Planning a successful and impactful trip for your summer/gap year is not always easy given the number of voluntourism opportunities out there. You may have seen the stories that more and more young people are travelling abroad to volunteer so that they can fill up their Instagram account with selfies, or the report from Save the Children that states that “an overwhelming majority of children living in orphanages in developing countries actually have a living parent”. Even J.K Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, is campaigning against irresponsible volunteering placements, tweeting “I will never retweet appeals that treat poor children as opportunities to enhance Westerners’ CVs”.
“I will never retweet appeals that treat poor children as opportunities to enhance Westerners’ CVs” JK Rowling
So, how can you steer clear of the minefield of irresponsible and purely commercial options out there?
Follow our tips below to ensure you don’t fall into the voluntourist trap:
Research the company and placement you are about to embark on
Be sure to look at “development impact”. Does the charity appear to monitor and report on the impact that their volunteers are having in the community? This could form the basis of an impact page on their website or an annual report. If they don’t seem to have a monitoring and evaluation function in their organisation then chances are they care little about the impact they are having and simply want money from their volunteers.
Find out how the programme is funded?
If the programme is purely volunteer funded then it is likely that once again there is little focus on community impact and creating positive change for the so-called beneficiaries of the volunteer placement. When looking at a placement advert ask yourself, “Is all the language geared at convincing me to part with my money, in order to benefit myself?”
The existence of a recognised funder, such as a development body like UKaid (UK Department for International Development) or SDI (Scottish Development International) shows that a larger body has a vested interest in the programme and the social impact it has pledged to create. Being expected to pay something towards the cost of the programme via fundraising is usually okay as long as the main purpose of the fundraising effort is to raise awareness of the programme and its aims.
What is in it for you?
Is there a tangible benefit to taking part in the programme? Will you be supported to overcome new challenges? Is there room for personal and professional growth alongside delivering genuine social, economic or environmental impact? Organisations that run a programme that encourages personal growth will tell you about what previous volunteers have accomplished and what skills they have developed, they may even offer a recognised qualification.
Apply for a volunteering placement with International Citizen Service (ICS)
International Citizen Service (ICS) is an overseas volunteering programme for 18-25 year olds, it is funded by the UK Government and aims to bring about three things: project impact, volunteer personal development and the creation of active citizens. There are eight different development organisations delivering ICS projects in over 20 countries.
Challenges Worldwide, an Edinburgh based International Development charity, runs an ICS programme to support businesses in Ghana, Uganda and Rwanda. The programme includes 10 weeks of training in Professional Consulting paired with a business placement in one of 4 African cities. The programme is split into three stages: Analysis, Recommendations and Implementation.
After your placement, Challenges Worldwide will continue to support the growth of the business and you will return home with a chance to complete a level 5 qualification in Professional Consulting with the Chartered Management Institute (CMI).
As part of Challenges Worldwide’s (CW) work, it’s important to engage with the local community to promote and influence positive change where possible. Opportunities to help and leave a mark are what CW strive to achieve, hence one of our team committees rightfully being called impact to have a lasting effect in the communities that we operate. The impact committee is responsible for organising such initiatives and so Kumasi’s impact team put together an event which would help empower local entrepreneurs and aspiring business owners. This event was a ‘Business Breakfast Seminar’ that would promote learning amongst its attendees from expert speakers in key skills. These skills included:
Creating an effective Business Plan
Tools for Business Analysis
Sales and Marketing
In case that wasn’t tempting enough, breakfast was also provided with tasty pastries and refreshments available. Hosted at the Kumasi Hive which is a collaborative working space offering access to tools, technology and business support to entrepreneurs in creating sustainable and viable enterprises. The Kumasi Hive was, therefore, a perfect venue for the event to support its mission in promoting knowledge and inspiring Kumasi’s entrepreneurial spirit! The Business Breakfast Seminar was not exclusive to business owners, as many people who were interested in setting up their own enterprises in future attended too. These aspiring entrepreneurs were keen to learn what would be important to consider when starting a business, which is no small feat and a decision that should be carefully thought through.
The event kicked off with the first speaker Mr Bright Amoah Antwi, CEO of Ecocycle. An environmentally conscious company operating in waste management, which is transforming the future of how Ghana will manage waste and for the better. Bright provided insight in how to develop a business idea. Businesses are formed with philosophical ideas and he urged the audience to love what they do in order to be great entrepreneurs. He talked about the need to do thorough market research, to get a holistic understanding of the target market as this knowledge can be leveraged to create a unique value proposition to bridge a gap in the market. One doesn’t need to have all the resources to start a business but must use their brain on how to utilize available resources to maximize profit. “Business nomenclature” or in other words, how a business is named was discussed as Bright explained in creating a unique name for his products helped promote a strong brand for his business. Thus, setting him apart from competitors in the waste management industry. In addition tips were given on knowing your customer (KYC) as a way to continue to deliver value to the target market as well as pushing to become a sole distributor if one’s business is to supply goods. Bright finished his talk by advising entrepreneurs to play smart if they were to thrive in the business world.
Our next speaker Benjamin Res Esantsi, who was a former volunteer with CW and now works as a consultant, spoke of the importance of financial management. He stressed the need to separate family finance from business finance and explained some of the basic bookkeeping methods in recording accounts. Outlining the different types of accounting systems, Benjamin urged the audience to use the services of accountants and accounting software if they can afford, if not then simple Microsoft Excel is better than nothing. He also mentioned free apps available for smartphones that are user friendly to keep track of finances. Benjamin stressed the fact that financial management is the lifeblood of any business and necessary to give the best chance of producing profit. This was crucial information for those with little knowledge on finance or planning to start their own business. We then had speaker Mr Evans Owusu Amankwah, an English teacher and founder of Midstream Literary Agency, an English language school in Kumasi, who spoke of key aspects
We then had speaker Mr Evans Owusu Amankwah, an English teacher and founder of Midstream Literary Agency, an English language school in Kumasi, who spoke of key aspects in developing a good business plan. Asking yourself critical questions such as “What are the key activities, value proposition, venue streams?” are crucial to complete a business model canvas. A strategic management and lean startup template for developing new or existing business models. In the art of starting a business, one should have short and long term goals in writing and the entrepreneur must be focused on achieving these by finding a means to reach their targets in their business plan. Salient points made by Bright in his earlier presentation were reiterated here by Evans, in relation to business naming and choosing a name which would reach the wider audience. Mr Evans also stressed the importance in finding the right people to support the business in the beginning stages, “co-founders can be a great resource and expertise to move the business forward.” Wise words from someone who has been there and set up his own successful enterprise and understands the processes involved behind such an endeavour.
Further to our three speakers we were lucky to hear from Luv FM’s sports broadcaster, journalist and multimedia marketing executive, Kofi Asare, on media marketing and the importance of user generated content being key in building a viable marketing strategy. He gave great tips on what entrepreneurs need to do to reach their target market, clarifying that radio adverts may not be right for everybody and entrepreneurs should leverage on social media to reach their target market as it is cheap andeffective.
Many business owners who attended were able to share their business knowledge with the rest of the group through the interactive sessions where a Q&A succeeded the presentations of our speakers, allowing an open platform for everyone to express their views and opinions. It brought up some interesting ideas which many could take away with them for consideration when developing their own unique business model. In addition, the event also allowed a fantastic opportunity for our local entrepreneurs to network, in fact many already knew each other! You never know the chances of meeting someone who might be able to share valuable words of wisdom, experience, or even potential partnerships that could help you achieve the vision for your business. For these reasons, networking is so important and was actively encouraged during the event.
Finally, the impact committee had organised some exciting prizes which included a free financial consulting session with one of our speakers, Benjamin, plus a marketing consultancy session with Kofi Asare from Luv FM. Providing these valuable prizes to two lucky attendees ended the event on a high. Many liked-minded people having made new contacts, shared their interesting ideas and experiences enabled everyone to take away having learnt something from the morning. Overall a very successful and productive Business Breakfast Seminar and a great achievement from all the hard work invested by the Challenges team, well done to Kumasi’s team impact!
Following a chance meeting at UNZA sports day, student President Misheck Kakonde invited an excited Challenges team onto the popular university radio. The hour-long ‘cultural forum’ welcomed volunteers Cameron McIntosh, Mweetwa Tevin and Team Leader Tabby Dambanemuya to answer a range of listener queries. In an interactive format, the show considered Challenges’ work with Zambian small and micro-enterprises (SMEs), and the realities of living and working on placement.
Interspersed with some wavy Zambian tunes, including the bold and playful Bana Mulenga by Pontiano Kaiche, the opening minutes drew attention to one SME in particular: Shopzed. Under CEO Victoria Muzumara, ShopZed is Zambia’s first e-commerce grocery delivery business, currently servicing Lusaka and the Copperbelt, but eager to expand further afield. Muzumara has welcomed Challenges volunteers to review Shopzed’s supply chain, increase efficiency and promote public awareness. Whilst the enterprise functions for-profit, Shopzed is not without social impact. Acting on behalf of both national and international sponsors, Shopzed also distributes foodstuff to orphans in its active regions.
Given the high rate of graduate unemployment in Zambia, the President was then keen to establish how UNZA graduates would personally and professionally benefit from the ICS programme. Tabby explained that Challenges Worldwide deals in cross-cultural experience, pairing in-country volunteers with an international counterpart. In most instances, the counterpart differs between work and home, encouraging fresh perspectives and a positive working environment to maximise volunteer impact on SMEs.
Tevin drew particular attention to the CMI (Chartered Management Institute) certificate offered on placement, using it to demonstrate the professional development opportunities available. Challenges hire a variety of Zambian graduates, he says, meaning there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ degree choice. The NGO works with a range of miscellaneous SMEs, from tech start-ups to fashion enterprises, meaning they desire a range of skills from the pool of volunteers.
Quick to emphasise the personal benefits of the scheme, Cameron and Tevin animatedly discussed their experiences over the past month. Cameron came to Zambia with an open-mind and little expectation; now, he explained, he knows how to hand wash his clothes and eats in a totally different way – ‘not a small feat,’ he was keen to point out. Of course, whilst Cameron enjoyed Soweto (‘stone’ in Nyanja) Market last weekend, Tabby emphasised that ‘work comes first; we may have fun, but we are not on a holiday.’ The Zambian SME sector has a great deal to offer the Zambian economy, including social impact, jobs and economic growth. For this reason, Challenges acts to empower entrepreneurs in a feasible way, hoping to promote sustainable change in the process.
With this in mind, the interview turned to a final, and important question: ‘is this scheme compounding the issue of neo-colonialism?’ With discrete ease, Tabby jumped in, drawing attention to the UN’s final SDG – working in partnership for a brighter and better world. In a global environment, economies operate on an international scale, working cross-culture, importing and exporting from abroad. The Challenges volunteer scheme is about mutual learning, about listening as much as advising, and about empowering the employment backbone of the Zambian economy: SMEs![themify_box color=”light-blue”]
Written By Lauren Rofe, Business Support Associate in Lusaka
“Over many years the Young Enterprise Scotland Company programme has given tens of thousands of young people a great grounding in business skills and helped them to develop the associated entrepreneurial mindset. By forming this strategic alliance with Challenges Worldwide we are extending the opportunity for young people in Scotland to further develop these skills in a different and challenging environment. I would urge any young person who has benefitted from the Company Programme to take a look at the Challenges Worldwide International Citizen Service (ICS) programme where you will make a difference socially and economically.” Geoff Leask, CEO, Young Enterprise Scotland
The Next Challenge
Last year Challenges Worldwide and Young Enterprise Scotland struck an exciting partnership with the intention of accelerating enterprise based learning for young Scots. This spring has seen alumni of the YES Company Programme volunteer in African enterprises with Challenges Worldwide. Edinburgh based International Development Charity Challenges Worldwide run an International Citizen Service (ICS) programme in Ghana, Uganda, Rwanda and Zambia.
The programme sees 18-25-year-olds from the UK volunteer with African SME’s for a period of 12 weeks. During that time they can gain invaluable business and life experiences whilst working towards a qualification. The authors of this article both heard about Challenges Worldwide through the newly formed partnership and can both testify that Challenges Worldwide ICS is a natural extension of the YES Company Programme.
Bruce and Jamie both share a passion for enterprise and thank the YES Company programme for igniting this passion. During their school years, Bruce was Managing Director of Alba Hampers who represented the Grampian area in the 2010 Scottish finals. Jamie completed the programme much more recently, as Company Secretary of Infinity Enterprises representing Tayside at the 2015 National finals.
“Young Enterprise gave us a solid foundation of business experience and skills for us to move forward with,” said Jamie. The range of skills picked up by working in business is illustrated by the different paths that Bruce and Jamie took after the programme.
Bruce went on to complete a Degree in Property at the University of Aberdeen and has since started his own commercial property development business. Whilst at University Bruce also volunteered as a YE Business Advisor at his former school, encouraging future generations to take full advantage of the Young Enterprise experience. Jamie has been working in Market Research since leaving school and remains a keen follower of YES.
“Young Enterprise gave us a solid foundation of business experience and skills for us to move forward with,”
Bruce and Jamie are now in Kigali, Rwanda, volunteering as Business Support Associates with Challenges Worldwide on the ICS programme. Here is our interview with them on their experience so far:
What are your thoughts on the partnership between YES and Challenges Worldwide?
The experience of the Young Enterprise Company Programme, in allowing participants to set up and run their own business within a relatively controlled environment presents an unparalleled educational opportunity in Scotland today. There is no real substitute for practical learning and that is exactly what both programmes offer in abundance. We both firmly believe that Challenges Worldwide placements are a natural progression from the YES Company Programme and when combined, put participants in a very advantageous position in terms of personal learning and for their future careers.
Please tell us about the work you will you do on a Challenges Worldwide ICS placement?
A placement with Challenges Worldwide sees UK volunteers matched with an in-country counterpart and the pair placed in a local SME that is delivering a social impact. After the initial week of in country orientation and training, volunteer pairs are assigned along with their businesses – this is where the real work starts! The first three to four weeks are spent observing and analysing the assigned business using comprehensive tools supplied by Challenges.
Thereafter recommendations are developed to aid the business in its objectives – these are unique to every business so every pair is going to encounter different challenges throughout their placement. These recommendations are then refined and presented to the senior team of the business. A strategy is also developed for how these recommendations will be implemented to maximise the impact achieved in the time left.
Do you feel you are being well supported during your placement?
Throughout the placement, there are very capable staff and team leaders on hand to aid volunteers and training is delivered following the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) syllabus for a qualification in Professional Consulting. After completing the experience, alumni have the opportunity to complete CMI qualifications at a vastly reduced rate, an offer reserved exclusively for young people learning through Challenges.
Do you need any specific business skills to take part?
No specific skills are required ahead of the training so we would encourage anyone who has a passion for international development and a willingness to help businesses develop, to apply for the programme.
How does the Challenges Worldwide ICS programme relate to the YES Company programme?
There are many similarities in the learning points taken from the two programmes but the context in which they are learnt make the programmes unique and worthwhile. The business lessons are vast and far too wide ranging to possibly cover but much like working with school-mates can be challenging, the opportunity to work in a cross-cultural environment is truly eye-opening for everyone involved. Different people, places and cultures have different norms and the process of learning and dealing with these challenges allow for a great deal of personal growth over a short period of time.
Would you recommend the Challenges Worldwide ICS programme to other young Scots currently taking part in the YES Company programme?
“From our combined experience, we can safely say that the YES Company Programme really does leave you with lasting skills and helps prepare you for a Challenges Worldwide ICS placement. The Challenges Worldwide placement will help volunteers grow personally and professionally and make them a more rounded individual. If you want to use the skills you have learnt whilst creating a positive social and economic impact, don’t hesitate to volunteer through Challenges Worldwide and be prepared to have an incredible journey!”
Green Harvest Products is a home grown small food processing business, producing their products in Kigali using Rwandan ingredients. Their brand identity is reinforced by their brand name ‘Sabana’ which means ‘sociable’. Currently, they make chilli oil, two chilli sauces (the only ones made in Rwanda) as well as a Sabana Ketchup. Challenges Worldwide Business Support Associates Jamie and Patrick will be helping in key areas such as sales and marketing and trade/export links.
SafeMotos is the localised ‘uber’ of Moto taxis within the Kigali area.They have developed an app which allows users to effortlessly hail a moto using their GPS location. SafeMotos offers the user a set price for the journey with the option to pay by card or cash and the ability to review their driver. Key safety statistics are taken from drivers smartphones to show acceleration and deceleration speeds and through the use of an insurance style algorithm, they give their drivers a safety rating. This ensures that only the safest drivers are matched with SafeMoto customers. Challenges Worldwide Business Support Associates, Bruce Morrice and Kenneth Nabimanya, are working on refining the strategy of the business and future expansions into other East African markets.
We are currently recruiting for the Challenges Worldwide ICS programme starting in January and March 2018. If you are aged between 18 and 25 you can apply for here
Jack’s enthusiasm for life isn’t just infectious, it carries over into his work and most importantly the mission of the Social Mercenary. We bumped into each other through Challenges Worldwide . While he was working in Ghana, I was working in Zambia and we both went on to various things in Hong Kong. I also like to think of myself as a positive person – great minds think alike – and I supported his work on the fledgeling Social Mercenary in Hong Kong.
Here’s my contribution… the first logo! It only took me 2 hours on paint.
It’s only been a few months and yet the Social Mercenary has grown and is showing signs of taking root. Jack asked me to write a blog piece about why I joined The Social Mercenary, but the why is in the name.
The Social Mercenary is about more than just being a new brand and smashing deliveries out to whoever orders; the idea is to empower both the consumer and the producer. Simply put, The Social Mercenary isn’t about helping, it’s about partnership; putting entrepreneurs in Ghana on equal footing with their peers in Western markets. Ghana is an under-developed opportunity that is at the heart of regional power in West Africa and before I slip into political mode and start discussing the effects of post-colonisation. I believe that like many less developed countries beyond the West, Ghana has not been given the respect or opportunities it deserves, and businesses like the Social Mercenary are working daily to remedy that.
The Social Mercenary is not a panacea for all ills, but it isn’t meant to be. What I like about it is that it is set up as a platform; the blog is about getting attention to products that leverage the skills of people in Ghana. It’s about creating more ‘Social Mercenaries’ who believe in a better way of doing business and engineering collaborative social change. It’s also not all about Jack. Don’t get me wrong; Jack’s a great guy, but the important thing about a collaborative effort is the movement of the whole community and that’s what TSM is about; the army pulling together. I’d like to think that in some small way, I can be a part of that army – but also that anyone can. I’m helping out Jack physically now with everything and anything TSM, but you can join the movement too by buying one of the bags, sharing something, or following the blog, even if just while you wait for the Social Mercenary t-shirts, hats and second generation bags that we’ll be launching soon [watch this space].
I’m looking forward to the next few months and the Kickstarter and a couple events we have coming up, but the main thing is to make sure we lay good foundations for the greater things that the Social Mercenary has coming its way. The Social Mercenary is not something that will materialise overnight, but with its goal, and while the army grows, I’m happy to say that I can be a Social Mercenary!
Being vegan on placement can be challenging and adopting a flexible approach is often your best bet. Of course, you want to keep to your principles as much as possible, but don’t forget to balance this with the fact that staying healthy on placement is really important. Here are some tips and tricks from my volunteer experience to help you stay healthy, happy and principled.
Take some staples with you:
Before you begin your placement, while you’re still in the UK, think about how you make your diet balanced here. Maybe you eat a lot of nuts and seeds, or maybe you always have lots of green veg in your fridge. If you know these contribute to your healthiness, think about how you can take this goodness with you. Packing bags of nuts is simple and will help with snacking if your host home’s meals aren’t quite as filling as they might be when you’re in charge of cooking for yourself.
You might also want to take vitamin supplements with you (iron was what I was most concerned about as green veg can be hard to have in the quantity you might be used to). I didn’t take supplements (and was totally healthy when checked at the GP on my return) but you might like to as a precaution.
No stress about dairy.
It’s pretty easy to avoid dairy foods in Africa. Keeping cows is an expensive business so there is not a big dairy industry on the continent. Lots of people rely on powdered milk (where Nestle is definitely king!) and cheese isn’t found very commonly. Yoghurt drinks are fairly popular but also pretty easy to just avoid! The more common challenges you’ll face as a vegan are:
– meat as the default in the majority of meals
– fish offered as the only alternative
– hard boiled eggs (so many in Ghanaian meals in particular!)
Consider a flexible approach.
Be aware that we are very privileged in the UK to have access to a huge variety of foods. You’re highly unlikely to have such variety during your placement. With this in mind, are there certain non-vegan foods you’d be okay with eating occasionally to make sure you’re getting everything you need to stay healthy? For example in many of our placement sites, fish is a staple. I was okay with compromising and ate fish once a week to ensure I was getting the protein I needed. Because I compromised here, I didn’t have to compromise on dairy which I knew would have been a bigger deal for me.
Be honest at the beginning.
Definitely, make good use of the introductory household meeting with your host parents. Be honest about your dietary preferences and be prepared to explain what vegan actually is – it will likely literally be a foreign concept to many people in your host country. Come prepared with a list in mind of any items you might be willing to compromise on (e.g. Fish once a week) or ways you know to help make typically non-vegan meals vegan friendly (but be aware that this might require knowledge of typical local meals – you probably won’t know this until you get there!).
Write a handy go-to list of what food items aren’t vegan.
As is the case in the UK too, many people have never thought about what food items have required the use of an animal to get them onto our plates. This may also be true of your host homes. During your introductory meeting, come with some helpful suggestions to make their life easier when catering for you. This might include writing a list of everyday items that aren’t vegan e.g. Butter, milk, fish sauce, eggs etc. It might sound obvious, but this kind of simple step could help build (and maintain) healthy host home relationships from the beginning.
Offer to cook for the family.
Not only is it a lovely way to bring the family together and share a bit of your culture with your host parents, cooking for them will allow you to take control of what’s in at least one of your meals! Source your ingredients locally and ask your host parents’ advice if you’re not sure where to get ingredients from. Better still, join a parent on their food shopping trip and you can show them what items are vegan-friendly for future meals too.
Eat big meals at lunchtime.
If you’re finding it difficult to get your host family on board or maybe they just don’t have access to the kind of foods that keep you full and healthy as a vegan in the UK, take the opportunity to fill up at lunchtime. You’ll likely be out and about at that point in the afternoon and buying your lunch food from a street-side vendor. Suss out what the good veggie options are and fill up here. However, if this means you then need less dinner, do explain to your host parents so they don’t think you’re being rude by leaving lots of food they’ve cooked for you.
Get good at asking for ‘the meat on the side’.
When out and about getting food, asking to remove components from meals can be met with confusion and, more often than not, is unsuccessful. However, asking them to simply put the meat (/egg/mayo etc) on the side will likely be better understood and, I found, had a better success rate. Of course, this isn’t ideal because you’re not reducing the amount of meat the vendor is using, but you’ll definitely find someone in the group who’ll take it off your hands so it won’t actually be going to waste.
Don’t worry about what people at home will think.
Being vegan in the UK is often worn as a badge of honour, with a real sense of pride and, if you’re anything like me, it can seem like all your non-vegan friends are just waiting for you to ‘slip up’ so they can say ‘we told you so!’ Firstly, they’re probably not anyway. But secondly, the main thing your friends and family care about is your health and happiness, especially whilst on placement. My best advice: make decisions about your diet with only those things in mind while you’re away and don’t worry about the pressures to be perfect that you might feel back here in the UK.
Written by Rosie Coleman: Volunteer in Ghana, September – December 2016 and Team Leader in Rwanda, June – September 2017
A Coeliac’s Story of her Challenges Worldwide ICS Placement
For the past 8 weeks, I have been living in Accra, Ghana with Coeliac disease. Here are five nuggets of wisdom I can pass to you about going gluten free in Ghana.
A quick disclaimer before I start:
Before leaving the UK, I had a parcel of food delivered to the staff office in Accra. I ordered the food from the UK using Amazon Pantry and Challenges Worldwide was wonderful enough to send this box out to Accra. The delivery was seamless and easy to collect in country. This was set up as a backup plan in case I experienced any difficulties. The parcel contained breakfast cereal (x4), oats (x2), 6 packets of biscuits, bread flour (8 weeks in and I have yet to make any bread) and pasta.
I have found gluten free food around various Accra malls (Shoprite, Maxmart, Marina mall etc.), but these are expensive for what you get, sometimes out of date – and, as they’re not always restocked, not very reliable. I personally found getting the food couriered much more convenient. If I were to do it again, though, I would adjust what I packed slightly. Cooking in 30-degree heat every day is not fun! The pasta and bread flour, for example, were not as useful once out here. Also, because 90% of the Ghanaian diet is naturally gluten-free, I never found cross contamination to be an issue. However, there were limited options to eat western foods out at restaurants.
Here are my top tips for going gluten free in Ghana:
Generally, Ghanaians do not see dietary requirements as a health issue
I’ve been here for two months, but still find myself having to explain my diet requirements to everyone. There is a misconception here that dietary requirements are just an excuse for you to be a picky eater. It can be a little frustrating at first, but if you cook your own food and bring a packed lunch whenever you think you won’t have access to gluten free food, you’ll be fine.
Pack LOADS of snacks and bring cereal and/or oats
Even if you don’t snack in the UK, you will crave snacks here. I only packed one flavour of biscuits and cereal bars, and wish I’d brought more. I am craving crisps more than anything, as most crisps here have wheat/gluten in them.
I brought a bunch of Eat Natural cereal bars as midday snacks when I am out and about. These have been great too. The only downside is that you need to store them in the fridge because the heat melts the bars so they become very malleable and warm.
Locating gluten free food in Accra
I have managed to locate gluten free in a bunch of malls and supermarkets – however, you won’t always find the same stock in the shop. If you are really craving gluten free food (i.e. biscuits, pasta etc.) head to Maxmart – I even found crème eggs there last week! The only thing is that Maxmart is more of a premium supermarket (think M&S or Waitrose) so the food is pricey – however, it is the only place you can score free cheese samples!
Checkout glutenfreeroads for a directory of shops and restaurants that stock gluten free food
Living in Ghana has made me appreciate the beauty of potatoes
One of the things I was surprised to discover was that no one eats potatoes in Accra. According to Google, sweet potatoes are a big thing in Ghana – unfortunately not in the South, though, where I am spending my placement
After 5 weeks of no potatoes, you will discover just how wonderful these overlooked gems are. I have never loved chips more than I have out here!
What I eat in a typical week:
Breakfast: Part of my food parcel contained four boxes of breakfast cereal and it lasted me for six weeks. I think it was one of the best things I brought with me as it made for a very easy and quick breakfast option. Finding a substitute for breakfast foods is where you might struggle to find a gluten free option that tastes somewhat familiar. There isn’t much fresh milk – we use powdered milk – but don’t worry, you get used to it. However, I recently ran out of cereal so now I eat gluten free oats every morning. The others in my host home typically eat oats, tom brown or fish paste toasties (don’t feel like I’m missing out there). One weekend, the UK volunteers got together and made pancakes (glad I brought flour with me) and a fry-up for brunch.
Lunch: Normally, traditional Ghanaian food is gluten free e.g. Waakye, Chicken and Jollof rice, and Red Red with fried plantain. I’m sure there are many others, but these are the most common ones I know. I brought lots of pasta with me, so occasionally I cook lunch at home the night before and pack it with me before heading to work.
Dinner: In the Nmai Dzorn host house, we typically eat rice or yam with a fish and/or chicken stew – all of which is gluten free. The only time I have used my stock of gluten free foods is when I am missing home comforts. Most of the other host homes eat similar foods – although, rumour has it our host home mum cooks the best food!
So, don’t worry: going gluten free in Ghana is not as difficult as you’d think!
Just remember to pack LOTS of snacks and keep an open mind to the local cuisine.
Making one’s way by public taxi through Kampala’s packed streets is always interesting, but this time we were doing so with particular excitement. Our destination was the radio studios of UBC, Uganda’s national broadcaster, and our mission was to represent Challenges Worldwide live on air, to an audience of hundreds of thousands. UBC Radio reaches as far as South Sudan and Kenya.
After a quick group photo outside the compound, we made our way inside. It was clear our appointment was an important one when we were ushered quickly through security on mentioning the producer’s name. Prossy the radio presenter was warm and friendly as she ushered us into the recording studio and explained the procedure, but nerves were running high as we waited through jingles and advertisements for the microphone in front of us to buzz into life. Sharon, a former Team Leader, our Country Programme Manager Nicola, and current volunteers Lynna and myself sat at the desk and poured over our notes as we prepared our best professional voices.
The interview focused mainly on the ins and outs of the Challenges Worldwide’ programme in Uganda, with a particular emphasis on how local people can get involved. This was the topic most addressed in UBC listeners’ questions, which we watched ping in on social media between our turns to speak, but we also discussed our personal interpretations of the programme and, in my case, the experience of a muzungu (the local term for foreigner) living in Uganda.
We were also quizzed on our motivations, and whether I had signed up out of sincere belief in the importance of international development or simply to experience the beauty of the “Pearl of Africa” (in truth, a bit of both!)
Nicola was calm and collected as she expertly explained the details of our programme, and in the end her several pages of notes proved unnecessary, it takes far longer to cover the content than she had nervously imagined. Prossy turned her attention to the volunteers next, and we were able to discuss the help Challenges Worldwide gives to young people who need to develop skills and experience, and the impact we can see our work has on the local community. We were also quizzed on our motivations, and whether I had signed up out of sincere belief in the importance of international development or simply to experience the beauty of the “Pearl of Africa” (in truth, a bit of both!)
It proved a good opportunity to reflect on the differences between the two countries’ cultures, such as the tendency in the UK to work to the clock in contrast to more flexible lifestyles in Uganda, and the famous British reserve and politeness. Both ways of life have their disadvantages, as anyone who has almost been run off the pavement by one of Kampala’s ubiquitous motorbike-taxis (boda-bodas) will attest, but the more relaxed Ugandan lifestyle is good for the soul.
In the end, the hour passed by in a flash, and we found ourselves being thanked by Prossy outside the UBC studio and then shown to the door. Hopefully, our listeners found the experience as thought-provoking as we did, and at least one person is inspired to take up the challenge of global development as a result!
Until the age of approximately 18, I thought that pineapples grew on trees. To be honest, I never really gave them much thought beyond opening a tin of pineapple or eating it with cheese on sticks at a birthday party.
Luckily, Beckie reassures me that the pineapple tree misconception is quite common. Beckie works for the National Organic Agricultural Movement of Uganda (NOGAMU), the organisation that my business counterpart Richard and I are working with for our Challenges Worldwide placement in Kampala, Uganda. I admitted this ignorance on my part while we were sat under a gazebo, folding hundreds of leaflets for the “Productivity and Growth in Organic Value Chains” conference. If there was one place to improve my knowledge of pineapple, then this was it.
However, over the two-day event, I soon learned that this was about so much more than a tropical fruit. This event was a real landmark for the organic sector in Uganda, a sector that many of Challenges Worldwide’s chosen SMEs are working in. For this conference was a dissemination of the very first research papers produced in Uganda that focused solely on organic agriculture, and all the key players in the movement were there.
Thursday saw us meet with a wide range of students and lecturers as we manned the NOGAMU stall at Makerere University (or the Cambridge of Uganda, as Richard told me!) We handled tricky questions about where our products came from, how we knew the farmers weren’t spraying pesticides and tried our very best to convince passers-by to part with their money for an organic coffee soap.
On Friday, we attended a workshop that covered a range of practical tips for organic farmers – pest control, producing silage for cattle – but there was also much discussion on the challenges facing the organic sector in Uganda, which has to date relied heavily on the private sector, with limited government support.
It was a privilege to attend an event with representatives from governments and universities both near and far – there was the Vice-Chancellor from a Nigerian university, a representative for the Danish Ambassador and a minister from the Ugandan Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries.
Attending a Ugandan conference was an experience in itself – plenty of passionate disagreements, running three hours behind schedule and no soggy sandwiches for lunch – but overall one message came loud and clear. This group of people are passionate about their country, its produce and creating a strong agricultural economy through means that are sympathetic to the land and the people. There’s a momentum building and, if we can help assist a little on placement, I’m certainly pleased to be part of it.
When I get home and head to Sainsbury’s or Tesco to pick up food, I’ll see those organic pineapples and think of my friends back in Uganda and their vision for sustainable development. And I’ll know for sure that pineapples grow firmly in the ground (in rows of two, surrounded by banana trees for best results, if you’re interested)!
Are you more of an interactive learner? Not the biggest bookworm, or trying to cut down your screen time? A podcast may be for you! Perfect for on-the-go learners, podcasts are a free, quick, and easy way to give your brain a good workout.
Podcasts were never the most popular form of media. An improved interface, celebrity involvement, and programmes like Serial inspiring cult followings, however, have rocketed them into the mainstream. While listening for leisure is a great option, podcasts are also great for learning new information or skills. If you’re looking to be inspired, informed, or just want to see what the fuss is about, here are a few of our favourites.
Whether you’re looking to learn new skills to help you in the workplace, want to challenge yourself to be more socially aware, or are simply a curious soul, podcasts have a lot to offer. Even better, episodes range from under 30 minutes to over 2 hours. So, no matter your schedule, there’ll be a podcast to fill it. Have a listen on your lunch break, distract yourself during that workout, or zone out on your commute. Happy listening!