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

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