Tuesday, 30 August 2022

Be gentle with your cultural shock

 It has been a long journey to get here, but here I am.

I was accepted in April for the Junior Psychosocial Support and Organizational Development position in Ghana. Then I waited until June for the training, both on-line and in Bulgaria with a wonderful group of people (I feel very lucky for that), and then my vaccinations appointments and visa process took some sweet time (I am Italian, paperwork in my country is never a pleasure); so I waited even more. As “the cherry on top”, on the 1st of August after 5 hours of delay my flight from Brussels to Accra was cancelled and I needed to spend one night there and to take one the next morning …

However, after this VERY LONG waiting and postponing I have made it! On the 2nd of August, I arrived in Ghana and I started my deployment!

Therefore, I spent more months between the acceptance of the role and the actual deployment than the deployment itself, that will be for 3 months and 19 days exactly. I think that this particular timing detail has influenced my first weeks here in Ghana. From the very first days, I felt that I needed to say yes to every opportunity. Every trip, meeting, festival, food or drink (I said yes to a paper box red wine very doubtful and I immediately regretted it hahah) that I wanted to try just because I have waited so much to be here. I was eager to be part of it. Nevertheless, to be hurry is never a good idea, especially when you are in a new country completely different from yours. For example, my body put the brakes on the local food tasting (too spicy food too many times is not good for beginners) and I decided to buy some food that I would also find in Italy. I even bought pasta to make a simple one with tomato sauce at home. It’s not homesickness, it’s just that we are who we are also because of our culture and it is a part of ourselves that comes with us, no matter where we are going. Abandoning every old habits just to embrace a new different life style is not a solution. We need to find a balance between the old and the new, welcoming new things and new culture (food wise is just the smallest example), always keeping in mind that there will be things that we like and dislike, even in a new country. Finding this balance is part of getting over the cultural shock (yes, it is real!) and do not be hard on yourself about it: it is normal. You just need to be always gentle, with other people (for example when you need to say that you didn’t like the paper box wine eheh) and with yourself too. Therefore, now that my first month is almost over, I think I am in the process to find my own balance. I have some comfort food. I bought a yoga mat for my routine exercise. I am starting to learn when I don’t feel comfortable and when I do (many people here wants to have a picture with “obruni”- a white person- but I don’t like taking picture so much, so I learnt that sometimes it’s better to politely decline and explain why rather than force myself). I think this will help me to appreciate my time here, but it will also help me to integrate better and to work better.

Speaking of work, this first weeks were full of meetings, with the staff of the two centers (the FCP center in Ashaiman and the WEM in Aiykuma) and with some beneficiaries. Together with Richmond, Rays of Hope director and my mentor, we are already talking about many ideas. Among my tasks as Junior Psychosocial Support and Organizational Development position, I am here to support the staff taking care of the psychosocial well-being of the young beneficiaries, but also their well-being in the work. I started to gather information about the needs and the activities that were made by the previous volunteer that had the same role here, in order to evaluate if they need refresh training or new training on different topics. The main purpose is to make all the activities sustainable and repeatable even without external help, especially because in 3 months I will be gone but the staff will continue to face the same challenges. Since it is school break, most of the beneficiaries are not attending the centers (there are only 11 out of 22 in WEM and a very small group during the day in FCP), so I will need to wait until the second week of September to meet them all.

In the meantime I am attending my personal Twi lessons (Twi is one of the 46 local languages in Ghana, the most used one in the area where we are living) to become more integrated with the community and with the people. The Twi pronunciation is really different from the Italian one, but my teacher (the amazing Senior Peter) told me that I am making real progresses!





My first Banku with light soup (spicy, of course)

My reaction to the paper box red wine



Meeting part of the Rays of Hope Center staff

Sunday, 31 July 2022

My Visit to Hospital

It is common to fall ill during your deployment. Within the two months in Ghana, It has happened to me twice. First I received the symptoms of a cold. I  was celebrating my first week in Ashaiman with a constant runny nose and a symphony of coughing. The second was a stomach infection that took me straight to a hospital.

First Symptoms

It all started one evening when I was having dinner at home. Suddenly I didn't have any appetite. Even the simplest fried yam on my plate made me feel nauseous. I assumed I'm simply exhausted from previous days so called it for an early night. Before falling asleep I took my temperature, just out of interest. It was 37,2. "Okay, let's see what the morning brings," I said to myself and tried to fall asleep. Well, what the morning brought me was definitely not a rest. My night passed by giving multiple visits to the toilet (diarrhea - of course!), constantly adding layers to stop chills, and seeing strange dreams. Finally, around 4 AM, I decided to check again my temperature. Now it was 39,4. Wow! Definitely a sign to wake up my local housemate, and ask for help. Luckily for me, my housemate at the time was a local medical student. At first, we suspected it to be malaria and took a rapid test. It was negative. So it was up to the hospital to figure it out.

Finding the One

Unfortunately to this moment, I hadn't been introduced to hospitals or doctors in the area. But luckily EUAV's insurance CIGNA has an app, where you can check the suitable medical institutions at my location.

Again, for my luck - there were many that accepted the CIGNA in the area. The only problem was that none of them didn't want to answer the phone at 6 AM. After calling five different places we got in touch with Tema Women's Hospital and twenty minutes later I was checking myself into the place. I was lucky to have my friend accompanying me since I was too exhausted to function and explain my situation or CIGNA. Apparently, there hadn't been many patients with the named insurance so it didn't ring a bell for the morning staff. Nevertheless, they started to take care of me right away.

I was signed to a private ward. Test analysis showed, that instead of expected malaria I had a salmonella infection. And then it dawned on me. Two evenings before I ate a tiny bit of Jollof and chicken that a staff member brought me from the street. I barely ate it since the portion was too spicy for me. But apparently, I ate enough to get the bacteria. 

Check-Out

I stayed in the hospital for a night. The treatment I received worked well and the next day I felt good enough to check out. I have nothing bad to say about the personnel and facility. The Doctors and nurses were professional and my room had everything I needed, and I definitely see myself going there again in the future if needed. But at the end of the day, there's no place like home. 

Another reason why I was eager to get home was the food. For the meals, I was served local food. The portions were gigantic and tasty but also heavy. Since I was taken to the hospital because of bad African food, I really didn't want to eat anything local for two weeks. So everything I was served I ended up giving to my housemate, and in return, he brought me fresh fruits.

The Bill

I still don't know how much the bill for the treatment and prescribed medicine was. When I checked out I was told that the accountants will forward the bills directly to CIGNA and contact me if there will be a problem. And that was the last time I heard from them. So it means it worked. 

So 10 out of 10 recommend the Tema Women's Hospital for future female volunteers in Ashaiman or Tema. 

10 out of 10 do not recommend buying Jollof from the streets. 










The hospital lunch. It was definitely tasty, but too much for my stomach
 so gave it to my companion. 



Saturday, 2 July 2022

My Tasks and a Spontaneous ICT Class


They say that the first month of the deployment is usually the most chaotic. And coming from my experience - amen, it's true. Culturally my month has been quite impressive and colorful. I've attended a funeral, a wedding, a church service, seen a local football match, visited a local school, and well.. taken into a hospital due to bad street food (the famous jollof).

I'm glad that in a short time I've experienced so many different (and mostly fun) aspects of Ghanaian life, so this eases the slight pain I've had with getting used to local meals, constant attention on the streets, understanding the local English accent, and working on my tasks.


Hello tasks my old friends

Obviously, I knew my tasks before arriving in Ghana. But one thing is to have them on paper, the other is their accordance with reality. You may be hired as a Financial Officer in the EU volunteer program, but in reality, you travel to another country to be a secretary and buy stuff for the office. Luckily for me, the tasks in the contract were the same that I'm doing in Ghana and in Rays of Hope. 

To give you a better overview, I listed these here:


1) Assist with Social Media content creation

To see my daily work, keep an eye on these Instagram and Facebook accounts. ;) Since Rays of Hope doesn't have a responsible person for managing social media, I'm planning to create a content calendar and in the future train the staff to follow it to keep people updated with Rays of Hope's life. 

The better the online profile, the bigger the chance to get donations for future projects.


2) Take photos

So did you already check their social media accounts? :) 


3) Develop and update the website

The page I'm managing is here. I've made a couple of changes, published some news articles, and updated photos. In my opinion Rays of Hope website is actually already a decent one. The only things that I'd like to add are a subpage of partners and sponsors and highlight stories from former beneficiaries.


4) Collect testimonials from beneficiaries.

I will get there in a couple of months.


5) Give ICT lessons to beneficiaries 

I started with ICT lessons at the end of June. Rays of Hope has two centres, which are 40 km apart from each other. During a work week, I need to give classes on two evenings in the WEM centre (biweekly) in a village called Ayikuma and on two afternoons in my current hometown Ashaiman in the centre named First Contact Place.  


So far I've given ICT lessons only in the centre in Ayikuma. 

The process was quite spontaneous. In my mind, the reason why I traveled to Ayikuma two weeks ago and stayed in WEM for a couple of nights was to get to know better the children and staff members. So in the evening, after the children had returned from school and I started to help them with homework, a staff member came and asked, why I'm not giving them ICT? Next, I was directed to a room with three computers (only one of them worked). Three 7th graders (luckily only three!), stepped in and sat down, unaware of how the next two hours will pass. Little did they know, that I was actually in the same situation as them. I aswell had no idea, what is going to happen next.


Anyways, I quickly switched from this "I'm observing" into "I'm serving" mode and started to freestyle. I introduced myself to the three students and asked them to list down ten things they wanted to know and improve about ICT. When I analyzed their papers then... a moment of "Ahhaa!" and relief. Apparently, all of them wanted in one way or another to know more about files and folders. So the rest of the hour they sat behind the only computer that worked and created folders, renamed them, deleted them, copied, and cut. In my mind, the task was quite mundane but the children still managed to find some kind of spark in it. And as a fun way to end our class, we tried to change different wallpapers. Yay, right!? 


Anyways, don't worry - next time I am prepared and they can (at least in my opinion) do more captivating tasks. For example, I plan to find some fun programs to boost their typing and mouse skills. 


6) Find donors for new projects

Currently, I'm working on a proposal to turn one room in our First Contact Place in Ashaiman into an ICT class. 


7) Create an online database
...to keep track of beneficiaries and easily access their information.


8) Train staff to use the database


As you see, I have many tasks going on at the same time and I'm busy as an African bee. 



To end the blog post on a lighter note, here are some of the photos of the past month:



Local lunch: famous fufu (yellowish white) with goat meat and soup.



Mirror selfie before wedding reception.



Crunching on top of the Longitude Zero degree. (The same that passes Greenwich Meridian.)


Spent a night at a hospital after eating bad street food.



Locals watching a school football match.



It's rainy season in Ghana. A view to a street next to my home.


Rays of Hope pre-schoolers writing an exam.



Estonian went to a store of imported products and bought cheese, cucumber and minced pork.



Gorgeous lady selling peeled oranges.


Me together with the head master of the Holy Gabriel Anglican school (in Ashaiman).


Rays of Hope pre-schoolers (in blue) together with their beneficiaries (in yellow)
 from Holy Gabriel Anglican school.


Me teaching ICT in Rays of Hope's centre in Ayikuma.



Hiking in East-Region of Ghana.



Together with my Twi language teacher Senior Peter (on the right) and two other EU Aid volunteers under an Umbrella Rock.


Pre-schoolers in Rays of Hope




Together with the staff of Rays of Hope Centre





Sunday, 29 May 2022

First weeks in Ghana

I've been in Ghana now for two weeks. This is the length of a period that usually tourists like to spend in favored destinations. 

Unfortunately, as a tourist, I would be a lousy one. So far I haven't visited any famous sightseeings or parks in Ghana, attended safaris, filled my wardrobe with colorful prints, or spent hundreds of cedis in markets. In fact, so far I've spent only 1 cedi to purchase ginger for my cold. 

My "tourist period" - the two weeks - has passed by moving into my new home, and getting to know my workplace, my area, and Ghanaian culture. I've also made start with Twi classes (the most widely spoken local language) and already had a chance to attend a funeral and a Christian Sunday Service. And well, catch a cold. Because it is rainy season now. And every other day it pours cats and dogs in 30-degree heat.

So who is this odd tourist you're reading here about? 

Me, Saile! A European Union Aid Volunteer who next 6 months lives in Ghana, Ashaiman. (A town 20 km from capital Accra, with around 300 000 inhabitants.)

My purpose? - To assist a wonderful NGO called Rays of Hope with communication means and channels, teach its beneficiaries ICT and create a database of them.

What is Rays of Hope Centre about? 

RoHC is an NGO that helps street kids in Ashaiman back to schools and society. It has two centers - one in Ashaiman, where every year a group of beneficiaries is educated daily by the caretakers so that in the following year they could join the local school system. 

The second center situates 35 km from Ashaiman, in a small town named Aykuma. The center is an everyday home for the RoHC children until they finish Basic Education (9th grade) in the area.

As a volunteer what have I done so far? 

Besides settling into my new life I've met with the staff and beneficiaries both in Ashaiman and Aykuma. I've monitored some classes and have had a chance to assist caretakers with teaching, I've made my first updates on RoHC's webpage and social media accounts.

I've also gathered some thoughts about my oncoming assignments but hope to talk more about this in the next blog post. 


So far be welcome to enjoy the beauty of Ghana and the start of my volunteer deployment in Ghana. 


Together with the beneficiaries in Ashaiman.
Pointing on our homes.

Rays of Hope Centre in Aykuma.


Twi class.


View from my garden in home.


Wearing kente on the African Union day.


Eating local pineapple. Yummm.
I'm wearing black in this heat because I just returned from a funeral.


And the pineapple seller.
Bought 4 for 10 cedis. (around 1.2 euros)


And now let's start with the goat photos.

Here's a mom with a 15 min old baby.


And here's a goat with its reflection. 

And here they are. Chilling on a tree.
I simply love goats.


Monday, 16 May 2022

Ghana get ready!


At the airport of Tallinn 4 AM
4AM in the Tallinn Airport
My preparation for Ghana lasted four months -- from the moment I applied for an EU Humanitarian Aid Volunteer position in January until the moment I stepped my foot on a plane to Accra in May. 


The idea to apply came when I was scrolling a Facebook feed and an ad on Mondo's page caught my eye. They were looking for a person with communication and digital skills, who would work with a Ghanaian NGO Rays of Hope Centre, which educates street children and helps them to return to society.


I'd always thought that professions such as a doctor, engineer, teacher, handicrafter, etc are mostly the ones asked for volunteering. But this project was looking for a person with a background in communications, marketing, and project management. Exactly what I had done so far! Therefore I was happy to contribute since I saw it as a way to do something meaningful with my skillset. 


Equally attractive was an opportunity to travel to Ghana to Africa. To a country and a continent where I had never been and had fairly any knowledge about it. 


What more to say - count me in! 


PRACTICE GHANA IN BELGIUM


After passing the interview and being chosen among the final two candidates in February I was sent to an intense EU training in Belgium. This session was surely one of the highlights of the preparation months. 

Training consisted of four-day long zoom classes and a week-long on-ground course in a small town named Jabekke. There, together with my 12 coursemates from across Europe, we got to know more the EU, its Institutions and the truths of the Humanitarian Aid field. We practiced nonstop the different phases of Project Cycle Management, wrote Needs Assesments, Risk Managements. I'm pretty sure that some of us continued in their dreams to debate if it's outcome or out put or what actually is DG ECHO. The culmination of the training was the last three days was a simulation where we solved a humanitarian catastrophe in a country named Samavia.

Me (on the right in green) and my awesome group.

Celebrating our last day with some Macarena.

Even if training was intense, at points stressful and overwhelming, it was equally fascinating, wholesome, and inspiring. I enjoyed interacting with volunteer candidates in my group. There was so much to learn from any of them. We all had different backgrounds, and amounts of experience, we were in different phases in our lives, but we all shared the same desire to work for the greater good.


I also admired the talented trainers and staff of the EU. When the trainers shared their stories we just listened with awe. Shout out to our group lead Emilia Merenmies! 🧡A true Humanitarian Field figure to look up to!



THE USUAL DRILL


Getting my 6th vaccine.

After training followed waiting for the final decision that came at the end of March. And from there on it went intense: confirming flight dates, applying for a visa, booking numerous doctor appointments, creating endless to-do lists, signing all kinds of papers, attending different online calls, classes,meeting up with friends, family, etc.

You know, the usual. 


To look back at it I was glad that at the same time doing all the errands I didn't have work to attend to. So I could solely focus on my deployment. 









KUDOS TO MONDO


Now if someone reads it and finds the four-month-long process a stressful hustle, then... well when choosing Mondo as your sending organization it is actually not that hectic. You can tell that the NGO has been around over a decade. The contacts always kept me on track with the next steps and responded fast to unexpected issues. On top of it, I got a nice selection of books for my deployment from their office. (AitÀh, Diana!)


I received from Mondo even a list of things to pack! 


Some things not included in the proposed list that I took with me: 

  • my favorite spoon
  • 1bag of sour cream/hapukoor
  • rye bread (a must for an Estonian!)
  • 1 kg buckwheat/tatar (easiest dish to make)
  • postcards with gorgeous photos of Estonia
  • Estonian flag and box of sprats/Tallinna kilu (because you know - I need to celebrate the 20th of August there)
  • Four phones. Yup. Let me explain:
    1) My personal
    2) One old Nokia for my Estonian SIM
    3) a relic iPhone for music
    4) And then my brother on the final day was like:
    "Hey - I have an extra phone. Do you want it?"
    Me: "Anything wrong with it?"
    "Naka - I just got a new phone."
    "Sure, why not. More the Merrier.
  • 16 boxes of Malarone to prevent Malaria. (I know this medicine is on the list, but I just wanted to illustrate how craaaaaazy amount it is)
  • A Rubik's Cube I've never managed to put together and a Harmonica I've never managed to play. Let's see how's the situation after 6 months. 

Say you're an Eastern European
w/o saying your an Eastern European.