Monday, February 13, 2017

‘A thousand miles begins with a single step’

In December 2015 I applied for ICS. I decided I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, do something different and hopefully make a difference. Although I enjoyed working for my local council, I had looked into voluntary work for a few months and after looking at quite a few options, I finally found International Service with ICS. This appealed to me because it promoted human rights which was really important to me, I could go to Africa which was something I’ve never done before, and I wouldn’t have to break the bank go, being set a fundraising target.

By July 2016 I was on my way to Tolon in Northern Ghana! Going away for three months I knew was going to be a big step. The longest time I had ever been away before was five days..... this was going to be a challenge! When I arrived in Ghana and I was with all the other volunteers, it was really easy to get along with them. They were like-minded people who have similar motivations as I had to going.
Attempting to cook at my host home!
Looking back now, I am so glad I did this. One of our main projects we worked on was helping communities register as co-operatives. From being on Ghanaian Radio, to working on livelihood projects, promoting sanitation awareness, and working with and learning from the Ghanaians every day, it was a great experience - like none I’ve ever had before. At one point, I was even singing a song that my host dad had wrote to my community; moments like that, seeing smiles on their faces singing it back to me was surreal but one I’ll always remember.

Me and my host Dad, Hasan
Of course it wasn’t always easy. Being away from my family was hard at times, and being in such a rural place was a big culture shock on arrival, and quite difficult to fully prepare for. However the volunteers on my placement looked out for each other and made it a lot easier. I found that once I started living with my host family and my Ghanaian roommate (who were both really helpful and friendly) and started getting stuck in working on project, I found my feet.

...attempting to dance!
I’ve never been a super-confident person so if I can do it, anyone can! I strongly feel that programmes like ICS are so positive for the volunteer’s personal development. I was even voted best all around volunteer by my team leader, so speaking from my own experience I had great personal development over the three months.

Me and my community
Another reason why I’m so glad I did ICS was it helped me gain some perspective and opened my mind about what a developing country is actually like. I was able to see through the stereotypes created back in the UK of developing countries. All the Ghanaians on my placement were supportive, positive, and would try to help you in any way they can. My host family had a brilliant work ethic which I genuinely feel inspired by. The children of my host home would always try to help me, and are always assisting their families. They would even try and carry my work bag to my room when I’d finished for the day! I felt like I built a really positive relationship with my host family.

I’d encourage anyone who wants to step out of their comfort zone and help a community to go for it! It’s a once in a life time opportunity to grab by both hands.

Harry Stephenson
Returned International Service ICS Volunteer
Tolon, Ghana

Monday, January 30, 2017

International Development: Degree VS on the ground

The room is stuffy and there is an annoying stream of light blocking my vision to the front of the lecture hall. 1,620 seconds left and I’ll be free, of course I’ll go to the library straight away to read on everything I have just learnt, I tell myself. As I learn about the independence of Ghana and how Kwame Kuma had his name inscribed in the history books as the first President of an independent African nation I wonder what life in Ghana is really like now in the 21st Century. I watch the screen and see the rise and fall of this leader, of the damn he promised that would change Ghanaian energy forever, and see how corruption was eating away at Ghana as soon as they flew that black star.
Then I think back to my degree title Development and Peace Studies and contemplate the current development and peace of the former Gold Coast. The multiple Millennium Development Goal reports I have read come to mind and I have more questions than answers. So in 2015 Ghana has a 76.6% literacy rate and they even have a national functioning literacy programme. But to what standard? And how much of the money assigned to such programmes through aid and government funds is being lost through the sieve of corruption? I ask myself.
Flash forward to my ICS Team Leader placement, where I am actually living in Ghana, rather than looking at a page of statistics and attempting to draw conclusions about how far this striving West African nation has achieved the MDGs.

Training workshop with income generating group
As I am welcomed into the Non-Formal Education Division I am blown away by the Division’s objectives of teaching 1 million people how to read and write through non-formal means and raising 1 million people out of poverty over the course of each four-year phase. It’s remarkable national development on the ground - I am excited to experience the facts and figures I once read about. Then I’m presented with cold reality. This national development program has not lifted 1 million people out of poverty, or created 1 million literate people at the conclusion of their most recent phase. The World Bank cut funding in 2008 after reviewing and visiting the work on the ground. I later come to realise after a few months of working with NFED Tolon, that on average 10% of the literacy classes held create literates after a 4-year period, and I can’t help but think why so much is going wrong.

My degree sold dreams about development in Ghana, more so to the people who were promised that they’d learn to read and write, people that have told me that they are living on 2-10 Cedi (approx. £0.40 - £2.00) a week to provide for themselves and their families. If the work of NFED were to be translated to statistics I wonder how those stats would read. I wonder if in the Ghanaian Millennium Development Reports stats and data such as these were ever inputted at all, and if it made an impact on the picture to be painted of modern Ghanaian development.

The truth of the matter is; working within the international development sector is far more complex than I could grasp as a university student.

Having said all of this, I still believe in international development, but now I understand it is slow, and cannot be understood through only statistics and reports. I understand that in countries where corruption is ripe and unemployment is high, many people work in government departments to ensure a steady paycheque not necessary to inflict positive change. In an environment where ‘tipping’ for the most routine procedure (a police man stopping you at a road block), why would you expect to work in any other way?

The International Service ICS NFED Tolon team
In summary, my ideas where challenged and replaced with global awareness I didn’t know I needed. What I learnt on paper wasn’t met in reality. Having said all of this I acknowledge I lived and worked in a tiny part of Ghana, and do not claim to understand the country. What I do understand is myself, how much I have learnt and I how much I know will change as a result of this placement.

Working on a wealth generation project with NFED Tolon has been the greatest experience. Conducting baseline research into the obstacles preventing growth, and delivering capacity building training workshops with the income generating groups (IGG) is one of the most worthwhile things I’ve ever done. Looking at the bigger picture I see obstacles both internal and external. I also see women gaining financial independence and being able to provide food for their families. When talking to some of the IGG members they told me they are wishing, praying and aiming to make 100 Cedi (approx. £20) a week. I think back to my days of working in Marks and Spencer as a University student, when I wouldn’t have done an extra shift if I were only to earn £20.

When I thought of this throughout my placement, the reoccurring thought in my mind was; ‘come on, you need to put in the work hard to make a difference to these women for that £20’. 

Wumi Nuga
Returned International Service ICS Volunteer
Tolon, Ghana

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Why should the developed world lead combating climate change?

In Ghana I was struck by the difference between the developed and developing world. It is clear to me that if the world is to tackle climate change, the West must lead. I have written to my local MP, Jim Cunningham, and the Minister of State for Climate Change and Industry, Nick Hurd, calling on them to pursue ambitious targets to reduce emissions. Here’s why.

Last November, in Paris, representatives of 195 countries met in the hope of agreeing dramatic reductions to carbon emissions, and limiting global warming to no more than 2˚ over pre-industrial levels. What they walked away with was a historic agreement, built around Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, through which each country identified its own “ambitious” targets to reduce emissions and limit warming.

There has been much criticism of the agreement; contributions are voluntary, and many commentators doubt that the contributions will go far enough. Yet such flexibility is vital if climate change is to be tackled at all. Despite the huge weight of scientific consensus, previous attempts to limit emissions have failed, largely because of attempts to impose uniform, rigid limits on all parties. Many more developed nations backed uniform targets, as they saw climate change as a problem effecting everyone, and for which everyone should take equal responsibility. Yet the Global North countries have historically been responsible for the majority of emissions, and are simultaneously more able to move away from dependence of fossil fuels, by virtue of their advanced economies and infrastructure

The need for recycling - Ghanaian drain blocked by waste.
In the developing world, the reality is very different. One of the things which struck me most strongly while living and working in Ghana earlier this year was that the country could not afford to reduce its emissions, and does not have the capacity to do so significantly. If a nation struggles to keep the power on at the best of times, an attempt to move away from fossil fuels as the primary source of electricity is going to have huge economic consequences. If the government lacks the money to provide large-scale public transport infrastructure, the citizens must rely on cars and mini-busses which are, more often than not, old and inefficient. If people’s diets are primarily rice and maize based, there is little capacity to reduce methane output by eating less meat.

Here’s an example that struck me. Many, perhaps most Ghanaians do not have access to safe drinking water via domestic supply, something that most of us take for granted (indeed, the UN recognises access to clean safe drinking water as a human right). The country simply does not have the infrastructure to make that possible through domestic supply. Instead, drinking water comes in small, relatively inexpensive sachets of 500ml. This is a country in the tropics; the average temperature ranges between 21˚c and 28˚c. While I was living there, I often drank eight sachets of water a day. Those empty sachets had come from somewhere and go somewhere. It has been estimated that Ghana generates around 230 tonnes of waste every day, just from water sachets, and only around 2% of this is recycled. That means that each day, over 200 tonnes of plastic need to be produced by burning fossil fuels, just to ensure everyone can access clean water.

Ghana has little scope for reducing greenhouse emissions, unlike more industrialised nations, where people fly frequently and eat a lot of meat. Indeed, it would be reasonable for Ghanaians to call for a significant increase in their emissions, to allow for better standards of living, improved infrastructure, and more varied diets. To demand that Ghana meets the same targets as the USA would be deeply unfair, and would likely increase the inequality seen between developed and developing nations.

Constructing a volleyball net from used water sachets.
L-R Abdul-Muhsin Jackson, Martin Farrugia and Cece Abotsi
Added to all that, it will be countries like Ghana which are hardest hit by a changing global climate. Desertification will wreak havoc on the agricultural production of countries across west, central and east Africa, while nations Indonesia and the Philippines will suffer from rising sea levels.  This will cause food shortages in countries where many people live at subsistence levels, it will lead to population movements, putting further pressure on public services, and causing friction between ethnic groups with long histories of animosity. Global warming could be the spark which restarts the civil wars that dominated Africa in the the second half of the 20th century.

The developing world is not responsible for most of the worlds emissions, nor is able to do anything near as much as the developed world to combat this problem. And if we fail to halt global warming, the global south, which is least able to handle the effects, will be hardest hit. With all that in mind, an agreement built around Nationally Determined Contributions was a breakthrough, as it represented an agreement which was sensitive to the different needs and capabilities of countries. It is of course true that these non-binding contributions will be weaker than agreements with binding instruments to enforce them, but a weak agreement must surely be recognised as better than no agreement at all. It is at least a beginning, and it is one that we in the West must take the lead in developing. I am calling on MPs from all parties to set aside divisions to tackle this pressing issue. I hope you will do the same.

Jack Fleming
Returned International Service ICS Volunteer
Tamale, Ghana

Update: On 17 November 2016, the UK became the 111th country to ratify the Paris climate change agreement. The challenge now is to meet, and ideally to exceed, the obligations of that agreement. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Business and International Development: A Force for Good

After several internships in large corporations and years at a top university that steered students towards careers in the private sector, I returned from my ICS placement in Palestine with a new interest in international development.

Snowy Ramallah
I came home with an appreciation of the world’s international development challenges, such as access to healthcare, water and education, and equal access to justice. I was determined to dedicate my career to making the world a better, fairer place in any way I could.

Fast forward a few years, and I find myself working in Corporate Social Responsibility, which means working in and with companies to promote and implement good, responsible practice. This can be anything from recycling and using green energy, supply chains that abide by legal norms and standards, diverse and inclusive workforces, or tackling global health issues like HIV and malnutrition. This list goes on.

Some are cynical about companies’ CSR policies, and to be honest, this is often the case when a company aggressively pushes its CSR agenda right after – or in anticipation of – a disaster.

Some think that companies are only interested in CSR because they want to sell more. This is true, too. However, this is not a reason to dismiss CSR programmes, but rather embrace companies that engage in them.

When companies are presented with the business case for engaging in CSR, it’s hard for them to argue against: acting responsibly, if done effectively, make companies and brands more attractive to consumers, investors and markets, thereby increasing brand image and impact, and company sales and profits.

Businesses are an incredible force for change: they have the power to influence positive behaviour change and make a tangible contribution to breaking down barriers in solving international development challenges. Businesses – both multinational and local – should never be overlooked in international development in favour of grassroots organisations, NGOs, multilateral organisations and should always have a seat at the table.

Amma Greenstreet, returned International Service ICS volunteer in Palestine 

If you're a returned International Service ICS volunteer and want to blog about your experiences, 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Barriers to Education for Girls in Northern Ghana

International Service believes in a “rights based approach to development, working with local partners to support and empower women, people living with a disability, young people, families and people living with HIV/AIDS.” The partner project that I worked with in Ghana, Create Change, aimed to empower girls in rural communities near Tamale and support them through education so that they could access quality education up to a university level and enjoy many of the rights and experiences that we in the UK take for granted. The ICS programme gave me the opportunity to contribute to sustainable development in three local communities (Dungu, Damankuyili and Wayamba) by conducting baseline data collection about the barriers that families and teachers in these communities face in accessing and delivering quality education to all children and the particular challenges that girls face. The other main aspect of our placement was to raise awareness of the importance of education in these communities through radio campaigns and community sensitisations.

Kathryn and participants of a baseline data research
project on children not in school
 It is widely acknowledged that education underpins the development process and it is one of the core building blocks to economic, political and social growth. Education relieves poverty and encourages the growth of both formal (falls within taxation and other regulatory regimes and are recorded in public records and accounts) and informal economies. Literacy and numeracy skills allow self-employed people such as farmers to raise income and there is a positive stigma attached to having an education. When we spoke to parents in three communities who had not been educated, many of them told us that they wanted their children to go to school so that they would not ‘be cheated’ in the future. Also, an overwhelming majority of the parents when asked about their ambitions for their children stated that they wanted them to become nurses, doctors, and teachers – jobs within the formal economy.  This aim to jump to careers within the formal economy is a positive shift. These types of jobs offer a regular and regulated income and the taxation will give the government more money to reinvest into its economy. It also demonstrated that parents understand the importance of education in securing what are seen as ‘good jobs’ and this ambition will hopefully mean that they will try their hardest to keep their children in education.

Despite the fact that members of the communities we visited understood and appreciated the importance of education, there are still huge barriers that need to be overcome if the children in these communities are to fully have their right to education. The main barriers fall under financial difficulties. Although in Ghana, basic education is free, there are still financial obligations to putting your child through an education:

Student making a football net out of pure water sachets
  • Uniform 
  • Exercise books
  • Text books
  • Management Committee (SMC) fees
  • Parent Teacher Association (PTA) fees
  • Additional Levies

There are high levels of unemployment in the communities which meant that parents were not always able to support all of their children through education and these costs are necessary for their children to receive a quality education.

Girls often face additional challenges in these communities when trying to access quality education, however, they were not all challenges that I was expecting. One barrier which I was taught at University to be a huge restriction was the lack of access to safe and private toilet facilities. Where schools do not have adequate toilet facilities girls are more likely to miss school during menstruation because they do not feel comfortable with a lack of sanitary facilities. Our project partner - Create Change – has made massive steps to preventing this from being a barrier to education by providing toilets and hygiene facilities in the schools that they work with but this is still a barrier in other communities and countries that needs addressing. However, there were some unexpected barriers that girls face that are specific to communities in Ghana. During data collection it became clear that it is common for girls to be married off in an attempt to avoid family shame when they get pregnant outside of marriage or even the risk of promiscuity. This results in many young girls being taken out of school either because they are now housewives or to participate in a practice was called Kayaye. This is the process of a woman leaving her rural setting to move to a bigger city such as Accra and Kumasi, to compete in small trade and porting. None of the volunteers from the UK were aware of this as a barrier to education however the Ghanaian volunteers were able to explain to us that girls will participate in this practice to earn money to buy things in preparation for marriage – such as kitchen items. This hinders their ability to access education because they see Kayaye as a means to earn money but they are unaware that if they stayed in education they could have better paid jobs in better living and working conditions.

International Service ICS volunteers working with Create Change 

This blog has only highlighted a few of the issues that members of communities in Northern Ghana face when accessing quality education, and there is much more that needs to be done to hit global targets regarding quality education such as the Sustainable Development Goals. However my experience volunteering with International Service and working with stakeholders in these communities has shown me that there is a positive attitude towards education and there is a commitment to education that was amazing to see. Students often arrived early to school to attend ‘silence hours’ to complete homework and they have ambitions to complete Senior High School and enter into professional careers. With the right resources I’m convinced that Create Change in partnership with International Service can make a massive change and I encourage everyone reading this to check out the Create Change blog to see what the current cohort of volunteers there are doing now.

Kathryn Bell, recently returned International Service ICS volunteer in Tamale, Ghana 

If you're a returned International Service ICS volunteer and want to blog about your experiences, 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A New Beginning for International Service Ghana Alumni

Hi everyone!

We're really happy to be writing our first blog post as the International Service Ghana Alumni. It's necessary to briefly say what we have started and why...

Approaching the end of this year, International Service’s Country Director (Mr. Rene), ICS Programme Manager (Piso) and a Board Member of the International Service Alumni Ghana (Shaibu) appealed to returned volunteers to come together and have a formidable Alumni in Ghana running. This appeal was necessary because over the past years the work of International Service Alumni in a formal sense has been limited. An election of Interim Executives to steer the affairs of our Ghana Alumni for a period of 6 months was conducted. The task given to the Executive Body was first and foremost to put together a working constitution and a solid database of all members.

After brainstorming and drafting our ideas we officially held a meeting that sought to direct the Executive Body on a path that will lead to a solid and effectively running Alumni Body. Our first meeting was held in the International Service office in October this year. We agreed a plan of action, structure and responsibilities, deciding upon when to start working on the constitution and a time schedule to finish it. Our first meeting was exciting and promising as we had in our midst the Country Director and a couple of Programme Officers from International Service who made valuable suggestions and advice.

We have also been working closely with the Board of Alumni and other Alumni Bodies under the ICS programme here in Ghana, as well as International Service staff to put our ideas into action and they have been very helpful. Richard Poole recently joined us in our second Board Meeting and made some valuable contributions and they have been very helpful as far as the finalization of our constitution is concerned, he also brought to light experience from International Service UK Alumni.

Now, several weeks down the line, we are getting into the swing of things with some exciting achievements and some events to be revealed very soon. Firstly, the Alumni recently selected some of its members to be part of International Service’s ICS assessment processes as Selectors and they performed incredibly well. It also offered those selected members the opportunity to learn and gain experience in interviewing and assessing candidates. Two of our members also recently represented International Service Alumni in Accra to mark the International Volunteer’s Day.

We as a body are mainly driven by our love of the people we worked with in country and our ambition to continue to support them and their communities.

So keep an eye on this blog for all our exciting revelations and make sure to share with friends and family! We hope that a dedicated Alumni Service will provide International Service Ghanaian Volunteers with the motivation to continue their interest in International Service and its wonderful work.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Youth Summit 2015

On Saturday 12th September, hundreds of young people gathered in London at The Youth Summit to help shape the future of International Development.

World leaders have agreed a new set of Global Goals to eradicate poverty globally. The Youth Summit was a chance for young people in the UK to voice their views on global issues. As the next generation of active citizens, young people are crucial in making these goals achievable, relatable, and making sure the world delivers on them.

A conference designed by young people for young people; 300 International Citizen Service volunteers gathered including International Service volunteers who took on the role of Youth Reporters, providing official media coverage all day.

Josh Ho, International Service alumnus spent the day filming and editing content for the official Youth Summit channel. Starting his day recording an interview with Justine Greening, here’s what he had to say: "The Youth Summit had a brilliant energy, even Justine Greening and Mark Lowcock commented on that vibe in the interviews I did. Having a camera was an excuse to listen to other young people out there too and it was really clear that there's a mass of passionate young people connected through ICS."

Our volunteers attended some engaging workshops, run by a large variety of UK charities: Youth Climate Coalition’s workshop on building a green future, discussions on Child and Forced Marriage by #Youth for Change and the Wonder Foundation’s workshop on Local action for global change.  

Lucy Giuliano volunteered with us in Burkina Faso. Attending a workshop to explore storytelling through social media, she gives her rule of three: 

From left to right, our youth reporters on the day
Jonathan Fowle, Lucy Giuliano and Aminata Fofana
  '     Be compelling
  Be captivating
  Be passionate.’

‘‘Storytelling differs to reporting. You need to immediately grab your viewer’s attention before they go and watch a goat video instead. Focus on one issue, speak with authority and assume your audience has no prior knowledge of it.’’

You can read her full overview of the workshop on the Youth Summit Blog:

Aminata Fofana, another Burkina Faso volunteer shared highlights from Our Goals: The Youth Agenda, chaired by BBC Free Speech's Rick Edwards. Focussing on Education, Employment, Gender Equality and Climate Change we learnt that only 2 percent of women in the world are global change makers. Once you educate women, you empower them to contribute to all spheres of society.

Find out other volunteer highlights from the session here:

Josh Finn
, who recently returned from an ICS placement in Ghana found himself more motivated and driven:

"It was a great feeling to spend time talking to young people who have the same views and opinions on the way things are in the world and how they can be changed. Sitting and talking to multiple different people, has reinvigorated me to want to try and do even more to raise awareness." 

Ruth Clark
 who volunteered in Bolivia, told us how discussing Global Goal 5 for gender equality helped put into perspective the work she did on placement, providing financial and employability knowledge to mothers from marginalised communities.  

"Out of 193 heads of government only 13 are women – for me this generally reflects the overall inequality and lack of opportunities for women across the world. I was really inspired to hear stories from other ICS volunteers about women challenging gender inequality in their communities"
Callum Northcote, volunteered to run the stall at the Youth Summit 
What now? 

The Youth Summit ended with an inspiring message from United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. 

"We need your energy, ideas and initiatives, we need you to push governments for results and we need you achieve success in your own right."
As 1.8 billion, we are the largest generation of youth in history, it’s now up to us to turn plans into action and be the generation that make the Global Goals a reality.
Take a look at the Global Goals in depth here: http://www.globalgoals.org/

How can you make these relevant to you in your role as an Active Citizen? 

Aamirah Patel, Alumni Coordinator at International Service