Youth Group Activity Leader

Andrea_Mancini

My first experience as a volunteer in an Ngo. My first time in Africa. My first time in VEG. Many changes in a very short time. If you add to this the incredible environment I was thrown into, during my stay within VEG, you’ll maybe get a taste of what I mean by feeling as if I had always been there.

When I arrived, Christiane very kindly came to welcome me at the airport and the next day we went searching for beads and cardboard. So I had a chance to see all the city of Accra from the city centre (guided by Katie ) to the market and the ocean. The day after we headed back to Ho, finally arriving to the VEG house. I fitted in very quickly, first because I had to, and secondly because all the volunteers were very kind to me from the beginning to the end of my stay. So that was my first VEG lesson: old volunteers somehow have to help new one’s to join in the team as quick as possible.

The next days I quickly went through all the project docs and I got a taste of them. I went to see the amazing work Nickolai and Dennis were doing, building up a theatre performance played by local kids. Despite it being all in ewe, they somehow managed to convey health messages through the universal language of human body. Then I went to Takla and I was very impressed by these four wonderful craft-girls. At last I went to peek at a  session at the Lady Volta Region. It was about Hiv and Aids. Then I just browsed through some economic research that belonged to the Micro-credit project. I started thinking that I would certainly be more interested and more motivated in a project in which I could interact directly with the local people. VEG was incredibly flexible to my demands and interests.

What is it that really makes it an enjoyable place to work in? I would say the constant exercise of listening to your demands or to your suggestions (which does not mean everybody’s always nodding to you. .quite the reverse!), makes VEG a potential medium through which you can manage to express yourself and your personal abilities. That was my second lesson about VEG: always listen to other peoples’ ideas, it ill help you have a more complete and complex view of a problem, and a wider range of solutions.

As time went by, the old volunteers began heading back home one after the other. I started going to the Lady Volta Centre almost every day to replace the old volunteers and to carry out the sexual and reproductive health course. The kids began to get used to me and I gradually built up a trust-relationship with them. Running the new sessions I started to get to know them more deeply even though not everyone would easily open him self to my inquisitive presence. Almost every time I went to the Centre I would go on foot, passing through the main town road. I would always walk along the same street, so eventually even the local people started to get used me. So my integration developed. The mutual greetings with the local people got longer and slowly reached the length of a short conversation.

At one point during my third week, Holger started thinking of organizing a survey with the Hiv positive people at the hospital. So I offered to help him and went through the building process of the form-structure of the survey. I then went with him and another doctor (a friend of his who helped us by translating the questions of the survey into Ewe, and then the answers back into English ) to the hospital. It was really a profound experience to see such different reactions to exactly the same few questions (people laughing, crying, stand stock-still like ice.). I just hope Holger’s early departure won’t freeze his project.

Then Andrea, Amaya and I decided to set up a three day course to give the Takla girls some very basic business accounting skills, such as book-keeping and registering income and expenditure. We had to create a very interactive and empirical learning-strategy. The girls are in a very crucial moment of learning and so we tried to string together their limited knowledge of English with counting exercises, with their beads-business trying to avoid every abstract and theoretical proposition. They seemed to take the challenge even though the three days planned had to stretch out into two week sessions. Teamwork means everyone gives whatever they can give. That was my third VEG lesson. Each square gets added to a “mosaic” way of working.

But one last word on what VEG (through a comparative view with all the others local NGOs), but especially Christiane, Yannick and Genevieve taught me about what the meaning of an NGO is. Helping a country to develop is a very difficult thing to do. If we do not want the verb “to help” to be squashed by the roll of rhetoric, we shouldn’t let it be translated just into “dispense, hand out, donate” goods or  resources. Maybe we should add to this “give the necessary skills to make them independent, to make them self-sufficient, to make them able to replicate these micro-schemes of development.

When I walk, still hear kids shouting “yevu yevu”, still see grasscutters crawling in the bushes and sometimes, just feel like my heartbeat is still following Ho’s rhythm, still dancing on the crazy drum music at one of their evening marriage feasts.