Friday, March 10, 2017

Let's see just how far we have come...

We are nearly at the end of our placement here in Bolgatanga and the time continues to fly by. The TradeAid office has stepped up the pace and the to-do list is steadily reducing. This past week has not been without its struggles, but the team has become stronger as a result.
Team TradeAID at Zaare product diversification training. 
On Thursday, the team headed to Sirigu for the mid-term review. We caught up with the other teams and showed the progress we had made. Looking back at our achievements, we were proud; we’ve gotten a surprising amount of work done in these short weeks and felt rather smug when portraying our triumphs to the other teams. One such success is the launch of our sparkling new website (visit it here: http://incometradeaid.wixsite.com/tradeaid-integrated). It still needs a few tweaks here and there, but the media team have worked tirelessly to revamp and reimagine the TradeAid image. We’re rather proud of it.

The team conducting a Needs Assessment. 
Valentine’s Day was amazing! We had written down everyone’s names in the group, and picked one in secret to get a present for. By the morning, everyone was eager to know those who picked their names and the presents they were going to receive. We then visited Bolgatanga Polytechnic, and decided to open the presents in the afternoon.

Our visit to the tertiary institution turned out to be a huge success when they agreed to be part of the Bolgatanga International Craft and Arts Fair (BICAF), offering us 12 marketing students to help re-brand the fair as a family event. The fair celebrates Bolgtatanga’s fair trade town status, giving craft workers a chance to showcase their products on a much wider stage. We were very happy to be developing a long sustainable relationship with Bolgatanga Polytechnic, so our Val’s day just got better.

left to right- Josie TL, Paster (driver) and Doreen (Volunteer)
The secret of who selected my name was revealed and presents were exchanged. I was so happy to receive vitamins and malt from our amazing team leader Josie. I got a cold that week, so it was the perfect gift for me. Alisa gave Rob sweets and chewing gum, thoughtfully wrapped paper. The rest of the team received chocolate amongst airtime, amongst others.

Moving away from the excitement of Valentine’s Day, we completed a report on straw and fabric dye and an apprenticeship scheme in Zaare. We have been researching how to access local dye, so as to cut down the cost of dye for basket weaver and fabric makers. On top of this we have assessed the pilot scheme for the youth and disabled people of Zaare our apprenticeship scheme, so they could learn how to weave baskets as a means of income since they are currently unemployed.

Doreen and Asibi (basket weaver) 
Another accomplishment this week was the completion of our first training session. The Bolgatanga Physically Challenged Women’s Group were trained in product diversification, learning how to make new products such as aprons and cushion covers. After weeks of research, preparation and hard work, it felt great to see the impact of our involvement in the community in front of our eyes. Today marked the first steering committee meeting for BICAF 2017. We assessed the progress of last year’s fair and began to look at continuing its success.

Doreen translating at peer training event. Kwame (TL) right. 
Our trip to Sirigu for the midterm review made our placement better. We uncovered some issues within the team, but continued to work together to find solutions, creating resources such as a respect handbook, which we will be able to pass on to future cohorts. We ran sessions on team-bonding and recognising how much we all have in common. We’ve been planning a movie night on Fridays but never had a perfect choice of movies, so we borrowed Harry Potter from Matthew from the Life team in Sandema. Watching Harry Potter was fun with all my team members around and a “Sobolo” made by Naziba (Rob and Gideon’s host mum).

We had an afternoon at our team leaders house on Saturday. We discussed funny topics and took some pictures, we have found that it is very important to make time for each other outside of work. Placement has really been fun with my perfect team trying to overcome our challenges and working to achieve our set goals.

Author: Atuk  Abasitewon  Doreen

Friday, February 10, 2017

Oh Flip! Yet another week has passed!

                                             Oh Flip! Yet another week has passed!

This week has been an especially productive one.
By Monday our Social Media team completed our BICAF 2017 teaser video, which was comprised of footage taken by the team during our snap-happy first weeks, as well as footage of various community entries and messages from our vendors. 

As the Internet in the office continues to play hard to get and the office fan continues to blow a warm air at us the team have found their groove and are checking things off our ‘to do’ list.
Rhiannon can often be found busying herself, waiting for moments when Rob disappears into the office lavatory with his trusty toilet roll and loudly enquiring as to the health of his bowel movements.

Rob and Tom, or TomRob, as they have become to be known as (if one lacks the energy to ascertain which white male is present) sit and discuss fantasy football. The conversation usually goes ‘did you see the game?’ ‘Yeah amazing how the red guy passed the ball to the other red guy’ ‘then the blue guy stole it and the ball went in the net …WHAT AN AMAZING GAME!!!’ the conversation continues like this for a good hour before they rejoin the group to discuss actual real issues … like trump and his tiny hands.
There are of cause some more important issues to think about. For Georgia, her main concern is what she will have for dinner later. Likely it will be her favorite, goat stew or alternatively, a delicious bowl of goat stew.

Outside the office, certain members of our team have become accustomed to being addressed simply as ‘Salmia’ or what we are told translates to ‘white person’. We continue to entertain strangers and our host families with our terrible attempts at Fra-Fra. Other hobbies include overly complex versions of Uno, narrated by Saleem, usually accompanied by a bottle of Malt. We’re an eclectic bunch... Gideon for example wowed us with his knowledge of grime music, and then continues to play a variety of Taylor Swift and Little Mix during our office days.  Doreen and Patience can be found at Cinderella’s house eating Fufu, TZ, Banku, or Tubani. Patience spends her day in work either on her phone or thinking up new plans to annoy Ailsa:

Plan A: bring in avocado and don’t share it with her.
Plan B: Threaten to beat her (or give her a nock on the head, which is far more violent than it sounds)
Plan C: Make up any number of things to get Ailsa into trouble i.e. making her say rude words in Frafra.
I could go on but we would run out of letters.

Hang on what’s that you hear? Is that the soft mutterings of an ancient guru … No its just Saleem with his endless metaphors and riddles (that no one really understands).  To paraphrase ‘there is much to do, and much that we have not done, but is best not think on this, instead think what is yet to come’.  
(A twitter account containing more of his comments coming soon.)

On Thursday, the team made their first appearance on URA Radio in an hour-long slot to discuss the benefits of Fair Trade. As the team made the treacherous journey to the station (a five minute stroll from our office), it was not a team of high-energy, excited, or even happy individuals, however, Gideon, Georgia, Patience, Ailsa and Doreen over came their nervousness and delivered an informative, lively and confident performance, in which they discussed the benefits of fair trade and encouraged listeners to take steps to make their own organization fair trade, all the while Josie cheered on from the side, Rob took an unnecessary amount of photos and Rhiannon and Saleem half-listened and half-reveled in the air conditioning of the listening room.

We have managed to get a number of reports done and now have a relatively long to do list (which is somewhat ambitious and yet very achievable). For anyone planning to volunteer with ICS we feel obliged to warn you in advance, if you have excel skills DO NOT ADMIT THIS! Tom mistakenly did so in the first week and has become our resident excel master (while this may seem like a good title, after a few weeks on excel we could see the frustration as the veins bulge from his forehead).

Since our arrival here we have smugly (yet sympathetically) received stories of how the other teams had come down with malaria and various other ailments whilst we had remained the picture of health, (with the obvious exception of an unhealthy amount of perspiration). This week karma kicked in…the team came down with an assortment of illnesses. We won’t go into details, but there were some migraines, abdominal woes, and some of the girls had ‘fallen to the communists’, meaning that there were some absences and some rather whiney individuals to contend with as the week wore on.  In the past few days Rhiannon has continued to ask Rob if he needs any toilet roll, but now it’s with genuine concern.
Health issues aside, the team are getting on well. Keep up to date with our ‘movements’ (and if you’re interested how our project is getting on) by visiting our blog by-weekly.

But for now, see y’all on the flipside.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Introduction from Team Bolga-Fantastic!

We arrived in Bolgatanga on Thursday evening having finished our in-country training in Tamale. This lasted 3 days and focused on team building activities alongside the people we will spend the next 3 months with. It was also important for the UK volunteers to learn about Ghanaian culture and vice-versa.
The Human Knot- team building! 

Having said goodbyes to friends heading to different communities we set off to our new homes in Bolgatanga. From the coach we were greeted by large families all eager to find their new children, one mother called out “where are my daughters?” and was soon united with two cheery volunteers.

The next morning we shared experiences of our vastly different lifestyles, yet one thing we all had in common was how welcoming our families were.

On our first day in the office we were introduced to the full time Trade AID staff and at lunch had a traditional Ghanaian goat soup with rice balls from a local café.

Come the weekend we were all hungry to explore. Having been promised smoothie bars, restaurants and swimming pools by the previous cohort we expected an exciting town, Bolga did not disappoint, whilst still presenting a laid back atmosphere.

The weather averages at about 33°C in January, meaning some of us have taken time to acclimatise, but we are told it can reach as high as 50°C by March- this will bring about a whole new set of challenges. It is currently snowing in the UK, right now an English winter couldn’t feel further from our reality.

The main task this week has been reading the previous cohorts’ handover notes, from this we can establish a project plan, with both long and short term goals.

We are currently looking at training basket weavers to make a more diverse selection of baskets, many women sell identical products and are unable to make a living wage as a result. If stalls are varied, sales should increase, helping the poorest in the community to escape from poverty.

In order to achieve our goals, we need to consult the beneficiaries of the INCOME project and work out how we can best assist in order for them to succeed in business. Because of this we took a visit to the craft market on Wednesday, where many of the basket weavers sell their goods. With the support of Trade AID, one shop is run entirely by disabled people, which is a massive step forward for Ghana.
Bolgatanga Craft Market- action research on BICAF 2016

Today we visited Vea, a basket weaving community, the residents spoke of how Trade AID has had a hugely positive impact on their livelihoods. Previously a middle man would buy baskets from them at an extremely low price and sell them for a profit at the market, leaving the basket weavers with just 20% of the sale price. The intervention of the charity, who have no economic agenda, has enabled a much larger profit to be gained by the community by cutting out the middle man. We are aiming to increase the number of orders placed by Trade AID, meaning this could be a completely realistic alternative. To combat this problem our group hope to sell the woven baskets online, potentially generating lots more orders from the global market.
Vea Basket Weaving Community- Community entry 

As the days pass, each volunteer speaks of feeling more and more settled in their new homes and some plan to attend religious services at the weekend with their families in order to have a greater understanding of local beliefs and customs.The market takes place every three days in town and is a perfect opportunity for those of us who want to buy materials for traditional Ghanaian clothes.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Be Generous, Be Kind, Be Happy

Myself during World Kindness Day
Hi my name is Katie and I am a UK International Service volunteer.

Naturally quite a shy and reserved person I took part in ICS primarily to improve my confidence and self-assurance in work-related situations. Usually, circumstances such as public speaking and taking the lead were activities I would avoid. Maybe it’s the thought of being centre of attention or making a mistake, but the thought of doing such things would make me convulse.

Nevertheless, 11 weeks into the placement and these thoughts have near enough disappeared! Ultimately, I believe the reason for this long anticipated accomplishment is the fact the placement has allowed me to progress gradually. Before landing in Ghana, motivation for confidence seemed to form in a forceful and aggressive manner that was directed more towards my quiet and introverted personality.

Looking back, I consider this incentive to have ultimately hindered my confidence growth. I quite liked my peaceful characteristics. Why should I change them if I am happy with them? However, this is where I believe the problem lay. To be confident and assertive doesn’t mean I had to change the nature of my personality. I have found that 11 weeks of small steps has impelled me to build confidence that in due-course has made me significantly, a happier person who still remains me but a bit more robust. Understandably personality is individual but confidence is needed in all.

My new found happiness in being confident has recently propelled me to contemplate other people’s happiness. Ghana is still a developing country with 6.4million people below the poverty line. Yet despite this fact, people I have encountered while being here always seem happy.

When I think about past conversations about happiness with people in the UK, they always seem to compare themselves with wealthier / better looking people etc. Taking a broad view westerners never seem to be content. We pride ourselves on our appearance, how our homes look or what exotic places we have visited. Yet when asked ‘are you happy?’ many people seem to direct their answers to materialistic objects they wish they had.

This led me to ask the question to the people who I have bonded with greatly over the past 11 weeks; my host family. “Are you Happy?” my host Mum Cinderilla laughed and exclaimed she was always happy! Delving into why she was always happy she revealed that the small things in life make her very happy including family, watching foreign films and listening to Jazz music. Probed about what her views were on materialistic aspects of her life, Cinderilla replied that she was not bothered about materialistic things and that she loved all people.

I then asked my host Uncle Joe if he was happy in life. He stated that he was always happy and that the only thing in life he doesn’t like is when people become aggressive. When talking about his job as a Civil Construction Engineer, he indicated that he was very content. However, his only regret is wasting time and that he wished he had focused more on his studies at school. Asked if he was envious of anything, Joe declared he does not care about any materialistic things or bigger expectations.

These responses were a refreshing change to what I am so used to hearing. I mean the question is pretty straight forward with an answer that should instantly spring to mind, right? Yet, in retrospect it appears to me that if you ask a western person ‘are you happy?’ it can become very complicated and involve numerous questions being fired back such as; “what do you mean happy? My house? My health? My marriage?” On the other hand, when I ask a person from a developing county in this instance Ghana, the immediate response is a simple yes with no strings attached.
The team are all smiles at the first day of BICAF
Another slice of Ghanaian life that made me smile is their imagination. Ghana has a large creative sector with very talented people who make extraordinary handmade crafts for a living. In spite of this, something I saw while walking home from work one day made me beam with joy. Walking along the road a small boy passed by and following him on a small piece of string trailed a toy car made out of recycled materials that the small boy had obviously made by himself.
I found myself baffled by this, why? The reason I was so intrigued and why this toy car stayed in my mind was because I realised I hardly see this back home as everything has virtually gone virtual! It was uplifting to see imagination being used to enjoy and appreciated by someone so small. This boy has probably never used or even seen an iPad, yet he was having as much fun and possibly more brain stimulation as a child who just plays on their iPad all day.
“We see the world, not as it is but as we are” is a quote by Stephan R. Covey which I have recollected for a long time now. Ghana has definitely made this quote more personal to me and I will certainly miss this country when I get home. But one thing is for sure, I will not forget what the experience bought me; confidence, happiness & contentment.
Katie :D

Monday, December 5, 2016

Who Says You Don't Deserve Opportunities?

Hey blog readers. It’s my turn to write the Income Project blog this week. If you don’t know who I am, here’s a little bit about me. My name’s Abbie, I’m the team leader here at the Income Project. I’ve been here for nearly 6 months and Bolgatanga really does feel like home now. I won’t bore you too much about my personal life but instead I’ll tell you about one of the parts of this project that I have been completely passionate about from the offset; our apprenticeship scheme.

INCOME Project team at this years annual crafts fair BICAF
    With Northern Ghana being the poorest region of Ghana we see the figures leading to substantially disparity in the amount of young people being given educational opportunities. UNICEF show that in 2015, 623,500 children of primary school age are still not enrolled in primary school, girls from northern Ghana average only four years of education and 20% of children with physical disabilities are not attending school. So what does this mean? It means that in the Northern Region there are many young people without opportunities, without a source of livelihood and without prospects. Doesn’t this just make your heart sink? What this says is that if you’re poor, a woman or disabled it’s more than likely that you will have no opportunity to do anything with your life. For this reason, we decided to put together an apprenticeship scheme that can provide opportunities to those who have been denied them for some reason or another.
There's always  Bolga Baskets around our office

For anyone who doesn't know, an apprenticeship programme is a work based training scheme that provides people with the skills that you need for future employment. It uses an ‘on the job’ technique to provide the apprentice with practical working skills rather than academic. I know this all sounds like workforce jargon so I’ll put it into context for you. While we at the Income Project work with craft groups, this was our main option. What happens with our apprenticeship is that young people take part in a three month scheme with a craft worker in which they get to learn directly from the mentor how to create certain crafts.
The moto of any ICS volunteer

  Right now our focus is on basket weavers, they have been identified as the craft sector with the most vulnerable young people within their communities. For now we have two apprentices on the scheme. Our budget is very small so unfortunately we could only afford to run the scheme for two apprentices; for now. The two communities we have used are Zaare Basket weavers and the Sumbrungu Basket weaving group. The apprentices have come straight out of the communities of the basket groups. One, a young man named Abdulla who has a passion for basket weaving and sees it as a tradition that should be celebrated. The other apprentice is a young woman named Portia who fell pregnant which meant that she dropped out of school. While speaking to both apprentices they have expressed great gratitude for the programme. After the three month programme finishes they will be able to make and sell their own baskets in order to create a livelihood for themselves and their families. Abdullah has even told us how much he would love to mentor an apprentice himself in the future. 
Mentor and Apprentice, Fusini and Abdulla

Making baskets is a long standing tradition in Bolgatanga

So where do we go from here? By the time I leave we will have two fully trained apprentices in basket weaving. But there’s so much more we can do with this programme. There are so many more people this programme can provide opportunities for. I and the team have been working hard to get sustainable funding to secure the future running of this programme. While we haven’t had that much luck, we have had a breakthrough with Roteract Club Portugal. On the 18th of December they are holding a fundraiser in which all of the proceeds go directly to our apprenticeship scheme. They hope to provide the scheme with €50 a month for up to a year. This is equivalent to, GHC 220, this could fund another two apprentices every 3 months, meaning that another 6 apprentices can be trained within a year. Small figures yes, but hey I’m an optimist, if this proves successful more people would want to sponsor the scheme. This could be big, in the long run this could provide opportunities for so many people who wouldn’t naturally have such opportunities.
Bringing opportunities to those who need them

 Sorry for the wordy blog, but like I said, I’m really passionate about this scheme. The thought of giving young people the opportunity to make something out of themselves gives me so much joy. Let’s help each other, let’s spread the love.

Abbie :)

Click here to apply today and start your ICS journey in April 2017.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Learning and Developing in Ghana

Hello, I’m Ben. I am a volunteer for TradeAID, I am 18 years old and I’m from Newcastle in the UK. During my time in Ghana I have learned many things and developed in a number of ways. I have learnt about Ghanaian culture and how to adapt/cope with. I have witnessed many new mannerisms, attitudes and views which have lead me to adapt my own approaches to things

For example, in the UK I use a washing machine to clean my clothes, so I have had to get used to cleaning my clothes by hand. Also, religion is very important in Ghana and I am not religious, so the fact that Ghanaians are so passionate about religion was a real eye-opener for me and gave me an idea about the Ghanaian way of life. Religion has even been a part of the work I have done on my project. For instance, when a training session or a steering committee takes place there is an opening and closing prayer. Plus I went to the assemblies of god church to raise awareness of BICAF, and took part in the whole service. In both cases, I have had to adapt to Ghanaian culture by respecting and even joining in with religious practices. Although I am not religious, they are experiences that I have enjoyed as they have given me a greater knowledge of Ghanaian culture. Also, they are experiences I will probably never experience again so it is important I appreciate them.   

Something else I have learnt is how to cope with living in a developing country without comforts I would usually have, such as certain foods, hobbies such as playing and watching sport regularly, and obviously not being able to see family and friends. I would have to say that this is probably the toughest challenge I have faced. Being only 18, I have never lived away from my home and my family for longer than 2 weeks. So as you can imagine, being away for 9 weeks (so far) has been tough, however it is an experience that has strengthened me and allowed me to grow up. 

Living in Ghana has not only given me a better idea of different ways of life around the globe, but it has also given me a better idea about development and what it takes for a country to develop. For example, the work I do on my project with the craft groups of Bolgatanga involves trying to give them an international platform on which they can sell their products and display their skills to the world. Another goal is to ensure these crafts people can make a fair and decent living out of their work and can support themselves. A lot of the work I do on my project involves encouraging and promoting fair trade, which is essential to the development of a country as it promotes things like fair working conditions and equal opportunities. Prior to my placement in Ghana I didn’t have much knowledge about development, so I have certainly learned a lot!   
Radio Session on Fair Trade

While in Ghana, I have also developed my confidence – I used to struggle with basic tasks such as ringing someone over the phone. Talking on the phone used to make me very nervous; I remember that when I first applied to ICS I was shaking as I made the phone call to the ICS office in London! In contrast, I now have no problems making phone calls – I have had to ring possible registrants for the Bolgatanga International Craft and Arts fair (aka BICAF) and get in contact with pastors of churches to ask about using their church to raise awareness of BICAF. As well as my confidence, I have also developed a host of other skills such as communication skills, teamwork skills, and taking on responsibility for work.
We have worked to support and train Sambrungu Basket Weavers

    If I had to sum up my time so far in Ghana I would say that it has been a great learning curve for me. It has helped me develop skills that are important in any job, and has helped me develop as a person. As my project draws closer to an end, the work is getting tougher. But as they say; when the going gets tough, the tough gets going. I aim to make the most of the time I have left, and to work as hard as I can to ensure that my project is a success!

When your team becomes family
Click here to apply today and start your ICS journey in April 2017.