Thursday, 23 June 2016


Tempus fugit; it’s funny how time flies when you are having fun or in our case, hard at work.

I sometimes find it hard to believe that its already eleven weeks into our placement, I can still remember the very first day I walked into Gillbt for our in-country training, and meeting my teammates for the first time, it all seems like yesterday now.

Well like everything with a beginning we are steadily drawing down the curtains to the end of our placement on the ICS programme. I am not sure about how I really feel about it. On one hand I am glad that our placement is coming to an end and I will finally be going home to see friends and family again. On the other hand I am sad I will be missing the new family and friends I have made while on this programme, but what I am really certain of is that the memories we have made together will remain with me for eternity.

Team Resource Centre at St Paul's School
The eleventh week for the volunteers of the RCPWDs was a very busy one unlike that of colleagues from other projects. The long break by the schools really affected our team plan, compelling us to continue with field work which ideally should have ended last week. We carried out our last batch of school sensitisations in two schools and also paid a visit to the Savelugu School for the deaf to have a discussion with the schools officials on inclusive education for pwds. Our visit to the school for the deaf was really intriguing, watching the students playing and laughing and communicating using the sign language was very inspiring.

The 2006 Disability Act of Ghana (act 715) was passed to help fight for the rights of pwds and offer them recognition and equal opportunity. While conducting research on the perception manager/owners of public spaces hold with regards to accessibility, one of the respondents interviewed drew our attention to the fact that the act did not have legislative instrument to back its implementation. Upon further research I found out that the LI should clarify issues and detail the specifics of the law, for example in the case of employment of pwds the LI would state categorically the annual tax rebate for companies that employ pwds, alone is enough motivation for employers to consider hiring pwds. How can pwds enjoy the rights spelled out in the law when there is no will to enforces it? This reminds me of an inscription on the wall of the Savelugu school for the deaf which stated that “if you cannot stand for the rights of all people then who is crippled”?.

Major stakeholders have bemoaned the level of inconsistency between the act and the UN-Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which Ghana ratified in 2012. Certain provisions in the UNCRPD were missing in the act and those that were mentioned were not detailed enough. This prompted the Ghana Federation of the Disabled’s call on the government to review the act to include the rights of women and children with disability, the right to protection and safety in situation of risk and humanitarian emergencies, freedom from torture, and the right to life to mention but a few weaknesses.

Accessibility is one of the key elements in our disability policy. A ten year transitional period was given for every public building to be made accessible. But sadly accessibility standards haven’t been established for the general public to conform to. A draft accessibility standard was developed by the Ghana Standards Authority and the Ministry of Water Resources Works and Housing to improve access and inclusion for persons with disabilities. Though this a positive step, a lot more can be done since the ten years given for all building to accessible expires this year. The target of getting all places accessible cannot be achieved if there are no benchmarks to be followed.

The issues raised above reminds me of a proverb in Dagbani: “Kpalan Kun Ku Tooi Zani” translated literally as “An Empty Sack Cannot Stand”. The passing of the current disability act is beautiful but measures need to be put in place to properly enforce it. Making sure there is a legislative instrument to fully implement the law, setting up a national accessibility standard, advocacy on disability rights, and raising awareness on the act itself are but a few things we can do to ensure the act stands upright, anything else and its just another empty sack.

We all have a role to play not just the government in making sure pwds are able to enjoy their rights and privileges, as well as perform their responsibilities without any constraints.

Abdul-Muhsin Jackson (ICV)

Friday, 17 June 2016

The Hand that Reaches for the World

Last week we visited a special school, Yumba, the only public school for children with mental disabilities such as Autism and Downs' Syndrome, in the Northern Region of Ghana.

We weren't sure what to expect when we walked toward that building with its bright blue painted exterior. It appeared much like any other school we have visited in Ghana.

Lack of funding means the parents of students have to pay for
the bus which takes students to and from Yumba school.
Some who can't pay have had to consider
taking their children out of the school.
Yumba receives funding from the government. They are very grateful and feel that the government is doing all they can. This, however, is not enough and often the school needs to rely on donors or fundraising from the parents of the students, who go out in Tamale to try to raise the desperately needed money for the school.

Sitting in a sweaty office and speaking with the headmistress about the school, I couldn't help notice the vast chasm of difference in development between Ghana and the UK. When we walked in the power was out – a common thing in Ghana. That means no ceiling fans (air-conditioning in the region is rare indeed), that means no light, that means no sockets to charge phones, that means no access to electricity of any sort and all the amenities that come with it – try to imagine a school that regularly experiences that in the UK.

Having lived here for more than two months, it is easy to miss the poverty which exists around us. A person becomes used to it and sees it as normal. However at this school I suddenly noticed the region's poverty again. It wasn't just the power that was out. We had the opportunity to listen to a conversation between the headmistress and a man from the water company. The headmistress asked the man: “We haven't had water for a while now. We are lucky we have that.” She points outside at a solitary water tank. “We need water in this place, as you can see. What will you do? Will your people sort it out for us?” The man from the water company rather unconvincingly said that he will report the matter.

But the sad sight of this poverty was really underlined when we met the children. When we walked into each class the children looked at us with varying emotions – some were happy, some were excited, some were confused, some unimpressed and others even seemed a little scared. These are people for whom the world is experienced and understood in a different way. All processes, systems and social norms in this culture are made for the mind of the majority, but these children are a minority and those systems are baffling and confusing to them – thus they are somewhat stuck, living in a world made for other people.

In the vocational class we visited some of the stronger students. They were aged between 9 and 22 and were learning the alphabet. Many of these kids were very excited to see us. They knew no social boundaries – they would run up to us and hug us, they would hold our hands and not let go. They would stroke us and would be desperate to stay with us. The UK volunteers among us, being so obviously foreign and white even to the non-disabled Ghanaian, were well and truly aliens to these children. The hair on our head, our arms and legs were the object of utter and continual fascination. What must the world be like for the mentally disabled? When the simplest things around them are like master games designed to catch them out at any moment, and for whom the world at large is so ungraspably foreign.
Yumba School's Vision Statement: " Seek to make sure that the
marginalised, the less privilege [sic] and the disabled are given
the opportunity to better themselves, the community and the
nation through education"

In Ghana mental disabilities are stigmatised more than physical disabilities. It is an invisible disability which appears to have less of a cause. Most of the kids we met on the day were born with their disability. In a part of the world where poverty forces a person to hold up their own and integrate into society and culture fully, to be mentally disabled – to see the world on another plane to the average person – is to be aside from the world, to appear useless. This is why we hear of so many stories of parents who, realising their child has an intellectual disability, endeavour to 'cure' their child. There are elusive camps, elusive pastors and holy people who believe that they can use their religious power to remove the disability – much to the parents' folly and the lining of those people's pockets.

We are working in one of the poorest regions in one of the poorest parts of the world. To have mental disability here is like being stranded on an empty desert island, completely reliant on the kindness of starving birds to drop you food and water.

Once again the government is doing all it can, the school handles things as best they can, the parents to their unparalleled credit work hard to keep the place running. Everyone involved works to keep this place afloat, and it is afloat – a solitary raft in the middle of an ocean – a weak raft, but a raft indeed.

The type of person who will involve themselves with ICS and International Service is no doubt a dreamer and an idealist among other things. It is then in our dreams to imagine a Ghana providing the best support for persons with disabilities – a hundred more Yumbas. Yumbas with the right amount of funding, with support for all its students – those children confined to living in a world outside our world.

Long after I leave Ghana, I will remember those students. I will remember the way they reached for our hands to hold - a hand to walk with them and see what they see.

The hand reaches for the world and the world must, in turn, do its best to reach for the hand.

Martin Farrugia (UKV)

Monday, 13 June 2016

The Journey So Far

This week, we have something different for you. A video blog, showing you a bit more of what we have been up to, compiled by Cece Abotsi, one of our ICVs.
Special thanks to Evans Osei Opo, one of our colleagues at Create Change ABC for helping prepare the video.


Monday, 30 May 2016

Changing Societies; One Mind at a Time

Its the end of week eight of my International Service ICS placement in Tamale, Ghana. I am nearer the end now than the start, and I've been thinking a lot about how to measure the value of my time here.

The value of some aspects are clear, albeit hard to quantify. My relationship with my host family, for example, is something I will keep with me long after I leave Ghana's red dust far behind. I could not forget the time I have spent relaxing in front of our house, or playing with the five year old who, though not technically related to my hosts, is to all intents and purposes part of the family. I have also learnt a lot about myself. I have discovered that, when the team faces challenges, I will take the lead without a thought if it seems likely to move us forward. I could also measure progress against our team plan. My team is running courses on IT and employability skills, we have a flurry of school sensitisations in the coming weeks, and we will soon begin drafting reports based on our engagement with managers of shops and public services. All of this valuable.
30 completed interview questionnaires - central to our team
plan, yet somehow it doesn't truly capture what we do.

Still, I can't help looking at the big picture. I chose to volunteer with International Service because I genuinely believe that ensuring people can enjoy their human rights is fundamental to developing successful states in which people can flourish. That means changing societies – not just in Ghana, but in the UK and all around the world. It means providing universal access to good quality education, without poverty, lack of resources, or unaffordable fees standing in the way. It means empowering women to play an active role in the economic and social lives of their communities, rather than being too subjugated to report sexual assaults, let alone to look for bank loans to start businesses. It means creating built environments and civic services which don't limit the inclusion of people based on physical or mental disabilities.

Above all, the work which organisations like International Service undertake aims to change the way people think about the world and about each other. To shape a culture of inclusion. In that respect it is a perfect partner for the ICS program, with its commitment to Active Citizenship. That is also why, at the Resource Centre, we are following up a technical survey of the accessibility of public buildings conducted by the last cohort of volunteers, with a series of interviews with public and private sector staff to try and gauge their understanding of, and attitudes towards the same issues of accessibility. I am sure the results, when compiled, will highlight clear focal points for local businesses, for civil society, and for the government in Accra.
School sensitisations are a better reflection of how
we change a culture - one person at a time.

Our report, however, wont change the world. It wont even change Tamale, unless it is supported by people. That is what it all comes down to. People will have the power to decide whether our advice is worth acting on, whether they gain more from including the one Ghanaian in five who is disabled. I am optimistic. Our interviews have made the last 8 weeks fascinating for me. I have met people from across Tamale, and their attitudes have varied. I have lost count of the number of people who have repeated the mantra 'disability is not inability', but accessibility continues to be seen as someone else's problem: whether it is a case of funding or permission from above. Again, people assume that a ramp (regardless of its steepness) automatically makes a space accessible. People rarely consider intellectual disabilities. This is where my counter-part Abdul-Muhsin and I step in. We push home the point that an integrated society is everyone's responsibility, and in everyone's best interests. We highlight that disability encompasses more than being in a wheelchair. And people listen - people clearly understand that integration matters.

Of course there is a long way to go, but what we say will effect the people we talk to, and they, in turn will talk to others. Changing a culture is a slow process, in which my contribution is, as they say in Dagbani, 'Bira Bira' (small small).

The American Civil Rights activist Anne Braden said; “What you win in the immediate battles is little compared to the effort you put into it. But if you see that as a part of this total movement to build a new world, you know what cathedral you're building when you put your stone in”. The stone I put in is part of something much bigger. It can't be measured, monitored or evaluated. But it is the most valuable thing which I will have done in these three months, and that's not nothing.

Jack Fleming (UKV)

Friday, 6 May 2016

Dreaming beyond your low self-esteem

It is the desire of every person in this world to perform some extraordinary task. People try their best to do good acts during their life. It is normally said that it is a great achievement for any man to perform extraordinary acts, but this becomes more important when it is done in the presence of a major disability. There are different people in our world today that perform extraordinary tasks despite their major disabilities. When someone with a disability is able to overcome all the hardships of life then it becomes a legend and golden history. It takes a lot of strength and a complete no-fear attitude to go as far as breaking the cords of low self-esteem in the world of disability and climbing the ladder of living a purpose-driven life.
I’m in my fifth week of the ICS journey and trust me l am really trying very hard to cope with the heat from the sun here in the North, since I am from the South and the heat here is more than that of the south. The past weeks have been very interesting; we are doing a lot of online research and baseline research to find out the reason why many employers don’t want to employ persons with disabilities in their organizations. During our research, it was recorded that around 60% of employers would like to employ a person with disability based on his/her qualification, irrespective of their disability. 
Wumbei (ICV, Standing), helps members of the 
Ghana Blind Union with IT lessons
Cecil, Abdul and I had an interesting interaction with the manager at a local shop in Tamale, during our research findings about the barriers employers may face in employing PWDs. The manager said, and I quote: “It isn’t always the case, but l am speaking from my date of assumption to work till date, we have never gotten any letter from any PWDs who is seeking for employment in my branch of work, Tamale. And do you know why? It is because majority of them have low self-esteem.” He told us about a physically challenged employee who works at their branch office in Kumasi. He is hard working, and has gained much admiration from customers for breaking out of his limitations and proving to the society that he is able to achieve something. Immediately after the manager ended his statement, l realized he had made a strong point out there based on his experience. On our way back to the office his statements kept echoing in my mind and I decided to think it through over and over again.
In my relaxed mood, I started thinking about how best we as volunteers at the Resource Center can help solve this problem. My best friend has always said this to me “If only you could sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to people you may never even dream of, there is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” This means that, for an individual to succeed in this life, he or she has to first of all believe in him or herself and break out of any form of limitation that could be a hindrance to progress. The search continues and we are on a journey towards helping PWDs fight the negative spirit of low self-esteem through capacity building workshops and training. It is a long journey and we are getting there step by step.

Cece Abotsi (ICV)

Friday, 29 April 2016

People, Progress and Sport

There I was, sitting at the main taxi station in the heat, preparing for my first radio sensitisation, when a man physical disability who couldn't walk was dragging himself across the dusty floor.
Five minutes later I saw a similarly disabled man – again with a physical disability preventing him from the use of one of his legs. However this man was different – he was not dragging himself on the filthy floor, but moving fairly quickly with the aid of crutches. In Ghana, you notice these basic but profound inequalities, especially with disabled people. Crutches are a basic necessities for the physically disabled and yet there are many people without them.

Ghana, comparatively, is no different from the majority of the world. We in 'the West' sometimes lack sufficient hindsight to see how poorly we once treated those less fortunate than ourselves. The UN made a Declaration on the Rights of People with Disability only in 1975. This was followed by the 2006 Convention on disability rights. We are talking about a mere two generations of progress with the rights of disable people. So it is hardly surprising that Ghana, a country which only gained independence in 1957 - and which has faced serious challenges in its development as a nation - should still need more work done to improve the lives of persons with disabilities.

Much of what we are trying to do is to help Ghana meet its laws. Our baseline research team, who audit public buildings for their accessibility to disabled people, have found serious limitations in the majority of buildings. Sometimes the reasons are bureaucratic, often they are financial, but mostly the reasons are time. Ghana's disability act only came into being from 2006 – just over 10 years ago. The Northern Region of Ghana has not seen the same burst in development that the southern and central regions of the country have. One of the things ICS taught us in our training days is that positive change does not happen quickly, and it certainly does not happen equally.

It is easy to feel demoralised by the challenges we face as a disability resource centre in an impoverished region of an impoverished continent. But every now and then we come across a spark of enthusiasm, a laugh, a smile - a passion for justice and coexistence. Our past week, I think, has enlivened that.

On Saturday we went to the old stadium in Tamale to watch local disabled people play wheelchair basketball. At the corner of this dusty barren 'field' was a cracked old basketball court in serious need of resurfacing. But despite its state of disrepair, this court held some cracking games. The first game was 3 men against 3 women (there are only 6 wheelchairs to use) and was very hard-fought. The great thing about watching this was to see the energy and excitement the game generated, not just in the players but in the sizeable crowd – both disabled and non-disabled. People were there to support their friends and to enjoy a pretty high standard of basketball. Of course, nothing lasts forever, alas, the standards dropped severely when we were offered to play. It is safe to say that we struggled a bit. Our respect for the people who played before us has no bounds. The strength and fitness of the wheelchair users was really highlighted by the fact that we could barely even reach the net, let alone score.

Wheelchair Basketball at the Old Stadium

Finally, this Thursday we went to Tamale Senior High School (Tamasco) to conduct a refresher sensitisation which would gauge how effective the previous cohort's sensitisations were. Two months after their previous sensitisation, the aged 16+ students really had remembered most of what they were taught. What was most impressive was the enthusiasm they showed when talking about persons with disabilities. They genuinely felt that disabled people deserved to be valued members of society and more must be done to help them.

The road is long, but judging by the interest and knowledge displayed by the younger generations, I feel that positive change is coming to Ghana in its own way, and will surely promote other parallels in this vibrant and fascinating part of the world.

Martin Farrugia (Marley)

Find out more about our work in Ghana and how you can get involved here

Friday, 22 April 2016

How would you describe time well spent?

They say procrastination is the thief of time, I have managed to stall the writing of this blog till it was virtually impossible to postpone it anymore because deadline date had caught up with me. It was just but a week ago that we were seated in the resource center waiting for our team leader to tell us what was next on the agenda for the day, but like an air plane on the runway we have finally taken off with jet speed.

The audit team comprising of myself and Jack had the herculean task of picking up the pieces from where the previous cohorts had left off. They conducted an audit of forty (40) public places and open spaces in the Tamale Metropolis to determine how accessible they are to persons with disability, we on the other hand had the task of furnishing these places with the completed audit reports and also administer a follow up questionnaire. Let me be quick to add that most public buildings in Tamale are not accessible to persons with disabilities, despite the directives in section six (6) of the Persons with Disability Act, 2006 Act 715 which states that the owner or occupier of a place to which the public has access shall provide appropriate facilities that make the place accessible to and available for use by a person with disability.

We did not let the scorching sun discourage us from delivering the reports and pointing out to owners of these buildings the recommendations they have to apply to make their establishments more accessible. I was particularly overwhelmed when the branch manager of Ghana Commercial Bank revealed that he was actually looking forward to include the recommendations of the audit report to the up-coming renovations of the bank.

International Service ICS volunteers
conduct a radio sensitisation
I teamed up with Wumbei and Marley to do a radio sensitization at radio savanna on the rights of persons with disability. Roughly ten percent (10%) of Ghana’s twenty (20) million citizens are persons with disability. Even though their rights are defined both by Ghana’s Constitution and by international conventions, in reality these provisions have offered them very little actual protection against stigmatization. It is in light of this that the resource center through volunteers seek to educate the general public by increasing awareness, so that more people with disability will begin to demand the rights to which they are legally entitled.

It was my first time on radio and I was very tense but with help from Wumbei and our able team leader Fuseini the programme came off without any glitches, it is anticipated that thousands of listeners who tuned into the programme across northern Ghana have a change of heart towards persons with disability and stop the stigmatization against them in addition to treating them with respect and dignity.

So if you ask me what time well spent is, I would say time spent with new friends/teammates in getting owners of public buildings to make their spaces more accessible to the minority population, also period spent on air(free airtime I must say) propagating the rights of people with disability and appealing to the conscience of the public on their responsibility towards the vulnerable in society and the need to stop the stigmatization against such people as well as giving everyone equal opportunity to thrive. Time spent in making this world a better place for all is time well spent to me.

Abdul-Muhsin Jackson, ICV Ghana