A final farewell to Africa

I really did not think it would come to this, but it may have become evident to some that my 6-months in Ghana has turned into 3. A couple of weeks ago an amazing opportunity came up that I couldn’t refuse and I decided to return to the UK.

The Challenges Worldwide programme opened my eyes to a new culture, lifestyle and way of working that I will never forget. The journey tested my patience, resilience and tolerance to non-Western ways, and I wouldn’t change my experience for the world.

I have met some of the most passionate, caring and hard working people, learned about business in Accra, and was welcomed into a host home like I was family from day 1.

Thank you to everyone that has been a part of my summer 2017!

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xo

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Advice for future Team Leads

Last weekend we said goodbye to the summer cycle of volunteers. The last 10 weeks have flown by and I hope they have all left feeling they’ve made an impact and have had a positive experience of the programme.

I have learnt a lot and want to share my advice to future Team Leads so they can work more efficiently in future. Accra is a big city, it’s the largest Challenges Worldwide site with almost double the number of volunteers and enterprises than others. To navigate the trotros (local buses) and manage 38 university students, you’ll need nerves of steel, patience running through your veins, and to be quick enough to pick up local street smarts from day one. But one thing I also can’t stress enough is that you need to find time for yourself. I took too long to discover the best places for a bit of downtime, so I hope this helps with work and play!

Volunteer tips:

  • Store all volunteer contact details in your phone; give them a tag such as “Accra UKV/ICV” so they’re easy to search for, and save everyone’s number in the first week. You never know when you’ll need to make a call and it saves asking around for numbers

  • Make sure you have access to the list with volunteer dietary requirements and medical history on it; and if you don’t have access, create one. Volunteers won’t complain until they’ve been given meat and there’s no alternative food, or you’re in hospital because you didn’t know someone had malaria on arrival and they forgot their prescription

  • Don’t distance yourself; at the beginning I wanted to keep a clear Line Manager/volunteer boundary. However, I soon realised that volunteers cannot be treated like employees and if they don’t know you on a personal level they won’t open up. The best way to look after them is to quickly gain their trust and allow yourself to be as approachable as possible

Work tips:

  • Map out your host home and enterprises; ideally keep a paper copy to limit the amount of data you use on Google Maps, and also include locations that volunteers work remotely from. A map will allow you to easily pinpoint the closest locations and reduces the amount of time you spend travelling

  • Make sure you are aware of all of the deliverables and key dates upfront; what date is the workbook due/when are the presentations/when is pitch deck? Once you know, inform the volunteers on a regular basis and loop in enterprise owners and host homes where necessary

  • Keep a list of host home and enterprise groupings; you will forget who lives where, who they’re working with and which enterprise they’re at

  • Create enterprise WhatsApp groups; this enables you and your counterpart to easily contact volunteer pairs and keeps both of you up to date with each business

  • Keep to-do lists; both for work so you can maximise your efficiency, and for downtime so the time you do have to yourself is well utilised

  • Update your TL report daily; I can’t stress how much easier it is to note things down when they’re fresh in your mind, and keeping a log as you go reduces the time spent on a Saturday submitting the report

  • Update your travel expenses throughout the week; as above, don’t leave it to the last minute and keep notes in your phone as you go along. When you’re trying to chase up issues that arise from the volunteer audit, the last thing you need is to be struggling to find time to submit your own

  • Communications committee; I allocated each member of my team a KPI (images/blogs/videos) and they were all held accountable for creating content throughout the cycle. This kept them on top of the schedule from the start and they all relished the opportunity to take ownership of their own department

  • Don’t stress yourself out; working styles are very different and you’re almost guaranteed to clash with your counterpart. You’re here to help, and stressing yourself out won’t move things forwards. If you’re in a rut, just stop, give yourself 5 minutes to assess your options and move forward

CMI facilitation:

  • Create a CMI rota; having the volunteers facilitate their own CMI activities will keep them engaged and will save you so much time. Creating a rota from the start also means they can take over early on and gives people plenty of notice to prepare their slides

  • Keep a register of who is late; this provides evidence when you need to take disciplinary action (e.g. curfew reductions/verbal and written warnings)

  • Don’t let volunteers out for lunch; timekeeping has not been our volunteers forte. Ordering lunch in for them has probably saved us an hour a week (use Google Forms for the order collation)

  • Delegate and rotate TL roles; decide who’s creating the agenda, making sure there is water on arrival and who’s ordering the lunch. The admin needs to done and it’s easy to forget if there isn’t an owner for the task

  • Go off piste; find out what else volunteers are interested in and let them facilitate presentations on their area of expertise and share your own

How to survive life in general:

  • Keep to-do lists; as above, keep a list of things to do when you’re free. Whether that’s blogging, reading, watching TV, listening to podcasts, organising weekend plans, or calling friends and family. When you’re free, make sure you know what you want to do

  • Don’t delete your travel notes; having a log of the previous weeks means you know how much a journey should cost when you’re not with your local counterpart

  • Keep small change on you at all times; give larger notes out when you are guaranteed the correct change, even if you have the exact amount, and try and keep a stash of smaller change for when someone’s trying to charge you Western prices. Typically tourists will pay more without questioning the cost, so market sellers and bus drivers will often try their luck

  • Hand wash little and often; it’s time consuming and tiring when you’re not a pro like the locals. Soak clothes for at least a couple of hours and wash things in batches once or twice a week

  • Exercise; there are gyms around the city with limited equipment that your host home or local shop owners can guide you to. The easiest way to exercise is HIIT, stretching/yoga in your home, or finding suitable running routes around the area. Go out in pairs before you explore on your own and mix up your route regularly to stay safe

  • Eating market food is safe (most of the time); look for stalls with a queue and if you want to be extra cautious avoid beans, fish and salad. It is a bit hit and miss, but most of the food is really good and so much cheaper than shops

  • Malaria isn’t a big deal; most of the ICVs will have had it numerous times before, take your tablets to prevent it, but if you do get malaria it’s likely to result in a trip to the hospital for medicine and a couple of sick days

  • Always carry hand sanitiser and tissues with you; public toilets aren’t the best

  • Maximise your phone battery life; turn off mobile data for anything that doesn’t need it, switch off Bluetooth, close background apps/websites when not in use, turn off Wi-Fi if there isn’t one to connect to (as otherwise it will continuously search for one), reduce your screens brightness, turn night-mode on, turn off location services, and always carry a power bank (and a cable!)

  • Plan your downtime; you’re there to have fun too. My only regret is not knowing what to do in Accra and spending too long asking around…

City tips for Accra:

  • Uber is up and coming and currently undercutting taxis to penetrate the market; you input your credit card details but actually pay cash on arrival at your destination

  • There are a number of malls dotted around the city that have shops, food courts and Shoprite (the supermarket of choice). Accra Mall probably has the best food court and is more central, but West Hills Mall has a roof top bar

  • Second Cup is the Starbucks of Accra and each purchase will get you 30 mins of free Wi-Fi

  • The University of Ghana pool is open to all; ladies will need to either bring their own swimming cap or buy one on the day

  • There are two bars and a Chinese restaurant on campus worth visiting if you want an area to get together after training at Balme Library

  • Then Lab Bar is an up and coming establishment with great food and music close to Legon. It’s great for socials after training when you have a curfew extension

  • Try and visit SkyBar25 at least once for a rooftop bar with a view; the yellow checkered building is the highest skyscraper in the city and just a 5 minute walk from Accra mall

  • There is Wi-Fi at KFC in Osu and at the university but it’s for students only; ask around your group and if you’re lucky a volunteer may be enrolled and log you in on their account

  • Osu is the heart of nightlife in Accra; if you want to go out, this is the place to start

  • Republic is the bar of choice and most others are hidden in side streets if they’re worth going to

  • Burger & Relish; I highly recommend the Three Little Pigs burger. No more needs to be said

  • Chez Clarisse; the best Ivorian food around at a reasonable price (30-40 Cedis a dish). If you want a healthy local dish this is your go to

  • Lord of the Wings is a reasonably priced Western bar/restaurant if you’re looking for TV/sports on a good quality screen

  • The Shop is a boutique shopfront that opens up into Narnia/a bar at the back. It has a contemporary vibe, the clothes and accessories are beautiful, and at the moment they’re holding acoustic music nights on a Wednesday

  • Labadi Beach is 10 Cedi entry and I personally wouldn’t recommend it. It’s quite polluted and the preserved areas are for guests of the hotels only. Drinks at the hotel are +40 Cedis if you do want to treat yourself

  • Bojo Beach is a no go area; however, the area outside the restaurant isn’t and you can sit there for free. So long as you stay on land and don’t cross the river to the 15 Cedi beach, it’s a cleaner and nicer area to visit. Pick a trotro to Cassawah and get off at Barrier. Get a loaded taxi to the resort entrance and walk 5 minutes to the coast

  • Getting clothes made; ask your host home, enterprise owner or other host parents for a recommendation. One item should cost between 25 – 40 Cedis depending on the size and quality and can take 1-2 weeks to be made. Get your fabric from Makola market and then the tailor price will include zips, buttons and a lining if required

  • Aburi; every Saturday at 6am there is a group walk up Aburi Mountain (Accra’s newest fitness destination!). Pick a trotro to Damfa from Adenta and get off at Toll Booth

  • Botanical gardens; there are two in Accra (Legon and Aburi) for you to visit for a small fee

  • Mangos are in season May – July. Eat as many as you can because outside of these months the price triples and they’re near impossible to find

xo

The business benefits of Challenges Worldwide

So far, I’ve seen a number of benefits reaped by businesses as a result of the Challenges Worldwide (CWW) programme. The volunteer Business Support Associates have identified a number of areas for improvement and here are a few of the wins we’ve had from our cycle:

  • Data collection; the workbook collates a summary of the business, an overview of financials, scoring and high level recommendations for a number of sections including Leadership & Management and Marketing. Many of the owners have found this a great way to get all of their basic records summarised in one place.

  • Market research; a number of volunteers have created and distributed surveys, visited prospective clients/parters, completed detailed competitor analysis including product/service reviews, and even generated leads for the owners to follow up on.

  • Pricing strategy; one business was actually making a loss on their product. This was identified during the data collection phase as part of their workbook, and with the help of their volunteers, the owner was able to reduce their highest costs and increase price points whilst remaining competitive in the market.

  • Operational improvements; one pair mapped out a detailed model of the business operations for an online e-commerce business. They identified areas where the customer service was breaking down and presented solutions back to the owner that removed the issues, cut costs and improved their service. Although we haven’t had time to implement the entire solution, this work future proofs the service on offer and helps the owner get a head start on issues that may impact customer retention.

  • Financial reporting; many SMEs in Ghana start by selling to family and friends, and before they know it their business is flying. But they haven’t got anything in place to record their sales, profit and loss. By recommending apps such as Wave to manage their accounts, creating bespoke reports in Excel, and/or introducing them to the Challenges Marketplace platform (owned by CWW), they are able to build a foundation of records that can be used for investment bids in the future.

  • Marketing and branding; our team has helped to build a social media presence for some companies, created social plans and timelines, reviewed advertising strategies, created new logos, signage and packaging, developed comprehensive marketing plans and more.

  • Trade linkages; where we see opportunities for businesses to partner we always encourage volunteers to link-up complimentary products and services. For example in a previous cycle they married a jam and a doughnut company, and in our cycle a high-end shoe supplier found a quality bag producer to create bespoke packaging at a competitive price.

  • Legal advice; the process to register a business in Ghana isn’t necessarily straightforward. The CWW staff hosted a legal seminar with qualified guest speakers to provide advice, support and to offer an open Q&A. This was a great opportunity for businesses to ask questions, learn from each other and network.

  • Free consultancy; as well as support from volunteers, the programme gives owners access to senior mentors that have worked for +10 years in a variety of industries. They are on-hand during the cycle and available afterwards to provide free advice.

With just one week to go, I’ve been reviewing the work the volunteers have completed and am supporting them with their final deliverables – a handover presentation and Pitch Deck.

The handover presentation summarises their recommendations, how far they’ve gotten, what additional work they’ve completed and what is left for the owner and CWW Enterprise Analysts to progress.

Pitch Deck is an opportunity for businesses to practice a pitch presentation to the CWW staff and guest panellists. They are given a template, support from volunteers and encouraged to pitch as if it were for investment. When they need to sell their business to prospective investors in future, they are then fully prepared, have considered questions that might be posed and if we know of any trade linkages or prospective partners we are able to raise and recommend in the meeting.

Enterprise Analysts continue to support owners on an advisory basis, linking them up with the mentors, trusted industry professionals and helping to share their success. CWW have also built a database of alumni and their wider network for recruitment purposes; if businesses are looking for hard working and reliable staff, they can start from here. The benefits can be huge if owners are engaged and spend time working with the CWW team to improve their business. It may be a 10-week programme, but the work won’t stop there.

xo

10 normalities that aren’t so normal in the UK

2 months in, I feel fully settled in Accra and am comfortable travelling solo across the busy city. Yesterday I started to realise there are a lot of things I now consider normal that were culture shocks at the start:

  1. Street goats and chickens

    Whereas I’d pay upwards of £5/£10 to visit a farm in England to see animals, goats and chickens just roam free on the streets of Accra. Often travelling in packs, the domestic animals are like cats – let out in the morning and returning to their owners at night.

  2. Carrying small change

    I’m so used to being overcharged at vendor stalls and on public transport that I keep a list of past trips and an abundance of small change in my purse. I’ve noticed traders give me a specific look when they’re about to push their luck, so I don’t hand over money until I know I’m paying Ghanaian prices and not white girl fees.

  3. Malaria and mosquitoes in general

    People catch malaria like the common cold and it’s easily treatable here. I’ve usually got at least a handful of bites on me at all times, I always carry mosquito spray, tuck myself into my net at night, and I’m now hyper-vigilant at smacking them off. Not quite the ninja reflexes of a local, but I’m getting there.

  4. The hospital system

    If you’re ill you visit the hospital. There are no GP surgeries so everything from a sprained ankle to a terminal illness goes through the same building. Once registered, you pay for everything upfront before you are treated; want to see the Doctor? Let reception know, visit the cash office and then get in line. There’s no ticket system though – you are told which door and then you sit on the closest seat to that door. Every time someone goes in, everyone shuffles up a seat, and if you’ve already queued but had to visit the lab for a blood test, you get a free pass to push to the front once your results are in.

  5. Being a celebrity

    Well kind of…people may not know my name but they know I’m an “Ubroni” (aka white person). It’s not considered a term of offense, just a fact, and I don’t think I’ve gone a day without at least one child shouting Ubroni at me for a wave. White people are a bit of a rarity here so when I was stopped in the supermarket by a group of teens for a photo yesterday I just obliged, shook their hands and agreed to be their friend when asked.

  6. Walking ssssslllllooowwwwlllyyyyy

    Ghanain pace conserves energy, stops you from getting too hot in the sun and if there is an alternative to walking people will always take it (even if it’s to avoid a 5 minute walk). I am used to walking like a Londoner; always in a rush even when I have nowhere to be, and whilst it used to be frustrating, I’m kind of used to being a little more chill now.

  7. Water sachets

    Why drink bottled water when it’s 5x cheaper from a sachet? You get used to the chemical taste of the treated water, it’s safe and after a few weeks I had mastered the art of biting the corner open and not spilling a whole bag on my crotch.

  8. Early starts

    I rarely get up any later than 6am now even on the weekends. The host home tend to wake up at 4/5am and my counterpart is usually up and about before 6am so it’s futile trying to fight it.

  9. Wearing flip-flops inside

    Although the floors are swept and mopped regularly, the sand from outside gets everywhere. It means everyone wears slippers/cheap flip-flops inside and I still have to brush my feet off before I get into bed.

  10. Loaded taxis

    These are communal taxis that have a fixed cost and route split between 4 people. It’s basically sharing the cost of a taxi when you’re all going in the same direction, without needing to know the other people.

xo

Exploring Cape Coast – our mid-programme review

The Challenges Worldwide (CWW) volunteer programme is 10 weeks long. Roughly broken down, it’s 1 week of training, 4 weeks of analysis, 4 weeks of implementation and 1 week of wrap-up and handing over to staff.

After 5 weeks in their businesses, we took volunteers away to Cape Coast last weekend for MPR (mid-programme review). It’s an opportunity to reflect on the programme so far, gather feedback, bring the group together, and take some time out to have a little fun too!

On Friday we left Accra and stopped at Cape Coast Castle on the way to the guest house. Those that wanted to, were given the option to use their own money to pay for the walking tour around the former slave castle, and learn about the conditions inflicted upon millions.

Cape_Coast_Castle

We were taken through the male and female dungeons; cramped, poorly ventilated spaces that stored up to 1,500 shackled slaves at a time. Kept like goods underground for 6 – 12 weeks, they either waited for death to take them, or for the next ship to sail them to the New World, leaving through the “door of no return”. It was a cruel reminder of how evil human beings can be, and how ignorant we can be to inhumane practices.

After the castle tour, we arrived at Hans Cottage Botel, our accommodation for the next 2 nights. The remote guest house was next to a beautiful lake, home to dozens of tropical birds and crocodiles (which we stayed well clear of!), and was a lovely location for a weekend retreat.

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We travelled out for dinner and then returned to Hans Cottage to take over the communal areas that overlooked the lake for some team building activities. Musical chairs, Mr&Mrs counterpart quizzes, a lip sync battle and more were all organised by the volunteers – a great effort from all!

Saturday we woke up early and started the day with CWW work. We discussed the learnings from working in cross-cultural pairs over the last 5 weeks, key successes, and how pairs had overcome issues with host homes, enterprises and their colleagues. It’s been a bumpy ride for most, and I am really impressed with how they have coped and allowed the issues to bring the group closer together.

Following the morning of discussions and surveys, we then travelled out to Kakum National Park to conquer the rope walk. At 30m high, it was like Go Ape on steroids and we had a beautiful view of the forest below.

Kakum_National_Park_RopeWalk.JPG

We left Kakum around 3pm to watch a local dance troop, Afokids. The group are a mixture of troubled, orphaned and deaf teenagers, brought together to give them a purpose – something to channel their energy into and teach them new skills. After a traditional African dance, they performed contemporary dances choreographed by the deaf performers, before inviting the UK volunteers to the stage to try it for ourselves. It’s safe to say they have slightly more rhythm than us, and after a 10 minute tutorial and a wobbly attempt at performing, the in-country volunteers took to the stage and got it in one…we just couldn’t compete with their moves!

Afodat

On Sunday we had a relaxed and slow commute home, stopping at Cape Coast Beach on route. The sandy shore was much cleaner than what I’d experienced in Accra, and it was lovely to walk up and down the beach with the sun shining and a fresh breeze on my face.

Cape_Coast_Beach

After an activity-packed weekend away, the host home were then more than welcoming to see us back safe and sound. Having lived away from home for years, it’s still taking some getting used to living with adoptive parents, but you can’t help but love their genuine and caring nature.

xo

Preparing for Ghana – what to bring

Almost a month in and I’m starting to realise what I should/shouldn’t have brought. Anyone looking to travel Africa or apply for their own ICS experience, here’s a little advice.

Do bring:

  • Micro-fibre towel; always good for taking to the pool or using as a floor mat when exercising
  • DEET; aka mosquito spray. Available at Wilkinsons for <£1.50. I’m probably going to use x1 in 6-8 weeks, but I’ve not been spraying myself much
  • Mosquito net (if not already provided!)
  • Sudocream; works wonders on bug bites but also works for general first aid. It’s cheaper than normal bug bite relief and multi-use
  • Shorts; it’s not as conservative here as I thought it would be, but ideally you want just above the knee because otherwise your skin sticks to the leather trotro seats
  • Swimming cap (ladies only); if you want to go into a public pool, you have to don the head-wear
  • Snacks; I’d recommend cereal bars, dried mixed fruit and nuts as they keep for a while and are good for when you either don’t like what’s on offer or need a healthy boost
  • Greens powder; it’s basically powdered spinach/good stuff. It tastes disgusting but when you’re ill you’ll do anything to get better. Aldi had just started selling some for <£2.50 when I left (100g will do 10-12 portions)
  • Multi-vitamins; I can’t tell if they’re working, but for £1-£2 for 60 in supermarkets it’s worth trying to prevent illness
  • Power bank; power cuts aren’t as common anymore but I’m often on the go and couldn’t be without my phone
  • Speaker; it’s just nice to be able to play music around the house whilst you’re away
  • Music; I brought a speaker and forgot I had no music on my phone…wi-fi is near enough non-existent in Ghana so definitely get downloading before or rinse any wi-fi you can on arrival
  • A good camera phone; Android phones are really common here and you’ll stick out with an iPhone but it’s worth it for the best quality snaps!
  • Surge protector; if there is an electricity surge, having your gadgets plugged into one of these will protect them from obliteration. Available in ASDA for £6-£8
  • Backpack; I don’t understand why people don’t already have one, but definitely get one if you’re off to explore
  • Plastic/rubber flip-flops; everyone wears them around the house like slippers because of the sand that comes in from outside
  • First aid kit; plasters, paracetamol, ibuprofen, cold&flu tablets, re-hydration sachets, small scissors and Imodium of course. It’s really expensive to go to the Doctors and/or Pharmacy so just bring it from home
  • Movies/TV shows; I didn’t stock up on enough entertainment for the evenings. I also wish I’d brought a HDMI cable to link what I do have up to the TV
  • Dry shampoo; it’s not available here so bring as much as you’ll need for your stay
  • Tissues; George packed all 6 packs when I only planned on taking a couple, I’m glad I didn’t say anything because most public toilets don’t have any loo roll
  • Hand sanitiser; they don’t have soap either…
  • Small lunchbox; I wish I’d brought a container to put fruit in for lunch or snacks
  • Coin purse; even for the guys, having change floating about in your bag is a pain
  • Nail file; for your nails but also in case you need to file down your local SIM card. For some reason a lot of ours weren’t cut to size and it’s quite common here. Worst case I’ve seen phone shop assistants file them down on curbs though
  • Bottle opener; drinking isn’t really that popular so if you want to buy some alcohol from the supermarket it’s best to be able to open your own booze
  • Sports bras; I wish I hadn’t brought any normal ones, they’re a right faff to hand wash
  • Face moisturiser with UV protection in it; it just stops you from forgetting
  • Cards; you can’t go wrong with a pack of cards and bonus points for bringing Top Trumps too

I’ll add to this list if I think of anything else in the next few weeks, but hopefully it will be of use to someone!

xo

The Team Leader role

With the business workbooks now submitted, recommendation presentations taking place on Monday/Tuesday and our MPR (mid-programme review) next week, time is flying by!

For those of you wondering what I’ve actually been doing, here’s a 5-point summary job description for the Team Leader role:

– Coordinating bi-weekly enterprise visits to ensure business owner and Challenges Worldwide expectations are aligned, and work to date has been completed to a high quality

– Conducting bi-weekly host home visits to check volunteers are settling in, abiding to house rules and acclimatising to the new environment. Looking after their health and well-being throughout the programme

– Directly line managing 9 volunteer pairs (18 total) with a Ghanaian counterpart. Facilitating 121s, reviewing workload and progress, providing business support and helping them to resolve any issues that arise

– Effectively delivering weekly CMI training by engaging all 38 volunteers in activities. Encouraging them to present their own content, and teaching them to work as Professional Consultants within their enterprises

– Heading up the Accra site Communications Team to deliver our KPIs; producing imagery, blog posts, high quality articles, video content and PR, and researching into local recruitment opportunities to pitch to the UK team

It’s a lot of work, especially in Accra this cycle as we had a surprise last minute flux in numbers. Usually TLs look after 4/5 pairs, whereas we have 9; this teamed with the long commutes keeps us on our toes at all times. But with bigger numbers comes more exposure to an increased number of enterprises, amazing host parents and the opportunity to explore the capital on a trotro (local bus).

If it sounds like experience you’d like to have on your CV and you like a challenge – research into Challenges Worldwide, or ICS and the other partners they work with across the globe.


xo

Living like a local

Having only been here a couple of weeks I’ve already had quite a few culture shocks, both good and not so good.

Early starts

People get up really really early in Ghana. It is normal to wake up at 4:30/5:00 and start the day with exercise, chores, getting the latest social media update or your TV/reading fix. This caused confusion in the first couple of weeks as I thought my in-country counterpart Tilly just didn’t realise we weren’t starting until 8:30, but now I have learned to tune out her morning routine and she’s agreed to leave the lights off until 7am – compromise at it’s finest!

Hand washing

I knew there wouldn’t be a washing machine in the host home, and I had hand washed clothes before so didn’t expect this to be an issue, but it’s a lot harder than it looks when done properly. I’d at most washed a bikini whilst on holiday and half “washed” a towel if I’d gotten sand at it at the beach. This is nothing compared to a full load of washing including bed sheets when you wash a 10cm square section at a time at most. The technique involves rubbing the material onto your knuckles to scrub any dirt out, and expect a load to take a good 3 hours; if you’re lucky. I’ve also found that any lace materials scratch your skin off like a scouring pad, so when the online websites recommend cotton undies, they didn’t just mean for comfort whilst wearing.

Church

Last Sunday we attended a special Independence Day church gathering with our host family that was conducted in English. The ceremony started at 7:30 and finished at 12:00, and it was more of a party than the usual hymns and prayers I was used to as a child. Everyone dressed in beautiful African prints, or white linen if part of the choir, and I noticed that they are particularly fond of their sequins. As well as dressing fabulously, everyone was dancing throughout, singing, and praising the appointed prophet as he wished their illnesses away and spoke of riches due to be bestowed upon all those in attendance throughout the month of July. An experience I’ll never forget but I’m not sure I’ve been converted just yet. Here’s a snippet of the service.

I’m hoping I’ll adopt some of the early start mentality as although I would call myself a morning person, I’m not an exercise in the morning person, and need to be to suit my curfew. Hand washing will not defeat me so early on so I’m going to find new ways to try and speed up the process before I succumb to giving up 15% of my stipend to a cleaning lady. As for church, I’ll definitely visit the host homes smaller local church before I leave and remember the ceremony fondly, but I’ll leave the singing and dancing to people with more rhythm.

xo

Arrival in Accra

I made it! After starting my Challenges Worldwide journey in December, making it through the application process, assessment day and pre-departure preparations, I arrived in Accra on Sunday.

The 6.5 hour flight wasn’t as long as I’d expected, but apparently we were very lucky to go direct! My UK counterpart, Bryan, wasn’t so lucky as the flight was fully booked so he came the next day via Dubai and was in the air for +14 hours.

My first thoughts as follows:

  • The host home is pretty awesome; we have a huge living room with an open plan dining room and a big twin bedroom, complete with a fan and mosquito net

  • Mosquito nets are like little forts and, I am told, if you sleep with the fan on mosquitoes are so light the air blows them away

  • Mosquito spray smells disgusting and if you spray your arms first and then your legs you smother yourself in the chemical mist bending down

  • Showers are always cold, and I’m OK with it

  • Water is sold in bags instead of bottles and you bite the corner to open them. They are also crafty little bags that spill at the first opportunity

  • Brushing my teeth with a water bag is an art I will master

  • It’s normal to drink Milo with breakfast (an energy hot chocolate drink)

  • Jallof (rice cooked in stew not water) is a staple with most meals and tastes good with everything

  • Locals eat huge portions of rice and small portions of stew/meat/sauce

  • They eat everything with their ‘SPOON’ (five letters for each finger on their right hand)

  • Everyone uses their mobile phone data for internet, there is no Wi-Fi, and I definitely took it for-granted

  • Trotros (the local buses) are chaos, but they are clearly organised chaos for locals as they just seem to magically understand where they are going

  • The guy that takes the fare is called “mate”

  • Without our in-country team leader (ICTL) counterparts, we would get lost almost immediately, never to be found again

All in all so good so far!

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xo

Time: 1.58.58

I know I probably sound like a broken record – but a massive THANK YOU to everyone donated in support of my fundraising target for Challenges Worldwide! On Sunday I ran the 13.1 miles in 1.58.58 – keeping to my 9 minute mile target pace and successfully completing the MK half marathon.

The first 7 miles were brutal; I was counting down the mile markers and the only things that kept me entertained through the roads and roundabouts of MK were the abundance of jelly-babies being given out, the Dutch-style windmill at mile 8 once we reached Ouse Valley Park, and my amazing supporters.

Another massive THANK YOU to George, Suzy and Hugo who helped create my playlist, drove me to the race at 7am, calmed me down whilst I panicked for no reason pre-race, cheered me on at the third mile, and got the best seats in the stadium to literally scream at me whilst I completed the final lap of the stadium.

£500 raised for charity and one half-marathon down, I am now the proud owner of the most fabulous cow medal around and just 6 weeks away from flying out to volunteer as a Team Leader in Ghana. Exciting times!

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xo