Wednesday, 6 September 2017

The Wondrous Tongo Hills

Week 8: The Wondrous Tongo Hills

Is there a better way to spend a cultural learning trip than to learn of a Chief who has twenty-three wives?

Youth Alive were lucky enough to be able to spend the first day of September and the end of the busy eighth week of placement with a visit to Tongo Hills. This was part of our cultural learning experience. It was interesting, striking and extraordinarily beautiful; it is set in such a rural location with breath-taking views. After walking miles, we were fortunate enough to see views for miles on reaching the top.

Brief History
Upon initial introduction of our guided tour, we were informed about the hiding cave where the people used to hide when they were captured for slavery and where the Chief took refuge; the hyena cave where hyenas were living; also, the area full of rocks which was once used as a classroom and could cater for around ten students due to the sheltered area. On top of the classroom, there is a rock placed much higher where the class were able to climb on top of to ring the bell. This was to create awareness for the nearby students in the villages so that they were able to come to the classes immediately.

Chief’s Palace
Upon entering the Chief’s Palace, there are a number of shrines and graves in place in order to enter the house. This is in order to protect the household from any attack from outsiders through spiritually. The graves are for the late chiefs and that place is meant for burial of any chief who passed away except any chief who succeed in the GOLOB festival and many others that will not be buried at the entrance of the chief palace. During this festival, they usually remove the top half of their clothing so that they are bare-chested. This is due to tradition. The Chief’s Palace has over 300 people living there.

The journey upwards
Due to the fact it is currently rainy season in Ghana, the rain strikes when you are least expecting it to. However we were somewhat optimistic this would not happen whilst we were clambering rocks and taking ‘candid’ photographs whilst at the top. We were able to take shelter underneath a rock cave until the rainfall passed.

Photograph showing Team Youth Alive; enjoying the cultural visit after visiting the Chief’s Palace.
Photographed (from left): Jasmine, Nancy, Leticia, Jude, Patience, Owen, Philip, Louise, Carla, Nana, Sally, the bus driver, Hope and Olivia. Photograph taken by Emma.

The nude ritual
Although we were also able to visit Tengzug Shrine which is situated a close walk from the Chief’s Palace, members of the public are only able to enter once granted permission from the caretaker. If a caretaker dies, in order to get a new caretaker they will have to go to the soothsayer for making a sacrifice. They believe that the soothsayer speaks to the Gods. The messages that God wants to give to the community must go through the soothsayer. It is thought to bring blessing and prosperity on entering. It goes without saying that we were not able to enter due to the fact that you have to remove your entire top half of all clothing in order to enter which goes against International Service regulations.  It is thought to be a ‘nude ritual’.
In terms of the powers of the shrine, it is believed that if you make a request upon the shrine it will come true. Previously, people have entered the shrine on the requests of many things such as desire for power and problems- their requests were granted.

Overall we all had a great day and learnt a lot about the History of Tongo Hills.



As the popular saying goes « Seeing is believing » I have always had the zeal to travel to the northern part of Ghana since I heard a lot of good things about it. I was born and raised in the South and I felt that applying for the International Citizen Service program will offer me the opportunity to learn and experience the diverse culture of the people of the northern part of Ghana as well as the western culture of the UK. On my arrival in Tamale I was very happy at how the people of Tamale were welcoming. The in-country orientation was a good opportunity to have a cross cultural learning, it was also my first time of meeting my counterpart and team members and that is how the whole journey began
Moving to the Upper East Region to start the placement got me very excited as we were partnered with Youth Alive which seeks to empower women and youth. But this was not without a challenge of not knowing how to ride a bike this is because unlike the south where public transport like “trotro” and taxis are rampant,  in the north  they are a bit difficult to come by so people use motorbikes, bicycles and “yellow yellow” to facilitate their movement. So the first three days, I was given lift by my team members .I realized I had a long way to go and I can’t depend on lifts so I took up the challenge to change my world. So one sunny afternoon with the help of my lovely counterpart Sally, I learnt how to ride a bike after that we treated ourselves to” fan yogurt” and the rest is history,now I got mad skills hahaha😂😂😂.
Nancy and Sally having yogurt.

More so, I was keen on learning the UK culture. This opened me up to a wide range of diversities of both Cultures. I came to terms that things considered 'normal’ here in Ghana is not the same with the UK. A typical instance is how the UK volunteers feel attached to some domestic animals such as dogs and cat and even  named the dog in our office “Lola” which is the very opposite with the In-country volunteers. And the use of “ring” instead of “call”,”okidoki” instead “okay” not  forgetting how conscious they are with time. 
Then came my host home which gave me more reason to feel a part of a family. My host family comprise of my host mom and dad, two sisters and two brothers. They are really warm people and there has never been a dull moment at home. I have learnt a lot from them. From learning basic Kasim such as “Dimwaru” means Good morning, “Akelei” means Thank you, “Kuyite” means how are you? To learning how to stir TZ and preparing local soups like; “Kanzaga” and “Saa”, to understanding the  history and culture of Navrongo .In Ghana there’s a history behind  names certain  towns so I got curious to know the meaning of Navrongo from my host parents and I was told that people of Navrongo migrated from Burkina Faso in search of a fertile land to settle when there got to the present day Navrongo ,the land was very mushy  so they called the place ” Naga voro” which  is because of the sound their feet made anytime they walk due to the flooded nature of the land  so they settled on the land with the reason that, it is very fertile and good for cultivating crops like rice and millet. It later became Navrongo due to One thing that cannot be left out is the beautiful lake near our host home which makes the environment serene and gives a pretty view of the sunset.
Nancy and Sally with their Host Parents.

 This cannot be said without the mention sensitizations on sexual reproductive health and early child marriage ,planning of events ,teamwork which has helped me develop both personally and professionally for my future career  and also meeting with certain stakeholders more especially the community development committee which has helped me to understand and acquire practical knowledge and information on issues about people from some rural communities. I had the opportunity to visit places like Tono irrigation dam which is the main source of fish for the people of Navrongo as well as Tongo Hills

Volunteers at  Tongo hills.
which is one the historical site in the Upper East Region. And guess what? Just when I least expected my team members voted me as the ‘most improved volunteer’ how cool is that 😉😉.
In all, this has given me a reason to say I have broken the barrier to change my world.
Nancy having a nice jump after our  last sensitization.
Written by : Nancy Owusu Agyemang.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Voices Left Unheard - The Importance of International Youth Day

International Youth Day, Saturday 12th August 2017
 spent with the community in Navrongo

“The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow.” – Nelson Mandela

Youth empowerment is an aspect that is important to focus upon in developing countries as well as developed countries, however it often goes unnoticed. The work of Youth Alive, Ghana, aims to keep as many children in education as long as possible, in an attempt to reduce poverty, early child marriage, and increase the confidence of the youth, offering young people more opportunities. Navrongo, in the Upper East Region of Ghana, is mainly dominated by farmers, meaning that this region tends to be economically disadvantaged compared to other regions of Ghana, such as Accra or Tamale. For this reason, Youth Alive has decided to work in the region as well as the Upper West, to help tackle issues regarding early child marriage, the confidence of youth, and sexual health and reproduction, through delivering sensitisations to the community, increasing their knowledge and awareness of the subjects.
                                                                 Do you have a voice?

Recognising what is important to
 the Youth in Navrongo
The voice of the youth often goes unheard, especially in underdeveloped countries, where early child marriage is prevalent. Worldwide there are over 700 million girls that are married before the age of fifteen, often leading to teenage pregnancy, unsafe abortions and an end to education, resulting to a life of poverty, whereby the youth are silent as they do not have the confidence to speak up to their families, communities and country. It is usually a girl’s family that pushes her into marriage, due to the cultural belief that as soon as a girl reaches puberty, they should be ‘in the kitchen and having babies’. It is important that the Education and Health System work closely together to eradicate early child marriage. There should be an increased knowledge regarding sexual health and the reproduction system, as it is often believed by many young girls that to stop menstrual cramps you should have unprotected sex, or that by having sex for the first time you won’t get pregnant. This limited knowledge means the youth have a higher risk of falling into the trap of poverty. By teaching the youth the facts, they have the knowledge to change their society and cultural beliefs of the elders, and the issue of teenage pregnancy and early child marriage will be reduced.

                                 Can anyone make a change?

Raising awareness across town
with our Instagram cut out. 
Sometimes, I believe people from the UK and westernised countries take many things for granted. For instance, there is a free education system within the UK, giving both males and females the opportunity to attend school, a right and a privilege that is largely unrecognised by the population. Little do the youth know, that this education can lead them to a prosperous future, where both men and women are equals. In many developing countries however, families need to pay for the education of their child, suggesting that an education can lead to a better future, but children from less financially able backgrounds are often illiterate meaning that they will continue to work in manual labour for the foreseeable future. Though this still happens in the world, it does not mean that the youth cannot become successful. Every young person has the power to change the world, create peace, and fight for equality, no matter of their background. After all, Barack Obama became the first African-American President of the United States! It is important that there are idols such as Obama who the youth can aspire to be, or to achieve their future dreams and goals.
                      Do you know what your human rights are?

Some of the team wandering
Navrongo Bus Station. 
To build the confidence of youth, International Service; a Human Rights based charity, have started a partnership with Youth Alive so that the youth know about the difference between their rights and responsibilities. For example, many of the youth in the Upper East Region of Ghana believe that their strength is carrying water, suggesting their lack of understanding of what human rights are. Each and every person has the right to education, their own body, and the freedom of speech. Youth Alive hopes to empower the youth to recognise these important human rights, and the impact that they can have within society, teaching and implementing changes to cultural beliefs for future generations, leading to an equal and fair society.

Celebrating International Youth Day in Navrongo, is exciting for the Youth Alive team, as it means we are able to meet members of the community and listen to what the youth have to say.  What they feel is important, and what they believe peace means. During our time spent in the community on Saturday we met some very inspiring Youth who shared with us their dreams and ambitions, they  were very passionate about the topic and loved our interaction.

A supportive response from many in the town. 

If International Service volunteers, working in partnership with Youth Alive can achieve one thing, it is to empower the youth so that their voices are heard. They will not be afraid to stand up in front of the communities and voice their opinions on what they believe is important, and they will not be afraid to make a change, so the world becomes a more peaceful place. As Nelson Mandela states, “The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow”. 

Author: Louise Dobinson

Friday, 11 August 2017

Cakes, Lakes and Pizza Heartaches

The third week had swung by in no time at all. The first two weeks had gone in a flash and the whole team was starting to feel as if we were running out of time here in Navrongo. On the Sunday, it was Louise’s 20th birthday. We surprised her with a big birthday cake and all gathered at her and Emmanuel’s host home to share food and enjoy the day.

Monday and Tuesday of the third week went fairly slowly, but by Wednesday we were finally ready to complete our community entries.

The six communities we had decided to work with were: Navrongo Central, Janania, Vunania, Gaani, Tampola, and Biu. All six of the communities lie in the municipal region of Navrongo, but spread out of town towards the South, with Biu being around 10km from Central.

After getting to the office bright and early, we all squeezed in the back of the bus and set off towards Biu. On arrival, we were informed that the Chief was unable to attend the meeting, but a spokesperson expressed his gratitude on the Chief’s behalf. A bottle of good old hard liquor and a bag of kola nuts were presented to the spokesperson as a show of good will. This process repeated as we traveled back towards Central, stopping at each of the communities we were to be working in. Unfortunately, representatives from Navrongo Central were unable to make the entry due to pre-existing plans.

On the Thursday of Week 3, we were given a cultural presentation in the afternoon by our Team Leader - Nana. It was about the Ashanti region of Ghana; the area where Nana comes from. He taught us about the ‘Golden Stool’ and about the dances they do at traditional funerals.

As Friday morning dawned, we set off on a trip to Tono Irrigation Dam. This was organised by Emmanuel and Leticia as part of our guided learning program. Unfortunately, Louise and Patience were unable to make the trip due to sickness. The cycle took us approximately one hour and 11km out of town. On arrival, we were impressed by the scale of the dam; it’s one of the biggest of its kind in West Africa. We took a walk out onto the platform and admired the view from across the water. Small fishing boats drifted along in the distance, and above the lake was a hill-scape that stretched for miles. Begrudgingly we set off back to the office. On the way back we came across a small yellow shop on the side of the road; we wanted to stop to pick up some lunch. The UK Volunteers were especially in awe when we walked inside to find… chocolates, milk, cakes, and biscuits – actual Pringles too! Needless to say lunch was a good one that day.

On Saturday, a few of us had decided that another bike ride was on the cards. This time, however, it was to the old Slave Camp situated a short cycle ride away. We were shown around the Slave Camp by a group of local residents who were benefiting from the ecotourism project that had been established there. They were great tour guides, and explained to us every site’s significance at the old camp. We were even treated to a demonstration as to how the rocks on one particular hilltop can be used as percussion instruments. It was a brilliant experience. On the way back into town, we passed a hotel/restaurant that was advertising pizza on a big banner on the wall outside. We’d all been craving a slice of pizza for weeks. We thought it was actually going to finally happen. On inquiry, however, they revealed that they didn’t have any pizza in on that particular day. And just like that, our hopes and dreams came tumbling down around us. Would we ever find pizza?

Most of us visited church and relaxed on Sunday.

Week 4 saw a more toned down approach to the project. We knew now what it was that we were doing, and we knew we really had to get on with things. On the Monday morning, we went in groups of two to conduct meetings with the Community Development Committees of the areas we were working in. The meetings were very positive, and we found out a lot more about what the communities want us to do, and what they think should be done about certain issues that are prevalent with the youth.

Wednesday was Emmanuel’s 20th birthday. We all surprised him by singing happy birthday when he got to the office in the morning. After work had finished, we all stayed at the office to watch a film in celebration of his special day – Eddie Murphy’s classic comedy: Coming to America.

The remainder of the week panned out very similarly: lots of planning, writing reports, attending meetings, and developing content. By the end of the fourth week, everything was in full swing with regards to project work, and everyone was looking forward to delivering their sensitisations and radio sessions over the weeks to come.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Our Arrival.

July 2017 cohort of Youth Alive is in full swing! Almost...
Our countryside walk to the office. 

2 weeks in and we're all still adapting to the weather and various other things. Adaptation has come easier to the in country volunteers (ICV's) but they're dealing with changes nonetheless. UK volunteers (UKV's) have traveled internationally but in country volunteers have also traveled from their various communities to take part in this placement so no one is exempt from change!

So we started our 3 day training in Tamale. This was also the first time that UKV's and the ICV's met and we all got the chance to get to know each other during our training. Thankfully, training didn't just consist of formal training but also icebreakers and team building activities. On our final training day we were fortunate enough to watch a cultural dance performed by some amazing local dancers. We were even given the chance to join in! It was the perfect end to our training and a great introduction to Ghana for the UKV's. During our time in Tamale, we were also able to try some of the local cuisine, although the majority of the food provided was continental. When we reached our host communities, we tried a lot of the local cuisine which will be mentioned in more detail in a moment.

Packing up ready for the drive to Navrongo.
After our training in Tamale, it was time to pack up and get ready for our journey to our host community (which was also home to some ICV's); Navrongo! 
The drive down was something else. At some point, a flock of birds made the executive decision to dive into our windscreen. Some of us were blissfully unaware with our earphones in, Owen and Jasmine in the front were considerably shocked. The question "What was that?" was followed by Nana's casual response of "Birds", with a shrug of the shoulders. The driver didn't even bat an eyelid with the additional cracks and bird feathers decorating his windscreen. The ICV's were unfazed.

The main high street of Navrongo.
So after that minor event and nearly 3 hours later, we arrived in Navrongo.

Our host parents picked us up from the police station (I'm sure it was a first for all of us...) and we were on our way to our individual host homes. Over the weekend, we were on a mission to get to know our new home. We were also adapting to the local cuisine (mostly the UKV's). Some of the food included: Waakye and stew; Banku and okra soup; yams and plantain!

In general, Navrongo is a rural market town in the Upper East region of Ghana, with a predominantly Catholic population. We familiarized ourselves with the amenities, the markets and popular hangouts which includes a place called the Prison Canteen. We also learned the location of our Youth Alive office and managed to receive our bikes, which would be our form of transport whilst we are in Navrongo. Nancy struggled with her bike initially and was given lifts by some of the team members. However, within a few days, she became an absolute professional with the help and support of the team! Before we knew it, she was cycling to the office with no help and doing it so well!

After our morning Seminar with Youth Alive Directress, Madame Agnes.
So on our first official day at the office, we had an orientation with the Directress of Youth Alive Madam Agnes Chiravira. We watched a video on the works of Youth Alive and how they've been able to impact the communities they've worked with. That was followed by some group activities and presentations based on the project that we are going to embark on. As Youth Alive has only recently started working with International Service, action projects have not yet begun. The first cohort carried out research in the communities so as the second cohort, our presentations were focused on the issues that were outlined in those reports.

Currently, we are about to hit the ground because we are done with planning. However, there is the need to seek for approval from International Service to get started with our project.
For now, we are looking forward to celebrating Louise's birthday this weekend!

Friday, 7 July 2017

YAD News

Hello and welcome to YAD News.

Pearl and Aminah bring you the news from our project in Navrongo, Ghana. Our project work includes conducting our questionnaires on early marriage, economic empowerment of women and confidence of youth, in our selected communties of Junania, Vunania, Gaani, Tampola, Kampania, Biu & Sensaa and Navrongo Central.

Follow the link to hear more!


The team very excited before their first visit to the community, bicycles at the ready so they can reach more respondents! 

Monday, 12 June 2017

Youth Alive Pioneers - Q + A

Meet YAD Municipal, one of the two Youth Alive teams who have begun working with Youth Alive on an exciting and brand new project in Navrongo, Upper East Ghana.

Our Team Leaders


Inspiration for becoming an ICS team leader: An interest in Development and experience in the education sector.
Age: 24
Favourite colour: orange
Dream superpower: The ability to freeze time
Destination next to visit: Japan
Guilty pleasure: Cheesy rom coms
Fun fact: Leanne ate a kilogram of sweet corn in one go to fundraise for her placement. Not once, but twice. If that’s not commitment we don’t know what is!

Most likely to: Get goosebumps in Ghana


Age: 27
Inspiration for becoming an ICS team leader: To develop herself in leadership skills, to learn from other volunteers and how the organisation operates.
Favourite colour: red
Favourite music: ‘He Did It Again’ by Sinach
Fun fact: Anita is an identical twin!
                                                                          Most likely to: cycle the Tour de Ghana

Our Volunteers:


Age: 19
Why ICS: Aminah wants to be a part of this NGO.
Favourite colour: yellow
Dream superpower: To be able to feel like an ice cube in this 40-degree Navrongo heat.
Favourite food: Lasagne
Guilty pleasure song: ‘My Girl’, Michael Jackson.

Most likely to: form ICS’ first Navrongo girl band, ‘Navrongo Chicks’

Pearl, aka Auntie Pearl

Age: 25
Why ICS: To experience other cultures, to help people and in her small way find possible solutions to the world’s problems.
Favourite place in the world: London
Favourite food: Fufu and light soup
Favourite body part: her waist
Fun fact: She loves to make people smile.

 Most likely to: Adopt the entire YAD team


Age: 24
Why ICS: So that he can help people in his home community
Dream superpower: invisibility
Favourite colour: red
Favourite body part: his hands

Most likely to: Make it to the UK on a dance scholarship 

Keline Matthew:

Age: 21
Why ICS: to get experience and acquire knowledge.
Favourite colour: green
Dream superpower: flying
Favourite celebrity: Akon
Fun fact: His favourite football team is Arsenal.

 Most likely to: be an undercover agent.


Age: 18
Why ICS: Life experience!
Favourite food: peanut butter
Favourite destination: Seattle
Dream superpower: To be able to refill anything, from a pack of pringles to her bank account.
Fun fact: Is a fantastic dancer and singer.

Most likely to: Be a heavyweight champion 


Age: 22
Why ICS: Wants to aquire new skills
Dream superpower: the ability to jump really high
Favourite celebrity: Jack Appiah
Favourite colour: pink
Ideal holiday destination: USA
Random fact: Sumaya is really good at dancing and has great fashion sense.
Most likely to: break the world selfie taking record.


Why ICS: Wants to do something active instead of just donating.
Age: 22
Superpower: To calm people’s anxiety
Favourite body part: eye balls
Dream destination: Bali for a yoga retreat
Fun fact: Broke her ankle fully in half by sledging age 15
Guilty pleasure: Spice Girls

Most likely to: become a member of a 90s girl pop band, e.g. TLC


Age: 24
Why ICS: to help people while discovering herself and learning and sharing experiences.
Favourite food: Kenkey with pepper and Tilapia
Favourite place in the world: Paris
Favourite body part: her eyes
Fun fact: She loves coming up with new ideas.

 Most likely to: fall asleep at a rock concert


Why ICS: she wanted a challenge
Age: 22
Favourite colour: orange
Favourite celebrity: Simon Cowell
Dream superpower: to fly
Dream destination: India
Favourite body part: her lush lips

Most likely to: Most likely to open Navongo’s first pizzeria.


Why ICS: To build confidence and presentation skills
Age: 18
Favourite colour: white/pink
Dream superpower: to be able to sing
Favourite music: Gospel and Reggae

Most likely to: become a rapper


Why ICS: it’s the opportunity of a lifetime!
Age: 23
Dream superpower: be able to adapt to her surroundings like a chameleon
Favourite colour: orange
Favourite body part: her eyes and lips
Guilty pleasure: Chocolate

Most likely to: have the cleanest hands on the planet


Why ICS: To learn more about development and experience living in a different place
Age: 23
Superpower: To be able to immediately transport herself to different destinations at the click of a button.
Favourite colour: Blue
Fun fact: Has a scar that looks like a shark bite on her left arm.

 Most likely to: never run out of toilet roll

Check out this blog for more adventures of the Youth Alive Pioneers as they explore Navrongo and set up the YAD (Youth Action Development) project!