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Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Unforgettable

As with any three month experience in a foreign place, the last 11 weeks in Tamale have been full of memorable moments. From seeing traditional African dance performances, to visiting the High Courts, to coming face to face with a snake - our time here will not easily be forgotten.
            The first visit we made to the market was overwhelming. The people, the colours, and the general hustle and bustle were incredible things to be a part of. At first it seems like the place is pure chaos, but as the weeks went go on you discover that there is some method in the madness that is the masses of people and the mountains of goods. Every time you go to the market you will find entire areas you didn’t even know existed. From chillies that are too hot to touch, to African material in countless patterns, you can find whatever you are looking for in the winding narrow streets.
            The sensitisations we held at the local schools in Tamale are another story that friends and family will be hearing about for a long time to come. The children are ecstatic to see us walk into their school; the looks of anticipation on their faces are worth the visit alone. Giving the presentations in the class showed just how interested they are in learning (although the teacher walking around the classroom with a cane may have also been a contributing factor to their silence). When we took them outside to play sitting volleyball – trying to recreate the experience of disabled volleyball matches – the screaming and shouting of happiness was incredible. However it was nothing compared to the noise they made when the rally went on for any longer than 10 seconds. These are memories that will be cherished by us all for years to come.
 Meeting a Chief in one of Tamale’s communities was a truly unforgettable time on placement. He walked and spoke with such confidence that it was hard to take your eyes off him. We spoke for some time about the issues surrounding disabled employment, and his responses changed my perception completely. Explaining how ‘unemployed’ was a “white man’s term” and how ‘if I have it and you need it, it’s yours’ was a normal cultural practise that they didn’t even think about, really changed my way of thinking in terms of what employment, stability and society really are. It made me wonder how I have lived 21 years in this world without even considering the idea that employment was a by-product of Westernisation, and what else we take for granted here which has simply been forced on them through generations of oppression…
            In terms of destroying existing perceptions of Tamale, and Ghana generally, the community interviews and focus groups we held have had the biggest impact. Listening to the stories of various disabled people around the city has opened my eyes to how they really live and cope with their conditions. We have heard stories of blind and deaf people starting their life with nothing, and going on to get degrees in political sciences, scholarships to the UK, and master degrees in Law. We have heard stories of children who are kept out of school so they can help guide their parents through the streets in town while they beg for money. And we have heard stories of children who had absolutely no money or resources, but showed promise in class and now, thanks to the help of groups like the Mobility Foundation, they are master craftsmen earning money to put food on the table.
            The struggles of disabled people here in Tamale are now firmly imprinted in our minds. The success we have seen however – the stories of people getting where they wanted to, and the bright and positive spirit with which they do it – will be a driving force in our future endeavors to change their lives for the better and for always.


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