Chief of Builsa Traditional Area, Sandema|
Being a Team Leader for 2 cohorts, I had the opportunity to work with two wonderful groups of volunteers from Ghana and UK, and built lasting relationships with them. From the exuberant batch of volunteers of cohort 13 (made up of my hard working iron lady counterpart TL Carlyn, adventurous physicists and photo-wizard Raafay, action man/show boy Alhassan, professor and my “huffing and puffing” brother Muhib, barrister Benny, energetically no nonsense Sumaya, ever humorous Carly, shrewd Ailis, reserved and romantically ruthless Ruth, and of course the enthusiastic fun loving sisters Nyasha and Godiva) to the matured/resourceful group of cohort 14 (comprising , my vivacious counterpart TL Alice, unrelenting and energetic Niamh, affable Abdullah, impact craving Angela, professor and peacemaker Naeem, all-rounder Lydia, philosophical Erin, nascent Victoria, reticent Josephine, and caring/compassionate Shannon) I couldn’t imagine working with a better mix of volunteers than this. They made LIFE worth living and gave energy when spirits sagged, an impeccable and dependable pair of teams anyone else would savour working with.
|Team LIFE @ BICAF|
These two teams together have achieved considerable results in our quest to see an inclusive society of dignified life for people of all abilities. These include but not limited to:
- Educating over 400 young girls in Wiaga and Sandema on topical issues through our weekly inclusive peer education girls clubs
- Over 200 children (both with and without disabilities) and 20 teachers given practical knowledge/skills in basic ICT
- Sensitized 21,387 people (students/pupils, men, women, teachers, parents and children) through school sensitisations, community sensitisations, and via radio on disability awareness issues such as what is disability, the types, causes, myths and stigmas, rights of people with disability, early detection and prevention, etc. and the most important message imbibed in the minds of people is that “disability is not inability”
- DPO members trained (to at least run sensitisations on their own) and empowered through business skills and networking opportunities (e.g. participating in the Bolgatanga International Craft and Art Fair (BICAF) where they networked and sold their products)
- 20 P.E Teachers and 50 pupils trained on inclusive sports
- Comprehensive report on feasibility of mainstreaming people with disability into the mainstream society and education in the Builsa North district, and 8 baselines completed to serve as a basis for future cohort
|With Counterpart Alice @ Home|
For me, one of the best parts of my ICS journey has been piloting the Chartered Management Institute (CMI)’s Consultancy Intervention Project Management course, it’s really challenged me to change my world and I am really excited and better placed to unleash my potential to the world. Thank you a zillion times and over!!!Invaluable skills I honed/improved through this course include but not limited to how to better work in a cross cultural environment/setting, team building basics, people and conflict management and negotiation skills, Self-management in times of crisis, planning,monitoring and evaluation, budgeting and quality assurance.
It has not been all rosy living in Sandema though, fair to say that riding a bicycle from home to the office every day had a positive impact on my fitness level, however doing this in consistent temperatures of over 36 degrees in an exceptionally erratic “dumsor/power cuts” laden place is a no go area for the faint hearted. However, to me, there is nothing more heart-warming/rewarding than to be called “a little young messiah for leaving Tamale to go and work in Sandema for half a year” by no mean a person than the founder of FISTRAD (a local NGO which combines livelihood and Radio for development in Sandema).Bringing young people of varied backgrounds to work together, there is the likelihood of difference in opinion, difficulty in bonding or even clashes, but I think how you manage them is the key, for these are bound to happen along the way. The sometimes heated arguments in especially group reflections were all learning grounds which I do not consider as totally bad. There were also times I had health issues but was thankful to have great teams, project partner and host families to continue keeping the flames burning
|Mr. Charles, Sandema DPO member weaving a chair|
Based on my experience over the last 6 months on the ICS programmes, I would recommend;
ü Area specific solutions to problems and conditions. The principle of equality does not apply to all sectors of life at all places, some terrains or areas are more tough and demanding to work in than others and there should be commensurate conditions to this, for instance it’s hard for some volunteers to understand the fact that they use bicycles without any compensation for it whereas others in other places use taxis/cars and get allowance for that.
ü In as much as ICS encourages youth participation and given young people the opportunity to learn and work, it must be noted that the question of "youth" is not the same across all countries, the age limit for youth vary across nations, in our case, youth in Ghana refers to people between the ages of 18-35 (and if you like to stretch the argument further, you could even have people as old as 80years being considered youth in Ghana) and there is good reason for this which must be appreciated. And what is the point limiting people’s opportunity to learn by virtue of the fact that they are above a certain age range when in fact they might need the experience so much? From experience, some volunteers (both UK and Ghanaian) exhibited some behaviour on the program which nearly mar the beauty and essence of the program. There is at the moment no emphasis on qualification but I think it is something that should not be overlooked, there should be a minimum qualification to have before joining the program, otherwise it becomes free for all and quality is lost in the end, giving way to mediocrity and poor results.
ü A training for in country volunteers or a compulsory requirement in ICT skills, as some of them lacked this which had an effect on teams’ outputs, for some of them needed to be mentored by other volunteers hence putting extra pressure on their already busy schedule. This may not be applicable to all areas though.
ü There should be strong and clear cut instructions/communications and partnership agreements with partner organisations. At some point it looked like an expert or consultant and client relationship in my first cohort when it is supposed to be a partnership or process. A lot more could have been done if there was strong cordial relationship with the partner organisation. I must admit and acknowledge improvement in partner relationships in the second cohort even though a lot can still be done.
|All set for Tour de Sandema/World Disability Day|
Change is one of the constants in life but as in the words of Arnold Bennett “change hurts; it makes people insecure, confused and angry. People want things to be the same as they’ve always been because that makes life easier. But if you are a leader, you can’t let your people hang on to the past”.Change involves movement and every movement is made possible by the force of friction, it is the abrasive force of friction that brings change which might not happen overnight, however it is an open secret that you cannot do today’s business with yesterday’s methods and still be in business tomorrow.In 2pac’s words, “Things'll never be the same” for me and “that's just the way it is” after being on ICS. Let’s be the change we want to see in the world! Fijiam (thank you)!