Monday, 14 August 2017

We are PAGSUNG! Women Matter

I first heard about PAGSUNG at ICS assessment day. PAGSUNG is a Dagbani word which means “good woman. The Patriarchal society has shown little interest (if any) in women development and empowerment. The economic empowerment of women is very important to break down generational cycles of poverty. I was informed at my training that the aim of PAGSUNG association is to promote quality Shea butter production and Shea nut picking through technical training and market linkages”. Wow! Commercializing Shea? I have being a silent advocate for value addition and commercialization of the fruits of the wild tree which has been tipped as the ‘Northern cocoa’

The first and second weeks were full of planning and a bit of introduction to the project. Members of PAGSUNG association were at the premises busily processing Shea nuts into Shea butter and to soap and pomade. I marveled at the local ingenuity and the dexterity portrayed by these women. At last, I saw something from Shea beyond the domestic food consumption.

Members of PAGSUNG processing Shea butter

We moved to the Shea butter processing area where a group of women were frying the cracked nuts. It took just 1 minute for us to all leave the site struggling for breath. The heat was unbearable and the smoke choking. I strolled back to the office thinking about the ordeal these women go through each day just to make a living and for the family. More hurting was the fact that these women find it difficult to access market.

ICS volunteers running sensitizations in Kpalga

 Women are active as economic agents in the Northern regions of Ghana than anywhere else in the country. They perform the majority of the agricultural activities, own a majority of all firms and are the majority of the informal sector employees. Over and above their income-earning activities, they are central to the household economies and the welfare of their households. Yet local conditions even make them redundant economic actors as their innovation and hard work do not see the light of the day. They do not only make a majority of the world’s population, but also a majority of the developing world’s poor. They do not have access to key resources such as land and in some cases have no access to education. They have decisions and choices made for them and in the worst scenario, lack choices. I then believed that “Poverty has a woman’s face” in Africa. Not just because they make a majority of the poor but because lifting women out of poverty will lift Africa out of poverty.

ICS Volunteer with one of the community children after a sensitization

Team PAGSUNG fully subscribes to the ideas of PAGSUNG (our project partner) and the International Service. We are determine to contribute to Pagsung’s product development initiatives, enhancing their access to market, promoting healthy work ethics and extending the good news to all women in the three Northern regions of Ghana.

Raphael AnammasiyaAyambire

ICS volunteer-Team PAGSUNG


Friday, 28 July 2017

Amaraaba Team Pagsung July 2017

Team PAGSUNG, so far so good! We were asked to think of our team’s identity and we came up with ‘The Keepers’ because we established that throughout our journey we will keep each other’s backs, ‘I got your back, you’ve got mine’. As a new team, we have gelled well together and had many laughs but also the challenge of planning what we will be doing throughout our time here and what we will be doing to help the women of PAGSUNG. Our first blog will cover each one of our team members and our ambitions. So, with no further delay….     
Team Pagsung

Hello guys my name is Patricia Abass, I am 25 and I come from Sandema a small village in the Upper East region of Ghana.  I joined the project because I want to improve looking upon my public writing, technology and communication skills, and logistics. Now that I’m on placement I have the opportunity of learning new things such as social media, team building skills and shea butter making. 
I’m Tiri I am 18 years old. I came to Ghana to volunteer with the intention of stepping outside my comfort zone by travelling to a developing country on my own, without the safety of my friends and family. Working with Pagsung a female run organisation; I am excited to see how the women are changing their lives as well as their communities. It’s my pleasure to work alongside them, as well as to give them some of my ideas and hopefully inspire them. I would love to develop my own personal skills such as writing, photography and public speaking skills.

I am Itayi, a UK volunteer here in Tamale. My first week here has been amazing, it has been a learning experience. One of the reasons for my volunteering was because as I was raised in Zimbabwe is that I wanted to give back to the continent that raised me. I am hoping to develop the skills I learned at university such as researching and blog writing. I am working with a tight group of people and I am happy with this arrangement because I believe in team work. I am hoping through my time here in Tamale will help me develop the business and management skills of the women of Pagsung as well as develop my own personal growth.

I am Iddrisu Alhassan Kobga, currently a volunteer with International Service, on a project helping a group of women who process Shea butter.  I am part of the logistics team, and our duty in the team is to provide the team with good food and good transportation, and am also in the communications group where I can learn to build upon myself in communication, to be a good speaker either in public or in the midst of my counterparts….

Raphael Anammasiya Ayambire

 “I got struck by the possibility of becoming a Global Citizen”.  That was my response when asked about my motivation for applying to volunteer with ICS. From a deprived community in the Upper East Region, I got interested in issues of development having realized the disparities that exist between and among countries through my study of development. My zeal to learn is what brought me here! Yet my experience researching into rural development during my study at the university has revealed a mirage of issues that need to be tackled. I love to research, write reports and make oral presentations. More importantly, I desire to improve upon my organizational skills, project monitoring and evaluation and Blogging.

Hi, my name is Maryam and I’m 19. The skills I hope to develop on this placement are an understanding of the needs of others and communication. My first week in Ghana has been amazing, fun and mostly eye opening. Tamale is very different to Birmingham and the change has been challenging, but it has also been very exciting. I have already learnt a bit of Dagbani (the local language) which has also been fun as the local people are very friendly. It is nice to be able to greet people in the local language as it makes you feel like you are part of the community.

I am Joachim Gaayuoni, I am a volunteer because I am a person who likes to see sustainable development in deprived parts of the world. As a student planner, I know how expensive it is to hire professionals to carry out development policies and initiatives. I am optimistic that by the end of this 10 week period, I will have learnt practical problem based learning skills and also helping Pagsung grow. I like to watch football and listen to music in my free time.

I bring you greetings of peace, I am Tamimu Umaima and I am 24 years of age. I joined International service because I like to volunteer to help those who are vulnerable in society and work in deprived communities to foster development since it is my area of expertise. I would like to use this opportunity to develop my presentation skills. I enjoy the ice breakers we do, especially ‘AMATOASA !! TOASA !! TOASAA’ because it is fun and entertaining to see everyone’s rhythm and spelling skills.

Hey, my name is Matthew (Slimiinga as most of the kids call me) and from my university to my host home I’ve gone from eating KFC and sleeping in my large double bed every day, to eating more Jollof rice and TZ then I can handle. So, you could say it is a big transition but I’ve being enjoying it every day and making the most out of it. I joined ICS as I decided to do something worthwhile with my time during the summer and build upon my skills such as public speaking, writing and team work. By joining team Pagsung I hope to achieve these things over the next ten weeks and bring about a positive change to the women in Tamale.

Greetings! My name is Ayaan but you can also call me ‘Yamma’ as my host family have decided. My interests lie in human interactions, I love meeting new people and enjoying experiences which will teach me about others. This is probably why I’d rather play games and do energisers all day; as the PAGSUNG team have come to know. I want to gain the necessary skills such as public speaking, researching, budgeting and planning whilst on my project as these are my weaknesses. We will revisit that statement and see if I have achieved that, but most of all I want to make sure my stay here is filled with laughter, smiles and life-changing encounters.

My name is Faaviel John Baptist. Among others, I hope to acquire and improve on public speaking and communication technology. With a supportive, skilled and resourced team members and working environment I’m optimistic in acquiring a lot of skills during my placement. I am excited to work with ICS and see what these ten weeks bring to me.

Hello, Hi. I’m Ruwaida. I decided to volunteer with International Service after finishing university to give myself the opportunity to help those in developing countries. Our project partner is an organisation that seeks to enable women to empower themselves economically to improve their livelihoods. The first two weeks have flown by and we have some amazing ideas that we hope to implement to enable them with their economic empowerment.

My name is Latifa Suleman, one of the team leaders of the Pagsung Team. Having been a volunteer myself last year, I decided to return this time as a team leader because I saw it as a step in the right direction to gain experience in project management and also learn more about women empowerment issues. The Project Partner is a women group centred on enhancing the capacity of women in the 3 northern regions, most importantly to help them overcome poverty and live a dignified life. In the near future, I would like to be a part of discussions about women empowerment and I believe this is the right step.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Health Risks Associated with Shea Butter Production

                      Health Risks Associated With Shea Butter Production

By Michael Adu

Shea Butter is a natural fat extract taken from the nut of the Shea tree, which is found only in the arid Savannah regions of Africa. It has been hand-crafted and used for centuries by Africans as cooking oil, a therapeutic skin balm, as well as an intensive moisturiser.

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Ghana, More than 60,0000 women in Northern Ghana depend on the incomes from the sales of Shea butter and other Shea-related products as a means of their daily subsistence. Shea butter production has been a key income source for rural women over the years and has resulted in improving the living standards of these women.

The Government of Ghana and stakeholders in the Shea butter industry, over the years, has been putting policies and measures in place to improve the quality of Shea butter produced in Ghana because it has the potential of evolving into a viable export industry since private businesses in several countries have been expressing their interest in importing Shea butter. In doing so, the risks and health issues associated with Shea butter production have been ignored.

Health and Safety are vital issues when it comes to Shea butter production but there are no proper health and safety measures, protocols and contingency plans put in place to address and minimise the risks associated with Shea butter processing. Research has shown that, most people in Ghana who produce Shea butter use traditional techniques and skills from the collection of nuts to the optimal packaging of the butter. They use the traditional method of production through all processing stages. These people have limited knowledge about the risks and health issues they are prone to. Most them suffer from snakebites and scorpion stings, muscular and skeletal injuries, heat stroke, burns, tuberculosis, and asthma etc.

I never understood this issue until I worked on a team of 10 International service volunteers at PAGSUNG, women’s group, who are into Shea butter processing in Sangarigu Tamale, Ghana. The zeal and willingness to earn a daily bread has left these women (most of them mothers) prone to many health issues including excessive smoke inhalation from the traditional cookstoves they use, illness and the meager income earned from the sales of the butter is spent at the hospital, a concern the Chief of Sangarigu shared with us when we visited him in his palace.

In tackling this issue, the Ghana Health service and major players in the shea industry should include health and safety of Shea butter production in policy formulation. Also, research work should be commissioned by the Government of Ghana in partnership with state owned universities to identify alternative and affordable sources of fuel for production of Shea butter. Furthermore, Training and sensitisation should be prioritised to create awareness on most of the health implications of Shea butter processing. Lastly, all who can should help improve the infrastructure and facilities of the local women groups in Ghana who are into Shea butter production to raise the quality of produce.


Thursday, 15 September 2016

A Day in the Life of Tamale

I’ve been living and working in Tamale, northern Ghana for almost three months now and well, it’s been quite the experience.
You know that story about Cockrell’s only singing once in a morning, normally at dawn? Well, I’ve discovered that it’s not true. In fact, they love a sing song before dawn and they tend to continue their tunes all day – I guess it’s not their fault they are awake so early though, the Mosque’s that surround my house probably woke them up before what is considered normal screeching morning prayer out of the speakers which are attached to the outside of their walls.
Every morning on leaving my host home I am surrounded by a small group of excited children shouting ‘hello Sliminga (white person), bye bye Sliminga’ and rushing up to high five me. Managing to escape the clutches of tiny hands, I flag down a taxi and squeeze myself into what is definitely a four person car with already five people in it, now six. I greet everyone, ‘dasiba’ (good morning) and a smile pops onto all their faces as they merrily speak to me in their local tongue – I explain that I only speak ‘small small Dagbani’ but that doesn’t dampen their mood.
After manoeuvring my way through traffic, a sleepy market and a lot of goats I arrive at Pagsung’s office, where I am based for my placement. Pagsung is a women’s owned enterprise with 33 member’s working on-site processing shea butter products. They make a variety of soaps, moisturisers and hair products, which we have all taken home to lather ourselves in their delicious-ness. The thirst for knowledge from the women who work here is inspiring; we presented a Health and Safety awareness raising session to them, a topic that comes paired with a long sigh in the UK, they listened intently and thanked us profusely for providing such a wealth of knowledge in such an excellent manner.
It’s currently rainy season in Ghana, which means it’s either incredibly hot and humid or a gust of wind (the only heads up you’ll get) will blow near by and you’ll be taken out by a tidal wave of rain. The goats, poultry and any other stray animals, who roam freely around near our office like to take shelter inside our office at this point and everything (I mean EVERYTHING) will stop. You want a taxi somewhere? You can’t. You want to nip passed the shop and pick up some biscuits? You can’t. And God forbid you want to leave your host home and attempt to find yourself that one rebellious taxi driver, you will quickly change your mind when the family look at you in horror and fear for your life as you attempt to wade through the river that is now your courtyard.
After work, there is an array of places to visit, ok bars – there’s an array of bars where you can pick yourself up a beer for about 5 cedi (£1). Someone will have arranged that night’s spot and on my arrival nobody will be there. Standard as the clocks here run on GMT (Ghana Man Time) which generally means ‘whatever time you have asked me to meet you I will be between 30 minutes and two hours late depending on the weather, I’ll probably never arrive if it’s raining’.
On arrival at home that evening the courtyard will be bustling with my host family member’s and between five to ten other people who I’ve never met before. A couple of my host sisters will be sitting around the firewood stove outside, another is pounding corn flour and water to make TZ, Fufu or Banku in what can only be described as a Giant’s Pestle and Mortar. Within half an hour a plate with the biggest portion of dough with a spicy soup is handed to you. I am still in training and the task of getting the slippery mixture from bowl to mouth with only hands as cutlery is no easy feat, normally around half of the soup and a couple of slippery doe balls will fall on the floor – the family will laugh and the cats will quickly come over to give it a sniff. They are a dab hand at hovering up the leftovers.

Before bed, I’ll go to have a quick shower (a bucket with a plastic mug to pour), go to turn on the tap and when nothing comes out my family call over ‘tap is turned off’, once again the water has been turned off somewhere up the road with no heads up or with any idea when it will be back on . I can only laugh and think to myself ‘TIA’ (this is Africa). 

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Two weeks left...

I am going to begin by saying it was an absolute honour working with the women of Pagsung. Pagsung means Good women, this is fitting for the members of the enterprise as they have only displayed kindness towards us. We are only left with 2 weeks of our placement.  Even though we haven’t been able to update everyone with our blog posts, believe it or not, we’ve actually been busy.

In the past nine weeks, we have managed to complete over ten analysis tools, this involved many interviews with the executives of the enterprise.  After the six weeks of analysis, we were able to begin the implementation stage of the project. This involved presenting twelve awareness-raising sessions to four communities, all of which received positive feedback. Our team had to be extremely sensitive to cultural values within the communities especially when speaking about one of our topics Gender and Business. I feel like we managed the issues within the awareness raising sessions well since after the very first session we had in Shishegu I managed to be ‘best pals’ with one of the lovely shea butter processors.  I am hoping she will be willing to host me for my next visit to Tamale.  
snaps with my new 'BEST PAL'

As well as the awareness raising sessions we have also been busy making a new website and social media accounts for Pagsung. When we first arrived we realised through the analysis we carried out, that Pagsung was lacking an online presence. We were na├»ve at the beginning that this would be a simple problem to tackle. Later we found that the enterprise (Pagsung) was not sure on what they were going to call their products, they were stuck between Pags and Kali. There was also some confusion with the logo of the company, causing a delay in us being able to publish the social media sites.  If I have learnt anything so far it would be patience, it was something I wanted to work on anyway so that’s really a plus for me.  

During the in-country training, our ICS manager mentioned that I would have a family here by the time we leave. I feel like I have found two, one of them being the team, the other being my host family. Even with so many personalities, we managed to maintain a strong bond throughout the placement. The team was like having nine other siblings. There is no one memory that is my favourite; they made every day feel special for me.  Moving on, my host family have never failed to make me feel at home and the children have always put a smile on my face. Being the youngest in my family at home, it was interesting to have to act as an older sister to two young girls and a toddler. While in placement I missed Eid for the second time this year, the only reason I was able to cope with my nostalgia for home was because of my host family and counterpart (Latifa). Latifa and I were overjoyed when Aunty Baidaou walked into our room with fabric for us to have a matching outfit for Eid; it was great until we went for the prayer, surrounded with people wearing neutral colours. Let's just say we stood out that day with our bright yellow dresses.

This was a great experience for someone who had never travelled before on their own. I have to say it has been a roller coaster but I loved every part of it. Every moment even the sour ones have taught me something I will keep with me for the rest of my life.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Increasing the sustainability of the Shea Butter Industry in Northern Ghana

Increasing the sustainability of the Shea Butter Industry in Northern Ghana
By Michael Adu

From body lotion to hair products, Shea butter is produced from an oil extracted from the kernel of the shea nut. The nuts of the shea tree are collected and processed by crushing and grinding to yield shea butter which is used in the making of a variety of products including soap and body lotion. Shea butter is also edible and can be used in food preparation.

From cream, to soap and shower gel, the demand for Shea Butter for cosmetics is on the rise around the world. It is processed from the nuts of shea trees that grow in the Sahel region which extends from West to East Africa. Shea butter has been called “Woman’s Gold” for centuries not only because of its unusual rich gold colour but also because it provides job opportunities and income for millions of women across Africa. The production of shea butter is a very important element in the economy of countries in Sub Saharan Africa, it is one of these countries’ major exports.

The United Nations Development Programme(UNDP)estimates that around three million African women are involved directly in shea butter production and trade and according to The New York Times, it is estimated that shea butter exports from West Africa alone garner between USD 90 million and USD 200 million a year.

According to UNDP, in the Northern part of Ghana, 600,000 women earn an income from shea butter and other related products. They have traditionally played an important role in the extraction of shea butter, right from the collection of shea nuts to its final processing. However due to the economic conditions on shea trade (i.e.; Organic certificates for exportation and importation), this has restricted sellers to only selling nationally, something which has been a challenge for many years.

In addition to its importance, Shea butter production can significantly contribute to increasing the possibility of the income and the living standards of local women and their households, which is a big step in achieving sustainable development goal one which is to eradicate poverty
In addressing this issue and other challenges which the majority of these women face, UNDP and Africa 2000 have had a positive impact and commitment to the women of the Shea industry. An example of this is when UNDP, Africa 2000 and the Japan government teamed up in 2015 and took the leaders of Sagnarigu women shea butter group (Tamale-Ghana) to Japan and India to share their experiences and teach them how to market their products.

But the big question is, what role is the government of Ghana playing in helping these women; who bring their strength, expertise and skills in achieving SDG1 which is NO  POVERTY? The primary role of the government is to solve and manage challenges that confront its people through policies and sustainable interventions. Thanks to International Service which is under International Citizen Service, I have worked with PAGSUNG (women’s group) who organise Shea butter processing in Northern-Ghana. The government of Ghana in the past have posted national service personnel to PAGSUNG to help the women and also provided them with a kneading machine. But there is always room to improve and I think the government of Ghana can do better than what it has done for PAGSUNG.

In going forward, all hands must be on deck to; 1) Increase the quality of shea butter to an international standard, 2) Explore new markets for shea butter 3) Provide business management skills for local womens’ producer groups.  All these things must be done with the aim of empowering women in Northern Ghana and Alleviating their poverty by making the shea butter industry a more sustainable one.