The Words of the Tardy Family
The nineteen volunteers from the Youth Service Initiative program in Europe, finally have a moment to relax after the completion of their much-anticipated service project in Tamale, Ghana which took place from April 2nd to 20th. The group, composed of young people from around the world, had spent months preparing for this ambitious project focusing on education. Every penny used to fund this project had to be raised through their own efforts. This included hosting a charity concert, appealing to their local church communities for donations, hours of door-to-door fundraising, and countless letters to organizations for sponsorship. Finally, after overwhelming support and response, they were able to reach their goal and were ready to head to Ghana.
It was easy for the volunteers to devote all the time and effort necessary to prepare this project because of the passion and ownership they felt for this particular project as well as service work in general. The organization, Youth Service Initiative (YSI), brings inspired young people together for a one-year training program that prepares them to initiate, develop, and carry out their own service projects. The overall aim of the program is to create a youth culture of service, which they do within their assigned community of either Utrecht or Rotterdam in Holland, or Frankfurt in Germany. To spread this concept on a larger scale, they also do an international project in Ghana each year, this year having being lead by YSI board members Martin Alexy, from Slovakia, and Yebuny Chandler from England.
The purpose of this year’s project was mainly to promote and support education in Ghana. A current problem with education in the villages near Tamale, Ghana, is that although there are schools set up, many parents don’t see the value of education and send their children to sell products at the markets instead of to school. In an effort to counter this, YSI along with its partner organization Community Partnership for Youth and Women Development (CPYWD), built playgrounds at three schools. With a way to play now available at the schools, the children became much more attracted to attend lessons.
The presence of 19 Westerners alone caught the attention of the adults in the community, but it was the construction of the new play equipment that was most intriguing. Many of the children of the communities had never even seen a swing set or merry-go-round before. Each morning as the volunteers arrived at their communities, the children would run from their classrooms or homes to greet them. Then for the hours until lunch, YSI organized games, songs, crafts, and even some school lessons for the children. Hyo Jeong Williams, a YSI volunteer originally from New Jersey, said, “Sometimes I felt I was running out of ideas of ways to entertain the kids, but, in the end, you realize they enjoyed anything that we could give them. They were happy even to just be with us.”
Another purpose of the project was to stimulate young people to take an active role in their community and inspire them to also become involved in service work. The YSI team along with CPYWD organized two discussion forums with the local youth. The first was on the topic of Democracy and Tolerance. Although Ghana has been independent for over fifty years, democracy is still new to the country. Therefore the issue of democracy is still very relevant for them. The Ghanaian youth along with the YSI volunteers discussed how best democracy could be spread and used in society. The second forum was on the topic of interfaith initiatives. Ghana is composed of Muslims, Christians, and Traditionalists (tribal religions). Despite these divisions, the country remains in harmony. The purpose of the forum was to discuss how the different religions could work together to further Ghana’s development.
On the last two days in Tamale, the playgrounds were handed over to the schools, culminating in a ceremony involving the whole community. The school directors addressed the village about the importance of education and even directly asked the village chiefs to support the playground and school activities. In response, the community thanked us greatly and honored one of the volunteers with the title of sub-chief of opportunity. The volunteers and villagers then celebrated the project’s completion together. Each enjoyed the performance of traditional music and dance from trained professionals from the local community that quickly had volunteers joining in to dance to have fun together before the end of their stay.
Going to Ghana was quite an eye-opening experience for all the volunteers. In fact, many of them hope to go back and revisit the communities that were helped during this project. Amy Quispe, a YSI volunteer originally from Queens, New York, said, “For me the Ghana experience was valuable because now I can see what is really needed to help Africa. Through YSI, I’ve been wondering what I can really do to change the world. Now I can see from experience the direction needed for the projects I want to do to help developing countries. I’m looking forward to going to other parts of Africa to expand my understanding even more.”
Written by Cienna Tardy, YSI volunteer from Clifton, New Jersey