Thursday, 7 June 2018

Ramadan in Ghana

As Muslims, the most asked question is, what is Ramadan? In Islam, Muslims have their own calendar and Ramadan fall on the ninth month. The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar based on the cycles of the month. This is the period where Muslims fast for 29 to 30 days, from dawn to sunset. Hence why Ramadan is never a fixed month in the western calendar. Ramadan is the month that the Qur’an (holy book) was revealed to the last prophet, Muhammad (pbuh).

Another popular question or statement is, God is rather wicked for allowing you to starve for so long. When you do not have a particular faith of your own, it is easy to misconstrue other people’s faith. As human beings, it is hard to understand or be empathetic to something you have not encountered. Islam is built on five pillars, which are; charity, prayer, fasting, pilgrimage (visiting Hajj) and the shahadah (believing in the oneness of Allah (GOD) and his prophets). Islam itself means peace, and the teachings and examples sent by Allah emphasise on humility, forgiveness, humbleness, obedience, honesty, sympathy and so fourth. Fasting is not only good for your health as it is a form of detoxification, but it is also a humbling experience. It helps to deter one from disobedience and also increases empathy for those less fortunate. It also increases spirituality which strengthens your connection with God and helps one to remember the blessings which we usually take for granted.

Fasting in Ghana, has so far been a good experience. There is a mosque in every community, which makes praying easy. Religion is a big thing in Ghana. Therefore, practicing a religion in Ghana is very easy, Christians and Muslims work hand in hand. Therefore, even though I and my counterpart are away from home, we still feel the peace that comes with Ramadan. Although the heat can make one more fatigue during the day, especially when working in the office or doing chores like washing clothes has become tedious. Even socialising has become a burden. Due to the hot sun, being out all day without water makes one feel dehydrated.

Not being able to participate in social events does sometimes make us feel sad because we do not want our other team members feel like we are not being active team members. Even though are team members are understanding to the fact that we are fasting, it still does make us feel like we are missing out on the social aspect.

The sun sets much earlier in Ghana, therefore, we break our fast around 6:30pm. This gives us enough time to cook and socialise with our host families, before going to the mosque for night prayers.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Drug and substance abuse


Drug abuse is the excessive and self-damaging use of drugs or substances leading to addiction or dependence, serious physical injury and/or psychological harm or death. It can also be referred to as substance abuse. Certain chemicals from various drugs abuse are used purposely for the creating of pleasurable effects on the brain. There are over 190 million drug users around the world and the problem has been increasing at an alarming rate, especially among young adults. Drug abuse occurs among various age groups and people from diverse backgrounds and socio-economic strata. 

Drug abuse has been a major issue in Ghana over the years, especially among the youth. According to the head of education, Ernestina Adjei said that ‘the UN world report on drugs indicated that about 21% of Ghanaians of school going age are engaged in drug abuse’. Many writers have extensively written on this disturbing issue. It’s mind blowing to discover that about 70% of the youth in Ghana engage in drug abuse.

Pain Killers are the most commonly abused form of drugs, such as; Tramadol and Codeine.

People abuse drugs for many reasons. Some people abuse drugs to prove their masculinity to their friends and to impress the opposite sex. Curiosity has also been a main cause of drug abuse. For the desire to learn or know more about something which will be due to its undue nicety or fastidiousness. Also, a lot of people abuse drugs because they lack adequate education on the appropriate use of these drugs. This mostly occurs among the aged. Influence and pressure from one’s peers has also been a contributing factor to drug abuse among the youth of Ghana. Another pushing factor to drug abuse is the unrealistic perception by abusers that it’s a solution to their problems. People suffering from anxiety and depression commonly abuse these drugs with this perception. Also, people going through emotional trauma are easily lured into drug abuse with this mindset.

There are many effects that come with the abuse of drugs. Theseeffects vary on the drug of choice and to the extent to which one is exposed to the drug. Some of these can be immediate, but others can be long-lasting and impact lives for many years and sometimes forever. These effects can be anything from organ failure to chronic fatigue syndrome, where you feel tired all the time. In a worst case scenario, one can become a living-dead or die from drug abuse.

Because drug abuse is a worrying issue among the youth of Ghana, the PAGSUNG ICS team decided to carry out activities to tackle the high rate of drug abuse. On the 21st of May, 2018, the team decided to lead an Awareness Raising Session on drug abuse at the Bagabaga Demonstration Junior High School. We interacted with the final year pupils of the school to ascertain how much they knew about drug abuse. The session was a successful one where the pupils shared with us the drug abuse issues they know. Pupils were educated on a number of drugs that are being abused by the youth. So they were equipped with information on the short term and long term effects of the drugs and also what to watch out for when consuming prescribed drugs. Halfway through the presentation we decided to have a quiz on the topics we had been discussing with the pupils. We were very pleased with their responses as they got every question correct. In order to bring to light the negative effects of drug abuse, we showed a few pictures of some celebrities who had ruined their lives through the abuse of drugs. We ended the session by introducing them to ways in which they can seek help from others, and gave them some advice on how to help themselves if they are struggling with drug abuse.

People who abuse drugs are often struggling with issues they find difficult to deal with, so they turn to drugs. This could be because they feel as if they can forget about their issues and reality by using drugs. It is very important to support friends and family who are abusing drugs. You can do this by letting them know that you care and that you are trying to help them. You could also suggest attending counselling or group therapy sessions and even accompany them to said sessions. Sometimes people just need someone to talk to or a small support network to help them with their issues. You should always treat people who are abusing drugs with respect and try to understand why they are relying on drugs. This is the best way to find the root cause of their addiction. If you can find out why someone started taking drugs in the first place, then it is much easier to help them. You’ll be able to assist them in tackling the issues they are facing and let them know that they are not alone. Educating someone on the consequences of drug abuse is a vital part of the support process. The individual might not know about the long term effects drug abuse can have on their body and mind, so it is important that they are taught about it.

If you are abusing drugs and want to free yourself from the addiction, there are many ways in which you can help yourself. All it takes is one positive change in your life to start a chain of events that can lead to a happier and healthier life. It is important to note though, that there is no quick fix to drug addiction, it is a difficult and long term process. Which is why you should try to surround yourself with positivity and go through the healing process one step at a time. If you talk to friends and family about the issues you are facing, they can support you and help you battle the addiction. This can be through emotional support, by accompanying you to group therapy sessions or by setting up some counselling sessions with a medical professional. If you feel as though you can’t talk to friends and family about your drug abuse issues, you can set up a private counselling session with a drug abuse expert by yourself. These sessions are run by medical professionals with a lot of knowledge on mental health, drug abuse and how to fight addictions. These sessions are also confidential, so your friends and family don’t have to find out. If you discover that the guidance and counselling sessions aren’t helping, you can take the next step and enter into a rehabilitation center. If you decide to enter into a rehabilitation you will become a resident and live there along with other people who are dealing with drug abuse or alcoholism. You will often engage in group therapy sessions with the other residents, where you will talk about your issues and support each other. This is an integral part of the healing process and can be very beneficial to everyone involved. You aren’t just helping yourself, but you are helping others, which can instill you with a sense of belonging and purpose. In a rehabilitation center you also have constant support from counsellors and medical experts who will be helping you through the entire process.

As long as you want to be helped, there will always be people who are willing to help. But the most important thing is that you make positive changes in your own life, whether that be through developing a healthier diet or by exercising regularly. It is important not to lose hope, because there is always a way back to where you started before drugs came into your life. You are never too far gone; you don’t have to continue the downward spiral. You can fight the addiction and you never have to do it alone.



Monday, 21 May 2018

International Day of the Family

by Matthew Wood 

The 15th May 2018 marks the International Day of the Family.  The word ‘Family’ is used so generically that it can often be difficult to discern what ‘Family’ truly means.  Culturally, the word ‘Family’ can be interpreted very differently depending on where you were born and raised.  

So who is your family and why do they matter so much?


  In the UK ‘Family’ is determined very differently to here in Ghana.  In the UK they tend to use the nuclear family system, your family is; you, your parents and your siblings.  Once you move out, get married or have children you then have your own little ‘Family’.  Extended families consist of lots of smaller, autonomous, families.  They do not so much as rely on one another to function and survive.  Each works towards its own growth and development, often unaffected by the actions of the other wider family members. They may move cross country, inter-country or even cut contact with other family members for weeks, months or even years at a time. A by-product of this way of structuring ‘Family’ is that you get widespread family all over the country and world, lots of smaller family groups and a lot less communication. 


  In contrast, a Ghanaian relies on it’s ‘extendedness’ to function.  Each member, from Great Grandparents to Great Grandchildren, has an important role in contributing to the greater family unit.  Ghanaian families are often a lot larger than families in the UK.  This can be due to a number of factors, one of these being that Polygamy is legal and widely practiced in many families in Ghana, one husband, multiple wives.  Culturally, If a man can afford to care for multiple wives then there is a possibility that he will marry more than one wife and take on the responsibility of caring for them financially, physically and emotionally.

  For example, in my host family the house father has 5 wives.  Three live in the complex with us and the other 2 are housed in other compounds in the area.  All of these women have their own children with their own families.  The biggest cultural difference is that those children have a duty to serve and care for their parents until they no longer can.  Therefore all of these small families live with or near the host father and his wives.  As a result, the complex we live in houses 27 family members originating from the host father and his wives.  They are all autonomous and function individually, but their individual efforts help power the greater machine that is the family as a whole. This way of viewing family fosters strong communication and loyalty whilst limiting the families independence.  Some members will rely other members to care for them at the cost of their own livelihood.  

Roles within a family:

  One key fundamental difference culturally, between the UK and Ghana, is the role of family members.  In the UK there is a high chance that both the women and men have the opportunity to work and / or take care of their family. For the most part, children spend their time at school, doing chores, playing outside or investing in electronic games of one sort or another.

   In Ghana this can look different.  Specific gender roles are usually followed in order to achieve all the necessary tasks in any given day.   In short, the men earn money to support the family, take care of the property and do any required landscaping.  On the other hand, the women will cook, clean and take care of the family.  The young girls will help take care of the home and care for their younger siblings, whilst young boys will help earn money by working and learning their trade.  
Throughout all of this the community elders invest in the younger members of their family by demonstrating how to live, love and care for their family and the community in general.  Although elders in the UK are respected, they do not hold such an essential commanding role as in Ghana.

My conclusion:

  Although families may vary from culture to culture, I have come to realise that their fundamental goal always stays true: to love, care and light the way for future and current generations.  
  Some cultures foster families that are split into smaller nuclear groups, within the wider family. Parents develop their children with the knowledge that, eventually, they will release them to pursue their own adventures.
  Others cultures, seek to develop one  another, within the family as a whole, investing in younger generations, then keeping that wisdom close to home. This approach sees value in the knowledge that each family member plays a part in their families greater adventure. 

 Whichever way your family approaches life, just know, there is no right or wrong way to be ‘Family’. Whether your family is few or many, we should learn to enjoy one another’s company and find joy in the time we spend together.

Monday, 14 May 2018


International Service is a charity organisation that focus on international development through the work of teams of 18-25 year old volunteers from the U.K. and Ghana who are placed with international service through the ICS programme. PAGSUNG is an organisation partnered with International Service to carry out projects in sustainable development through their work with women.

PAGSUNG in dagbani means good womanand the organisation consists of women from the shea nut pickers and processors association.The PAGSUNG organisation is focused on empowering women by providing them with a sustainable livelihood and educating them in key areas of their choosing such as money management, language skills and marketing.

Here is an introduction to our team in counterparts:



Our team leaders Cat and Nanna were both ICS volunteers before taking on their own cohorts. For Cat this is her second time being a team leader but for Nanna its a first (not that you can tell). Although this team has presented challenges, such as using the entirety of the medical float at least three times over by the fourth week, they have remained positive and helped everyone to achieve the team goals. Each of them brings their own unique style of leadership that all members of the team respond to and enjoy; as a team we are lucky to have them and couldn't imagine our volunteering experience with anyone else at the helm.  



Hattie has found a love for the markets here in Tamale and under Matildas tutelage has become a champion negotiator getting clothes and fabric for less than half the original cost.  Hattie is also one of our communication leads and has miraculously managed to triple the number of followers Pagsung has on twitter. Matilda may come across as shy but when crossed by a taxi driver trying to charge to high a fee she comes to life and quickly puts them in their place. She takes no nonsense but can always be seen with a smile on her face. 



Hafsa and Azara are definitely the life of any party and though the group has tried, no consensus has been reached on which one of them is the loudest. They were made to be each others counterparts because not only could no one else in the group get a word in edgeways but no one else could keep up with their either of their dance moves (which has been proven by a dancing competition). Opinionated, passionate, hysterical these are just a few of their shared characteristics which make them invaluable to the team.



Lizzie holds a special position within the team as she is the only one with any artistic ability so her talents are often loaned out to people for their various projects. Fatty on the other hand has quickly become one of the teams best pubic speakers, delivering raising awareness sessions in the local language of dagbani to the Pagsung women. We greatly appreciate both of their skills and wouldn't be able to run the project half as effectively without them.



Zara and Gifty both have a love for food and discussing it has been a major point of cultural exchange between the pair. As of now they have realised that Zara is not a fan of TZ but mostly enjoys everything else Ghana has to offer and that Gifty is a fan of crisps, especially pringles, but has an aversion to pizza as she hates cheese. Other than this Gifty can often be found shepherding Zara around town trying to balance not losing her with avoiding her getting hit by cars, so far this has been successful but well see what happens by the end of the 10 weeks.



Zak and Luke have quickly become the best of friends during their placement and the two are generally inseparable. They're so close that even though their host family provided them with a room each to use they decided to share so that they can have long discussions before bed. Always up for a joke the two of them bring some much needed light hearted fun to the group and are always found making others laugh, even at their own expense. Although this project will only last 10 weeks we are sure that Zak and Luke will be lifelong friends, especially as Zaks already planning his visit to the UK as the project continues.                                       


Matt and Jonathan live in a house that by their description has about 40 people who either live in the house or come for daily visits. The two of them are enjoying being a part of an extended family and all of the chaos that goes along with it. Jonathan, although a man of very few words, always has something nice to say about everyone and is the perfect person go to person to cheer people up. Matt is the group organiser, very adeptly keeping everyone on task, leading by example. Anyone feeling short of motivation has to look no further than to ask for his help to feel inspired about the task they are doing.



Rukaya, Maite and Esther have all been incredibly flexible and adaptable due to the odd numbers of volunteers and are great assets to the team.  Rukaya is the mother of the group always taking care of everyone and making sure we all have what we need. Maite is the most experienced volunteer having undertaken similar placements in the past so she is the person to go to with any questions about volunteering and living away from home. Esther is the voice of reason within the group and can always be relied upon to think of a practical solution to any problem. Overall they are invaluable to the team and we are lucky to have them.

Friday, 4 May 2018

My First Encounter at my Host Home

By Fatahiya Alhassan   

My first encounter with my host Mom is a day that I will not forget. When she came to pick up me and my UK counterpart Lizzie, from the hostel, my first thought was that she may be strict, because of the fact that she was quiet. I thought this until we settled in her house.

When we arrived at the host home she introduced herself to us. After this she asked a girl in the house to come and help us take our bags to the guest room. She then asked us to follow her to our room, when we reached the room she introduced the girl as her daughter. We spent some time chatting and told each other our names.  We soon discovered the room we were given to stay in included a toilet and bathroom. This was a very pleasant surprise. We then took a bath and rested.

After some time, the house Mom asked me to call my counterpart, Lizzie.  I called her and we went and sat together around the dining table. To our surprise, she brought out rice and stew and we all sat together as a family and ate. Her words at the dining table made me like her even more, she gave us advice and we spoke a real family would do.

After we had finished, she asked us to join her in the hall to watch a movie with her. When it was late she wished us good night and went to her room. It was 9pm when we also left and went to our room.

It is often that our first impression of a person influences us, but, you cannot judge a person by his or her appearance without having first lived alongside them. I look forward to doing this throughout my placement in Tamale, Ghana.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Highlights from my First Week Volunteering with International Service.

By Lizzie Fisher

Tamale, North Ghana.
Tuesday 17th April

When I first stepped off the plane, in Tamale, North Ghana, it was hot and sunny, even the breeze was stuffy like walking into hot room.  Immediately, I noticed how colourful it was and how the women’s clothes stood out compared the volunteers getting off the plane.

Saturday 21st April.

This is when I first met my host Mum and her 13 year daughter, Lydia. I later discovered that she has a elder daughter who is 16 and schooling away, her husband is also working in Ghana’s capital, Accra, which is in the south. Both the mother and daughter are so nice and very understanding, although sometimes we find it difficult to understand each other. The food they make for me is also very nice but I became very ill for my first few days so I did not eat much.

As soon as we had gotten to the host home and settled in, I decided to have a look around the town and market, there were so many stalls containing the same things like clothes, shoes, jewellery, and food. The paths are small and sometimes hard to walk through, although, it is beautiful and amazing to see all the beautiful things being sold. Unfortunately, there are no bins so the rubbish in the surrounding area causes it to smell. This is accompanied by the smell from the meat sellers. Meat is chopped and placed on the market stalls, uncovered. There was also a cow’s head on full show. This was shocking as it was very different to any market in England.

Friday 20th April

Meeting my In-Country counterpart, Fatahiya, was exciting as I was finally meeting the person I will be living and working with for the next ten weeks. She is a lovely girl and has a extremely promising future. Our team works very well together, despite our different backgrounds and skills. We have achieved a lot in our first weeks. 

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Falling in love

Human interaction

Living in rural Ghana you quickly learn that life here is very simple and consists of human interaction. Greetings and conversations are an important aspect of life here whereas in the UK, people are absorbed in technology.
The Elderly mans home

Human interaction in the UK is not quite like it is in Ghana. Some days I leave the office later than 4pm, on those days as I’m walking home, I meet an elderly man sat outside his home. In a plastic green chair lent against his blue house, he asks how my day has been and how I am doing. This has almost become routine. Every evening that I am home later than 6pm, he is sat outside his gate and I walk down the street expecting to meet him and prepare to engage in conversation with him. I’m almost sad when I don’t see him.
Before arriving in Ghana, I had no idea what to expect from the community I'd be living in. I didn't realise people would be so welcoming and the elderly man has become a home comfort.

The people
Being Muslim, I am mostly greeted with ‘As-Salaam-Alaikum’, the Arabic greeting meaning ‘Peace be unto you’. This is a general greeting amongst Muslims all over the world. Tamale has a majority Muslim population, so this is how I am generally greeted, compared to the other UKV's and my counter-parts. On a daily basis and by complete strangers I am greeted this way and as we are now in week six, I am beginning to realise that I will not experience the feeling of being greeted and having a conversation with a stranger in the street.
In the UK, I tend to walk around with my headphones in and in my own world. It is very different here in Ghana, you can be greeted by anyone at anytime and more often than not, it leads to a conversation.

Men Congregated for the last prayer of the day:
Isha Salah
Prayers are also a daily part of life for Muslims. In the UK, the call to prayer is not recited through a speaker for the community to hear nor do Muslims pray outside. Everything is enclosed within the four walls of a mosque. Due to the call of prayer not being announced out loud, Muslims across the UK follow a timetable for the five daily prayers. Each household will have a calendar of each month and the times for prayer. When I first arrived in Ghana, I downloaded one on online for Tamale, having no idea that I'd never even look at it.
No matter where I am, I can hear the call to prayer and so I always know when to pray without needing a timetable. I now walk along the streets reciting along with the Imam (leader of a mosque). There are even provisions for women to pray at mosque. Trade comes to a halt while men and women align the streets and pray in congregation.
No identity?
I am a Pakistani, so I am fairly brown in complexion. ‘Slaminga’ means ‘white person’. Children refer to white people as ‘slaminga’ unless they know the name of the person. Being fairly brown in complexion, I find it amusing that I am also referred to as a ‘slaminga’. Not only am I called a ‘slaminga’ but it is also generally assumed that I am Arab and that I can speak Arabic. I can be flagged down in a street and asked to speak Arabic and this has almost become a regular occurrence. In the UK I stand out as being Asian but here, I am either a 'slaminga' or Arab.
At a local school some of the students wanted a picture with me


Sanyia Kausar