Friday, 21 May 2021

Thank you for having me Ghana :)

Around Christmas time and New Year 2020/21 

Over the the Christmas I had a few days off to explore Ghana and I went to visit Ashanti region and around.

You might think that Ghana is all the same, all around the country. Yet it is so varied. The scenery, the people, some of the customs, the food, the weather… and the stories. Kumasi is the biggest city of the Ashanti region, with very rich history and tradition, many festivals, culture, a big market where one could spend many hours, and much more. 

After a few days, I went over to the Volta region to spend the last days of 2020 by the sea side before returning to Ashaiman. The village of Dzita was very peaceful and serene with many small fishermen huts. 

Some things are better described in pictures, so let me comment below.

The Akwasidae Festival is celebrated by Ashanti people and chiefs of Ashanti.

Fascinating trees. From left to right: the tree of red flowers,
the tree growing pumpkin, the loud screeching tree covered with bats! :)

Volta region. Man making a fence from the leaves.
Fish and peppers drying in the sun.

Faces of Volta.
Children getting ready for the "between the villages" football match.

Beginning of 2021 and the schools are reopening

According to the government decision, in January, the schools were reopening. That was such exciting news! I was looking forward to spend more time in the centres, meet the beneficiaries and learn how the centres work when at full operational capacity. To return to schools after almost a year of break, was a challenge at the beginning for everyone, the staff, the teachers and the children themselves. As initially planned, soon we started to implement the program for the beneficiaries. We worked four groups in parallel.

View on the Ashaiman, from the top floor of the FCP, First Contact Point. From the January onwards, 11 children attending pre-school, and approximately 30 school-children schools, were visiting the centres on daily basis. 

Especially for the International Day of Street Children, awareness promoting activities were carried out by the children and staff on the streets of Ashaiman. It created curiosity and started dialogs with people interested to know more about the topics and the organisation.

Work progress and results

Based on the program a book was published with the guidelines and session instructions, illustrating the work results. I am very proud to be able to share it with you here. 

Training and capacity building workshops for staff focused on self-regulation, sexual violence, child psychology development, trauma, reactions to traumatic events and emotional resilience were imparted as well.

Centred on the communicated needs and the assessment, a very thorough registration, screening, monitoring and evaluation tools were developed. These are to serve as sustainable instruments to monitor reintegration, socioemotional and health aspects, as well as academic progress of the children long-term.

Here you can see some of the works from the workshops. The workshops were focused on the creative arts therapy methods approach and aimed at working with empowerment, anxiety reduction, increase in self-confidence and self-esteem.

During the deployment we also worked on the visibility of the EUAV project. With the great team of seamstresses lead by Doris, small backpacks were produced. Each child received a bag as a thank you for participating in the program.

The time in Ghana has passed so quickly…

I feel six months, is way too short, to get to know and understand a country and its people. I feel grateful to Ghana for the time, for the kindness and friendship of the people I met, for our work successes, for the challenges and for the adventures.

Of course, as anywhere the places are also made by people. I was very fortunate to have fantastic people around me, to have great mentors, a chance to interact with other volunteers working in the North, and spend some great time with the colleagues from Estonia during their monitoring visit in Ghana.  

I found Ghanaians to be very strong and resilient, welcoming and warm-hearted. Thank you for the opportunity to be a European Union Aid Volunteer in Ghana, both to my sending and hosting organizations, Mondo in Estonia, and in Ghana to Kongo Community Centre Association and Rays of Hope Centre. Thank you for having me Ghana and I hope to visit again. Mpoya, medaase, akpe. Dziękuję 😊.  

FCP team. From the left, TT, the integration field officer, Emma (visiting from Ayikuma, the male caregiver), Richmond, the financial and administrative officer, Jocelyn, the cook, Benedicta and next to her Fouseni, the pre-school teachers, and at the front to the right, Barbara Boadi, the director of the Rays of Hope Centre.

On the left: the WEM team. Emma, the caregiver, Sandra, the cook, Judith, the caregiver, and Sister Tonia, the educational officer. 
To the right: Dr. Kingsley Mort and myself, at the airport of Accra. 

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Still hard to believe (that we have to leave)


3 months? Are you serious? Where has my time gone? How did it happen that is already March if we arrived in town yesterday? Still really hard to believe that our time here is finishing and the project is ending. And YES we have to leave, YES, we have to say bye to Victor, to the seamstresses, to John... I have never thought it was going to be that difficult.


Kongo market square and KoCDA office (in blue)

Victor, resting at shea butter house

John and I at shea butter house

And while I try to believe, things are happening and life goes on. During the months of February and March my work was focused on 4 main aspects:

-          Giving Sexual Education Sessions to Junior High School students

-          Production and distribution of reusable sanitary pads

-          Performing health assessments to new sponsored children and to cases that needed follow-up

-          Training sessions at Ayamfooya Memorial Clinic

Sexual Education Sessions are always a little bit difficult to start. We all feel so shy to talk about these topics and we start laughing with our friends. 🙈🙈🤭🤭😅😅 How can we "break the ice"?

1. We have our SECRET QUESTION BOX 📬❓❔! At the beginning of the session, all the students will write down anonymous questions and place them in the box. Anything they want to know! Questions that we are too shy to ask to friends/teachers/family! We will answer all of them during the session. And of course, this is confidential, what they talk with us in the class, stays in the class.

Sexual Education Sessions: Question box 

2. Let's play! We are also using self-awareness INTERACTIVE GAME called BAABA'S STORY. We all go together through the story of Baaba a 15 years old girl who struggles to make decisions, and depending on which one we click it lead us to different scenarios. We discuss all together the decisions and consequences and everyone gives their opinion!! It is really nice!! This game is inside the ASANKA device, developed by @techaidegh in Ghana. It contains offline local materials and educational tools for teachers, especially for these areas where there is no internet or it is too expensive. The one that we are using has been acquired by the Kongo ICT center and is available there. Good ideas, from Ghanaian company to Ghanaian schools 💡💡. Let's use it!!!


Sexual Education Session at Dasabligo JHS

The production of reusable sanitary pads, I have to admit, was a headache at the beginning. How are we going to do this? Where are we going to buy the materials? How many yards? How many towels? Half of the seamstresses have never done it and don’t speak English, the other half do not want to split the work and just get the money, and that didn’t help during the long meetings. But, as always, the best things take time, and thanks to John's special and indispensable help, several visits together to check the work, and a few beers all together at the market, the team did their job. 8 seamstresses helped each other to get the pads produced in the agreed time (which wasn't much) and I can't be more proud of them. Local seamstresses with local materials sewed the sanitary pads for the girls and women of the village. I strongly believe in the power of women as a growing force.


Distribution of reusable sanitary pads in Kongo JHS

I will never forget Pufaba and her leadership and energy, Constance and her calm and serenity, Linda and her perpetual smile even though she did not understand me, Teni and her kindness and sewing skills, Lariba so small and so hardworking, Talata and her unruly twins, Cynthia and her professionalism and talent, and finally Linda Tiyong always busy and with her sharp eyes.

Portrait of Teni
Portrait of  Cynthia

Janek, Linda Tiyong, Marina, Linda, María,Teni, Constance, Cynthia, Pufaba, Victor, John and Talata

Closing meeting with seamstresses

Just before I left, as part of the "Tuesday Trainings" at Ayamfooya clinic, I prepared a session on patient-centered care, communication, and ethical issues for health staff. It was very interesting as they were the ones who chose the topic from other options. We discussed models of care, communication with the patient and family (for what we did a funny role-play), and some ethical issues that arise in hospitals there and here. The search for excellence towards quality care, centered on the patient and including the family unit in the decision-making process improves health care and makes us better professionals!

Role-play: How do we communicate with patients? What behaviors do we need to avoid or improve? When I put myself in the patient's shoes, how do I feel? Principal actors: Justice as the patient, Mark as the nurse, and Marina as the doctor.

Training session at Ayamfooya Memorial Clinic


Something I'm going to miss a lot is moving around on my motorbike, going to remote schools through crazy roads full of mysterious holes, and with all the surprise animals that can cross your path. I don't remember how many times I had to fix my bike, nor if it was worth it, but I do remember the happiness on it, the challenges driving, the times I thought "I don't cross that way, it's impossible" and the times I finally crossed it. And I am very proud of myself.

Ready to go!

New skills: driving with a skirt

And finally, it's really over. We are left with the desire for more, for more time, for more sharing. We are hooked to this rhythm of life and to this atmosphere full of illusion and teamwork. And if we leave sad it is because there have been many joys here. And what we have learned is that we are the ones who take the most. That in Kongo life goes on, ideas emerge and projects prosper, and we volunteers are just passing through (as it should be) to realize it. 

See you soon my friends.

Felicia, Cynthia and Noble came last day to say bye-bye

María, Noble, John and me

Zaan hills

Marina Castrillo (Nurse EU Aid Volunteer in Kongo, Upper East Ghana)

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Covid-19, reusable sanitary pads and beautiful pregnant ladies

Three months has passed so fast.  

So, what we did with my beautiful fellow volunteer Marina - because of period stigma we had an idea to train girls in Junior High Schools and produce reusable sanitary pads to them. We trained almost 300 students! In our project were included local seamstresses, teachers from schools, students, their parents. A lot of people at the end. 

In hospital I was working actually everywhere, in ER with local nurses, doctors assistants, but mainly with young midwives Emanuela and Gladis. They were amazing. In this clinic, Ayamfoya Memorial Clinic, midwives are so independent, they do everything. What was interesting as a family planning method, that most common method is injectable one - it's given as an injection every three months. A lot of girls choose this. But the problem is, a lot of girls are already pregnant when they come for check up, and they haven't done pregnancy test yet. So all patients who come to family planning check-up they need to do pregnancy test with midwife before injection or contraceptive implant. They don't have cardiotocography machines, only doppler fetal monitor. First pregnancy check-up usually varies between 8-12 pregnancy weeks, but some of women come for first ultrasound, check-up at 24-26 weeks! 

In Ghana it's believed that the placenta is the dead twin of the live baby and is given full burial rites.

 After delivery placenta is taken home,  it is buried behind home, under the tree.