Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The Pursuit of Happiness, Poetry and Electricity

Last Friday,  the power went out and the water was cut.

WOSAG were sat in the office in a state of delirium, sweat and work. We had just delivered a sexual education session at Kanvili Junior High School where we covered menstruation and puberty and answered the questions the students had submitted to the anonymous question box we brought last time we visited the school. It went very well might we add.

The power cut continued over the weekend and there was a dramatic sand/rain/thunder storm; the heavy rain was cold and refreshing, goats flew past windows, the sky lit up with lightning. By the end of the weekend, Team WOSAG were somewhat worse for wear...


Monday, 20th March was International Day of Happiness and we had plans to celebrate the day. 

😊 Happiness Day was founded by the United Nations in 2012, after the general assembly adopted the UN Resolution 66/281 which declares that "the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal" and is observed by all 193 member states. 😊

You can read the World Happiness Report here. Can you guess which is the happiest country in the world?

As a team we did an anonymous gift swap where we picked a name out of a hat and you had a budget of 2 Ghanaian Cedis to buy or make a gift (not including food or perishable items) and also write three things you like about that person. The gifts were small yet thoughtful and made us all very happy indeed! Then we all shared a happy memory from our lives; some made us laugh, some brought a few tears to the eye (Ella and Dominique...).

The power came back on for some of us overnight and with the Tamale dawn came World Poetry Day! 

✏ The decision to proclaim 21st March as World Poetry Day was adopted during UNESCO's 30th session held in Paris in 1999. The observance of this day is meant to encourage a return to the oral tradition of poetry recitals and to support linguistic diversity and offer endangered languages the opportunity to be heard. ✏

Poetry is one of the greatest forms of expression; it reveals to us that all humans around the world share similar emotions and experiences, that the innermost, deepest feelings can be communicated. 

To honour the day we held a competition at Kanvili Junior High School in which the children were encouraged to write a poem with the theme of "Change Your World" (which happens to be part of the ICS motto). All of the entries were amazing and we had some profound pieces to choose from.

Our winner was the brilliant Kwara Modesta who we all agreed transcended the page and touched us all.

Followed by our great runner up:

Looks like we have some budding writers and future change makers at Kanvili JHS!

"Medicine, law. business, engineering, these are noble pursuits, and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for" John Keating, Dead Poets Society.

Written by Dominque

*UPDATE 22/03/2017: It has come to light that the previous winner plagerised her poem and so, we have changed the winner to the first runner up.*

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Sorry, Not Sorry. #BeBoldforChange

Last week on Wednesday 8th March we collaborated with the volunteers of ABC Create Change to hold an event to celebrate International Women’s Day (soz for the delay, power outages and all that). The theme set for this year was #BeBoldforChange! We were encouraged by this theme to hold an event which would motivate women and men to be bold enough to help achieve gender parity.

International Women's Day 2017! 

The day promptly began at 2 pm GMT+ (Ghana Man Time) and included a ‘Pledge Wall’ where you could write your personal pledge for the week, the month or the year of what you hope to do to #BeBoldforChange. Here’s Lindsay’s pledge which we are all proud of (and slightly jealous of for not thinking of it first)
“Today we celebrate the women who have made it, but also we should celebrate the women who are trying. The women who continue to fight, the faceless women who try and try again despite the odds not being in their favour. We value their fight, and though their names will never be celebrated, their achievements are part of something larger and equality will be achieved in all of their names. Every small step, every small action is a bold statement capable of creating ripples and spreading a much wider message which will create a positive change for International Women’s Rights.”
Our Pledge Wall!

We had dramatizations about influential women past and present:
  • -         Yaa Asantewaa (Asante Queen Mother who led the Asantes to fight British Colonialism)
  • -          Rosa Parks (African-American Civil Rights Activist)
  • -          J K Rowling (Author, UK’s 13th Wealthiest Women)
  • -          Mary Seacole (A Black British Battlefield Nurse who funded herself to save lives)
  • -          Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (1st Female President of Liberia)
  • -          Malala Yousafzai (Advocate for Girls Education, Youngest Female Nobel Peace Prize Winner)
Yaa Asantewaa
Rosa Parks
J K Rowling

We hosted a panel which consisted of, CEO of International Service Joanne Baker, Northern Region Representative of NGO Days for Girls Madame Rhoda, Social Worker and Host Mum to ICS volunteers Baidaw Issahaku, WOSAG Programme Manager Madame Rabi, Gender Equality Officer at EQUIP HUB Stephanie Shea and lastly, Facilitation Assistant at EQUIP HUB Fayuda Yakubu. We learned about these women’s personal lives, the struggles they have faced and the bold actions they have taken to tackle issues that surround gender equality. This segment of the program was extremely insightful, humbling and motivating. Hands down the best part of the day!

Our amazing panel! 

A passionate recital of Maya Angelou’s ‘Still I Rise’ that champions women’s sexuality, pride and boldness closed the program with a bang! Of course, an event in Ghana wouldn’t be completed without a bit of dancing and mingling with the guests and community. 

All in all, International Women’s Day celebrated at the Mandela Development Centre on Dagomba Street was AMAAAAZING!

We pledge to #BeBoldforChange!

What's your pledge to #BeBoldforChange?

Written by Dernica

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Meet Madam Weedad

ICV Mariam and UKV Dominique tracked down the very busy and elusive Madam Weedad – Founder of WOSAG- and cornered her into an interview.  

Name: Madam Weedad

Place of birth : Bimbilla , in the Nanumba District of the Northern Region

Family : One of 8, my polygamous, father had two wives. 7 years ago, my father passed away. I am married and have two children, aged 5 and 2.

Favorite food : Kenkey

What made you set up WOSAG?  
In the northern region of Ghana and in most parts of Africa, women are left behind in terms of development. There are a lot of challenges that are faced by women in the northern region of Ghana. Women and girls face challenges by virtue of being born a female. And it is attributable to cultural, religious beliefs and other reasons. So, because of those attitudes, women and girls find themselves facing challenges. Though there have been a lot of organizations set up that actually deal with the challenges of women, there are too many challenges, so we needed to set up a women-focused organization led by women so that women can identify their own challenges, then also identify possible solutions and possible ways to deal with these challenges. That was the main reason why we set up WOSAG. 

WOSAG is mainly set up to actually empower women or to ensure that women are in a position to identify their own challenges and then also confront those challenges. But, of course with the support of other stake holders. So, it is basically women themselves identifying their challenges and then also finding solutions to those challenges, rather than relying on third parties to solve their problems.

What challenges have you come across?: 

The challenges, especially for a local organization at its infant stage is actually being able to secure enough funding to deal with the problems and to execute your strategies. The reason being that when you set up an organization you need to actually be able to demonstrate your experience to donors because this is one of the donor requirements - you need to demonstrate what you have achieved.

But if it is a fairly new NGO, how can you do this?  You are in a situation where even though you know the challenges on the ground, you haven’t had several years of experience or done much, so your record of achievement is not  huge.

To demonstrate to donors in the world of competitive funding becomes very difficult. You are easily out competed, so that is one of the challenges we face. Also, there are certain other requirements that we are still struggling to meet because we are still fairly new . For example, sometimes donors will want you to actually meet a certain amount (of your own funding) already before they can support you. But if you are a new organization how are you able to do that?

In the communities where we work, like I indicated earlier, the challenges of women are related to cultural and religious reasons and these are deep-rooted beliefs. They are so embedded in our thinking, in our world view that it becomes difficult to  change the status quo overnight. It is also somewhat frustrating. Like, you are in the community to actually confront these issues but you are also challenged because of deep-seated and long standing belief systems. People are born with it. It is a long-standing one so it just becomes very difficult for people to do away with – it takes time.

Also, society work or NGO work is time bound and sometimes you have a project, say one to two years where you want to deal with these issues. But within one or two years, you are unable to actually change the behavior, way of thinking, and attitudes. It’s frustrating. So at the end of the day you ask yourself “so what have we been able to achieve”?

Behavioral and attitudinal issues need a lot of time but the donors do not give you a very long term funding duration – the maximum you can get is 3-5 years. This is not enough to change attitudes so it becomes somewhat frustrating when dealing with women’s issues because of the patriarchal system in which we find ourselves. This is worrying. So I think those are the key challenges that WOSAG (as a growing organization) can find ourselves with

Dry or rainy season? : Rainy season is a bit cool for me – dry season is horrible

What do you like about ICS?: 

ICS presents a very unique opportunity to WOSAG in the sense that, yes we are already working as part of our work on sexual reproductive health issues as well as other aspects of woman empowerment, so the ICS program has actually given us the human resource for this.

We are actually challenged by the number of people we have in field exhibiting their activities, so the ICS volunteer program has actually added on to our human resource base because what we would have been doing as core team of WOSAG is what the ICS program is actually undertaking.

And it develops our work. Cohorts, both past present and continuous, have adopted strategies and incorporated radio programs which reach out to other stake holders and our partners. In this way, ICS makes WOSAG visible. ICS also helps WOSAG achieve more than we would have because of the limited number of staff that we have. The number of volunteers we have every three months reaching out to the communities and working on sexual reproductive health issues widens our scope and coverage.

So, for us , ICS  is a very wonderful program and I like everything about it. Sometimes the innovations you bring on board are very critical for any growing organization.

What languages do you speak?: 

English, Dagbani

Tertiary education : Bachelor’s degree and two masters. I did my 1st degree at the University of Ghana , Lagon  and my 1st master’s degree at the University of Cape Coast  in the central region and my second masters in Holland, the Hague at the International Institute of Social Studies.

You studied in Holland - did you like it? The weather can be harsh. I think the season in Holland I liked would be summer. The winter wasn’t so harsh but the week after I left, it snowed. I would like to have seen snow.

Transcribed by Mariam, written by Dominique  (Best friends for life 💕 )
Mariam and Dominique

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Media Moguls of Tamale

On Tuesday 21st February, Sala, Dominique, Mercy and Ella went to Radio Savanna 91.2 FM at 8 am to have a conversation about teenage pregnancy and WOSAG's efforts towards reducing this and introducing long term sex education. It went really well; the team were well prepared, eloquent, and the presenter facilitated the discussion brilliantly.

The four of them were all a little nervous, but because they were so passionate about WOSAG and female empowerment it made the conversation with the presenter effortless. Dominique should narrate audio books - what a great radio voice!

The presenter asked out of the box questions (he was genuinely interested in WOSAG) and was also able to translate what the group spoke about into Dagbani which increased the scope and reach of WOSAG and made us visible to more people.

They were also fortuitous enough to meet a journalist at the studio who also works towards female empowerment and was eager for WOSAG to support her and another NGO in delivering Sexual and Reproductive Health education in schools across Tamale. Major stride forward, check out her blog: sayidamalteety.blogspot.com

From left to right : Sala, Dominique and Mercy on air at Radio Savannah

Meanwhile, across the city in Banvim community the rest of the cohort met with the chief (cue taking shoes off, kneeling, clapping, standing up and shoes back on) to present to him cola nuts (as tradition demands) and tell him our intention which he agreed to and gave the go ahead.

Cola nuts : They taste bitter at first, but get sweeter 

 WOSAG then set up chairs, the projector, speakers and treats in an improvised cinema right in the heart of the village. The room also housed the chief's two horses - these stallions also joined us for the awareness raising session from which they know doubt benefited.

We started the day with a questionnaire and discussion about sexual health education in the home to gain the men and women's opinions.

Then, we played a film about two families; one family educates their children about sex, the other doesn't. The consequences were extreme; unsafe abortion, STIs, unplanned pregnancy.
Banvim Community Awareness Raising Event
It got the crowd discussing the issues and how they talk to their children about sex and contraception. We then went through another questionnaire to see if the film has an impact and was understood.

A lot of people changed their opinions and plan to be more verbal and open with their children.

The big turnout at Banvim

We gathered a lot of valuable information from the awareness raising session in Banvim and even recruited three male peer educators who we're going to start training on contraception, recognizing STIs, consent, and how to advise their peers come March 3rd.

Serious progress has been made this week and we can't wait to update you on our next community entries into the junior high-schools ; Banvim Presbyterian and Kanvili R.C.

Also, Mercy did her first Facebook post this week. She's been gaining experience and skills whilst here at WOSAG and is quick becoming a Social Media Pro.

And that's one of the best things about volunteering in a cross-cultural environment - sharing skills and having fun with people.

Mercy gaining social media skillz

Well done Mercy!!

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Kicking up a Storm in Tamale

 Here comes Team Indomie (WOSAG)!

Over the last few weeks, both the ICVs (In- Country volunteers) and UKVs (UK volunteers) have been adapting well to their new environment and enjoying their host home experiences.  In the Northern part of Ghana where we are working, it is currently the Harmattan season which means it is very hot and dry and mosquitos are in abundance. It’s definitely been having an effect on the UKVs, even resulting in some of them contracting malaria (poor Dernica! Luckily, she’s at home recovering right now). Unfortunately, malaria is very common here but the good news is that it is found and dealt with early and quickly.

Malaria aside, we have really enjoyed the last few weeks and we’re learning a lot and bonding as a team. We are now in our 6th week of placement and have been working hard on several projects which we wanted to share with you. Here they are!

International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM (Female Genital Mutilation)

Last Monday, 6th February, was International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM. Team WOSAG decided to hold an awareness raising event to observe the day. People could see us in front of Melcom, a supermarket in Tamale City Centre, holding posters and signs that said things such as “We will #EndFGM” , “Protect the Girls!”, “FGM is a Violation Against Human Rights” and “Ghana Supports #EndFGM”. We took picutres with members of the public who were in support of ending FGM. Melcom provided some awesome music and we did a lot of dancing! It was a great way to get people’s attention.

FGM has been illegal in Ghana since 1994 and the UK since 1985. FGM is normally carried out on young girls and women and can lead to severe bleeding, infections, infertility and complications in childbirth. It is a violation of human rights and WOSAG along with International Service supports Goal 5 of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) which aims to eradicate the practice by 2030.

Community Entry (Banvim and Kanvili)

On 26th January we went to Banvim to introduce ourselves to the women and men’s groups and administer a questionnaire to gain feedback on what they had learnt from the previous cohort and what they know already. Since they do not speak English, Mariam and Sala acted as our Dagbani translators (don't worry they're giving Dagbani lessons to the rest of us!). We had a great time meeting them and found that the women in particular were very knowledgeable. Afterwards, we proceeded to Banvim Presbyterian JHS and met Madam Perpetua (a teacher at the school and founder of the school’s girls group) and her colleagues. We administered questionnaires to 16 children , 8 boys and 8 girls, to find out how much the students knew about their sexual and reproductive health, sexual consent, menstruation and domestic abuse.              

The following day we went to Kanvili community and delivered the same questionnaires to the men and women’s groups there to also gain feedback.  We didn’t get the opportunity to give the JHS students our questionnaires because they were in class at the time but we will be back next week for a community awareness raising event so we look forward to meeting the students then.

WOSAG On The Air

WOSAG recently petitioned some local radio stations for free air time so that we could raise awareness about domestic violence , teenage pregnancy, sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) and our event on FGM Day.  It went well although we were all a bit nervous to hear ourselves on the radio! Sala was really well prepared and led the conversation. What a star! We will hopefully have more radio slots in the coming weeks. It is a great way to raise awareness about WOSAG and the work we do.

Written by Sala and Mercy

Friday, 3 February 2017

We're Ghana be great!

WOSAG have just wrapped up their fourth week and it is the hottest yet. With frequent, sporadic power cuts, the only relief is the cooling-down of sweat as it trickles down your spine, past your hips and into the crevice of your gluteus maximus.

This week we all healed from the traumatic, bizarre experience of watching a goat being hit by a car and the ensuing madness as the goat murderers and witnesses argued about who would tell the Chief. Other culture shocks have included the huge portion sizes we are given in our host homes (which Lindsay started hiding under her bed so as not to offend her host mother) and walking through the Harmattan (the season we’re currently experiencing which covers everything in red dust).

We also came together to organize events, write reports, email menstrual cup companies, behave passive aggressively, contact radio stations to ask for free slots, collectively make fun of Auggy, collectively love Lindsay and tolerate everyone’s “favourite Tamalelian”-  Sala.

Today, I will introduce you to the WOSAG tribe sans tribal scars:

Ella: 24, previous ICS volunteer and now WOSAG’S In Country team leader, aspiring lawyer (booo!), beautiful and very, very bad at boxing with a self-proclaimed large dowry. She is dedicated to WOSAG’s mission and has connections all around Tamale. If you ever want anything done, just ask Ella because she “knows a guy”.

Roz: 24, Irish, our UK team-leader, a down to earth, fashionable feminist, more organized than a Filofax but possibly has early onset dementia because she needs 108 reminders to take her anti-malarials. She loves animals and is in desperate need of nail clippers if anyone has any spare.

Auggy: 24, Ghanaian from Bolga who is on every social media site that has ever existed, an awesome nurse who can’t pronounce the second stage of the menstrual cycle – ‘proliferative’.  He can sing, dance, model and dress well, but of course he knows all this because the person who loves Auggy the most is Auggy.

Dernica: 22, East London born and raised volunteer with a large smile and contagious laugh. She tells you how it is, she’s honest and has an established relationship with the woman who sells fried yams and plantain across the street from the office. Her legacy will be bringing the menstrual cup to Ghana and she wants to maybe do a Masters in International Development and get a tailored Ghanaian woman’s dress, innit!

 Mercy: 20, upper east Ghanaian volunteer who loves singing and wearing dresses. She wants gender equality, a world where everyone has chicken, and she loves to sing at church. She is starting to learn to swim and is the most promising potential Ghanaian Olympic swimmer yet!

Dominique: 24, Scottish volunteer, loves to box and play piano, can pass as a young man in Ghana because of her short hair, and was admired by a random gentleman who commented on her stamina??? She wants all women to be empowered to make their own decisions about their own bodies, and she wants to work with sexual violence victims to help them cope after their trauma. She likes to make fun of others.

Sala: 18, recent graduate of SHS, she really loves her phone- it’s an additional limb at the end of her fingers. Her ideal land is a place where everyone is “(un)happy”. She likes listening to music and chose to be a volunteer to learn many things about women’s rights and about another culture. She’s an excellent translator… some of the time. She wants to travel to the UK to learn about the culture. She also wants to do the Hajj.

Mariam: 21, Tamale native and ICV, dedicated Muslim who always leaves the office to pray and sometimes leaves the office because her boyfriend calls. Does she pray? Does she talk to her boyfriend? Who’s to say? Brilliant translator, though. She wants to see women and children achieve their potential in society as a whole. She wants to travel to England some day and also go to Mecca to do the Hajj eventually - but NOT with Sala.

Lindsay: 25, UKV from Wales. She is the brightest natural born leader you will ever meet. She has great aspirations of having all her hair braided in millions of plaits whilst here in Tamale but is still walking around with only half her hair in braids. Lindsay spends her free time with her adopted cat, Lindsay Junior, and listening to Auggy, her host home counterpart, talk about himself. She is a fantastic film director and we will see her name on the Walk of Fame. There is no doubt in my mind.

I truly believe we have a fantastic crew that works well together and it is a pleasure to be among such interesting, funny, sarcastic and easy going people. We're Ghana be great! 

Written by Dominique.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Peace ain’t no piece of cake…But they’re both pretty tasty!

With the world celebrating the “School Day of Non-violence and Peace” today, here in the WOSAG office we are thinking about personalities of the world who helped attain global peace and one of such respected persons is Mahatma Gandhi.

To make this day a memorable one, we came up with a number of activities which include making origami doves which symbolize peace and each team member wrote down a personal peace quote. We also had a discussion about peace and violence in the office where everyone expressed his or her opinions on the topic. Below are our individual personal peace quotes;

Team WOSAG united against violence

Ella : Let’s unite to end violence
Roz : Peace comes from an understanding and interest in our fellow humans.
Mariam : Violence slows down the development of a country so let's promote peace.
Sala : Peace for today and peace forever.
Dominique : Peace comes from within.
Mercy : Encourage peace.
Dernica : Peace isn’t absence of conflict but rather the ability to handle conflict through peaceful means.
Lindsay: Peace ain’t no piece of cake…But they’re both pretty tasty.
Auggy : Peace is like the feeling of peeing on yourself. .You feel the depth of its warmth but unable to describe its true feeling to others.



Feel free to let us know your opinions.

Peace is neither the absence of conflict, a refuge from injustice, the silencing of those who suffer,
nor is it achieved with weapons or domination by the strongest nor the silencing of differences.

Peace is when we create and live out that “every man, every woman is my brother, my sister” without distinction of country, race, color, gender, social status or creed. Total Peace can be accomplished when we feel that we are a universal family with seven billion brothers and sisters.

Today is the School Day of Non-violence and Peace which takes place on January 30 every year. This day marks the death of the national and spiritual leader of India, Mahatma Gandhi, and was founded by the Spanish poet Llorenç Vidal Vidal in Majorca in 1964.

Non-violence and Peace Day 2017

Mahatma Gandhi was born in Porbandar, India, on 2 October 1869. After earning a degree in law in England, he settled in South Africa and fought there against the discrimination suffered by Indians. Returning to India he organized non-violent resistance against colonialism, promoting non-cooperation with the British administration. Imprisoned on numerous occasions, in 1937 as the leader of the movement of millions for independence, he was able to mobilize for peace or halt the violence. He tried to stop clashes between Hindus and Muslims that occurred after independence in August 1947 (Gandhi fought against the division of India into two States, India and Pakistan, one Hindu and other Muslim). He was assassinated on January 30, 1948, but he is still considered to be an icon of peace today.

The "School Day of Non-violence and Peace" is observed on the anniversary of the death of Mahatma Gandhi, in schools all over the world. Its basic and permanent message is: "Universal love, non-violence and peace. Universal love is better than egoism, non-violence is better than violence, and peace is better than war".

Former Director-General of UNESCO, Federico Mayor Zaragoza, has been promoting the School Day of Non-violence and Peace for decades, saying "we can not achieve a sustainable development without a culture of peace".

 By Auggy & Mariam.