Wednesday, July 23, 2014

It is very easy in life to never leave your comfort zone...

On Week 3, Euan is discovering how being part of a diverse group has highlighted the differences and similarities between cultural and religious perspectives, and most importantly how these differences are celebrated as an opportunity to learn, share and understand.

It is very easy in life to never leave your comfort zone, to stay safe in the confines of what your mind already knows, but life only truly begins when you step outside.

With each new day of placement we learn more about the country in which we stay and about the people who call it home. Although the nerves that were so omnipresent in the beginning have passed, each day continues to throw up a learning opportunity testing everything from patience, to how strong ones stomach is.
Not everything we see do we agree with or comprehend at first but that’s not to say that learning hasn’t taken place.

There is much difference between the U.K. and Ghana in a number of areas (which will no doubt be further explored over the course of the placement) but what has featured heavily in discussion this week is the role religion plays in the lives of the volunteers. 

Group Reflection on global poverty and inequality

The discussion of religion in the U.K. is often met with apathetic response- people are not so much against religion, they just don’t see a purpose for it in their lives (of course this is a generalisation but it reflects the tone of the new U.K. volunteers in our group). In Ghana the idea that someone is void of religion is not just foreign but can be worrying to some of the national volunteers. Indeed Ghana is incredibly accepting of the diversity of religion so long as you follow something.

In one discussion the issue of religion was questioned by one national volunteer as possibly being the biggest cause for poverty in the country. For the U.K. volunteers, also listing factors for poverty, religion didn’t even feature in the top 10. One could argue that this is misplaced thought on the national’s side or it could act to show just how distant from religion the U.K is becoming.

The more relevant question is though, is that a bad thing that there is a difference in opinion? It’s an incredibly interesting issue and like lots of things in life is often riddled with contradiction. This is however for both sides what they’ve always known. It would be very easy for both groups to stick to their own beliefs and not listen to the voices of others. Yet what makes this programme so valuable is that conversation on the topic occurs - volunteers on both sides have the opportunity to ask questions and to try and understand even if they don’t fully agree with the thinking of the other party.

Whilst the debate could indeed rage on for 40 days and 40 nights it is best to advance.

It is the tendency of a lot of Brits to create a mini Britain in whatever region they set up- and whilst we won’t be opening a fish and chip shop called Bolga Britannia it is hard to escape the constant western cravings that each of us has. How the world survived without a reliable Wi-Fi connection remains a constant mystery. We have in the last week sampled much of the local food everything from the delicious red-red (fried plantain) to the suspicious banku (a fermented dough-esq ball in a bag). We have also ventured about: after experiencing Tamale in the first week, we have also visited the Northern area of Paga (home to the crocodiles and a slightly bored horse that is yours to ride in a circle for 20p).

As a group we have begun to form somewhat of a functional family- we have a cocktail made up of equal measures of banter, abuse and harmony; and importantly our working relationship is solid in its determination to make a real contribution to the project and to our own personal development. Hard as we try, even in the company of others we manage to end up sitting next to each other or getting the same taxi.

A diverse and complimentary group of UK and National Volunteers

This week has also seen the beginnings of real progress on the project- with certain budgets agreed and dates finalised, the Bolgatanga International Crafts and Arts Fair (BICAF) is really coming along well and TradeAID’s Facebook page is beginning to act as a hub for exciting development already attracting thousands of views worldwide. There is much left to be done and indeed already three weeks in, time is very much against us.

This week will no doubt also feature exciting advancements with a possible trip to other volunteer groups in Sandema, a more rural community in the north, as well as meetings with the basket weaving groups in the region of Vea. This coming week will also play host to Eid which is celebrated by the Islamic population of the country.

Life is best lived without preconception and in Ghana that is very much the best way to be in the classroom of life, if you take the time to listen, you stand to learn a lot from the lessons it throws up.

You stay classy Bolgatanga!

By Euan Steedman


  1. Really interesting to get your thoughts and feelings on the first three weeks - glad to see settling in is going well too!
    Kay - International Service Office UK