Thursday, August 31, 2017

My Life in Bolga

After completing my Degree and Internship in London I wanted to challenge myself further to develop more skills and gain more experience. I decided to apply for International Citizen Service, and here I am in Ghana writing my blog in week seven. When I say a lot has happened I mean ‘A LOT HAS’.

My placement started by me getting ill in the first two days in Tamale as I was diagnosed with my first bout of malaria (of three!) but I feel much better now and I am really enjoying my experience here. In this blog I will talk about my highlights of my placement including host family, work and social life.

My host family is an extended family and they have been absolutely amazing. I am a Muslim and my host family are Catholic so it has been really interesting seeing the differences. The first week of my placement I went to church with my host parents and my counterpart for the 6am mass, this was my first time and the mass was three hours long.  It was very interesting to see the similarities between the two religions but, honestly, all I could think about was breakfast. Mama Peace, my host mother, is a lovely lady. Having such a beautiful, kind, welcoming family has definitely made my time so far very enjoyable.

4 of my host siblings - and this isn't all of them!
Francis, Anna and Michelle are the youngest of my host siblings and I honestly love them, their presence in the house has made my placement so much better. At first, Michelle would cry and run away every time me and my counterpart Cynthia would walk in but now she comes and shouts “auntie, auntie, auntie". 

The food Mama Peace makes is very good and I always look forward to eating at home rather than eating out. I have tried TZ, Fufu, Banku, plantain, yam, palm nut soup and Light soup. My favourite is plantain, palm nut soup and OMG I can't forget about Indomie. 

Some of the weavers in Sumbrungu and I
In our cohort I was part of the research team and our main focus was organising training. During our 3 day training session I had the chance to roll the straw used to make baskets and also dye the straws. Successfully completing the training was a huge achievement as the women who received the training were very happy that they had learned another skill.

URA Radio Session.
 I was also very lucky to go to the central mosque in Bolgatanga to promote Bolgatanga International Crafts and Arts Fair (BICAF) to the locals. By doing this we reached out to over 600 people before the Friday prayer. I also had the chance to go on the radio. We had a one-hour session and the aim was to tell the locals about our work and to promote BICAF. The radio show was another success as we had many calls coming in and the next day at work I was told that the office phone had been ringing none stop. 

Getting to know the locals is one of my favourite things to do.
During our free time we try to explore Bolgatanga as much as we can. we have been to Jubilee Park several times, I have learnt how to play cards and climbed a tree for the first time. My first Eid away from home will be during this placement. I have made my Eid dress using African fabric and also got my henna done for Eid. It will be a great experience seeing how people celebrate Eid in Ghana.

Overall, despite being ill a number of times and not being sure if I would make it to the end of my placement, I am really glad that I decided to stay as well as proud that I faced my challenges. 

Some of the other volunteers and I.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Life Away from Home

Glory is a 20-year-old UKV from Manchester. Maxima is a 23-year-old volunteer from Bawku, a town in the Upper East Region of Ghana. Glory and Maxima have lived together since starting their placement and have shared their experience so far.

Glory (left) and Maxi (right)


We live with a host family at Zuarungu, a town about 6km from Bolga. In total there are 11 people in the family, with a gate man and three dogs that help maintain security in the house. Because the family is very large the house is lively and we can always find something to entertain ourselves with.

Every Sunday we attend the 6.30am mass with our host family. The 5am wakeup call has been a new experience for Glory but she enjoys spending the quality time with her family, and it means she can also catch the beautiful sunrise at least once a week. We also enjoy playing games such as Blackjack, Cheat, Ludo, and football with the kids during weekends and sometimes before we go to bed on week days. Aside from playing games with the kids, we aid our host parents in cooking and other household chores like doing the dishes, helping with the washing of clothes and sweeping the house. Although the work can be difficult it has helped us feel like we are really part of the family and not just guests staying over.

Some of the family heading off to Church.

Maxima enjoys all the food that is served at home, which includes TZ (her favourite), banku, yam with stew, plantain with beans stew and many more. At first Glory struggled a bit with the food but over time she has adapted to the local dishes, especially TZ which seems to be the family’s favourite meal for dinner. Our host mum checks up often on how we are finding the food. She will always ensure there are alternatives if she thinks we may not enjoy the evening meal, which has gone a long way in making us feel comfortable.

Julie and Maximillian, our host siblings. 

Dorcas, one of our host sisters.

There are many differences between here and home, especially for Glory who is not used to the local food and culture. She noted one big difference compared to her home in the UK is the timetable of the day. For example, everyone is awake by 6am to do house chores even on weekdays, whereas in the UK house chores such as cleaning of the whole house is normally done on weekends. Glory is also used to living with just her parents and two siblings, but at her home in Ghana it couldn’t be more different. The family is very big and always has more extended family and friends visiting or staying over. It can be busy but it’s nice having new people around to chat with, and they’re always keen to know about the work we do. Both of us have adapted well to our host home and are appreciating the differences between here and our homes as it allows us to learn about other people’s way of life.

The food was so good that we ate half of it before thinking to take a photo!

 Our host parents are loving and caring, treating us the same way they do their daughters. They check on us every morning to ensure that we are up from bed and getting ready for work. Our host dad gives us a lift to work every morning and we usually have a chat in the car. This gives us time to catch up with him about our project or even learn about things to do with Ghanaian politics and other topics that he is interested in. Our host parents also make sure we do not go to bed on an empty stomach. They are very open and interactive and stressed from the beginning how important it is that we communicate easily with them, this has encouraged us to always freely discuss our needs to them.
Our host family has really contributed greatly in making our volunteering placement very enjoyable and memorable. As our placement is coming to an end we are already thinking of how difficult it will be to say goodbye but we know that we’ll both be back to visit in the future.

Glory and Maxi

Edited: Cynthia

Friday, August 11, 2017

Happy International Youth Day

Meet two volunteers with International Service in Bolgatanga from different parts of the world who are changing their society for the better. Although they come from very different backgrounds Kakoko and Maxi both applied to volunteer for International Service because they care about improving their local and global community. In honor of International Youth Day we’re celebrating young people like Kakoko and Maxi who are striving to make the world a better place.


"Wherever there is opportunity to help others...young people must take it"

Maxi comes from Bawku, a Town in the Upper East Region of Ghana. She studies Health Information Management at the College of Health, Kintampo. Maxi worked closely with the Ghana Health Service and, as part of her work, was involved with SPRING. SPRING/Ghana is an NGO that focuses on improving the nutrition of pregnant women and young children in 15 Ghanaian districts. As part of her work Maxi worked to reduce the number of children suffering from stunted growth in Bawku West District. She also helped families learn more about personal hygiene and the importance of sanitation.

In the future Maxi hopes to open a children’s home or orphanage where she can take in children who have no other means of receiving help. She believes that there are too many children around the world who are suffering needlessly, and that it is her responsibility to help those who have less than her.

Maxi thinks that, as a young person, she has a duty to help in her local community, and whenever there is an opportunity to help others on a community level or international level, young people must take it. She believes that, whether you are being paid or not, helping others will bring its own payout in the future, not just in the development of your skills, but also in the joy you can get from seeing your society improve.


“You have to have the motivation and the belief to help others, regardless of what people who oppose you will say.”

Kakoko was born in Congo but has lived in Manchester, UK for many years. He attends Nottingham University to study International Relations and Political Science. He is actively involved in his local community and believes strongly that the best way to improve lives and reduce inequality is through community cohesion and a political system that listens to the people.

Kakoko worked closely with the Red Cross to help people with mental and physical disabilities who have been marginalized. Through his work he provided them with financial and emotional support to make sure that they could feel like part of their community. The opportunity helped him to gain perspective on the struggles other people face and how even a little bit of help can have a big impact on someone’s life. Aside from this Kakoko has also worked with Refugee Action helping to welcome refugees in to the Manchester community. For almost 2 years Kakoko aided Refugee Action in supporting refugees who were struggling to set up their lives again in a different country.

He thinks that the most important thing for young people is to have the motivation and the belief to keep helping others, regardless of what people who oppose you will say. He believes that young people are the best equipped in society to create change when they have the energy, ambition and are made aware of the resources available to them.

Maxi and Kakoko are just two of millions of young people across the world who are dedicating their efforts to creating a better future for generations to come. Today we take the opportunity to appreciate how tirelessly they work every day for all of our benefits. 

By Cynthia

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Pizza, Parties and Project Visits

It is fair to say that the TradeAid team has settled in very well in Bolga. After Fin (our team leader) met some missionaries from the US and Canada during a hospital trip we were invited to a pizza night. PIZZA NIGHT! So, on Friday evening we met at Mama’s place, a bed and breakfast in Bolga where the event takes place once a month. As the evening went on, we exchanged experiences of Bolga, our goals and missions whilst we are here. It was heartwarming to find out from the hosts of the event that in fact the profits made from Mama’s place go directly towards supporting children out of poverty. It was a great night of socialising and it was even better that the money we spent went to good cause. But don’t worry, we all returned safe and sound to our host homes before 9pm.
To ensure the weekend was filled with fun, following in Zacharia and Kakoko’s footsteps, nearly the whole team attended a traditional wedding. The wedding was filled with colorful outfits, proud relatives and most importantly a great atmosphere. Despite the rain, which thankfully didn’t reach last week’s downpour, the wedding carried on full steam. We ended up driving all around Bolga, including visiting the bride’s father’s house to receive a blessing for the new couple. The whole of Bolga must have known there was a wedding after dozens Motorcycles and Cars drove through with loud music blaring and bright orange outfits. Although many core aspects of the ceremony were similar to the way we celebrate marriage in the UK, they were practiced differently and it was interesting to see these differences.

(Stylish volunteers at the wedding)

The wedding was great fun and the perfect way to end to the week. Everyone there was welcoming and kind and we even got to dance with the bride and groom twice. Although by ‘we’ we mean it was mostly Nikola cutting shapes on the dance floor. The crowd definitely loved her dancing and she got the rest of us going when we were shuffling around.

(Entertaining dancing at the final wedding location)

On Wednesday some of the team went back to the communities to discuss the training sessions we hope to plan. We hope to visit the communities regularly so that we can develop trust and a strong relationship, both of which are key in making sure we can have a positive impact whilst we are here. We are in full working mode and hope to complete our first training session next week.

(From left: Glory, Nana, Shakirah at the community visit)

A house rule established upon our arrival to Bolga was the ‘Wednesday Social’. Every Wednesday we meet outside of work, so far it’s been a great way for us to bond outside of the office and relax mid-week. Zacharia introduced us to Jubilee Park in town and for the last two weeks we’ve spent our Wednesdays evenings here. The park, which has a stage and an arena on the side with seats is the perfect place for hanging out, eating food from the chop bar nearby and playing cards. It is also home to BICAF, the festival which was established by TradeAid and what our project is also working on. Unfortunately our cohort will not be here to see BICAF but at least we’ve been to the venue, but we’re sure Fin and Eunice will send us lively updates!

(From left: Kakoko, Glory, Samira, Nikola and Cynthia at Wednesday Social, Jubilee Park)

By Cynthia and Nikola

Thursday, July 27, 2017

First Steps in Bolga

Zaare (Welcome)!

25 hours after leaving the UK volunteers arrived in Tamale, the capital of the Northern Region in Ghana. Over the first week we met our Ghanaian counterparts, many of who had also travelled far to arrive at the conference centre. On our team we have Zacharia, Nanayaw, Macdonald, Maxima and Samira who are in-country volunteers and Kakoko, Glory, Shakirah, Nikola and Cynthia from the UK. Our team is led by Eunice, who comes from Ghana, and Fin, who has travelled from Scotland.  During training our team came together to discuss human rights, compare cultural differences and learn more about our project. We also developed our slogan ‘INCOME: HARDWORK, DETERMINATION’, which we chanted at every opportunity we got in the training room.

After having to chase a fallen suitcase down a highway we arrived safely in Bolgatanga on Friday the 14th of July. We spent the weekend settling in, getting to know our host families, and relaxing – with the exception of Kakoko and Zacharia who got busy straight away attending a wedding on Sunday. Our host families ensured that none of us went to bed hungry, with hearty food such as banku or TZ.

On Friday we visited Zorko, Sumbrungu and Zaare to introduce ourselves to the basket weaving communities and do some preliminary research. After travelling in a van for half an hour we arrived in Zorko where we were greeted warmly by the basket weavers – the views throughout the journey were astonishing, worth the bumps. We stayed for an hour, discussing how we can improve the relationship between ICS, Tradeaid and the basket weavers.  This was all done with the aid of our resident Fra Fra speaker, Zacharia, who translated for us.

Another bumpy van journey later and we arrived in Sumbrungu. As our van pulled in front of the craft centre the women began to dance, clap and shout in greeting. The atmosphere was amazing and for 20 minutes we celebrated together. The group ensured that each of the volunteers practiced the greeting dance, making us more excited to start working with them. The weavers showed us some of their completed baskets. The baskets were beautifully intricate and colorfully woven and for many of the UK volunteers this was the first time we’d ever seen the famous Bolga baskets. These groups work hard on the hand-crafted baskets, ensuring each is unique in its own way.

From Sumbrungu we travelled to Zaare, the final community in which we will be working in for the next 2 months. Each group, although not so close to each other, had similar areas that they were looking for our help in. Their feedback is going to help giving us an active start to the INCOME project.                              
We have already begun planning training sessions and reviewing potential sponsors for BICAF (Bolgatanga International Crafts and Arts Fair). Outside of work we’ve also visited the local commercial street a number of times and, after visiting Melcom 4 days in a row, the UK volunteers have satisfied their need to spend the majority of their allowance on Oreo’s and Indomie. Upon the recommendation of the last cohort many of us also braved torrential rain last weekend to visit the Blue Sky hotel. The journey through mudded roads is definitely one to experience, like doing an extreme off-road but in an old taxi.  

Overall our first week living in Bolga has been amazing and we’re all excited to see what the next few weeks will bring. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Following Your Curiosity

Following Your Curiosity

Written by: Mamoon Khpal
Photos by: Mamoon Khpal
Edited by: Oliver Sage

Since arriving in Bolgatanga towards the end of April, the stifling heat has begun to give way to the Rainy Season. There is now a spring in the air surrounding the centre of town. Lush green pastures have replaced the sweeping desert sand which consumed us on our arrival, and the trees are blooming in equal measure. The large leaves from roadside trees are useful protection against bouts of heat or heavy rain appearing at the most inconvenient times. A few weeks ago I popped into Rain Inn Supermarket to collect a large pot of delicious Cowbell Coffee, and on the way home torrential rainfall struck me motionless beneath a tree. This was to the amusement of a few Yellow-Yellow drivers who asked between GHc 5-10 for the 10-minute walk home.

This activity in Bolga has been no detriment to my tenacious curiosity. Of the places I discovered during my saunters, the most unique was The Bolgatanga Library. It was created by an award-winning American Architect, J. Max Bond Jr. (1935- 2009). He was awarded a degree in Architecture at Harvard University to pursue a career in the field. In the mid-1960s he moved to Ghana where he designed several government buildings, including the Bolgatanga Regional Library.  The centre contains rich shelves of books, and seating arrangements for bustling children and students. The fans overhead are still because the ventilation system inside the library keeps the occupants perfectly cool. Towards the entrance is a small chapel which stands empty and at the rear is an unusual concrete seating structure in the garden with faded scribbles and scratches vandals had made in the past. Like most good libraries, this one is enchanting and loved by those inside.
After losing track of time inside the empty rooms, I returned to the nave of the building and found the book I would be using for my guided learning session, ‘Faceless’ by Aama Darko.

Bolgatanga Regional Library

              The second outcome of my curious wanderings was discovering the Nongre Crafts and Culture Foundation. I was referred to a smiley gentleman named Matthew who mentioned he knew the place. It was a 20-minute journey to the Foundation along a dirt road into the Nongre region, which my driver, Matthew, explained meant Love. The centre works with young children in the community outside school hours through traditional African dance, drumming, and handcrafts. The children are from families in the local community, and some I was told are orphans. The foundation wants to combat school dropout rates in the Upper East Region, by empowering basket weaving communities struggling to support their children. The open fields inside the area await development by the Foundation, which wants to build a school and library for the community.

Coffee at Nongre Crafts and Culture Foundation
Sat inside the cafeteria at Nongre I recouped as much caffeine as I could afford. At 4 GHc a cup, I did not feel too guilty in gulping 5 portions down my throat. The cafeteria offers guests and volunteers Ghanaian and Ethiopian Coffee handsomely sealed for window display. The children took no hesitation in introducing themselves to me and posing for “snaps”. In their bright African wear they prepared themselves in two rows ready for performance. The procession of dancers led a cohort of boys drumming behind them onto the stage area. The young girls took ownership of the space very quickly breaking mounds of sand with their stomping feet. They moved with confidence and energy throughout the 40-minute performance and asked what I thought after. To say the least, I was swept away by the group. Hopefully, the photo can do it justice.

Nongre Cultural Group

The final discovery I made during my curious rambles around Bolgatanga was at The Crafts Village. The village is surprisingly easy to find located behind the Catholic Church.  Inside are shops selling high quality African Art and Crafts, and to the left of the village is the regional museum. The shop owners and crafts people inside the centre can often be seen busily designing leather, or weaving baskets. Among the treasure trove of items include British War medallions dating from Anglo-Ashanti wars during the 19th century. The shop owner tells me quite briefly that they have traveled to the Northern Region of Ghana for sale inside the shop. Alongside the antiques are coins from different national currencies grouped together inside a bowl reminding shoppers of how much travel has already been completed inside Bolgatanga. The trophies of war also include cowry shells used in West Africa, as currency during the slave trade until the early 19th century. The items are a fitting reminder of the travel and history behind Bolgatanga.
War Medalions found at Bolgatanga Craft Villiage

The passing of time inside Bolgatanga has revealed there is a great deal more to see outside the office. Indeed, the rainy season should not deter any curious urges from more exploring.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Local Celebrities? - Bad Dancers

Week 8 - Becoming local celebrities and questionable dancers…

Mid-term complete and here we are with just over a month left in Bolgatanga. So far we are feeling accomplished with many activities completed but there is still much more to do and we are busy working away in the office. It has been an interesting rainy season; apart from the odd day of rain the temperature is still ridiculously hot and dry (apparently this is abnormal for this time of year). People may say you acclimatise but as I understand it, all that means is you become rather accustomed to consistently damp clothing and a shiny forehead, or in my case a sunburnt one. Tip to any girls – leave your make up at home, it is a waste of luggage weight that could be much better spent on British snacks (We have also come to realise we all have a rather deep obsession with food).

URA Radio Session speaking about BICAF, Fair Trade and the importance to Bolgatanga

On the 10th of May we had our first radio session at URA Radio. Before we went to the studio we prepared and rehearsed topics about BICAF, Fair Trade and the importance of international market, all themes related to the work done here at TradeAid. Our aim was to promote BICAF as a family and social event and get the word out for vendors to sign up as soon as possible so as to get the discounted price. When we arrived at the station the presenter, Sophia, was there to greet us, she has hosted many radio shows with ICS volunteers before and explained the procedure. The group was very excited to be there, not only because the building had air conditioning, but for the majority of us it was our first time featuring on a radio show.

Microphones and headsets on, selfies taken and we were on air. We began introducing ourselves, where we were from and a little bit about our experiences here in Bolgatanga. Throughout the show we spoke about BICAF, the town’s experience last year, and all the vendors that are looking forward to the event this year. We spoke about the importance of the fair for the town of Bolgatanga and promoting the local crafts people. Mid-sentence we unfortunately suffered a power cut and the studio fell into darkness, but fear not it was up and running again in a matter of seconds, oh and then crashed again, but that's not unusal! All in all, the session was relaxed and great fun, as well as being powerful in transcending the message through Bolgatanga and surrounding towns. After such a great success, just call me the next Reggie Yates.

Before the social gossip, a little more about work! We are currently conquering various aspects of the project in our sub teams of marketing, administration and research. As mentioned one of the biggest accomplishments for the marketing team was completing the radio show and getting the word out about BICAF. Nonetheless, we are a hard working team and have also been busy designing leaflets, posters and t-shirts, developing the website and starting to organise the entertainment for BICAF. As far as research is concerned, we have started organising training sessions to develop craft skills for various communities and groups that work with TradeAid. We have also been speaking to Mr Nicolas (TradeAID’s director) to organise data collection for the apprenticeship scheme. We have also been working on proposals for the agriculture of straw and rice. Lone-wolf Mamoon has been a social butterfly in administration and signed up ten vendors for BICAF. This time last year they had five signed up at the end of the three month cohort, you go Captain Mazza.

We also visited the Zorko community, a first for any ICS cohort; we conducted our questionnaire and created our needs assessment. However, as per, we were not to escape without having the classic dance off and every member had to get involved despite dancing ability. It all made for a fantastic ‘go pro moment’ (a phrase the team has taken to pronounce in many questionable Scottish accents).

Basket Weavers at Zorko Community

Now I have detailed our workplace achievements I shall account some of the social activities we have been taking part in, mainly hosted at our local, ‘The Fair and Free’.

We have had two tremendous guided learning sessions in which we have certainly had a taste for the great culture we are living among. Firstly, Mamoon and Mary hosted a ‘streetism’ session, in which they spoke a little about the harsh problems that youth face in Ghana, but then to lift spirits and also as a relevant and useful exercise, we exchanged street slang in English and Ghanaian. I had not heard of lots of the Londoners slang, so I added my own column for ‘Scottish Slang’ #freeeedom. Erasmus led the second guided learning which was on Ghanaian dancing. Firstly we watched youtube videos on famous dances such as Azonto, Agaja and Kpalogo. We were then paired ICV and UKV, had 5 minutes to practise our dance and perform it to the group. Ballet, tap and modern dance lessons were not enough to prepare me for what was next. Christian, my partner, has a natural flare for the ol’ rhythm and movement, so I accepted defeat and of course brought out the drops and the booty pop and shake. As a team we had pains in our sides from laughing so much, I thought that I was actually doing it really well, but on reflection from various snapchat videos I came to the crashing realisation that perhaps I resembled your drunken uncle at a wedding.

Winner and Aman busting some moves at the guided learning

Lastly, how could I forget about the ‘Spar’ obsession that has taken over our cohort and in fact Bolga as a whole. Basically it is a card game that is similar to ‘trumps’. One night Aman and I got some of the UKV boys to teach us how to play, without telling the Ghanaians. Then the next day, cards dished out, and we were on fire, the look on the Ghanaian boys’ faces! Since then we have spent multiple hours at the weekend, after work and any spare moment possible really, playing ‘Spar’. On a slightly less cool note, our shuffling skills are yet to be desired; we discovered the hard way it is a much needed social skill and one of our key goals to learn before our time in Africa comes to an end.

So that is us with only 4 weeks left until we head home and until then we can eat cheese, pizza, burgers… oh and see our family of course. We cannot believe how time flies, see you in another two weeks!

P.S. we have not have wifi in the office for the past 3 weeks so this blog may be very late in reaching you