Thursday, December 14, 2017

International Service "University"

An elderly man who lived in my vicinity always told me that education does not take place only in the classroom. Without an iota of doubt these words are indeed true. We learn the most valuable lessons of life from our interactions with fellow people and our immediate environment. Few months ago, I got the humbling opportunity to be a part of the International Service program. As a recent graduate, I expected to deliver or perhaps disseminate that which I have learned over the past years, conversely, I had rather enrolled in a “post graduate university of life”, hence the title International Service University. My learning experience over the past months has taught me a great deal, and I will break down my experiences into individual “schools” within the university.

Chilling at our pre-placement training
School of Pre-Placement Training; One major quality that was emphasised is the importance of team work, which is the cornerstone of every project. There is the African proverb that says, if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together. We were put into groups in every activity, and the underlying attribute that boosted our morale and confidence was the spirit of team work. International service had a way of shuffling us between projects. You can find yourself performing a specific task and the next moment you are finishing an entirely different task. In the hustle and bustle of this life, there are unexpected circumstances, as such one should be readily available to take on new tasks within a moment’s notice.

All of the volunteers at ICO
School of In-Country Orientation;  At ICO, we had to learn how to  adapt quickly, ICVs and UKVS  were made to lodge in a dormitory.  A setting like this taught us how to  adjust, alter and modify our environment to ensure that everyone  involved is comfortable to an acceptable degree and mentally rested to ensure a smooth transition to our tasks ahead. This attribute toughened my mindset, and improved my inter-personal relationships. I could interact more easily with others, and quickly detect the likes and dislikes of my fellow workers. We shared new slang such as “aaba” and “bless you”. When we got assigned permanent groups, I gained new skills and sharpened qualities I already possessed, which equipped me with the necessary resources to be successful in any task.

Our team and student volunteers at our float for BICAF
School of Project Partnership and Host homes: Quite to the disbelief of other people, particularly because I was an ICV, I had my fair share of difficulty getting accustomed to dishes that I had not eaten before. The different regions in Ghana, have different dishes and how they prepare certain foods vary by location. Foods like dawadawa jollof, TZ , yam, fufu, kulikuli, and brown wheat koko were all foreign to me. Needless to say, I got used to them, and even grew expectant for the next meal.  I roomed with a UKV, and truth be told, we both were very different from each other in terms of culture, and some behavioural traits. However, we understood the commonality of a great human experience and we shared a similar goal of giving back to society. Indeed, Ghanaians are hospitable and I had a feel of what foreigners experience having found myself in a foreign region. All you had to do in the community was to greet and be polite, and all will welcome you. Work site exposure gave me a hands-on experience of working in a professional setting and the realities that are associated when working in a field like this. Together, we all learned about human rights and were challenged to make impact wherever we found ourselves. At the end of the day I realised that experience is the best teacher, every individual irrespective of background has a lot to bring to the table. It is therefore imperative that you know the culture of the people you are working with, this way you will know what to expect, and in doing so your success will be guaranteed.

  The International Service University taught me a lot more than I had learned during my 4 years of university. I am humble to be a part of it and I look forward to future endeavours. 

Written by Derrick Amoah Yeboah 
Edited by Emma Caldwell and Finlay O'Fee 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Meet Madam Ursula

Meet the lovely Madam Ursula. If you follow our Facebook page, you will already know a little about Madam Ursula through our BICAF and beyond videos. However for anyone who hasn't, this is your chance to hear about this amazing individual.

Madam Ursula is a beading and craft-work entrepreneur, who has her own business - UD Beads and More - in Bolgatanga. Madam Ursula began her business in Accra in 2009, where she learned how to do beading. From there she moved her enterprise up to Bolgatanga, and has been operating there for the last four years. Although she predominantly sells beads in the form of necklaces, earrings, bracelets and footwear, she has also expanded her business to include handbags, purses and backpacks - many of which are made out of recycled materials. "This is the way we are trying to help clean Ghana" she says to us while we are visiting her shop "...by way of also making money" she laughs.

These cute bags are unbelievably made out of scraps of fabric, plastic bags and water sachets!

Not only is she a big user of recycling within her products, she also like to use recycled products personally as well. "My everything is recycling, my dressing bag, my necklace..." She is very creative with her work, for example she takes water sachets and crafts them in to reusable waterproof purses/wallets for money and mobile phones. Furthermore, she supports the women in her local community by employing them to make bags for her shop out of scrap fabric and plastic bags. When we asked her about her inspiration for her products she explained that it comes for all around her. "Sometimes you might see a design somewhere and you do it, sometimes you create your own design" she explains, "the more I do, the more ideas that come to me".

Our volunteer Pera modelling one of Madam Ursula's backpack

Madam Ursula is very big supporter of our project and the work we do - especially the craft fair which we hold at the end of each year, Bolgatanga International Crafts and Arts Fair. She has said on many of occasions how much BICAF has help her and her business through the 4 years shes been in Bolgatanga, and she is also first to offer her help when we are trying to encourage more people to get involved. 

Madam Ursula has participated in BICAF since the very beginning in 2014. Her first taste of BICAF was with her brother-in-law who was a registrant at the time and was selling leather crafts, when he let her join his stall to sell a few of her items. It was during this experience she saw first hand what BICAF was about and it motivated her to participate and register for the next year...and then the next, and the next! 

"It helped to sell me out!" she explains, as she tells us how by distributing her cards at the event, she began to receive more customers in her shop all year round. Her advice to new vendors that are not sure about participating was that it is not about making a few sales that day of attending its about the long lasting connections you make with sellers and also other vendors as well buy potentially networking with them and partnering with them. This is not the only way she is supporting her fellow business people in Bolgatanga. Madam Ursula has at various times been one of the first people to volunteer and share her story through the media and encourage others to become involved in BICAF. She also was first to volunteer- without even being asked- to interview her fellow BICAF registrants in the local dialect over the microphone while attending BICAF herself, and help to bring attention to their enterprises and products. 

Madam Ursula interviewing a fellow vendor at BICAF
Our team has been very lucky to get to know Madam Ursula during our time in Bolgatanga, and I think it is safe to say we are all inspired by her attitude and spirit towards her business. Her products are beautiful, eco-friendly and made with passion, and we would all recommend a trip to her shop (at the Regional Hospital junction) if you are passing through Bolgatanga. 

Written by Brandon Crabtree and Emma Caldwell 
Edited by Emma Caldwell 


Thursday, November 16, 2017

BICAF: Behind the Scenes

6am, Bolgatanga. A warm light crawls through the window, submerging me in the shadow of my mosquito net as the sun rises on a new week. The sixth week of INCOME project’s latest volunteer cohort to be exact. Our attention so far has been consumed by the Bolgatanga International Craft and Arts Fair, or BICAF, for short. This international festival is one of the most important dates on Bolgatanga’s calendar so its organisation and delivery is our cohort’s main objective.
My new brother Simon and I begin the short journey to work as we discuss the abundance of tasks that await us at the office. The once exotic sights of roaming animals and seemingly alien foliage now greet me with a feeling of familiarity. We are passed by Barnabus from our office, and local shouts of ‘Good Morning!’ fill the air as my dreary commute through the streets of Glasgow fades from my memory.

My brother Simon and I 

We are greeted on site by new volunteer team leader: Emma, who promises to rule with an iron fist, and already she has a lengthy to-do list mounted on the wall. This list quickly doubles in size as we review the week ahead following our usual morning chit-chat. The closing date for BICAF registration looms, and with one of our partners out of action for the foreseeable future, everyone is expecting our busiest week yet.

Myself and Derrick on URA Radio talking about BICAF

The task of organising BICAF is both a blessing and a curse; it feels really special being part of such an important event for the community of Bolgatanga, however the tight schedule and weight of expectation can put the team under some serious pressure at times. So why go to all this bother?
BICAF is integral to achieving TradeAID Integrated’s (our project partner) mission statement: ‘To Make Trade Work for the Poor’. The fair provides a platform for local craftspeople to access an international market of buyers, investors and craftspeople, as well as offering business training and the chance to move their trade online.

Talking to the community of Zorkor about why BICAF will benefit their buisnesses 

It’s not just local enterprises that will benefit from BICAF; Bolgatanga is one of only three FairTrade towns in the whole of Africa, and holding an annual international trade fair is one of the requirements to maintain this status. The fair will raise the reputation of the entire community and help to promote the FairTrade movement, which is a very rewarding legacy to be a part of.

The hype for this year’s BICAF is reaching fever pitch, we have already confirmed as part of the event are craftspeople from all over Ghana, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, and Togo, local cultural groups, a food bazaar, and special musical guests. The clock is ticking down to the end of November, and as much as it feels like BICAF is the light at the end of the tunnel there is the impression in the office that we would like our journey to last just a little while longer.

Written by Hugh Cruickshank      
Edited by Finlay O'Fee 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Adapting and Overcoming

While we volunteers at TradeAID love what we do, adapting to life in Bolgatanga has been a challenge for all of us in our own way. As a result, we want to share our experiences with you! Here is a perspective from Brandon, a volunteer from Grimsby, UK and Habiba, a volunteer from Kumbungu (Northern Region), Ghana. 


This is a brief run through of how I have lived so far in my four weeks of being in Bolgatanga as a UK volunteer. So much has happened so quickly and so much is going to happen.
Me and my counterpart (Derrick) at community sensitisation. 

So let me get started by saying adapting to the environment in my experience so far has been a struggle but that's just how life is, its how we grow as individuals. For example the food is my biggest challenge: I miss my home comfort foods, it feels like an eternity since I had a Sunday roast, but this will be one of my greatest challenges I will overcome. Don't get me wrong, the food can be very good at times!  My host mum is a really good cook - she knows how to make the food taste amazing and changes it to my liking (I can be a picky eater...don't judge me).

The team - being their usual upbeat selves - after a long hardworking day at the office.

Now that I have rambled on about the challenges, let me tell you the most enjoyable experiences I have had so far on my placement: working with such an amazing team. My team are made up of nicest group of individuals I have ever met and they helped me overcome quite a lot so far in such a short period of time knowing them. Whenever I have those stressful days I can count on them to brighten my day and they have made every day working in the office fun and enjoyable.

I am very proud to be part of the TradeAID project, and to have the chance to help make BICAF  the best it has ever been. Furthermore, getting to meet all the amazing communities and people of Bolgatanga, and involving them in the work we do, to get them the benefits that these hardworking people deserve. In addition, I also feel like it is a great opportunity for me to learn from them, and change my perspective on life in general. I cant wait to come back to the UK with the chance to teach more people of my community on the differences of other cultures and how overcome culture shock.

Thank you all for reading this, and I hope you enjoyed this brief summary of my experience so far in Bolgatanga.   


On the 13th October 2017 we arrived in Bolgatanga and alighted at the TradeAID office. Without delaying at the office, our host parents came and took us to our various host homes. Myself and my counterpart were so lucky to have Mr.Apokerah as our host dad and Mrs.Peace Apokerah as our host mom. Yikene is the area where our host home is located which is about five miles away from the office. We were given a very nice room with everything in it. Thus, we do not share the washroom with any of the family members. 

There are seven people in my host home. Three of them are children and the rest are adult. The children include Anna, Francis and Michelle. The youngest among them is Michelle and she is so lovely. Francis and Anna always want me to play Ludu- which is a local board game- with them and also have fun. As for Anna, she is the talkative in the house. She asks a lot of questions regarding my religious background.

My host sisters Michelle and Anna

The first week I arrived, I really missed my family back home. I am the oldest of my siblings and I help to look after them a lot, so it has been difficult being away from them. However, when it comes to the relationship between me and my host family, I find that they are lovely, friendly and patient. Mama Peace always gives me the opportunity to ask for whatever l want. She cooks delicious foods for me and she also gives me chance to cook for myself. She makes me feel at home and comfortable.I help Francis to wash bowls in the evening in other for him to finish fast and do his homework. There are two dogs in the house who always eat a lot. They begin to search for food from plate to plate whenever we are washing the bowls.

Me and my fellow volunteers meeting the craft chief of the basket market 
Over the weekends, my team hang out together and relax, for example we went to Tap Hotel to swim and had fun – although I didn’t swim because I fear the water. Every Friday after work we spend the evening hanging out together, which we spend chatting, sharing stories and watching the local football team train. We have come to call this ‘libation’.
Written by: Brandon Crabtree and Mohammed Awal Habiba 
Edited by: Emma Caldwell and Finlay O'Fee 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Bolga Beginings

After various long travels, three days of training and a two and a half hour bus journey, the International Service TradeAID team made it to Bolgatanga – our home sweet home for the next 10 weeks. Following a relaxing (!) weekend of meeting out host familie, we were in the office and raring to go.
By our second day of work, Team Bolga was straight out to visit the three basket-weaving communities we will be working with this cohort. TradeAID doesn’t mess around!

Team MakeFuFuNotWar living it up on the way to Zaare

The first stop of the day was the community of Zaare. The basket weavers of Zaare gave us a warm welcome, and were happy to show us their work. The baskets created by these women are beautifully bright, cleverly designed and – of course – hand made. The weavers make creating the baskets look easy- however this is far from the truth. The process is in fact very complex and intricate: for each basket the straws must be rolled and dampened with water before they are ready to be weaved. For coloured baskets, the straws must also be dyed before this process takes place, and overall each basket can take approximately 3-4 days – sometimes even a week- of a basket weaver’s time.  However, these talented woman enjoy their work, and like being able to showcase and make a living from their craft.

The Basket Weaving Group of Zaare, showing us how it's done

Back in the car, we were now on our seriously bumpy way to the community of Zorkor, which was definitely an ...interesting experience for the more motion sensitive members of the team (myself included). When in Zorkor the weavers had many examples of their finished products for us to look at, resulting in a short catwalk display by our volunteer Derrick – Tyra Banks ain’t got nothing on him. Although all the communities we are working with during this cohort are primarily basket-weaving collectives, the baskets are not the same. Each community has a unique style – which varies the sizes, shapes and colours of the baskets they make, and highlights their distinct creativity and skill.

The Zorkor community were far from camera shy!

The last stop of our day was the community of Sumbrungo. While visiting these communities, we talked to them about what we are planning to do over our time here. Our cohort is lucky enough to be participating in the organisation and delivery of the Bolgatanga International Crafts and Arts Fair, more commonly known as BICAF.
BICAF is a craft fair, intended to support, showcase & promote the beautiful workmanship of highly skilled artisans in and around Bolgatanga. It was founded by TradeAID in 2013 with the aim to eradicate poverty through the creation of sustainable business, helping to generate more employment and wealth across the region. By attending the fair, craftspeople can secure orders, network internationally, increase tourism and also educate them on fair trade practice.

We used our community introduction as an opportunity to discuss BICAF with the basket-weaving collectives. All three communities had mentioned to previous volunteers that they wanted support with finding buyers, so we felt it was important to inform these artisans of BICAF and encourage them to register.

The issue with this however is the language barrier. The communities we visited all speak the regional dialect of Fra Fra, and despite our best efforts we hadn’t quite managed become fluent in the 2 days we had been there (stay tuned for progress). 

Lucky for us we had assistance from a previous ICS TradeAID volunteer Zack, and our own very talented Simon, who translated what we were saying, and helped us avoid any miscommunication.  The communities did not hesitate to share their questions or reservations with us, however by the end of our discussion they were feeling positive about registering and taking part. It was a fantastic day, and I think it is safe to say we are all very exciting to continue working together!

Finally, it was time to head back to the office. After a short delay for some photo opps, and to rescue the family of chicks that had made themselves a home behind the tyre of our car, we waved goodbye to the Sumbrungo community and went on our way. It had been a fun but tiring day, so when we got back the team headed to one of our host home for milk and biscuits! Perfect end to a great day in Bolgatanga! 

That's a wrap
Written by Emma Caldwell 
Edited by Hugh Cruickshank and Eunice Blankson