Friday, April 22, 2016

The Riches of Rural Ghana

ICS 2 cohort 3 team, different people with one goal.
After being chosen to be an ICS volunteer in Ghana for three months my biggest question was "Which project will I be involved in?" Finally, after a long wait, the verdict has been given: I will be working (with 9 other volunteers from different backgrounds) in Bolgatanga on the INCOME project, which helps the productive poor to create and manage viable ventures for sustained poverty reduction and wealth creation.

To be honest, my first reaction was anger and uncertainty. This is primarily based on the fact that the project is more linked to business and marketing which are two areas that I am not familiar with. I would rather work on other ICS projects, dealing with the rights of women and children, education or other issues that I feel more equipped to deal with. Secondly, because it was also difficult to understand the project itself as some of the information given was confusing. 

For these reasons I deeply thought about quitting the project and requested to be involved in another, simply because I would be out of my comfort zone. But isn't being out of your comfort zone the main reason that leads an individual to do a voluntary work in the first place? Indeed, this is the vision carry by ICS pushing us to leave family, friends and everything we know to challenge ourselves, and to create a change in both our lives and those of others.
ICS 2 Cohort 3 finding a bit of themselves in each other during a visit to Gowrie, a Basket Weaving community
The work of previous volunteers is a perfect example. Concerning INCOME Project, ICS volunteers had made an impact on the community in Bolgatanga in multiple aspects. For instance, they have pushed for Bolgatanga Fair Trade town status and it was achieved in the last quarter of 2015, after meeting all five trade town requirements. They have assisted TradeAid (the project partner) to organise the yearly Bolgatanga International Crafts and Art fair (BICAF), and product development training for the craft groups. These successes have had a big impact on the community, changing the mindsets of people in the rural region.

Indeed, there are multiple stereotypes and mindsets towards the Northern part of the country. There is a perception that a rural part of a country is a no man’s land where nothing good can come out from it, where people are limited or where we cannot find goods that can easily be found elsewhere. However, this idea is not only shared by Ghanaians but also among my colleagues from the UK volunteers before coming into Bolgatanga. We wouldn’t believe to find a lively town (even though Bolgatanga is the capital of the upper East Region) or find practical roads, but we did! We certainly based our perception on the single story, full of judgements and negativity. 

The successes of previous teams had an impact on the team itself and on every individual. Further, their successes were only possible because they realized the value of the community that they were in and embraced it, unwilling to change the essence of the community where they were. That is why we spent time visiting the town, meeting the producers, meeting the director of TradeAid before doing any work. Why? Because it is a necessity for volunteers to take the first step of understanding, respect the environment and the project, in order to be fully committed.
The team during community mapping, at the Bolgatanga Regional Hospital
Nevertheless, as a new team there are multiple challenges that we will need to overcome. Some exist within every cohort: working with people who do not necessarily share the same background as ours (academically or culturally). But also, we need to find a harmony within our group where people’s thoughts, ideas and beliefs won’t be overlooked but instead will be accepted, respected and embraced in order to succeed. Last but not least the main challenge will be to challenge ourselves by not being an obstacle to the project advancement.
During community visit to Vea Baskets weaving groups: Fun in diversity

Ghandi declared that the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others, the main challenge for all of us will be to keep in mind that we are not here for ourselves, but we are here to do our best to improve the livelihood of the crafts community. Not considering our individuals ambition, but jointly used it together for the benefit of others.

A member of the team is wearing the ICS T-shirt, proudly showing the ICS objective. 

Blogger: Mireille Kouyo
Photo Credit: Mireille Kouyo

1 comment:

  1. Good article Mireille. Keep it up and good luck in your new endeavor. Best regards. Innocent