‘Hanging with Chale, here in Ghana’
My name is Alastair, I am 22 years old from South London and I am a UK Volunteer (UKV) with Challenges Worldwide, a charity partnered with International Citizen Service (ICS). The aim of the charity and the program is to eliminate world poverty. After going through an application process in September 2015 I have been selected to go to Accra, Ghana alongside 18 other UKVs. I will be there for 12 weeks working alongside a small-medium enterprise on a voluntary basis from the beginning of February to the end of April 2016. While there I will be partnered with a Ghanaian volunteer of a similar age, similar experience and similar motivations. Together we will conduct various pieces of analyses as well as completing specific projects as directed by the business. We will be doing this in the hope that our efforts will assist the enterprise in creating a lasting, positive impact upon the local economy.
ICS is designed to be accessible to everyone aged between 18-25 years old and it achieves this by not requiring any essential previous experience in business or working abroad. As well as this, you are generally not expected to need to pay for any of your own expenses from the beginning of the application process to the program’s completion. This is because the program is fully-funded by the Department for International Development (DFID); this includes the costs of flights, vaccinations, visa, travel expenses, accommodation and even a weekly stipend while in country. My personal circumstances mean that I would never have been able to take part in an experience like this without the assistance of ICS. I am enormously grateful to be given this opportunity to gain valuable experience working in a developing country and to put my beliefs into action.
I believe that actions that are primarily focussed on helping others are the most valuable actions one can make in life. I hope that by volunteering my time with a business in Ghana I will be able to serve a beneficial role for its employees and generate sustained positive effects for all those affected by the success of the business, including suppliers, customers and local populations.
Nevertheless, it would be naïve and dishonest to not recognise the benefits I will receive from taking part in this program. I believe that an experience working abroad will give me essential skills to help me in any future career I choose to pursue. Any opportunity to work with people from a different background will undoubtedly teach valuable life lessons and the difference between growing up in Accra and London, I imagine, is fairly considerable.
The issue of “voluntourism” is something I am concerned about and I am determined to ensure that my experience would not fall under this title. While it is acceptable to have a good time while volunteering, the main focus of my time is to facilitate the success of small enterprise and I am committed to this. After attending a pre-departure training with Challenges Worldwide in December, I feel more confident that our work will be meaningful based on some of the testimonies of previous volunteers’ detailing their experiences and the wealth of expertise and resources that Challenges Worldwide are able to provide to us and the companies themselves.
In order to secure my place on the programme there is an expectation upon all volunteers with ICS to raise at least £800 before your flights are booked by the charity. This money is seen as a sign of commitment to the programme and is fundraised in order to support the work of your chosen charity. The blog following this one explains how I managed to achieve my fundraising target and I hope it helps you if you decide to apply for the program too.
Before leaving for the placement there has been lots of things we needed to complete including applying for a visa, receiving your vaccinations (8 needed for Ghana and they did make me feel pretty rough), complete some academic readings to familiarise ourselves with the context of business in Africa and various other tasks on Challenges College, an online platform Challenges Worldwide has designed to help manage tasks for all volunteers. Nonetheless, we received plenty of support from the Challenges Worldwide staff and I’d like to extend a big thank you to everyone that helped!
I am incredibly excited to be going to live, work and volunteer in Accra. I am interested in attending church services there despite not being a practicing Christian. In Ghana, over 70% of the population is Christian and faith plays a large part in everyday life for Ghanaians. The largest of the Christian denominations is considered to be charismatic and in preparation I attended a Revival Chapel International church service with a predominantly Ghanaian congregation near where I live. Ghanaian church services have a renowned reputation for their colourful, musical and energetic processions and I was not disappointed. The Pastor allowed me to speak to those present about what I was doing and as a result I will be hoping to meet some of them and their families during my stay in Ghana!
It is probably no surprise the music scene in Ghana is dominated by gospel music. Yet, there is still a diverse range of music enjoyed by the population, some highlighted genres such as Highlife, Hiplife and Azonto. I have been listening to some of this music and have particularly enjoyed songs by Reggie Rockstone, the ‘Godfather of Hiplife’; I look forward to listening to more music in country.
Upon returning to the UK, I hope to have a better understanding of Ghanaian culture and know that I fully submerged myself in it. After completing university and a year of working I am currently re-evaluating my goals and what motivates me. I would like my experiences in Accra to help me discover what I am truly passionate about as well as equip me with some new skills for the workplace. I am keen to learn some accounting skills, a necessary skill in some of the countries Challenges Worldwide work in as there are allegedly cases where companies fail to keep accounts in order to avoid paying taxes. I also hope to develop my knowledge of the benefits technology can offer growing firms.
Living in a less developed country than I am used to, I hope that I will return with a renewed sense of self and a deeper awareness of my relatively privileged upbringing in the UK. I generally do not have many reservations about taking part in the program except one. I am aware of Britain’s colonial past and its relationship with Ghana and I hope that my presence and work in Accra doesn’t reinforce any historical or contemporary tensions related to this. Nevertheless, on the whole, I remain confident that I will go to Accra with the intention to serve those I meet and work with and will do so with an open mind to ensure I return having learnt many valuable lessons. I believe if I approach my placement with this mind-set, then I would have already achieved the first step to ensuring my actions leave a positive impact on the people I work with and meet.