Monday, 21 May 2018

International Day of the Family

by Matthew Wood 

The 15th May 2018 marks the International Day of the Family.  The word ‘Family’ is used so generically that it can often be difficult to discern what ‘Family’ truly means.  Culturally, the word ‘Family’ can be interpreted very differently depending on where you were born and raised.  

So who is your family and why do they matter so much?


  In the UK ‘Family’ is determined very differently to here in Ghana.  In the UK they tend to use the nuclear family system, your family is; you, your parents and your siblings.  Once you move out, get married or have children you then have your own little ‘Family’.  Extended families consist of lots of smaller, autonomous, families.  They do not so much as rely on one another to function and survive.  Each works towards its own growth and development, often unaffected by the actions of the other wider family members. They may move cross country, inter-country or even cut contact with other family members for weeks, months or even years at a time. A by-product of this way of structuring ‘Family’ is that you get widespread family all over the country and world, lots of smaller family groups and a lot less communication. 


  In contrast, a Ghanaian relies on it’s ‘extendedness’ to function.  Each member, from Great Grandparents to Great Grandchildren, has an important role in contributing to the greater family unit.  Ghanaian families are often a lot larger than families in the UK.  This can be due to a number of factors, one of these being that Polygamy is legal and widely practiced in many families in Ghana, one husband, multiple wives.  Culturally, If a man can afford to care for multiple wives then there is a possibility that he will marry more than one wife and take on the responsibility of caring for them financially, physically and emotionally.

  For example, in my host family the house father has 5 wives.  Three live in the complex with us and the other 2 are housed in other compounds in the area.  All of these women have their own children with their own families.  The biggest cultural difference is that those children have a duty to serve and care for their parents until they no longer can.  Therefore all of these small families live with or near the host father and his wives.  As a result, the complex we live in houses 27 family members originating from the host father and his wives.  They are all autonomous and function individually, but their individual efforts help power the greater machine that is the family as a whole. This way of viewing family fosters strong communication and loyalty whilst limiting the families independence.  Some members will rely other members to care for them at the cost of their own livelihood.  

Roles within a family:

  One key fundamental difference culturally, between the UK and Ghana, is the role of family members.  In the UK there is a high chance that both the women and men have the opportunity to work and / or take care of their family. For the most part, children spend their time at school, doing chores, playing outside or investing in electronic games of one sort or another.

   In Ghana this can look different.  Specific gender roles are usually followed in order to achieve all the necessary tasks in any given day.   In short, the men earn money to support the family, take care of the property and do any required landscaping.  On the other hand, the women will cook, clean and take care of the family.  The young girls will help take care of the home and care for their younger siblings, whilst young boys will help earn money by working and learning their trade.  
Throughout all of this the community elders invest in the younger members of their family by demonstrating how to live, love and care for their family and the community in general.  Although elders in the UK are respected, they do not hold such an essential commanding role as in Ghana.

My conclusion:

  Although families may vary from culture to culture, I have come to realise that their fundamental goal always stays true: to love, care and light the way for future and current generations.  
  Some cultures foster families that are split into smaller nuclear groups, within the wider family. Parents develop their children with the knowledge that, eventually, they will release them to pursue their own adventures.
  Others cultures, seek to develop one  another, within the family as a whole, investing in younger generations, then keeping that wisdom close to home. This approach sees value in the knowledge that each family member plays a part in their families greater adventure. 

 Whichever way your family approaches life, just know, there is no right or wrong way to be ‘Family’. Whether your family is few or many, we should learn to enjoy one another’s company and find joy in the time we spend together.

Monday, 14 May 2018


International Service is a charity organisation that focus on international development through the work of teams of 18-25 year old volunteers from the U.K. and Ghana who are placed with international service through the ICS programme. PAGSUNG is an organisation partnered with International Service to carry out projects in sustainable development through their work with women.

PAGSUNG in dagbani means good womanand the organisation consists of women from the shea nut pickers and processors association.The PAGSUNG organisation is focused on empowering women by providing them with a sustainable livelihood and educating them in key areas of their choosing such as money management, language skills and marketing.

Here is an introduction to our team in counterparts:



Our team leaders Cat and Nanna were both ICS volunteers before taking on their own cohorts. For Cat this is her second time being a team leader but for Nanna its a first (not that you can tell). Although this team has presented challenges, such as using the entirety of the medical float at least three times over by the fourth week, they have remained positive and helped everyone to achieve the team goals. Each of them brings their own unique style of leadership that all members of the team respond to and enjoy; as a team we are lucky to have them and couldn't imagine our volunteering experience with anyone else at the helm.  



Hattie has found a love for the markets here in Tamale and under Matildas tutelage has become a champion negotiator getting clothes and fabric for less than half the original cost.  Hattie is also one of our communication leads and has miraculously managed to triple the number of followers Pagsung has on twitter. Matilda may come across as shy but when crossed by a taxi driver trying to charge to high a fee she comes to life and quickly puts them in their place. She takes no nonsense but can always be seen with a smile on her face. 



Hafsa and Azara are definitely the life of any party and though the group has tried, no consensus has been reached on which one of them is the loudest. They were made to be each others counterparts because not only could no one else in the group get a word in edgeways but no one else could keep up with their either of their dance moves (which has been proven by a dancing competition). Opinionated, passionate, hysterical these are just a few of their shared characteristics which make them invaluable to the team.



Lizzie holds a special position within the team as she is the only one with any artistic ability so her talents are often loaned out to people for their various projects. Fatty on the other hand has quickly become one of the teams best pubic speakers, delivering raising awareness sessions in the local language of dagbani to the Pagsung women. We greatly appreciate both of their skills and wouldn't be able to run the project half as effectively without them.



Zara and Gifty both have a love for food and discussing it has been a major point of cultural exchange between the pair. As of now they have realised that Zara is not a fan of TZ but mostly enjoys everything else Ghana has to offer and that Gifty is a fan of crisps, especially pringles, but has an aversion to pizza as she hates cheese. Other than this Gifty can often be found shepherding Zara around town trying to balance not losing her with avoiding her getting hit by cars, so far this has been successful but well see what happens by the end of the 10 weeks.



Zak and Luke have quickly become the best of friends during their placement and the two are generally inseparable. They're so close that even though their host family provided them with a room each to use they decided to share so that they can have long discussions before bed. Always up for a joke the two of them bring some much needed light hearted fun to the group and are always found making others laugh, even at their own expense. Although this project will only last 10 weeks we are sure that Zak and Luke will be lifelong friends, especially as Zaks already planning his visit to the UK as the project continues.                                       


Matt and Jonathan live in a house that by their description has about 40 people who either live in the house or come for daily visits. The two of them are enjoying being a part of an extended family and all of the chaos that goes along with it. Jonathan, although a man of very few words, always has something nice to say about everyone and is the perfect person go to person to cheer people up. Matt is the group organiser, very adeptly keeping everyone on task, leading by example. Anyone feeling short of motivation has to look no further than to ask for his help to feel inspired about the task they are doing.



Rukaya, Maite and Esther have all been incredibly flexible and adaptable due to the odd numbers of volunteers and are great assets to the team.  Rukaya is the mother of the group always taking care of everyone and making sure we all have what we need. Maite is the most experienced volunteer having undertaken similar placements in the past so she is the person to go to with any questions about volunteering and living away from home. Esther is the voice of reason within the group and can always be relied upon to think of a practical solution to any problem. Overall they are invaluable to the team and we are lucky to have them.

Friday, 4 May 2018

My First Encounter at my Host Home

By Fatahiya Alhassan   

My first encounter with my host Mom is a day that I will not forget. When she came to pick up me and my UK counterpart Lizzie, from the hostel, my first thought was that she may be strict, because of the fact that she was quiet. I thought this until we settled in her house.

When we arrived at the host home she introduced herself to us. After this she asked a girl in the house to come and help us take our bags to the guest room. She then asked us to follow her to our room, when we reached the room she introduced the girl as her daughter. We spent some time chatting and told each other our names.  We soon discovered the room we were given to stay in included a toilet and bathroom. This was a very pleasant surprise. We then took a bath and rested.

After some time, the house Mom asked me to call my counterpart, Lizzie.  I called her and we went and sat together around the dining table. To our surprise, she brought out rice and stew and we all sat together as a family and ate. Her words at the dining table made me like her even more, she gave us advice and we spoke a real family would do.

After we had finished, she asked us to join her in the hall to watch a movie with her. When it was late she wished us good night and went to her room. It was 9pm when we also left and went to our room.

It is often that our first impression of a person influences us, but, you cannot judge a person by his or her appearance without having first lived alongside them. I look forward to doing this throughout my placement in Tamale, Ghana.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Highlights from my First Week Volunteering with International Service.

By Lizzie Fisher

Tamale, North Ghana.
Tuesday 17th April

When I first stepped off the plane, in Tamale, North Ghana, it was hot and sunny, even the breeze was stuffy like walking into hot room.  Immediately, I noticed how colourful it was and how the women’s clothes stood out compared the volunteers getting off the plane.

Saturday 21st April.

This is when I first met my host Mum and her 13 year daughter, Lydia. I later discovered that she has a elder daughter who is 16 and schooling away, her husband is also working in Ghana’s capital, Accra, which is in the south. Both the mother and daughter are so nice and very understanding, although sometimes we find it difficult to understand each other. The food they make for me is also very nice but I became very ill for my first few days so I did not eat much.

As soon as we had gotten to the host home and settled in, I decided to have a look around the town and market, there were so many stalls containing the same things like clothes, shoes, jewellery, and food. The paths are small and sometimes hard to walk through, although, it is beautiful and amazing to see all the beautiful things being sold. Unfortunately, there are no bins so the rubbish in the surrounding area causes it to smell. This is accompanied by the smell from the meat sellers. Meat is chopped and placed on the market stalls, uncovered. There was also a cow’s head on full show. This was shocking as it was very different to any market in England.

Friday 20th April

Meeting my In-Country counterpart, Fatahiya, was exciting as I was finally meeting the person I will be living and working with for the next ten weeks. She is a lovely girl and has a extremely promising future. Our team works very well together, despite our different backgrounds and skills. We have achieved a lot in our first weeks. 

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Falling in love

Human interaction

Living in rural Ghana you quickly learn that life here is very simple and consists of human interaction. Greetings and conversations are an important aspect of life here whereas in the UK, people are absorbed in technology.
The Elderly mans home

Human interaction in the UK is not quite like it is in Ghana. Some days I leave the office later than 4pm, on those days as I’m walking home, I meet an elderly man sat outside his home. In a plastic green chair lent against his blue house, he asks how my day has been and how I am doing. This has almost become routine. Every evening that I am home later than 6pm, he is sat outside his gate and I walk down the street expecting to meet him and prepare to engage in conversation with him. I’m almost sad when I don’t see him.
Before arriving in Ghana, I had no idea what to expect from the community I'd be living in. I didn't realise people would be so welcoming and the elderly man has become a home comfort.

The people
Being Muslim, I am mostly greeted with ‘As-Salaam-Alaikum’, the Arabic greeting meaning ‘Peace be unto you’. This is a general greeting amongst Muslims all over the world. Tamale has a majority Muslim population, so this is how I am generally greeted, compared to the other UKV's and my counter-parts. On a daily basis and by complete strangers I am greeted this way and as we are now in week six, I am beginning to realise that I will not experience the feeling of being greeted and having a conversation with a stranger in the street.
In the UK, I tend to walk around with my headphones in and in my own world. It is very different here in Ghana, you can be greeted by anyone at anytime and more often than not, it leads to a conversation.

Men Congregated for the last prayer of the day:
Isha Salah
Prayers are also a daily part of life for Muslims. In the UK, the call to prayer is not recited through a speaker for the community to hear nor do Muslims pray outside. Everything is enclosed within the four walls of a mosque. Due to the call of prayer not being announced out loud, Muslims across the UK follow a timetable for the five daily prayers. Each household will have a calendar of each month and the times for prayer. When I first arrived in Ghana, I downloaded one on online for Tamale, having no idea that I'd never even look at it.
No matter where I am, I can hear the call to prayer and so I always know when to pray without needing a timetable. I now walk along the streets reciting along with the Imam (leader of a mosque). There are even provisions for women to pray at mosque. Trade comes to a halt while men and women align the streets and pray in congregation.
No identity?
I am a Pakistani, so I am fairly brown in complexion. ‘Slaminga’ means ‘white person’. Children refer to white people as ‘slaminga’ unless they know the name of the person. Being fairly brown in complexion, I find it amusing that I am also referred to as a ‘slaminga’. Not only am I called a ‘slaminga’ but it is also generally assumed that I am Arab and that I can speak Arabic. I can be flagged down in a street and asked to speak Arabic and this has almost become a regular occurrence. In the UK I stand out as being Asian but here, I am either a 'slaminga' or Arab.
At a local school some of the students wanted a picture with me


Sanyia Kausar

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

First Impressions

Amaaraba! Translated from the language spoken here- Dagbani, Welcome!

Isi, Akosua, Cath, Saniya, Becky, Mohammed, Ben, Ahfsa, Alhassan, Maya, Hassan

We are cohort 3/5 for PAGSUNG in Tamale, Ghana, and have already spent two amazing weeks out of the ten settling in and finding our feet which was desperately needed after our 12h journey from London Heathrow to Accra, the capital of Ghana. We then flew north to Tamale the next morning after a few hours of sleep.

Accra from the sky                       

The smells in Tamale and Accra are different. When you are in the plane waiting for the doors to open, it doesn't occur to you that there will be a different smell, but as you take your first step out, the first breath of tangy, spicy, humid Accra air rushes over you like thick honey. What is this? Last time you were outside, it was icy cold, raining and 4 degrees in London.

Then, as the plane that takes us from Accra to Tamale descends, we see small clusters of round huts surrounded by fields of brassy sand. It is harmattan, dry season. The air here is dry and thick with dust, less spicy and tropical. The drive from Tamale airport to our hostel is unforgettable, this is the first Ghanaian daylight that we have seen. School Children in the national brown and warm yellow uniform migrate to school, mothers walk with children tied to their backs with a strip of colourful material, though it is early, the coolest hours of the day are vibrant with people, colours, sounds and activity as people go about their tasks.
Approaching the centre of Tamale, the streets liven up even more and businesses spill out and border the road, selling fabrics, food and electricals. Women, heavy loads on their heads, sell goods to those in slowing cars; goats and sheep wander on and along the road seemingly aimless.

Finally, a chance for a nap in the hostel until lunchtime, when we go to the International Service office and meet our ICV counterparts. I'm not sure about how my UKV friends felt, but it feels like we are doing everything wrong- as we enter the international service office, the ICVs are sitting at the back, we barely register this and sit at the front. When Corin, the Programme Officer tells us these are the ICVs, we awkwardly turn and say hello. This also feels weird, wrong and not fitting for the occasion, especially when we find out in a later session that greetings are monumentally important in Ghanaian culture.
It is only later that it occurs to us that this is the first hit of culture shock and probably sleep deprivation. Anyhow, two weeks on and it doesn't seem to have mattered as we are all getting along and becoming good friends.

As part of settling in and bonding, we spent Wednesday touring the important places in Tamale. We first ventured into the market, which is a maze of shops all towering and clamouring over each other, spilling over the narrow paths.
Everything in the market is vibrant and enticing, an explosion of warmth, pattern, culture! We are navigated out of the city within a city by our counterparts and pass a 'western foods' shop, we stand in awe by the cheese and Cadbury’s in the fridge. In a way, it's comforting knowing that these foods we see so often at home are here too, not necessarily because we crave them but it's nice to know that if we did need a taste of home, there is a place we can go.

 I am a silminga

Walking around in Tamale, children we pass often shout “Silminga hello!”  (White person, hello) and wave excitedly. We are not a common sight here. It is not meant in an offensive way, merely as a fact, this is all that they know about us, and it is not just the children, but old women have also called after us, we are strangers in their city. We are also faced with certain stereotypes that are attached to our skin colour, that we are rich, that we can bring people back to the UK with us and help them to get a visa, that we can pay more for goods. What this can give us is a poignant insight into what it can be like for a minority group in the UK, or even anywhere in the world; that people instantly attach certain characteristics and stereotypes to you, making you feel marginalised and very aware of your differences. We should celebrate that we are all different, with varying experiences, cultures and life outlooks, and accept them openly.

 Police Barracks- the police people live here with their families and reduced renting, electricity and water rates. Sometimes families of 8 live in each apartment.

 Once we have visited the hospital, police barracks and other important local landmarks, we are ready for the treat of the day- swimming!

Wednesday, 29 November 2017


There are many differences between Ghana and the UK as you can imagine. There are obvious differences such as climate; the UK is rainy and usually cold (especially in November), whereas Ghana is always hot, it’s a thermostat that doesn’t go below 24 degrees and that’s only in the evenings. I can’t really complain about the heat however, I am in Tamale and although a warm 35 degrees its manageable, unlike the 39’s and 40’s of Sandema or Navrongo.
However, the greatest difference between these two countries is not the climate but the attitudes towards strangers and greetings in general. If you’ve had the ‘pleasure of living in London then you will understand what the general attitude towards strangers is. Imagine smiling at someone on the tube? Wishing them good morning and inquiring into how they slept? You would be on the first bus to Broadmoor. No, instead head down, no eye contact, the only camaraderie is the collective sigh shared over a delayed train, usually southern. Ghanaians’ are the polar opposite to this, their culture appears to be built upon communication and an acknowledgement of the people that make up their community. It is rude to not greet a stranger and socially unacceptable to not greet someone you know. In the morning you will be greeted with a ‘Dasiba’ (Des-Bah), the afternoon ‘Antere’ (Ant-aray), and in the evening ‘Anola’ (Ann-Ola). All of which you should reply with a ‘Naaaa’, it is that simple and the amount of joy this one response brings is infectious, expect laughter but also expect their gratitude and respect. It’s a difference I will miss a lot, after a brief 10 weeks I feel more a part of this community, in some ways than I do in my community back in the UK.
                                                  A hat salesman and Nathaniel Dilling in Tamale town centre

Another difference I have observed is that regarding the elderly. Respect for elders in the UK may be seen as giving up a seat on public transport or helping an elderly person cross the road, both honourable acts. However in Ghana in terms of respect for elders it is a way of life rather than an occasional kindness. There are certain issues that are caused by this level of respect such as their influence upon the young and the passing on of harmful traditional views, for example those concerning the role of women, but this is a small proportion. What is admirable is that in Ghana the elderly are seen as sources of wisdom and invaluable experience, and as a result elders are greeted with a bow and in some cases a squat, in which they stay until told to stand. Imagine squatting for your Grandma Janette, she’d politely smile and ask if you had dropped something. I jest, but it is endearing and in contrast to the UK where tens of thousands of elderly men and women reportedly suffer from loneliness, it’s a culture we could learn greatly from.

The London Underground, from
A significant cultural difference that is worth mentioning is that concerning time and punctuality. This is demonstrated though GMT, an acronym we acknowledge as Greenwich Mean Time, in Ghana however this is understood as Ghana Man Time. What does this mean? In the UK we respect punctuality especially in terms of business, if we are told to meet at 9:00am we will make the greatest effort to arrive at that time, maybe even slightly earlier. Alternatively in Ghana there is a fear of being the first to arrive and waiting around so if you wish to meet at 9:00am there is no guarantee they will arrive at this time. This is best shown by the time we tried to order chicken to the office, we ordered at 11:30, which we thought would cater for GMT so as to receive our meal at 1:30. However we waited and waited until 3:30 then waited until 4:30 at which point ‘hanger’ was fully fledged and even goats that surround the office began to look delicious. Unfortunately our meal never arrived. As you can imagine this can be frustrating, however you have to understand why this is the case. It links back to greetings and a different understanding of what is important. If you were to meet friends or family on your way to your meeting in the UK you would stop and briefly explain you were in a rush and if you could speak later, but in Ghana friends and family become the priority and communication with them takes precedence. It is a big cultural difference and one that took a while to get used to. 

I think the biggest difference is in the UK we have a society that is taught to expect and prepare for the worst. We are fearful and we let that fear rule how we treat others, this is shown through the lessons we are taught as children ‘Don’t talk to strangers’. In Ghana there is a trust, an overwhelming sense of trust, and yes this has its problems, but it has an incredibly refreshing benefit where strangers are greeted and treated with friendliness and kindness.  

A couple things I couldn't fit in but you should know:
  •   Everything is a road, footpaths are roads, alleyways are roads, and red at a traffic light doesn’t always mean stop. Never play chicken with a motorbike. 
  •   Never offer anything with your left hand, its disrespectful and they will throw you so much shade you’ll think your back in England. 
  •   Ghanaians eat with their hands, if you whip out a spoon to chow down on a bowl of kenkey, you’ll get the same reaction as if someone whipped out a spoon to eat a pizza in the UK. 
Written by
Nathaniel Dilling

Photo Credit: The London Underground, from and Chloe Ross-Brown