Friday, July 29, 2016

Laughing, Dancing, Working

Laughing, Dancing, Working

So here we are, on week four already. The team have been together working hard for a month. I can't say it hasn't been tough because we have definitely faced some challenges. However, the team grow stronger day by day. Here's some evidence:

I still remember it all as though it was just yesterday when I was placed on the ICS project to work under the integrated community empowerment programme (INCOME). It was a Thursday evening in July 2016, when together with my team, led by Abbie and Foster we touched on the soil of Bolgatanga to work with TradeAid Integrated, a local partner in the region. When I heard I was placed with the INCOME project to work with craft groups, I was full of excitement not fully understanding the scope of work I was about to deal with.

However, being excited about the prospects of being able to learn a few things from these crafts groups was energizing enough. Owing to the fact that I am a student of development I have always held the opinion that effective development can only take place when people are empowered to effect change around them instead of the trickle-down theory as proposed by the great humourist Will Rogers.

   A life in Bolgatanga is one I have always imagined owing to the fact that I was born here but never got the chance to grow up here. However, I still hold Bolgatanga in high regards as my birth town. As the days and weeks are passing an understanding of what this project is all about. As I read comprehensive reports from previous cohorts there became much clarity on how to move forward. Big Up to the previous cohorts, my team leaders and not forgetting my own team members for bringing me up to speed on what is expected of me.

   Adjusting to life here would have been a great difficulty if not for the simple reason that I have a great home with my host parents Mr and Mrs John Apokerah, who have been great at blending me into a somewhat strange society. I would like to say Mposeya meaning thank you. I was really interested in the host family situation at first because there is no place like home and so the question was will this place actually feel like home.  I can honestly say at this moment that my host home really is the ideal home and I have fully integrated, so much so that people cannot differentiate between us. This is shown when people visit the family who speak to me in frafra with the mind that I am really one of them, which I consider myself one of them now anyway.

    Bolgatanga as the capital of the upper east region, one would have thought that, being the smallest region in the country, life would have been all bread and butter, but life here has been one of a sweet & sour kind of thing. A town of varied religious and economic potentials, one would have thought that the living conditions would have been better.  It is estimated that 80% percent of the population of this region is below the poverty line compared to the national average of 66%.  The main economic activity of the population is agriculture, with 85% being farmers. As a result of the short rainy season, a good portion of the population here engage in crafts like smock weaving, leather work and fabric/basket weaving. This is used as a crucial part of their livelihood during dry season. However, even with the economic potential of the crafts sector the Upper East Region is the second poorest among the 10 regions of Ghana. This is the reason that TradeAid and the INCOME project work with these groups to create a fair market environment.

As my mum always says “if you want to develop the world its best done when individuals are empowered to take up their own livelihood”.

I would like to say a big thank you to International Service and TradeAid for this opportunity. Yene wa sung hoo (God bless you)

As I am writing this we are already three weeks into our ICS journey in Bolgatanga, Ghana as part of Team TradeAID, or "Team Selfie" as we've now been named. What a whirlwind of a three weeks it has been. Spending three months in a completely new environment like this is a massive challenge for anyone, personally this is a massive deal for me considering the longest I have ever been away for is something like three weeks and It's never been out of Europe! Adjusting to the different culture, heat, food and way of life is still ongoing but getting to see an entirely new way of life is very intriguing and interesting. Being able to push myself to try all these new things that are way out of my comfort zone is such an achievement for me.

Being part of the TradeAID team is a great honor. We are a twelve strong team consisting of five UK V's and five ICV's who are all being steered in the right direction from our two team leaders Abbie and Foster.
We are working on TradeAID's INCOME project. The project looks at helping the poorer people of the craft sector so that they can create and manage viable ventures within the sector.  During our first week or so things were a bit slow, which is to be expected when a group of what are essentially strangers come together to work on a brand new project. Team dynamics began to pick up as soon as soon as we got into things. Still limited to what we could do due to a lack of team budget we powered through and planned out our 12 week plan and designated certain tasks to who ever wanted them. Things are looking great. We had a minor setback when we took our plan to the director of TradeAID, Mr Nicholas, to be reviewed, there were a few things he didn't want done anymore but as the saying goes we kept calm and carried on ;)
The plan consists of some great things that I am really excited about. One in particular is the apprenticeship scheme we will be piloting. The scheme will select three young people from the more deprived areas of Bolgatanga to take part in a three month program which will teach them business skills as well as a particular trade. This is extremely exciting because for us as a team we potentially have the chance to change someone’s life for the better and who wouldn't want to say that they've done that?
I can't wait to get involved in some of the training for the crafts workers as I am hoping that I can be hands on and actually learn a thing or two myself or even make a few things that I could take back home to the UK and boast about.
But most of all I am really excited about being part of the organization of BICAF (Bolgatanga International Crafts and Arts Fair) unfortunately our cohort will not be here in December to attend. To say we had a part to play in such a prestigious event for the Upper East Region isn't too bad though. Hopefully by the time the next cohort gets here in September we will be well on our way to a brilliant and successful event and have a lot more vendors signed up.
All in all I am just very excited about the rest of my time here in Bolgatanga.

So as you can see, we have a mix of emotions, a mix of personalities and a mix of cultures but one thing that ties us all together is dedication to this project. I can't begin to explain how proud of this team I am. I truly feel like we are family. Keep yourself up to date with all the family craziness :D

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