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Friday, 15 April 2016

Finding your feet, in someone else's shoes

As I write this, I am coming to the end of my first week working at the Northern Regional Resource Centre for Persons with Disabilities (RCPWD). My International Service ICS cohort has been in Ghana for ten days, and I think it is fair to say that most of us have adjusted to life here.

But life here and work here can be very different things.

The first few days on project felt rather frustrating. We seemed to be just waiting for something to happen. We discussed some of the work of our predecessor cohort, we shared some cultural differences and learnt some more Dagbani (a process begun at our in-country training), but we didn't seem to focus on what our cohort could do to add to the work of the Resource Centre. I began to doubt if we would really make any difference at all.

We volunteers come from all walks of life.
We are as varied as the shoes we walk in.
Then, on Wednesday, things began to pick up in pace. For me, that meant reviewing the results of an audit of 40 public spaces and buildings in Tamale, carried out by the previous International Service volunteer cohort,to asses how far they were accessible to persons with disabilities. This report will be presented to the sites audited, to help them improve their accessibility, while I hope that its general findings will be useful to other sites which are legally required to ensure they are accessible to persons with disabilities by August.

I also began collaborating with Fuseini, my team leader, and Abdul-Muhsin, the ICV with whom I will be working particularly closely, to design a follow-up survey for the sites audited by the previous cohort. This survey will encourage the owners and managers of the audited sites to think about what they can do to facilitate not just physical access, but also access to services, which is just as important, but much harder to measure.

So why the sudden shift in gear?

I think the answer to that question can be found in the title of this blog.

Each of us has come from very different places – from across Ghana and the UK. The routes we have taken to get here have also varied, from the gap year student who wanted to do something more, to the volunteer pulled out of an ICS International Service placement in Palestine, to the graduate looking to improve his career prospects. We have all had to 'find our feet', many of us in settings which are very different (even for the Ghanaian volunteers among us – Accra is a long way from Tamale). Meanwhile, Fuseini (our team leader and the lynch-pin of the whole group) had not only to get to know a new cohort of volunteers, but also complete a small mountain of admin to get out team plan and budget approved.

The saying goes that before you judge someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That is part of what ICS is all about. We come together in our different shoes, from our different walks of life, and we have to learn how to walk together. We have to wear each others shoes (metaphorically at least – in this heat I wouldn't want to inflict my actual shoes on anyone else!)

I admit that I found that challenging. I thought we wouldn't manage to make any progress, and, because, one of my main reasons for volunteering with International Service is to get experience working on issues of human rights, I began to doubt if it would be worthwhile. I wanted to press on down the road.

But instead, we spent our first few days trying on one another's shoes, at the same time as we were finding our own feet in new homes, a new culture and new work. We were learning to walk together. Now we can head on to greater things.  

Jack Fleming, UKV

Find out more about what an ICS journey looks like here

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