Issie Levin has just returned back to the UK after participating on Netina, FZY's new social action and leadership Kedma summer programme in Ghana in partnership with Tzedek.
I was lucky enough to spend the past three weeks as part of 18 Brits on an FZY and Tzedek UK organised, social action trip to Tamale in the North of Ghana leading and preparing a summer camp for 120 local children in the rural village of Nyankpala. Our efforts had an educational focus, with each day themed on issues such as: Sanitation, Environment, Dreams & Ambitions, Identity and many more. We worked alongside 16 local Ghanaian youth leaders, simultaneously teaching them leadership skills while educating the children on issues which are rarely brought up within their homes or at school due to a more limiting, traditional approach towards these kids’ future. Through a range of games, songs, sports, artwork and much more the children were able to learn interactively, creating a fun yet serious learning atmosphere across camp.
However, the immense poverty within communities such as Nyankpala were clearly at the forefront of our minds during our time there. A low supply of clean water from the pump where the children would be expected to wash their hands, children without shoes and the littered grounds were just a couple of the obvious challenges we were not used to facing and had to adapt to. When not at camp, we were encouraged to question and ponder on the most effective way to partake in social action projects. Frequently, a couple of us would vocally doubt the relevance and effectiveness of our work, questioning whether a few songs and games were all these kids were absorbing and whether this was a satisfactory outcome to the project. Words such as ‘voluntourism’ in particular stuck in my head at times as we admired the magnificent elephants of Mole National Park and the beautiful monuments and buildings, within Accra (the capital city), in which we could compare and see where government funding was aimed at. The fact the kids we led were unlikely to have ever had the opportunity to appreciate theses sights was certainly thought provoking. These points were challenging, I began to doubt, despite the fact I was loving every minute spent leading the kids, to what extent we seriously impacting this community, and if we were, was it more harmful than beneficial?
As the camp and relationships with the kids progressed I began to appreciate further the intelligence of the kids who advanced and learnt, watching them gain in confidence and putting into place more and more ideas which we’d taught them. I came to the conclusion, with the help of fierce debate and discussion, that trying to lay the groundwork for a minor, yet sustainable difference is better than doing nothing at all. Undoubtedly, education has to be the focus for developing countries such as Ghana and although we (as a group of 18) may never clearly see how effective our programme was in making a difference, we can hope we learnt a small helping hand towards that larger shift in attitude. We, and a number of Ghanaians that we spoke to, hope that the ambitions of the future generations within these countries will be prioritised and nurtured. Hopefully, these countries can continue to enhance on their developing rights, primarily to provide successful education across the whole country, especially deprived areas outside Accra. Throughout this trip my perspective has shifted in terms of a range of topics, by tolerating and appreciating the views of others more seriously than previously, I was able to understand and even strengthen my position on widespread issues that were discussed. I believe that this trip challenged me significantly in numerous ways. It allowed me to partially burst my bubble of privilege and self-importance in order to appreciate the differences in lives, cultures and views of others (both Ghanaian and British) and how best we can work together in order to allow countries, like Ghana, to naturally evolve and progress for the better. This may act as an alternative to just throwing money and resources unsustainably at an area, potentially leading to more wealth & social inequality and damage in the long term.
I couldn’t be more thankful for the 17 loving people who spent the past three weeks challenging and supporting me, or the wonderful and optimistic Nyankpala community for their welcome and enthusiasm.