Friday, 10 March 2017

Improving the Living Standards in Sirigu: The International Service/SWOPA Partnership

As the fourth cohort of volunteers arrived, International Service and SWOPA (Sirigu Women’s organisation for Pottery and Art) continue their collective efforts to increase the incomes of women of Sirigu.

Bringing fresh and creative ideas to the project, the volunteers have been given the go-ahead from SWOPA’s founder Madame Kassise and the chief of Sirigu, Naaba Roland Akaura the third, and are now ready to put their ideas into making an impact.

Working alongside director Madame Bridget and the rest of the SWOPA staff, the new International Service team are fully committed to improving the incomes and the livelihoods of the women, their families and the community.

Women in Sirigu and the Upper East
Ghana has experienced a continuation of economic growth, however the rate of poverty reduction has substantially slowed within the last 10 years, keeping the northern region especially vulnerable to deprivation. According to the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organisation), the Upper East region, where Sirigu is situated, 64 percent of people are affected by extreme poverty.

Women, particularly in rural areas, face far greater difficulties in finding employment and generating income than men. In the Upper East, 22 percent of women are illiterate compared to 50 percent of men, and in labour employment women are typically paid five times less than men. These factors often limit to unpaid family work and low income self-employment activities.

The struggle of women earning an income had been recognised in Sirigu, and an organisation was created to foster greater financial stability for them and their families.

SWOPA and International Service
In order to support the women and preserve the traditional crafts of Sirigu, SWOPA was founded by Madame Kassise in 1997. Madame Kassise was inspired by her mother, a traditional potter who sold her work so that she could send her daughter to school and then on to university. SWOPA has since grown into a fundamental organisation to Sirigu, providing a place for members to sell their products and receive training to develop their skills.

In 2016, International Service had joined forces with SWOPA, and every cohort has since dedicated their time and efforts to support and develop the organisation. After adapting to the intense heat, the obscurer Ghanaian dishes and the petrifying long drop toilets, the team are fired-up and ready to get involved with the influx of work coming their way.

Meet the Volunteers

Now it’s about time to let the volunteers introduce themselves…
Name: Rachel
Position: UK Team Leader
Fun Fact: “I’m so short that none of the bikes in Sirigu fit me!”
Reason for joining International Service: “I’m hoping that with my time in Sirigu I see changes to SWOPA, aesthetically and deeper.”

Name: Mohammed (a.k.a General)
Position: In-Country Team Leader
Fun Fact: I’m loyal, responsible, active, loving, caring, sharing, kind-hearted, warm, accommodating, compassionate, tolerant, laid-back, filled with honesty, but my greatest quality is my modesty!”
Reason for joining International Service: “In this world we can only learn by practicing and I believe that this project will be a great learning ground for me”

Name: Ella
Position: UK Volunteer
Fun Fact: “I’m a peanut butter-holic, it gives me life. I can’t live without it!”
Reason for joining International Service: “I joined to make an impact and work with a youth organisation that empowers people.”

Name: Patience
Position: In-Country Volunteer
Fun Fact: “I have a crippling phobia of snakes. Even if I hear the word python I get terrified as if there was one in the room!”  
Reason for joining International Service: “I want to help others, but I also want to learn new skills, new cultures, and other people’s way of life.”

Name: Sasha
Position: UK Volunteer
Fun Fact: “I can’t look at one of the babies in my host home without him bursting into tears!”
Reason for joining International Service: “I want to make a difference to someone’s life and I’d also love having the opportunity to live with a family that has a totally different culture.”

Name: Mariam
Position: In-Country Volunteer
Fun Fact: “I’m addicted to playing Temple Run!”
Reason for joining International Service: “I have a passion for work, I want to improve upon my skills and I’d love to have an impact on the lives of the people within the community.”

Name: Hannah
Position: UK Volunteer
Fun Fact: “I have a progressive fear of long drops!”
Reason for joining International Service: “I feel that when you get out of your bubble and actually do something to help someone else it gives you a sense of pride and purpose.”

Name: Matilda
Position: In-Country Volunteer
Fun Fact: “My teammates call me ‘Princess’ because I’m so faaancy!”
Reason for joining International Service: I want to feel challenged, I also hope to change the community in the small way I can with great efforts.”

Name: Shardell
Position: UK Volunteer
Fun Fact: “I have a crazy irrational phobia of wrists, even looking at them makes me queasy!”
Reason for joining International Service: “I know my limitations as individual to have real impact, but if being part of something larger makes even the smallest bit of difference then I’m in.”

After familiarising themselves with the SWOPA staff, getting permission from the Chief, and integrating into daily life, the volunteers are eager to start making the vital changes needed to continue making a difference.

The people of Sirigu have welcomed the volunteers into their community, and in return they have every intention of improving their livelihoods. 

Wednesday, 7 December 2016


Even though the process seemed like a rigorous one to begin with, one couldn’t help but realise it was an equipping process for a journey I would never have imagined. From ‘slides’ in a hall to an almost four hour journey to Sirigu never seemed easy but ended up to be the best journey ever embarked on.
It was an already achieved mission of PEACE I assert. Arriving in the same compound with people from many different backgrounds and starting a training session with everybody immediately even without getting to know one another better, only required peaceful coexistence to make it a success.  Nothing can be considered a peaceful course than getting along with people from different backgrounds in groups throughout the orientation sessions and finally travelling together to a new destination with understanding prevailing.

As a team leader, I have gone through these processes more than two times. It can be quite frustrating to have been part of the Team Leader ICO (In Country Training), going through ICO with two teams of two different cohorts and as well travelling to placement (Sirigu) to begin work in a completely new environment where everyone is expected to get along with people of the community irrespective of educational background, wealth and or status. Fortunately, no body fell for the frustration but focused on the mission to be achieved thanks to peaceful coexistence.

Madam Melani Kasise ; founder of Sirigu Women’s Organisation for Pottery and Art (SWOPA) couldn’t have found PEACE any better than given back to society what society gave to her. Coming up with SWOPA especially with her retirement benefit in 1997 is an issue worth detailing another time as she used SWOPA to empower the women of Sirigu and beyond. This helped bring women of Sirigu together day in day out to exhibit their art and craft skill in order to make a living.
But if it wasn’t for SWOPA, I wouldn’t find myself in a community as serene as Sirigu; 40 km north of the Upper East Regional capital (Bolgatanga). A community where I find hospitality a habit and not an act besides the indigenous art and craft designs as well as basket weaving and pottery making skills possessed by its people.

‘Bilika’ (morning greetings) to ‘Zaanori’ (evening greetings), you would always find somebody saying ‘wuntenga’ (afternoon greetings) or ‘tomaa’ (because your work is appreciated). Made up of 5 sub communities, they see one another as one people. Where else could one seek ‘PEACE’ but from the love of your own people? They knew none of us from anywhere but treated us equally with love and acceptance everywhere.
‘Challenge yourself to change the world’ a slogan of International Citizen Service has changed many lives towards finding peace. Appreciating the lives and situation of people so new to you and doing your best to change their situation for the better is a bold step towards the PEACE we seek with each day passing.

International Service provided an avenue for us to use understanding to achieve PEACE. A JOURNEY OF PEACE AND FOR PEACE couldn’t have been achieved any better than volunteering with International Service Ghana. There couldn’t have been a better way to tell our people how possible peace is than the noble act of bringing people from different parts of the world to work together towards achieving a common goal. People see the flow of cooperation among us volunteers irrespective of our individual differences and can’t think further than realising its only PEACE that can make it possible. Volunteering with International Service Ghana is a pure manifestation of Martin Luther King’s saying “if we are to have peace on earth…our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective”.
As far as our work with International Service Ghana is concerned, we cannot be oblivious of the fact that Ghana is going to the polls come December 2016 and it becomes a part of every ones responsibility to preach peace for it would have been impossible to stay and or work in Ghana without PEACE.
It is for this reason we must remember that even though WE MET IN DIFFERENT WAYS, WE ACCEPTED ONE ANOTHER THE SAME WAY thanks to International Service. This I hope will guide us throughout our journey in preaching peace. 


Yussif Andani Alhassan