Disaster Appeal: Hurricane Recovery 2018

Humanist Service Corps News

To read part one click here

Last December the 2017-2018 HSC team (volunteers and FBB leadership) mutually decided to leave Yendi. The HSC program faced some unexpected challenges in 2017 that forced several big location changes for our volunteers. While these challenges were entirely outside our control, we want to remain transparent about the status of the program and how we have adapted our 2018 schedule. Even though we were all disappointed to leave Yendi, we are proud of our accomplishments in the north, and are optimistic about the program’s future.

hsc_ghana_learningtomakesheabutter_july2017We decided to start the next phase of the HSC program in January instead of July. This phase will use an evaluation and improvement process to determine how best to use knowledge gained from the Northern Region as we transition to other parts of Ghana. Although we planned to expand to other parts of Ghana, we never expected it to happen so quickly. We are continuing our partnerships in the Northern Region to build on our accomplishments remotely, but do not plan to have anyone there at this time. We expect one or more volunteers will return at some point in the future. 

Establishing HSC in Cape Coast
After extensive research we chose Cape Coast, the capital of the Central Region of Ghana, as the location for our team to begin the next phase of the HSC program. Yvonne moved to Cape Coast in January and has spent the intervening months re-registering the HSC program with the Ghanaian government, getting to know the region better, and building relationships throughout the community.

In Ghanaian culture, relationships are the cornerstone of society. Building a strong relationship with every person with whom you interact on a daily basis is of the utmost importance. We cannot succeed in Ghana without having these relationships solidly in place. In many ways, this is part of why we struggled when the HSC team was forced to relocate so quickly in 2017; we did not have adequate time to establish strong relationships in Yendi.

Establishing Partnerships
Now that the HSC program has officially been re-registered with the government and the bulk of her relationship-building efforts are completed, Yvonne will begin to meet with NGOs operating in the Cape Coast area. She will be using the knowledge gained from our past experiences with partner organizations as she evaluates potential partner organizations.

HSC GhanaYvonne is also looking for a second person to help vet the Cape Coast NGO's - two people will have a much easier time evaluating an organization than one person alone could have, and offer multiple perspectives during the evaluations. They plan to spend approximately 4-8 weeks shadowing 2-4 organizations that seem like a truly promising fit. She explained that in Ghana, it can be challenging to get someone to answer a question if the answer may be perceived negatively or to admit to not knowing an answer, which added to the difficulties we faced in earlier partnerships. By spending two weeks onsite with potential partners, we will have firsthand knowledge about how an organization operates. 

The HSC Advisory Board & Website Updates
The Foundation Beyond Belief HSC Advisory Board is not only committed to the HSC program, but we are also committed to ensuring that the program moves forward in the most sustainable way possible. This program requires a serious commitment of time, energy, and financial resources, and we have no intention of spending any of these frivolously. The HSC Advisory Board last met in March. The date for the next meeting is still being finalized, but is tentatively planned for September.

We have also been working to update the HSC portion of the FBB website. With the many changes to the program, it has been challenging to reflect these changes on the website. Yvonne has put in a number of hours updating the information, and the changes are 80-90% complete.

Program Continuity in the Northern Region
HSC1Although we left the northern region of Ghana, the programs and projects that were established have continued to improve women’s rights. This is exactly what we hoped to achieve: partner with the local community to establish sustainable solutions which will lead to real improvements.

As you may recall, Lukeman Domba is a Ghanaian who worked with our Non-Ghanaian volunteers in the Northern Region during the 2016-2017 service year. He continues to work with the women in the Kukuo camp for alleged witches, and communicates regularly with us about his progress. Lukeman is facilitating best practices training in henna farming for women at Kukuo. Henna is a staple crop in the northern region of Ghana, as it is used heavily in traditional and religious practices. He is also working on a savings program: the women contribute money into a joint account each month and are able to take turns borrowing funds in an emergency.

The tailoring apprenticeship program has been more challenging to track, partly due to cultural barriers. Yvonne Nyahe, (HSC Ghana: Program Coordinator), noted that the perception is that NGOs come to the northern region, set up a program and distribute funding, and leave with no expectation of follow-up or reporting. Despite these challenges, Yvonne has been able to collect some information regarding the program’s progress. 

hsc-donating-sewing-machines-and-materials-to-vocational-training-participants-2Among the women who were initially selected for the program, one chose not to participate in the program at all, and the trainer was asked to select a new participant. Another woman chose to train with a family friend rather than the assigned trainer; this is a perfectly acceptable compromise as far as we are concerned. Yvonne has asked the trainers to send photos and other information about the training itself, but this is as much information as she has received despite repeated efforts. She notes that this is simply to be expected to some degree when we’re attempting to get information regarding projects in the north. She will continue to push for more details so we can evaluate the ongoing results of our work in the north.

We’d love to hear your questions and comments. Thanks for your ongoing support!

To be a donor, click here. Thank you for being #HumanismAtWork.

By FBB

You may have noticed that the Humanist Service Corps (HSC) has been silent on social media in the first months of 2018.  We want to bring you up to date on an eventful few months.

As you may know, HSC launched in Ghana’s Northern Region in support of Songtaba, a grassroots women’s rights organization. Over the past three years, we have dedicated ourselves to learning about their programs and methods. In addition to supporting various projects, we helped Songtaba make improvements in every area of its internal operations.

Most HSC projects focused on the community of Kukuo, a sanctuary for women accused of witchcraft and then banished from their communities. In partnership with Songtaba and with your support, we helped return 14 women safely to society and provided agriculture and business training to empower not just the reintegrated women, but the entire community of Kukuo.

Near the halfway point of the 2016-17 service year, violence related to a chieftaincy conflict broke out in Bimbilla (the location of Songtaba’s main office and where the HSC team was living and working). We were already exploring additional partnerships in the Northern Region and had identified a potential partner in Yendi: Bang-Gu Manga Integrated Rural Development Society (BIRDS), another women’s and children’s rights NGO working in the Gnani sanctuary for alleged witches. To ensure no future bouts of violence would affect the HSC team, everyone moved from Bimbilla to Yendi to work with BIRDS.

In light of communication and other issues we encountered with BIRDS, we now feel that the decision to start work with the organization was premature. In hindsight, we would have chosen to send the 2016-2017 team home when we moved them out of Bimbilla while Yvonne and Wendy evaluated the BIRDS organization. The 2017-2018 volunteering team was able to complete some meaningful projects, including a vocational training project that has put six Yendi residents on the path toward a career as tailors, but circumstances prevented the team from being as productive as we had hoped.

In December the 2017-2018 HSC team left Yendi as a mutual decision between the volunteers and FBB leadership. We have now entered a new phase of our HSC program, which is an evaluation and improvement process to determine how best to use knowledge gained from the Northern Region as we transition to other parts of Ghana. While we always expected to bring the HSC program to other parts of Ghana, we never expected it to happen so abruptly. We value our work in the north and are continuing our partnerships there to build on our accomplishments, but do not plan to have anyone based in the north at this time. We hope HSC personnel will return at some point in the future.

After extensive research we recognized the Central region as a potential location and Cape Coast, the capital of the region, as a central base for our team. Yvonne, our HSC coordinator moved to Cape Coast in January to carry on with phase II. Stay tuned for another post soon as we update you on the program’s accomplishments since January.

We’d love to hear your questions and comments. Thanks for your ongoing support!

To be a donor, click here. Thank you for being #HumanismAtWork.

By FBB

Throughout my life, this one question has always been at the forefront of my mind when trying something new. As I have moved from place to place, joined new teams and organizations this question would always format itself in one of two ways. How will I make friends? What if I don’t make friends? Naturally, after I accepted the position to be a part of the Humanist Service Corps family and live in Ghana, I began to wonder how my life would look living in a place and adapting to a culture I knew almost nothing about. I would stay awake trying to picture everything about what my new life would entail. Of course, my favorite question had a huge presence during this time. But this time the question took a slightly different form. I wondered how my friendships would differ from those I’ve made working in Philadelphia and Los Angeles or if they would differ at all.

(more…)

By Hannah Austin, HSC: Ghana Volunteer

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