Saturday, 29 June 2013

The blog is moving....

The blog is moving home....all the same content is available but we have a new address, so please come and visit us at or you can access it at

You should also be able to find us by visiting the International Service website

We hope that you will continue to come and read about the LIFE project!

Last one standing

Today, Saturday 29th June 2013, I should be waking up at home in Manchester, England after flying home with my second team yesterday.  Instead, I am sat on the front porch of my house in Sandema, Upper East region of Ghana, preparing for my third team to arrive.

This is by no means a sad thing, I am very, VERY happy to still be in Sandema, and still working on the LIFE project at CBR.  However, yesterday was weird.  It was weird speaking to my team (who incidentally even managed to make their last day in Ghana eventful by packing too much....reason #32874 why I love them dearly) as they made their way to the gate, it was even more bizarre speaking to Zoe, the Tamale team leader as she also made her way to the gate.  Myself and Zoe, along with Sean, the Bolga team leader, all arrived in Ghana together at the beginning of January.  For the last 6 months I have known that June 28th was going to be departure day, where the 3 of us would pass our projects to somebody else and head home.  So when the day came (and has now passed me by) and I didn't leave, I had some very mixed emotions about being the last one standing.

It is a matter of circumstances that allowed me to remain in Ghana and remain working on this project which I love so much, and feel very responsible for.  The team leader who replaces me in September will have to wrestle this project out of my hands!  So whilst it was a sad day yesterday, and I often felt like I had been left behind and a little bit in limbo, I'm not ready to leave Sandema, or Ghana, and am entirely grateful that fate intervened and permitted me to stay.  This project was nothing more than an idea in January, but across the course of 6 months I have watched two incredible teams, and 6 amazing individuals turn this idea into a project which is growing from strength to strength each day.  Why would I want to pass that up?  In 6 months, Poppy, Will, Jenna, Roya, Shazia, and Festus (and me!) have achieved the following:

- Written a comprehensive history of the Feok festival
- Understand the challenges towards including people with disabilities into the festival
- Gained the support of the Paramount Chief of the Builsa district (a big deal!) in the inclusion of people with disabilities
- Gained the support of the District Assembly....just in general.
- Trained 24 people with disabilities/caregivers in small-scale business management
- Devised an appropriate business plan for a soap production business attached to one of the Disabled People's Organisations, and put the first steps in place to implement the plan.
- Created 3 cultural groups around the district (involving at least 50 people with disabilities)

This is just a snapshot of the things they have achieved.  I couldn't be prouder of all of my volunteers and their achievements.  And this is why I am so happy to stay.  Tomorrow 4 more volunteers will be heading to Heathrow airport to fly to Ghana, and to continue the work of the project.  I can't say for certain, but based on my conversations with my new team, I think they will kick-start the campaign for disability sports.  I am excited to lead another team and develop the LIFE project further, and watch as they take some more steps to change attitudes towards disability in the Builsa district of Ghana.

To my previous teammates, I miss you all and hope that you are proud of all you have achieved.  To my new team (and future volunteers of LIFE) be excited, you are going to have a great time, but come ready to work.

As of Tuesday (when the new team arrives) I won't be the last one standing anymore.  I can't wait!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Everyday LIFE in Sandema: Workin' 8-2pm, what a way to make a livin' !!

CBR Office

As mentioned in the Home sweet home blog,,  the CBR office is a gruelling 5 minute walk from our house. Walking past Maxwell’s house, our programme coordinator, we also pass his array of quirky farm animals who roam around the compound. As we walk into the office we are greeted by all the staff with the usual ‘Salua’!

Monday mornings tend to start with Devotion, a time when all the staff gathers and the Pastor gives a Bible reading. Every week is a different topic all around starting the week off on a good note, and striving towards different things e.g. forgiveness and the aim is to think about it for that week.

The Sandema Mental Health Self Help Group meeting also takes place on Mondays. The group meet to talk about issues such as mental illness, how to cope, mental health advice, etc. Following an interview session with this group, we were given the honour of receiving Buli names from them. Shazia received the name Agiirimlie  meaning merciful and kindhearted and I was named Anamlie meaning royalty (what a coincidence!), and an enjoyer of riches!

Resource centre

The resource centre is where we have the opportunity write up notes from the field work onto our laptops, carry out our online research, and prepare for interviews and group meetings etc. At the moment we are preparing our business plan for the Sandema DPO soap production business, read more on Shazia’s blog.

We work from 8-2pm, but this can vary especially if we’re carrying out field work or have a deadline coming up!

Maxwell’s office

Akandem Maxwell Apaknying, the CBR programme coordinator but also our Ghanaian father, is originally from Wiaga and was Ghana’s number 2 farmer in 2010.

Maxwell has worked at CBR for around 20 years. He has a degree in Integrated Developmental Studies and first worked at CBR as a specialised supervisor before moving onto his current position as the CBR programme coordinator. He also been actively involved in setting up the Horizons Children Centre, an orphanage for boys that also offers school scholarship programmes for girls.

Maxwell is currently doing his Masters in Community Health and Development at the University of Development Studies in Tamale whilst also running CBR. An extremely busy man who is the heart and soul of CBR!

Sometimes, bigger IS better!

“Tracy! What is wrong with you? Are you sick?” These are words I have heard a number of times over the last few months, as female friends here in Ghana have noticed I have lost a bit of weight.  Now, I haven’t lost crazy amounts of weight, and I am by no means thin by UK standards (my dress size is still in double figures!), but in Ghana weight loss is approached quite negatively.

You see, having a healthy weight or even being “fat” (let’s approach this with the same attitude as most Ghanaians I have met and not mince our words!) is considered a sign of wealth, a sign that you have plenty to eat. A curvy ‘structure’ is desired by most women I have spoken to, and appreciated by many men.  It is remarkably refreshing to see women embrace a larger body type and not be obsessed with conforming to a Hollywood/celebrity body shape.

Sorry Renee, but being a bag of bones won't cut it in Ghana....I don't think this is such a good look either.  Go and eat a burger!

In the UK, I feel like it is well documented and debated about the ideal body type imposed on girls and women by the media and fashion world, with campaigns such as the Dove Real Beauty campaign trying to change perceptions that thin is beautiful and we must all have a size 6 body to be beautiful and sexy. It is a wonderful lesson in body confidence then, to walk down Sandema high street and see women enjoy their curves, and walk around in well-fitting clothing which display who they are quite naturally.  A few weeks ago, on a visit to the Bolgatanga team, we went to a local night club, Soul Train, where we saw Ghanaian girls showing us how to dance and laughing at us because we didn’t have enough meat on certain parts of our bodies to dance well.  For me, I was overwhelmed with how body confident they were, particularly as I am often quite self-conscious dancing and wearing revealing clothing in nightclubs back home – it was quite the attitude adjustment!

What do you think? Is she trying to hide behind the tree, or is she  enjoying her lunch without a concern for the effect on her hips?

In my opinion, this acceptance of the human form and an appreciation of a “healthy” weight translates to a positive attitude towards other issues, such as breast feeding.  It is not unusual to be on a tro-tro, or even sat in a restaurant or Church and casually glance to the left to see a woman breastfeeding quite openly and with no embarrassment or need to be discrete; it is viewed as a natural and necessary process.  Tolu, one of Team Tamale’s first volunteers, wrote an excellent blog on her reaction to breastfeeding in Ghana, which I urge you to read, and means I won’t dwell on the topic any further, but will use it as an example of how a different approach to the human body has further implications than what clothes look good.  

Aside from the professional work experience I am gaining by being here and working in Ghana, the cultural experience is affecting me in many positive ways too.  Don’t get me wrong, I cannot deny my pleasure at losing a bit of weight (it certainly saves on the Slimming World membership fees!), but I think, more importantly, I will be leaving Ghana not only with a streamlined body, but will have streamlined any negative and anxious thoughts about my appearance and my size.  

Soapy Times in Sandema

The Sandema Disabled Persons Organisation (DPO) hosted an exciting training session in soap production for 24 of its members. The trainer, Al-Haji, came all the way from Kumasi to spend a few days with the group and it was very intriguing seeing the whole process from start to finish.
Magadalene being helped by Azuma to mix the caustic soda 
It is actually a lot simpler than I thought, possibly because there are only 5 ingredients in it unlike the soap we normally purchase at stores which have at least 20 different long-named ingredients. The process from start to finish takes a couple days but the majority of that time is heating up the vast amount of oil for about 1 ½ days. It was really nice seeing the members being so eager to learn and practice. Ordinarily, soap making would be done individually or in small groups but that didn’t stop our group of 24 from working well as a team. They were all supportive of each other’s abilities and would take turns to practice under the guidance of Al-Haji.

Florence stirring in the colouring into the oil
The DPO previously had soap production training about 6 years ago but due to poor finance management they had to discontinue production almost immediately. Our work as volunteers, through the livelihoods programme we have created, is to ensure that this does not happen again. We organised a training workshop on business for the members in order to inform them of the importance of record keeping and how to make money. We had group discussions which consisted of them telling us where they would sell, who they will sell to, where they can sell in bulk, what they should avoid doing etc (for example, allowing customers to buy on credit. This is when the customer will take some goods but doesn’t pay at that time but promises to do so as soon as they can. It is common that the customer will not return with the money which leaves the seller at a loss). The aim is to make them feel responsible for their own business as opposed to relying on outsiders to give all the suggestions and leading the way. Roya and I are now in the process of composing a business proposal including all the recommendations and ideas presented to us by the members. We are going to ensure that this business will only grow and be a sustainable source of income for the individuals and their families as well as the DPO itself for a very long time.

They have since established the name for the business... They have called it
'New Era'
It is a very fitting name. It's a new start, a new business and new possibilities.

New Era employees with Maxwell and Festus from CBR

- Shazia

Monday, 27 May 2013

Meeting with the National Cultural Centre

Roya,Katrine, Shazia and Festus at the National Cultural Centre
We recently had the pleasure of meeting with Katrine who is an officer at the Sandema Branch of the National Cultural Centre. We went to speak with her in order to get information and general guidance on whether there are any existing cultural groups, how we go about setting up cultural groups for Persons with Disabilities (PWD’s) for the Feok Festival etc.

The meeting was very interesting and we appreciated how frank she was about the current state of cultural activities in the Builsa District. She spoke about how the District Assembly (the council) doesn’t regard culture with as much importance as they should do. They see it as only being limited to drumming and dancing when in fact it encompasses a range of different elements such as the communities beliefs, traditions etc. This misconception also filters down to the rest of the community.

Trainee weaving the material at the Centre
She will be a valuable source of information for our project as she can supply us with a list of all the registered cultural groups in Sandema who we can then contact and speak to for further information, including how they’ve obtained their instruments as that is a big issue we’ve identified that effects PWD’s. Katrine also hosts free training for fabric weaving, specifically the fabric needed for men’s traditional smocks which may come in useful for our livelihoods program which we are working on, alongside the cultural activities program.                                    

It’s going to be a long process but the work we are doing will eventually lead to PWD’s becoming fully integrated into their communities. The cultural activities program will prove to the community and the PWD’s themselves that they can and should be allowed to celebrate their traditions and history.  As we spoke to various Disabled Peoples Organisation’s (DPO’s) we heard from individuals who felt scared to perform in front of the community because they have been stigmatised and discriminated against for so long, they fear further ridicule. That is why it is important to work on projects like these because it rebuilds their confidence in their own self-efficacy and will allow them to engage in cultural activities, profitable businesses and sports to the same level as able-bodied people. Although we may provide them with the tools they need to support themselves, part of the struggle is them overcoming their lack of faith in their own abilities which has been instilled in them from a young age. Despite this, after the recent meeting with the Sandema DPO and through our discussions about cultural activities, they have since organised a group rehearsal. This is the first organised rehearsal that they have had for many years so it is a positive step in the right direction! 

- Shazia

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Singin' in the rain.....

I will never complain about the weather in Manchester again.  Manchester is notorious for its constant rain, and grey skies.  I grew up in Manchester and sometimes think it gets a bit of a bad press (especially after living in Cardiff where I would say it rains a lot more than Manchester).  Yet the rain in Manchester is nothing compared to the rain in Sandema.

Admittedly there are different types of rain back home.  There is the fine rain (that, according to Peter Kay, soaks you right through), then there is “spitting” (after experiencing rain in Africa, I can no longer classify that as rain…), there is heavy rain…big, fat rain where you would rather be anywhere than outside.  These are just a few examples of the types of rain back home.  Let’s not get too carried away classifying rain….you can do that in your own time.

Since the end of April we have experienced rain about once a week here in Sandema.  This “rain” most definitely cannot be classified as fine rain.  In fact, there is nothing about this rain that resembles rain
in the UK, except for the fact that it is wet. 
A lady standing in rain; unadvisable in Ghana

You can usually tell when it is going to rain here; the usually blue sky will start to turn a grey-black colour, and the air will be heavy with humidity.  Before every rain storm we have experienced thus far the sky has lit up with flashes of lightening illuminating the countryside and landscape around us – this can go on for hours at a time (and is usually followed by “lights out” (powercut)).  But before you experience the rain, you are confronted with the wind.  It can sometimes sound like an army is storming up the road at full pace.  It is not advisable to be outside as the dust flies up like a mini cyclone.  (I would also advise you bring your washing in at this point too….nobody needs to see your underwear flying across town!).

When the rain starts to fall, it really starts.  Big, fat drops of water batter your surroundings, and the sound of the rain on your tin roof only heightens the experience.  There are moments when you actually think your roof might cave in. 

The following morning you awake (or just get up as it is unlikely you got much sleep that night!) with trepidation as you review what damage has been caused.  We are in a very fortunate position that the worst that is likely to happen is a few chairs might get thrown around.  Our guest house is on high ground, and the cottages are built up, so the chance of flooding is practically non-existant. 

We have experienced however how much the rain can disrupt life in the Builsa district.  Our plans and meetings usually get cancelled the day after heavy rain as the people we wish to meet need to stay and work on their homes, tend to their farms, or try to rescue any damaged stock, stores, or buildings.  We are only just entering the rainy season; I daren’t imagine the devastation that will occur when the rainy season gets into full swing.  Whilst we may be lucky in our accommodation, the same cannot be said for the rest of Sandema.

The road into Sandema, flooded
Much of the town is at risk of flooding, and in 2012 the National Disaster Management Organisation reported 325 houses had been affected by flooding (houses having either been flooded or collapsed), displacing 715 people.  The communities surrounding Sandema are also in danger, not to mention the destruction of the roads linking Sandema to the rest of the Builsa district, and the bigger towns of Navrongo.  Even with the few rains we have had, roads have already started to erode, trees have collapsed, power lines have been cut, and houses have been damaged.  The implications of this is much greater than any inconvenience we might experience due to bad weather back home – if a road is destroyed or a bridge collapses, that community is cut off.  

On a trip to Uwasi, one of the more remote villages we have visited, we had to drive through the river bed in order to access the town because the bridge was no longer safe.  Now that the rains have begun, and the rivers are filling up, the only way for us to access that village will be to cross the river by foot…and then walk the remaining 10km to our destination.  Imagine having to do that on a daily basis just to make a living.

And yet with as much devastation that the rain causes, the rain is welcomed whole-heartedly.  It is needed.  The rainy season generally lasts about 4 months, falling between May and September.  It is during this short period of the year where everyone plants their crops (approx. 70% of people in the Builsa district farm at some level); the crops that will feed them for the remaining 8 months of the year.  If you are lucky to have the manpower and land to farm on a larger scale, you depend on this rainy season to grow your crops that will also provide you with an income.

According to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, about 1.2 million people are food insecure; 15% of whom are from the Upper East region.  A further 2 million people are vulnerable to food insecurity, meaning that a bad rain fall, no rain at all, or any other shock ensures that their access to food deteriorates rapidly.  The Upper East has been found to be the region most severely affected by food insecurity (Quaye, 2008).  Of course the rain is not the sole cause of food insecurity (other causes include chieftaincy conflicts, rise in food and fuel prices, and climate change), but it most definitely is one of the leading causes.

When the rain falls here in Sandema, it really does fall, but there is a fine line between it having a positive or a negative effect.

So when it next rains wherever you are, or if your bus or train is cancelled due to bad weather, before you grumble and complain have a little think about how much it will really affect you. Is it a minor inconvenience to your day, or has your life been turned upside down by it?