The halfway mark: what we’ve learned, and coconuts

We are already passing the halfway mark of our ICS adventure with Challenges Worldwide in Accra, entering our seventh week of the twelve. The first half has gone quickly, but looking back, I can say I have learned buckets since arriving here. Buckets of perspective, a lot about business and analytical tools, I have gained a big bunch of new friends from UK and Ghana, and a surprising amount of Ghanaian culture has soaked in by now, too.

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Volunteers from Ghana and the UK share a bottle of Alvaro, a non – alcoholic natural malt based soft drink that is popular in Ghana. 

The realisation of just how much we have learned about the very different life and culture of Accra hit me the other evening, when myself, my counterpart and two other Ghanaian volunteers sat down to watch a mystery DVD I had bought from a street seller. All I knew of the film was that the seller recommended it as his “craziest” Ghanaian movie. It contained a scene where the two central, clownish down-and-out characters tried to improve their fortunes by taking to the city streets to hawk plantain chips through the windows of passing Tro Tros. I soon realised this whole hectic scene would have been completely undecipherable to any of us UK volunteers six weeks ago. The big, non-uniform and battered minibuses passing by that we now recognise as the main method of public transport, Tro Tros; the way that hawkers weave effortlessly in and out of each other and the bonkers traffic, carrying gravity-defying loads on their heads whilst the rest of their bodies remain perfectly mobile to conduct trade; the wordless ease with which they make sales through the windows of moving (and sometimes terrifying) traffic, these transactions so culturally embedded that often no words are necessary, regardless of the widely ranging products being hawked day to day, window to window. Later, elaborate insults were exchanged between characters regarding whether they ate fufu or gari –at first I didn’t understand why this was insulting but at least I knew what the foods were!

Lively and intimately communal transport; a will to work and promote business wherever possible, despite sometimes unaccommodating or even perilous conditions; and a sense of humour. This is becoming the familiar backdrop to our placements in Ghana.

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As the surroundings are becoming more familiar, so we are settling into our work as business consultants. After a rocky beginning to my ICS placement with Challenges, whereby my counterpart and I were allocated two consecutive unsuitable businesses with whom we never worked at all, during the first two working weeks – we are now finally working hard to catch up with a new business which is very glad to receive our help. Akooshi is a craft company which makes high-quality craft products from coconut shells, such as bowls, containers, vases and moneyboxes.

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Since working with Akooshi, I have learned a lot about the wonderful coconut: it is a Mary Poppins shell from which a surprising amount of products and employment may appear. Whilst Akooshi have recognised the durable and attractive crafts potential of the shell material, there is also coconut water and milk to be drunk; flesh to be eaten or made into coconut oil; and the husk makes an excellent plant fertilizer, or alternatively may be turned into carpet.

Given the abundance of coconuts as a resource in Ghana, many companies already exist exploiting one or another of these qualities of the coconut. This presents some interesting partnership opportunities, and opportunities to recycle the often unwanted shell part of the nut. One of Akooshi’s long-term aims is to be able to recycle significant amounts of the coconut shell waste generated from street sellers, creating beautiful craft products whilst making Accra’s streets more beautiful too.

Working collaboratively with my counterpart on analysis and content we were previously unfamiliar with has presented its share of challenges, but we are both equally committed to challenging ourselves and wanting to achieve the best results for our business. Working and living with Alberta so far has felt like quickly acquiring a surprising and hilarious sister from whom I can learn a lot. I am thoroughly looking forward to what the rest of our time working, eating, and discussing coconuts together in Accra may bring.

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