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 talkradio.co.uk
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 talkradio.co.uk and Chloe Ross-Brown

Friday, 24 November 2017


After living with complete strangers for 7 weeks, who are strangers no more, meet my wonderful host family, whom I can only extend the uttermost gratitude to for welcoming me with open arms.

Bobo has to be the most excitable four year old with the most energy I have ever encountered, which is great when you have him on your side playing five-a-side, and more of a challenge when trying to teach him past ‘H’ on the alphabet. Unlike the rest of the family, Bobo can’t understand English other than a few words, as he speaks his local language like most here in Tamale, so one of the first things we both learnt was different ways of communicating with each other. Where words can no longer be used, expressions, hand motions and tuning in with each other’s mannerisms to communicate has become the usual. There is something quite beautiful about us both learning a new language to connect with one another, and there is certainly amusement at dinner time when the he tries to teach me some of his local dialect, providing the whole family with their comedic entertainment for the night. It’s really interesting as a UK volunteer to compare Bobo to a four year old from the UK that I am used to encountering. As Bobo becomes fascinated with my front camera iphone, he finds entertainment elsewhere in coming up with imaginary forts and wonderlands which we will explore together, or crime fighting action packed car chases for when he’s feeling particularly energetic. In the UK I think it would be quite the contrary. Bobo, my little four year old brother, teaches me about a way of life outside of material possessions and normal societal conversation, where we communicate in smiles and frowns, and get out of breath running around mythical forests together rather than one projected on an iphone screen. 

The mysterious enigma of the family, Dada is a boy of few words. It was only after week two that I acquired the information of his name and his age; 12. Although he understands my language more than Bobo, he chooses to stay mostly mute; I think he’s still trying to figure me out. At least that doesn’t stop him from beating the combined effort of both me and Bobo at football, and laughing along with everyone else at my incompetency to pronounce Ghanaian syllables. We did however bond over our love of avatar and spider man, and when I’m colouring at the table, I’ll always have a silent companion who will help me out. There is a peaceful energy about Dada, and I don’t know if I truly understood the phrase ‘comfortable silence’ until spent two hours colouring with him. However, just as he as taught me how to eat effectively with my hands, from the spark in his eyes and the little sideways smile he gives as he listens to me trying to explain English culture and mannerisms, I think we’re making progress.


I see Madia as kind of like a big and little sister at the same time. Even though she has lots of responsibilities, she is never too busy for a laugh, and fortunately for me, is scared incredibly easily, which always makes for an entertaining game of ‘hide and scare’ on a  lazy Sunday afternoon. She has also, like the rest of the family taken a liken to my colouring book, so as we all leave for the day I leave it with her, only to find some new additions in it when I arrive home. From her amazing cooking, to her awful taste in Tella Novella’s, it’s her ability to laugh that I have learnt most from. It is not a day started well until I have heard the roosters call, and Madia’s giggle.

It seems everyone in Ghana really are just extended family. Just as the generosity my host family has been kind enough to give to me, it also seems to extend to most of tamale. Every time I walk into the living room there is someone else new, who will sit with me and greet me with a big smile, almost like the UK at Christmas time, where people all come together and there is a real sense of community and family. Every day I am presented with the generosity, love and spirit like every day is Christmas day, and where I will quite happily sit between two strangers and watch an awful Tella novella as they avidly and animatedly discuss its awful plot line, as we are all, as cliché as it sounds, ‘one big family’.


For me, my counterpart Abigail has been my sister, best friend and anchor here in Ghana.  If it wasn’t for her I would be smelly, broke and sad, and I say that because she literally taught me how to wash my clothes, fetch water to bathe and to bargain with a Ghanaian; which is definitely the hardest task of all. We really are a team, from washing the dishes, to eating together, to laughing together at the end of a hard day; we go through it together, and I’m so thankful for that and for her.

I have such a huge respect for these people, who only 5 weeks ago were complete strangers to me, and now I can’t imagine my day to day life without them.  My host family has extended the uttermost love, generosity and kindness to me, qualities which I will take home with me and return the favour. I’ll miss you Ghana, but I’ll miss your people even more.

Written by
Chloe Ross-Brown

Photo credit: Chloe Ross-Brown

Tuesday, 21 November 2017


Hi friends, lets empower our women together! To empower women, we need the collective efforts of both genders. It’s nearly impossible to empower women without the support of men.  It is a great feeling to have an empowered mother, wife and sister. Let’s take a break and remind ourselves of what women empowerment is.

Women empowerment is the process of increasing the ability/capacity of women in groups or as individuals to make the right choices and to transform those choices into actions for the betterment of their lives and that of their families. 

Richard Danaa with the Women of Pagsung processing "Shea Butter"

Empowered women at Pagsung
The women in the picture above are empowered women from Pagsung who take part in shea butter processing and soap making. It is from these activities they earn their living and take care of their families. I admire these women very much because they are challenging themselves to change their lives and the lives of their families. Every human being regardless of gender has the right to engage in any legal economic activity. Therefore, you would be empowering women in your own small way by just ensuring that they enjoy this basic right.

I want you to please read the next sentence aloud. Under no circumstances should women be denied to work because of their gender.  Men and women all have the same capability to work and hence women should not be denied that just on the bases on their gender. Women should be given the same opportunities as men and we would realize how much better the world would be. I have been working with five strong women in my team who are very empowered.

Jessica, Chloe, Nanna, Lateefa & Rahima during a Human Right Session

Work and happiness
It does not take much to empower women. You can simply empower women by giving them a voice in the society. Women are often neglected in societies when it comes to decision making. Men often make all the decisions and sometimes women are affected more if such decisions are not good enough. Women are very important in our society and they should be treated as such.

 Our role in women empowerment at Pagsung
You would agree with me that it is the collective responsibility of all of us to empower our women. We here at Pagsung for the past six weeks have been empowering over 200 women in three communities. We educate them on their rights as women and as human beings because ICS uses the rights based approach. Knowing what their rights are, we believe is a big step to empowering them.

We also collaborate with other women who have skills that would benefits these women economically to train them. For example, there is an ongoing training on quality shea butter production. We don’t just train them on how to produce quality shea butter and keep it at home. Through our market research we also link them to buyers, so they can increase their income.

Women should be given the opportunities to make decisions and should also be given the platform to engage in discussions regarding their welfare.  By so doing  we would be contributing to women empowerment. Ask yourself “what am I doing to empower the today’s woman?”. If you find an answer to that, thumbs up to you! If you don’t, tell yourself it is not too late!
I end by saying that, no one is too small or too big to make a difference. You are just the right person to make that difference. Go for it!

Thank you lovely readers for reading…….

Richard & Rahima facilitating a sensitization
         Written by
     Richard Danaa

photo credit: Chloe Ross-Brown & Richard Danaa

Tuesday, 14 November 2017


Pagsung ICS with the "Boagnayili" women group

Volunteers with Peer Educators

It is already week six into placement and we have embarked on an interesting learning journey which we wish to share with you today.  This blog post summarizes all our community sensitizations and future events as well.

Richard Daana doing database collection
Sensitization at Boagnayili
Needs assessments and Community sensitizations
One part of the work that we have been doing and all look forward to are the times that we get to enter the communities. The first time was to do our needs assessments in Bognayili, Cheshegu, and Kochim. All three communities were very open with us about what they need, the most common request being for better training on making Shea butter. The needs assessments gave us all a much clearer understanding for the women that we would be working to help, and it also helped us to narrow down the specific training that each community needed.  The second entry that we had into the community was for a sensitization based on gender and business. We asked them a range of questions from what they believed their rights as women are, to whether they thought that having children limited their opportunities in business.  The latter question proved to be the most controversial between the women and initiated a lot of debate. It was provoking to hear about the day to day lives of these women. They get their families ready in the morning, head to work often with their youngest children, then after finishing work head home to cook and clean the house. It was particularly inspiring to hear when asked if they had the potential to be business women, the majority saw themselves as having that opportunity, and a few saw that through their work with PAGSUNG they had already achieved that goal.

 Peer education
 After our needs assessment in the three communities we saw the need for the communities to have peer educators. Peer education refers to education of people of identical or similar qualities. These peer educators are members of the groups we work with. Peer education training is to ensure that our work does not die out after we have left but continues to live with the people.  Again the women groups are likely to understand and appreciate knowledge passed down through the peer educators better because they live with them and they know and understand themselves best. It is also an effective way of learning. During the training, the peer educators were very interactive and asked a lot of questions to make sure that they understood what was discussed. They also partook in the energizers we had during the training which was very interesting. Copies of the presentations were printed to each of them upon request for future reference.   It was one of the best days we had on placement as we actually felt we were making the difference we set out to make.

The Shop
Nanna Salamatu helping in the making of shea butter soap

Whilst waiting on certification, one of our biggest aims is giving the PAGSUNG shop a makeover. As the only avenue to sell their products so far, it’s our priority to get the shop looking appealing for customers to increase revenue for PAGSUNG. After some initial plans, we decided to re-paint the shop and re-design the layout, in hope of using mostly the same objects due to a small and restricted budget. The new design included things such as signs for each product and making the shop for customers interactive by introducing concepts such as a customer feedback suggestion box, for future cohorts to improve on. The most exciting thing however is the ‘sample table’ we have proposed for the shop, where customers can try, smell and see how each soap and product feels on their skin, hopefully this will ensure an enjoyable shopping experience, and a one hundred percent customer satisfaction rate. As PAGSUNG is all about the women who own it, we hope to have pictures of the women all throughout the shop, so people buying PAGSUNG’S products are reminded of the positive impact they are having upon these individual women.  So far, we are currently waiting on the painting of the shop, after which we can start to arrange it and prepare for the grand shop opening on the 9th December, where we hope many entrepreneurs and businesswomen alike will come to see PAGSUNG’S products, and hopefully reach a wider market as well. The shop as a whole is a very exciting project, where especially for this cohort of PAGSUNG ICS volunteers, we will be able to see the physical and immediate difference we have had upon PAGSUNG, and hopefully one that is both sustainable and very beneficial for the women of PAGSUNG.

Just like every good venture, we have faced some challenges but we refuse to allow them to deter us. Being in a community where the common language is Daganli, we have only two people in the team who are fluent in this language, hence verbal communication with the locals during community events are sometimes difficult.  For the community needs assessment event, one of the communities we planned to visit was not ready so we had to switch to a different community which was not part of our original plan. This meant we had to spend extra time waiting for the women to organize themselves together. Again, we had to reschedule our peer educators training on the day of the training because of circumstances beyond our control.
Knowing nothing good comes easily, in all it has been a successful 6 weeks and we are very optimistic of sustainable positive change.

Written By
Volunteers of Pagsung ICS 2017 Cohort 2

Photo credit: Chloe Ross-Brown

Tuesday, 7 November 2017


 5. Don’t think you can dance until you’ve been to a Ghanaian wedding; One thing you quickly learn when living in Ghana is that Ghana does it better. Which certainly means weddings are no exception, from the spectacular dance moves, to the famous and quite frankly traditional song of ‘one corner’, it soon becomes apparent that the ‘worm’ and ‘water sprinkler’ just won’t cut it when faced with the ‘azonto’. The most outstanding thing however about Ghanaian dancing, is the ability to be dancing to an almost non-existent beat, where each person on the dance floor is doing their own routine, running wild with imaginary moves of their own, it puts a whole new meaning to ‘cutting shapes’.  My favourite thing however, was the spirit and energy that flooded the dance floor, watching my peers attempt to learn these vigorous gyrating leg movements has to go down as one of my favourite moments so far. 

   4. A simpler life is simply blissful; It’s only when coming from a country so absorbed in technology and an on-the-go lifestyle, that you discover human interaction again when you find yourself in Ghana. No longer distracted with errands, technology or TV, Ghana has re-ignited my passion for reading and writing. Or simply the art of conversation for hours with a friend, or my personal favourite; hoola hooping with my host families kids. Some of my favourite moments here have been playing cards with other volunteers, or colouring with the family.
        3. Don’t trust the oranges- never judge a food buy its cover; where everything in Ghana is desperate compared to the UK, a familiar object or sight is blessed, even if this comes in the form of an orange.  As a UK volunteer, the food was something we were prepared and briefed on before we started our placement; however one vital lesson I have learnt is that looks are deceiving. Some of the best food I have had out here has certainly not looked as appealing as one is used to, nevertheless it has been utterly delicious, some of my personal favourites has to be “fufu” and rice balls. Yet, some of the less pleasurable encounters have surprisingly been with familiar friends such as oranges, which I can only describe as playing a dangerous game of Russian roulette. The food here certainly encompasses my overall motto for Ghana, which is to expect the unexpected. Yet, with somewhat irony, it is this precise motto, and my mistrust in oranges, why I am falling completely in love with the wonderful country that is Ghana.  

     2. Pavements aren’t pavements; speaking of expecting the unexpected, the Ghanaian traffic and transport system is a great prime example. There is no greater adrenaline rush than crossing a road in tamale after surviving the onslaught of yellow yellows, line taxi’s and motorbikes, just to reach the deceiving safety of a pavement. Once on a pavement, one must be in constant aware of people, bikes and motorbikes, and quite frankly if a line taxi could fit on them I have a feeling they’d be using them too. Being on constant alert whilst walking around is essential...some eyes in the back of your head would be useful too.
         1. Be grateful; the hardest part of my experience in Ghana was only picking five lessons. I have truly learnt more here in five weeks than I ever have, about culture, people and what really matters in life. One of the best things about people in Ghana is their appetite for knowledge, and their generosity in giving it. From language lessons in my line taxi’s to work each morning, cooking lessons with my host mother or dance lessons from strangers at a wedding, it is such a gift to be surrounded in a culture full of new things to learn and embrace. Working and living in a country so different from your own is certainly simultaneously daunting and down-right incredible. Yet, it is not the country of Ghana that I have learnt most from, but the people that live within it. The spirit that runs through this country is electric and contagious, a country where no-one is strangers, and no-one is too busy with life to take a moment to appreciate it. I have not just learnt the simple greetings from the Ghanaians’, but quite the contrary, a life lesson; happiness. 

 Written By
Chloe Rose-Brown