One Rule for Us? – Why the global north should lead the fight against climate change

This blog was originally written as part of the Action at Home phase of my ICS placement, which encourages participants to play a role in seeking to bring about positive social change. It is hosted by the International Service ICS Alumni Blog, along with pieces by many other returned volunteers.

In Ghana I was struck by the difference between the developed and developing world. It is clear to me that if the world is to tackle climate change, the West must lead. I have written to my local MP, Jim Cunningham, the Minister of State for Climate Change and Industry, Nick Hurd, and the Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, Clive Lewis, calling on them to pursue ambitious targets to reduce emissions. Here’s why.

Last November, in Paris, representatives of 195 countries met in the hope of agreeing dramatic reductions to carbon emissions, and limiting global warming to no more than 2˚ over pre-industrial levels. What they walked away with was a historic agreement, built around Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, through which each country identified its own “ambitious” targets to reduce emissions and limit warming.

There has been much criticism of the agreement; contributions are voluntary, and many commentators doubt that the contributions will go far enough. Yet such flexibility is vital if climate change is to be tackled at all. Despite the huge weight of scientific consensus, previous attempts to limit emissions have failed, largely because of attempts to impose uniform, rigid limits on all parties. Many more developed nations backed uniform targets, as they saw climate change as a problem effecting everyone, and for which everyone should take equal responsibility. Yet the global north countries have historically been responsible for the majority of emissions, and are simultaneously more able to move away from dependence of fossil fuels, by virtue of their advanced economies and infrastructure.
In the developing world, the reality is very different. One of the things which struck me most strongly while living and working in Ghana earlier this year was that the country could not afford to reduce its emissions, and does not have the capacity to do so significantly. If a nation struggles to keep the power on at the best of times, an attempt to move away from fossil fuels as the primary source of electricity is going to have huge economic consequences. If the government lacks the money to provide large-scale public transport infrastructure, the citizens must rely on cars and mini-busses which are, more often than not, old and inefficient. If people’s diets are primarily rice and maize based, there is little capacity to reduce methane output by eating less meat.

Drinking water in Ghana comes in 500ml sachets – which makes for a lot of rubbish

Here’s an example that struck me. Many, perhaps most Ghanaians do not have access to safe drinking water via domestic supply, something that most of us take for granted (indeed, the UN recognises access to clean safe drinking water as a human right). The country simply does not have the infrastructure to make that possible through domestic supply. Instead, drinking water comes in small, relatively inexpensive sachets of 500ml. This is a country in the tropics; the average temperature ranges between 21˚c and 28˚c. While I was living there, I often drank eight sachets of water a day. Those empty sachets had come from somewhere and go somewhere. It has been estimated that Ghana generates around 230 tonnes of waste every day, just from water sachets, and only around 2% of this is recycled. That means that each day, over 200 tonnes of plastic need to be produced by burning fossil fuels, just to ensure everyone can access clean water.

Ghana has little scope for reducing greenhouse emissions, unlike more industrialised nations, where people fly frequently and eat a lot of meat. Indeed, it would be reasonable for Ghanaians to call for a significant increase in their emissions, to allow for better standards of living, improved infrastructure, and more varied diets. To demand that Ghana meets the same targets as the USA would be deeply unfair, and would likely increase the inequality seen between developed and developing nations.

One recycling option is to make volleyball nets from used sachets

Added to all that, it will be countries like Ghana which are hardest hit by a changing global climate. Desertification will wreak havoc on the agricultural production of countries across west, central and east Africa, while nations Indonesia and the Philippines will suffer from rising sea levels.  This will cause food shortages in countries where many people live at subsistence levels, it will lead to population movements, putting further pressure on public services, and causing friction between ethnic groups with long histories of animosity. Global warming could be the spark which restarts the civil wars that dominated Africa in the the second half of the 20th century.

The developing world is not responsible for most of the worlds emissions, nor is able to do anything near as much as the developed world to combat this problem. And if we fail to halt global warming, the global south, which is least able to handle the effects, will be hardest hit. With all that in mind, an agreement built around Nationally Determined Contributions was a breakthrough, as it represented an agreement which was sensitive to the different needs and capabilities of countries. It is of course true that these non-binding contributions will be weaker than agreements with binding instruments to enforce them, but a weak agreement must surely be recognised as better than no agreement at all. It is at least a beginning, and it is one that we in the West must take the lead in developing. I am calling on MPs from all paris icsties to set aside divisions to tackle this pressing issue. I hope you will do the same.

Jack Fleming
Returned International Service ICS Volunteer
Tamale, Ghana

Update: On 17 November 2016, the UK became the 111th country to ratify the Paris climate change agreement. The challenge now is to meet, and ideally to exceed, the obligations of that agreement. To date, I have received a reply from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, on behalf of Nick Hurd. Neither Jim Cunningham nor Clive Lewis have replied. 


Aid for Aid’s Sake: Why we need a Department for International Development

Since the announcement of Priti Patel as Secretary of Sate for International Development in Theresa May’s cabinet, there has been a marked increase in the level of interest in the department. Priti Patel was, perhaps, a surprising choice for the job. After all, only three years ago she suggested that British interests could be better served by focusing on trade rather than development. Doing so could, in her words, “bring more prosperity to the developing world and enable greater wealth transfers to be made from the UK by fostering greater trade and private sector investment opportunities.” Her appointment as secretary of state sits uncomfortably with her suggestion that DFID, a department established less than 20 years ago, be radically redesigned.

Now, it is certainly true that increased trade could be beneficial to the developing world, if it is pursued in a way which is not limiting to developing states. It is a fundamental principle of economics that countries should specialise their production, focusing on industries where they have a comparative advantage. But such specialisation comes at the cost of industries which are weaker. Developed states can afford these costs – they can subsidise domestic industries – but this is more challenging in the developing world. That is not to say that we should have no trade with developing states, but that it must be pursued in a controlled way, which benefits both economies. Trade is not the answer to all the world’s problems.

That trade is imperfect is only one flaw in the suggestion that we should emphasise trade and downplay development aid. Whereas trade can have a net positive impact on an economy, it cannot be targeted in the way aid can be; the two are fundamentally different. And while increased national income will push up tax receipts and mean that a government can spend more, a developing state’s priorities may not be the same as our priorities for international development. Perhaps a state would pursue large infrastructure projects, which increase its prestige, but do little to help its workers. Perhaps it would increase funding for education over all, but not target marginalised groups such as people with disabilities. Put another way, our development aid can be targeted so it helps the people most in need. This is surely a good in itself.

It is also worth noting that humanitarian aid, which is perhaps what most people think of when foreign aid is mentioned, is a comparatively small part of what DFID view’s as its priorities. Instead of simply feeding the hungry (taking responsibility for what might be seen as a domestic failure), most aid has a long-term focus. That word ‘development’ is crucial. I recently returned from three months volunteering with a disability rights NGO in Ghana, through a scheme call International Citizen Service (ICS), which DFID funds. As part of this, I was able to attend a meeting with DFID and FCO staff based in Ghana. DFID’s current priorities in Ghana where outlined – good governance, economic development, and human and social development – and within these, focuses include education, especially for girls, health (including focuses on malaria and reproductive health), preventing gender-based violence, investment support for small business owners and farmers, and ensuring government accountability. These focuses clearly the target some of the Millennium Development Goals and their successors, the Sustainable Development Goals, benefiting groups which are among the poorest and most marginalised in Ghana.

Sustainable development makes us all richer.

Progress towards the SDGs will have a significant positive impact on Ghana as a whole (and DFID’s work in Ghana may be taken as representative of its approach globally). More women in education means more women able to get jobs, live independently, and achieve great things. Better preventative health care means less government spending on acute care. A great number of successful small businesses means a boost to the economy as a whole. A government help to account regularly is one which will work harder in the interests of it is people. DFID is not taking a short term approach, giving people food today, but rather making them better able to feed themselves tomorrow, and thus improving the overall nature of the state.

As such, aid is also a valuable source of soft power. Whether this is admitted or not, it is clear from the stated priorities of DFID that maintaining and enhancing British soft power is a key aspect of its work. While good governance received only 13% of DFID Ghana’s 2015-16 spending, it was nonetheless a priority, and of course it is good governance as we define it: a representative democracy which upholds human rights, which is a responsible player on the world stage and which is held to account by an active civil society. These are very ‘British’ values which it would be hard to entrench so deeply with a trade agreement. True, EU trade agreements have included Human Rights requirements since the 1990s, but these cannot have the same impact on a country’s collective consciousness as results from working directly to foster our own vision of good governance.

The way aid embeds British values is perhaps clearest at the local level. ICS sends volunteers from the UK to work with local counterparts which means that every project, whether focusing on giving women access to reproductive healthcare or helping local craftspeople establish cooperatives, is influenced by the attitudes and values of those volunteers. Volunteers are actively encouraged to share their perspectives on issues such as war and peace, globalisation, trade, or human rights through regular ‘group reflections’ meaning that British perspectives are given a wider airing. More broadly I know of projects where there were tensions between the views of UK and in-country volunteers – and in the majority of situations, the UK perspectives won out. After all, if the UK volunteers reported that the project partners and in-country volunteers would not accept that marital rape can exist conceptually, let alone in reality (yes, that really was an issue in one group – albeit one which was resolved), a project focusing on sexual and reproductive health would be unlikely to have a long-term future.

It is clear that our overseas aid, which is set at 0.7% of gross national income, has significant value, both in human terms, and as a boost to British soft power. Yet, in the last few days, a Whitehall source has suggested that this aid spending could be used to ‘leverage’ trade deals. At present, UK law makes putting such terms on aid illegal, but that there is an appetite for such an idea in Whitehall suggests that our new government has not fully understood the benefits of soft power. If we put terms on aid, it is likely to reduce the number of states willing to take such aid, which reduces our global influence, influence which could help us when striking trade deals. It also ignores the moral principle that we provide development assistance because it is the right thing to do, because nobody should live in poverty, because everyone benefits from increased prosperity. If this is the direction in which our new government is headed, then one has to wonder whether they are guided by any ideal save the god of profit.

Ghana: More Food for Thought

One of the things I did to raise money for my International Service ICS placement to Ghana, was to spend four days living below the poverty line, on £1 a day. It was an eye-opening experience, which got me thinking a lot about how not having food security (let alone choice) feeds into a wider powerlessness encouraged by poverty. I thought about people in the UK who struggle to feed their children, and feel unable to provide the life every child deserves and I thought about the 25% of Ghana’s population who live below the poverty line (which works out as about 5 Cedis a day – roughly the cost of a loaf of bread to feed a family for one meal).

The problem is that I was only thinking about one part of life, drawing on an image I formed as a child.

Let me explain. When I was growing up, we were not especially well off. Our nice Cotswold farmhouse cost more than we could really afford, and this made money for other things tight – so it mattered to my parents that they were able to put decent meals on the table – that we never went hungry. It also mattered when, for whatever reason children will, I decided I didn’t want to eat. When I didn’t finish my meal, I would be admonished with talk of children starving in Africa. There was not of course, any suggestion that I should put my excess food into a Tupperware box and post it to Ethiopia or Chad. Rather the point was that I should be grateful for what I had, because other people were not so lucky.

Imagine, then, my astonishment on finding that my (generous and hospitable) host family here in Ghana routinely provide me with enough food to feed at least 3 people. While I didn’t expect my host family to be among the 25% of Ghanaians who live below the poverty line, I didn’t expect them to be quite so far towards the other end of the spectrum when it came to food. I didn’t expect such apparent excess. It sits uncomfortably. I can’t help thinking about the people in Tamale who haven’t eaten today, and feeling guilty that I have so much. I wish they could come and share my Fufu, Banku or Rice.

My host brother and sister prepare Fufu

[These staples dominate our meals. Rice comes as normal, rice balls, Waachi (rice and beans) or Jollof (cooked in tomatoes and chilli) while Fufu and Banku have consistencies not unlike instant mashed potato, the former being more doughy. Common accompaniments include spicy tomato sauces, fish, ground-nut soup (a personal favourite), and sometimes a little meat. Breakfast is normally a large hunk of bread and a cup of instant, pre-sweetened white ‘coffee’. If I am lucky I might get a boiled egg or an omelette on the side. Lunches are generally biscuits or frozen yoghurt.]

At our in-country training, my cohort of volunteers was shown a TED Talk by the Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie, called The Danger of a Single Story. The talk explores Adichie’s own roots as an author, but its key point is clear from the title. All too often we are shown only one image of Africa. The same image, from news reports and films, from rock stars and NGOs. Africa is war-torn and poverty-stricken, beset by HIV pandemics and corrupt leadership. This is the Africa of DEC appeals and child soldiers.

This makes it easy to forget that this is a continent into which you could fit Europe, China, India, and the USA, and which is almost as diverse, in culture, in economies, in wealth. But more than that, just like anywhere else, every country is diverse. Ghana has its elites, its white collar workers, its working class labourers, just like anywhere else. But that is not the story the world sees. We see the naked children surrounded by flies, living in mud huts. We homogenise, we tell ourselves “This Is Africa”, its all the same, its a continent almost beyond hope.

When my host mama, Kate, refuses to give me smaller portions, knowing full well that I won’t finish all that she gives me, she is sharing a small part of the of the variety which is Africa. A part we in the West don’t often see, unless we experience it first hand. She is living generously, welcoming a guest into her family, and giving me plenty of food, on the basis that it is better that I have too much than too little. She, just like my own mother when I was a child, is proud of the care she can offer me. I should be equally pleased to accept my huge portions in the spirit in they are intended.

Changing Societies; One Mind at a Time

The following post first appeared on the blog of the Northern Regional Resource Centre for Persons with Disabilities.

RCPWD works to ensure that disabled  people in Ghana’s Northern Region are able to realise their full rights. For more information on their work, see their website.

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.

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.

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-Mushin 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.

Ghana: Last Taxi to Kalpohini

Ghana: Last Taxi to Kalpohini

One of the more eye-opening aspects of life in Tamale has been my daily encounters with the city’s public transportation network. For starters, let me say that the railway, established under colonial rule, completes a rough triangle, from Accra north to Kumasi and west along the coast to Takoradi, with the third side linking those two cities. It comes nowhere near the Northern region, and all transport north of Kumasi depends upon the road network (with the notable exception of the boats which move up and down lake Volta to the East, and the two aeroplanes a day which fly into Tamale Airport Aerodrome.

Most private citizens rely on bike and motorbikes to get around, and (as with many places in the developing world), the loads which can be carried on such vehicles are at times mind bending – from a family of five to a large amount of heavy building materials, livestock, and the odd fridge – the bikes are ubiquitous and versatile. They are also a challenge to cars and pedestrians alike. Tamale has few pavements, though it does have one unique factor. Several of the more major roads have cycle lanes. This ought to make like easier, but the lanes are shared by pedestrians, bicycles and motorbikes, adding an interesting dimension to ones travel.

For those of us without the luxury of a motorbike (indeed our insurance would not cover it even if we had access), there are a few options. First, and cheapest, are the Yellow Yellows (you might know them as Tuk Tuks or Auto-Rickshaws). These are basically motorbike bodies, converted to have three wheels, and fitted out with seating for six (the driver, a front passenger either side of him, their legs sticking out to the sides, and three passengers behind). They are also very dangerous. They have little that would count for a roll cage, open sides, and more people than should really fit them. Suffice to say our insurance would balk at them as much as at motorbikes. Likewise, it would not cover riding in one of the small flatbed trucks, which are much like a Yellow Yellow, but can cram maybe ten people. These do brighten up the road somewhat, though, as they seem to carry mostly Ghanaian women in their vibrant, multi-coloured dresses.

That basically leaves us with the taxis. Now, I say taxi and you probably picture either a London black cab, or a yellow New York taxi. These are generous images, of which I must disabuse you. You see, in Ghana, any car can become a taxi, all it takes is painting a couple of the bodywork panels yellow, and voilà, you have a taxi. As far as I can tell, there is little additional screening of the car done (though some drivers are licensed).

Of course, there is a little more to it than that. Ghanaian taxi drivers have taken the phrase ‘a good little runner’ and pushed it beyond the limits of what is reasonable, sensible or even sane. Certain makes seem to be preferred for that reason – Opel, Fiat, Kia and the like. However, a stronger distinguishing feature than the make is a ubiquitous state of disrepair. It is rare to get into a taxi which doesn’t look like it has been involved in a destruction derby. Cracked windscreens and missing wing-mirrors are routine, and I am no longer surprised when my ride is hot-wired or given a push to get it going.

In some ways, it is not surprising that the cars are so well used. They have a lot to deal with. First of all, they are faced with chaotic roads. The main taxi rank is a maze, before you even add in Motorcyclists (some of whom will be driving down the wrong side of the road), Yellow Yellows and pedestrians crossing. I sincerely doubt I could negotiate a car around Tamale and if I make it through twelve weeks here without seeing an accident, I will be amazed. (The worst I have seen so far is a wing-mirror being knocked off in a collision with an (apparently unharmed) pedestrian in the main taxi rank, while on another occasion the radio started smoking.)

Then of course there are the roads, which vary substantially, from the well maintained, multi-carriageway trunk routes, such as the Bolgatanga road, down to side streets which are barely defined dirt tracks. These put suspension through the rigger with some of the largest speed bumps I have ever seen – speed bumps so mountainous that drivers will come to an almost complete halt before attempting to summit them, and still risk grounding their cars. Others seem to be simply a line of pot holes which drivers will attempt to slalom around.

More confusing than the external damage is the internal. I haven’t yet worked out why so many of the cars lack internal door handles or window mechanisms (this is not a major problem, since windows are kept open). More of a problem is the similar lack of seat-belts.

Of course, it is no surprise that a car, which is a large investment, is thoroughly used here, but nonetheless, one can’t help but feel that any decision to use a taxi a decision to take your life into your own hands.

For all that, taking a taxi has become routine, mundane even, because (over short distances), taxis occupy both the traditional door to door, high fare market, and the cheaper, set route market occupied by buses elsewhere. Every morning, to go to work, I will walk to the nearby taxi stand – Kalpohini last stop – where I meet Cecil. With two of us going to the same place, it is easier to fill a taxi, which won’t leave without at least three passengers, often four (sometimes as many as six). A drive in to town, which takes around ten minutes, will set you back 1.2 Ghana Cedis (about 20 pence). And of course you get to experience the cool breeze through the open window, and explore the driver’s music taste (on one particularly surreal occasion, I ended up singing along to “Saturday Night” by the 90’s dance musician Whigfield).

From there, its a short walk to the stop which takes us from town to the roundabout outside the new sports stadium. And I mean the roundabout, Taxi drivers have an unnerving habit of stopping in the middle or roads or junctions, between the two lines of traffic. But for the princely price of 1 Cedi, it is hard to raise any real objection…

Ghana: Working Week, Sunday Rest

“Stop all the clocks”. That’s how Auden’s poem starts. Well, there are occasions here when that feels rather unnecessary. You see time in Ghana has something of a life of its own; now rushing forward, as though to get through its length of days in the blink of a eye, now languishing behind, awaiting I know not what.

There are days at the Resource Centre for Persons with Disabilities where all I can do is trawl the internet, perhaps stumbling upon a relevant report by Human Rights Watch, but more likely achieving nothing of significance. Afternoons which seem to stretch beyond sight, where the heat gets under your skin, into your bones, and all you can do is sit under the ceiling fans, and drink sachet water.

But these days are matched by those which pass before you have even realised which day it is. Days of meetings with city businesses and government organisations, discussing the importance of accessibility to buildings and services, and trying to hammer home the warning that they must make appropriate provisions by August or risk breaching the law. (This is the main thrust of my work at present. We are building on an accessibility audit carried out by previous volunteers to try to get a picture of how people the needs of people with disabilities are met and encourage action, facilitating the involvement of PWDs in the local economy and civil society). Further time is swallowed without thought by school and community visits (a.k.a. sensitisations), which seek to dispel some of the myths surrounding disability in Ghana (including that disabilities are caused by evil spirits which can infect you), and replace them with an awareness that disabilities are not inabilities, but limitations of the social and physical environment, and that people with disabilities are first and foremost people.

This ebbing and flowing sense of time is not unique to project work. It is just as common in our weekends, where long afternoons playing cards with my host siblings, or burning my way through books, are matched by mornings lost without a thought in church, or watching the Ghana Society for the Physically Disabled (GSPD) play wheelchair basketball.

So too, it rubs off on everyone else here. Appointments, for example, do not seem to be set in stone in the way they are in the UK, and need repeated confirmation. They may be cancelled at a moment’s notice, but equally may happen well ahead of schedule. Punctuality is not the cardinal virtue, rather it is subservient to sociability. Greeting your neighbour is more important than getting to work on time. Getting to church on time is practically unheard of (though interestingly the Catholic community at which my host family worships seems to better at this than the Anglican cathedral I visited once and decided wasn’t the place for me).

I like time. There’s so little and so much of it.” Well, four weeks have already passed, and it seems like no time at all. And yet if you asked me about something that happened last week, I would be amazed that it was only last week. Eddies in the Space-Time continuum and all that…

Ghana : My Family and Other Animals

Ghana : My Family and Other Animals

I have now been in Ghana for about two weeks, and I think the time has come to say something more about normal life here. The obvious place to start is with my hosts who are, I think pretty representative of an average Ghanaian family, and certainly play a crucial role in my time here.

Staying in a host family was one of the things which most excited me in the run up to my placement. The idea of sharing my life with another family, of coming home and chatting about my day, of being part of the mundane and exciting alike, was simultaneously exhilarating and nerve-racking. In fact, I think this is one of the greatest strengths of the ICS programme. It helps volunteers – British and (in this case) Ghanaian alike feel rooted in the communities they are helping. We aren’t bussed in do-gooders who return to air-conditioned flats cut off from the realities of life in our placement countries, whatever they may be.

(There is a certain irony to the fact that the placements which most interest me, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are also the only ICS placements which do not include staying with host families, for security reasons. If Palestine had been an option, I would have gone there without a second thought, and not experienced life in a host home. If…)

As it is, I am happily residing in the house of Catherine (Kate) Achap, in Kalipohini. The house is home to three generations, though it could be two. Catherine runs the household, and also is a small time shop-keeper, selling mainly drinks and sweets to the locals. Her husband, a retired gold mine engineer, died in December of 2008. Her eldest daughter (whose name I don’t know), lives in another town, but the rest of the family lives at home.

Theresa is the second oldest and is currently studying Media and Mass Communication at college. She seems to be away form home a lot though, so I haven’t seen her all that much, but I understand that, when she finishes, she wants to be a teacher or work in bank, because such jobs work well around family life.

Family Life – Pascal and Theresa make Fufu by mashing Yams with water

Next in the family is Boniface. He was the first of the family I met and continues to be very friendly, showing me around Kalipohini and generally looking out for me. He and his friends are often hanging around, gathering fruit or just relaxing, but he is ‘meant’ to be studying engineering. I can’t help wondering if that is his attempt to live up to the legacy of his father. He must have been about 11 when his father died, which would have an undeniable influence. He is also much better at making small talk than his younger brother, Pascal, who is in his mid-teens and is the quiet type. He wants to go into business when he is older. Perhaps he and Theresa can start a family bank.

The family is completed by S., who, at 13, loves science (she reads ahead to find out what they will study next), which bodes well for her future. She is actually the daughter of the absent oldest sister, while her father lives and works in Italy. Apparently it is quite normal for peripheral family members to live with the core like that. As the youngest girl in the house, S. spends most of her time (when not at school) helping to ‘keep house’ and run the shop. It is quite likely that even in the 21st century, this is how she will spend most of her life. Gender roles in Ghana are pretty strictly defined.

[Here, writing was interrupted due to a power-cut]

Along with the family itself, we have numerous human and animal hangers on. The most present of these are Mr Ibrahim and his five-year-old daughter, who seems to spend more time here than at her own home. She is precocious and social, often traipsing along after S. and helping with her work. Her father views the Achaps as part of his family, and I have spent many an hour chatting with him and playing a board game which is a cross between snakes and ladders and frustration, and seems to be ubiquitous here.

Alex relaxes in the kitchen, away from the hustle and bustle of the porch.

Along with all the people, there are a lot of animals. Foremost are the dogs (although the chickens are the most vocal). We have Sparky and Bamba, who are related to each other (I think Bamba is Sparky’s pup, but I’m not certain of that) and have been with the family for a long time. Next, there is ‘little Blackie’ (so called because he is Brindle), who is a few months old, and whom the family are supposedly training for Ibrahim. I confess I haven’t seen much actual training going on… Finally, and most recently, we have acquired a PUPPY!!!! Puppy is not officially named yet, but I have taken to calling him Alex, which seems to fit. He also seems to rather like me, following me around, and chewing on my flip-flops or shorts. When he runs he bounces from his front to his back feet in pairs, which is most endearing. Other regular parts of life include Guinea Fowl (which look ridiculous) and goats wandering around.

Every time I think I have the measure of the house I learn something new. It took me a week to discover they have a rather nice lounge, and coming off it, what is currently a trunk room, but must once have been another bedroom. That room, I discovered only this weekend, has an en-suit bathroom! This is a bit of an irrelevance, since the water was cut off a few years back, and it has been an ongoing battle, not yet won, to get it turned back on. Still, even without running water, it is a very comfortable house. They have a fridge freezer, and an oven (which they choose not to use), multiple televisions and so on.

But the building isn’t what makes my host home a nice place to live. What makes it a good place to live is that they make me feel part of the family. It’s about coming home to the latest large and spicy meal. Of course, it has challenges too. I find the lack of small talk very odd – people don’t chat about their days here, preferring silent contemplation (perhaps I just live with a family of introverts). I also struggle with the insistence of the family to bring me a chair/get up and offer me their seat whenever I come over, and their refusal to let me help with cooking or cleaning. These are uphill battles in a culture which focuses on generosity and has very strictly delineated rolls for men and women. Just the idea that I should cook or help wash up inspires laughter.

I have said before, I am not here to change the world. I will not remodel Ghanaian society over night, and nor would I want to. But I know that being here is already changing me. I can see that different ways of living are no less valid, as long as everyone involved is a willing participant, and I am happy to be part of something which really is a community. I am recognized by friends of the family when waiting for a taxi, I am introduced on my first visit to church. I am a part of life here, and the value of that really cannot be understated. It is like nothing I have done before.