Alice Delemare is a member of Progressive Women’s steering committee. Follow Alice on twitter @alice_delemare
It’s quite possible that a few people think I’ve lost the plot recently. I currently live in London, surrounded by my friends and I’m only two hours on the train from my family. I have a job I enjoy in the charity sector and I get involved in lots of different things outside of work, like Progressive Women. Without wishing to seem like I’m boasting, I’m aware that my life is pretty sorted. But in four weeks all this will change.
On September 9th I move to a town called Wa in the Upper West region of Ghana. And that’s where I’ll be living and working for at least 9 months as a Community Development Worker with Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO). I’m going to work with a local Ghanaian organisation, ProNet North, to support communities in establishing access to good education for girls and children with disabilities.
The three northern regions of Ghana are the poorest in the country. In these areas, literacy rates are low and a large percentage of people above the age of six have never been to school; the average is even higher for females.
As a VSO volunteer I’ll be using skills I’ve developed in previous campaigning and advocacy work to encourage community involvement in school development as a means to addressing the barriers to girls’ education. In my pre-departure training with VSO I learnt about and practiced something called ‘participatory approaches to development’. This essentially means I’m not flying in and telling people what to do, but rather working alongside local opinion formers, chiefs, women’s groups and parent-teacher associations to assist the work already happening.
People living in this area, like anywhere, already know their problems and the solutions to those problems. My role is to support communities to take the lead in analysing their situation and developing their own plans to take care of the issues identified.
I very much doubt it’s going to be easy and I’m excited and terrified in equal measures. I anticipate my first three months will be mostly focused on settling in, learning how to live in a different culture, making friends and getting to know people. Although English is widely spoken in Ghana, there are many local languages and I’ll have to work with an interpreter when interacting with the local community. One of the big challenges on my arrival is to learn the local language, Waali, so I can at least make the effort to chat, if not conduct my work, in the local language.
On top of this, my daily routine will also change dramatically. I’ll have to protect myself from mosquitos, adapt to the heat, and learn how to sterilise water by filtering and boiling it. I’ve been told different things about the water supply in Wa – some say it runs infrequently, whilst others say I’ll have to collect it from a borehole. I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough!
I’ve heard great things about Ghana from many different sources – books, current volunteers, Ghanaian acquaintances and people who have travelled there. I’m sure I’ll learn much from Ghana and the people I meet; probably considerably more than they will learn from me! I’m certain I’ll meet many inspiring women and men whilst I’m there.
Before I leave, I’m aiming to raise £1,500 to contribute to the important work that VSO carries out in developing countries. The money I raise can help VSO keep a community development worker like me in Ghana, helping local organisations and communities establish access to good education for girls. If you’d like to support VSO’s work please donate via my JustGiving page, where all donations go directly to VSO http://www.justgiving.com/Alice-Delemare
Finally, I’d like to share some words given to me at my pre-departure training. These words are from a Chinese proverb and they inspired me to carry on this journey, keep learning, and continue to work with others to achieve equality.
“Falling down seven times but standing up eight times. You’ve got to be courageous if you’re going to be an agent for change. You’ve just got to be tenacious and stick with it and really believe in what you’re doing, otherwise the road is going to be even tougher.”
Follow Alice’s progress in Ghana on her blog: http://alicevso.tumblr.com/
Progressive Women would like to say a huge thank you to Alice for all her hard work for Progressive Women other the last couple of years, and we want to wish Alice all the best for her trip. We’re looking forward to hearing all about them!