Hello from Ghana! I arrived safe and sound on June 10th and I can honestly say that Ghana has already lived up to its billing as one of the most hospitable places on earth. From the minute I stepped off of the plane and into the humid Ghanaian night, I was greeted with smiles and "Akwaaba" which means welcome in Twi. Adjusting to life in Ghana has been seamless for the most part. The IOM (International Organization for Migration) has been very helpful getting the interns settled and oriented to life here in West Africa.
Our orientation has familiarized us with the various departments within IOM and each of their projects, and has also included basic language training (greetings, numbers 1-10, days of the week, school terms, etc.), a first aid course, and several trips throughout Accra. Also included was the IOM staff retreat this past Thursday. I am so happy they decided to wait until we arrived to hold this day of team-building and fun. It helped me to get a better feel for the office culture (passionate and fun) as well as determine who works on which project. The retreat was held at the Coco Beach Resort which was owned by the Ramada group. The day ended with a real treat as the professional side of the day segued into a soccer match on the beach!
As for my role with the IOM, I will be working on an array of projects with a focus on Counter-Trafficking (CT) and Migration in Development (M&D). Child trafficking is sadly a very real problem in Ghana. Parents of impoverished families are often scammed into selling their children into modern day slavery within Ghana's fishing industry. Fishermen will promise remittances and a better life for the children including ample food and education, but in reality some as young as 4 years old can find themselves forced to do backbreaking work 14 hours a day in dangerous conditions and without pay. IOM has been working for years to rescue these children, reintegrate them into society, while concurrently educating their parents and families about the dangers of child labor. They also help thefamilies start micro-enterprises to supplement their income, allowing them to better take care of their dependents. Here's a link to the organization's website if you're interested! (IOM Ghana)
Accra has been full of excitement and surprises. Despite having recently heard all about the rise of Africa at Syracuse's African Development Seminar in Washington, it is different to actually experience it. Ghana is booming. Construction projects abound and people from throughout the continent and the world call Accra home. Behind the shiny buildings and abundant Mercedes lurks the danger of poor management of the 'growing pains' so often accompanying rapid development. This 'gap' we so often see is quite evident in Ghana. Accra is home to a massive shopping center complete with a supermarket and movie theatre. But after strolling through the beautifully kept shops and aisles of imported foods, a short walk beyond the mall's parking lot brings you to rickety shacks and open sewers.
To end the post on a happy note, I want to share one of the many reasons I am going to love living and working here. The morning commute. No, no, I'm not pulling your leg. Even though Accra's traffic is a nightmare causing a 20 minute trip to take over an hour, it's hard to be bored looking out your window. In Accra, you could get most of your shopping done on the way to work, without ever getting out of the car. Vendors peddling everything from fruits, water sachets, and doughnuts to tummy tightening machines, end tables, and cell phones weave between the cars calling out prices. A simple honk of your horn or nod of the head beckons them to your window. Transactions are extremely fast and then they're gone, on to the next "custom-muter." While I haven't purchased anything by this method yet, the vendors often come to the window just to have a curious peek at our group. These rapid interactions remind me that a smile is often the best currency!