Thursday, 15 September 2016

Corn and Learning in Yapala

Over the course of my ICS placement in Ghana there have been many highs (giving the sponsored girls new school books, learning Dagbani from the interns, receiving a cola nut from the Chief of Ticheli) as well as a few lows (standing barefoot in chicken poo stands out in particular). However, out of all of the things that I have seen and done during my time here in Tamale, the experience that I value the most has to be when I ran our first community girls club in Yapala.

Every child has the right to safe, formal, quality education and access to lifelong learning. However, unfortunately there are many barriers to female education and in Ghana, girls, especially those from rural communities, are often forced to leave school while many others never have the opportunity to go to school in the first place. Create Change works to inspire and empower marginalised girls and youth to become leaders in academics, community and business by sponsoring brilliant but needy girls through education and by working with local communities to improve the quality of education in rural areas.

One way that Create Change reaches out to girls and youth in rural areas is through the running of community clubs. The previous ICS cohort ran a community kids club, but found that it was attended largely by boys and that the girls tended to be overshadowed and reluctant to answer questions in the class as a result of the boys’ presence. On the previous cohort’s advice, we decided to a launch a community club specifically for girls in order to give the girls and young women of Yapala, some of whom do not have access to formal education, the chance to learn about topics that are relevant to them.  

During the first few weeks of placement, whilst we were planning the community girls club, we were uncertain of which topics would be most beneficial for the girls to learn (my suggestion of teaching them the entire choreography of the musical CATS was put into the maybe pile). Then it occurred to us; who better to ask for advice than the Create Change interns and volunteers. The interns and volunteers are vital to the work of Create Change, girls and young woman who have been supported by Create Change and then given the opportunity to intern or volunteer at the organisation they are what the charity is all about! They know best what will benefit the girls as they have already walked a fair few miles in the girls’ shoes. When we consulted the interns they suggested topics such as sanitation and personal hygiene, urban and rural migration and puberty and sexual health, amongst others.

As I was to run the first community girls’ clubs session I got first dibs on which topic to choose. I choose sanitation and personal hygiene as the glamorous topic with which I would kick off the launch of the community girls club. Having just spent the 6 months prior to ICS working in a beauty shop selling deodorant, toothpaste and sanitary pads, I thought, finally, this is my chance to use my knowledge of the difference between mint and fresh mint toothpaste for the good of mankind! No, scratch that, girlkind!  

Once the planning was finished, the next thing to do was to announce the launch of the club to the community. During our community sensitisation event in Yapala on the importance of parental involvement in children’s education (see our previous blog post), Create Change’s Programme Manager, Huzeima Mahamadu, herself a former beneficiary of Create Change, spoke to the parents about the launch of the community girls club and asked the parents to encourage their daughters to attend. Near the end of the sensitisation, just after my Dagbani speech (there were cheers; pity cheers or cheers of admiration I could not tell), we gathered all of the girls and asked them when would be best for them for us to run the community girls club each week. The girls decided that Thursdays at 2pm was the best time to come as it gave them time to farm in the morning. It is harvest season now, so the community are particularly busy working out on the fields at this time of year.   

When we first arrived at Yapala the school yard was deserted and no girls were to be seen. We began to worry that perhaps the girls were too busy working on the fields to come, or that we had come on the wrong day or that maybe the girls simply didn’t want to spend an afternoon being taught about sanitation and personal hygiene by a girl who hadn’t washed her hair for 9 days. We were just about to accept defeat and crack open the family size bag of toffees we had bought to give the girls as bribes for participation (one thing I learnt from teaching in Thailand is that children are a lot more forthcoming with answers if there is the prospect of sugary treats) when the girls began to arrive back from the fields. Before long, the classroom was unlocked, the tables arranged, the goat poo swept away and we were good to go!

Luckily my worst fears were unfounded and the personal hygiene session didn’t stink (my apologies for the pun, I am not a witty person). The session involved us all getting very chalky to illustrate the spread of germs, learning a hand washing song, making Latif and Fred put their hands in the dirt to illustrate the difference between washing your hands with and without soap (unfortunately Fred pulled the short straw and didn’t use the soap, sorry Fred), popping a water sachet to illustrate a baby having diarrhoea (don’t ask), a demonstration on how to make an oral rehydration solution, a toothbrush race (the irony of giving out toffees for answering questions on dental hygiene did not escape me) and a very riveting roleplay on safe drinking water. The day was packed full of toffees, pictures of poo (don’t defecate outside kids) and laughter, what else could a girl ask for!

Hopefully the girls learnt a bit about sanitation and personal hygiene, but if nothing else we all had a good laugh at Sam and Graeme’s roleplay acting skills. But in all seriousness, the session went really well, the girls participated and we had some really interesting discussions on all different aspects of sanitation and personal hygiene. And to top it off, at the end of the session, to say thank you (I presume), the community gave us some corn. If that isn’t a job well done then I don’t know what is. Now, I think it might be time for me to practice what I preach and go and wash my hair.     


  1. I love this post. You guys are doing great.
    I've wished to be a part of the wonderful family of ICS Create Charge ABC, but it doesn't work out anytime I apply.
    I've been ABC's fan in the background for two years now. I hope to get the chance someday so that I can inspire and change lives.

    My telephone numbers are: 0205247798/0543773151
    Calls are welcomed anytime on any issue of discussion.