Monday, 20 March 2017

A Celebration of the Achievements of Cooperative Certificates by IGGs in Tolon District

On Friday 10th of March, 2017 a durbar was organised at the Tolon Chief’s palace to celebrate and present cooperative certificates to Income Generating Groups (IGGs) International Service Volunteers work with in the Tolon District.

These Income Generating Groups (IGGs) are women’s groups found in Tolon and its surrounding communities. These project communities include; Dundo, Dimabi Yapala, Yoggu, Kangbagu, Wayamba and Tolon town where two of the IGGs are based. These IGGs are mainly into shea butter and rice processing as their main production and two of the groups in Tolon are into dressmaking.

ICS in partnership with NFED Tolon has been working tirelessly for about two years with the IGGs in the Tolon District to bring improvement in the lives of the people and also increase the production of the local businesses of the women. As most of the groups are mainly into shea butter and rice processing, a lot of research was done by the past volunteers to find out a strategy that can improve and sustain their production. 

Registering the groups as cooperatives was found to be beneficial. The volunteers went to all the communities and the women were given training sessions on how to become cooperatives. The IGGs had to have some important documents before they could be registered as cooperatives, therefore training was given on how to draw a constitution, keep financial records and keep minutes which would allow them to become registered. The training sessions were successfully understood and taken into practice.
Rahman addressing the women of Dundo about the benefits of cooperatives.

All the IGGs went through the necessary procedures to be registered as cooperatives. The past cohort guided them to apply for the certificates and it was successfully done. Now a follow up activity was done to figure out how far the cooperative registration had gone, NFED and cohort 6 of ICS has gotten the certificates for the groups. A durbar was organised and all the groups were invited to come and celebrate and receive their cooperative certificates, CEO of International Service also attended to witness and present the certificates to the groups. The regional NFED staff members were also present to witness and advise the IGGs on how best the certificates could improve their businesses.
The CEO of International Service presenting the women of Dundo with their cooperative certificate.

Now let’s talk about what cooperatives are. Cooperatives are businesses that are owned and democratically controlled by their members the people who buy their goods or use their services, not by investors. In other words, a cooperative is a group of people with common socio-economic interests or needs who have come together voluntarily to solve such needs. Cooperatives are formed by their members when the marketplace fails to provide needed goods or services of acceptable quality or at affordable prices.

Advantages of cooperative registration:

·        Easy formation: Compared to the formation of a company, formation of cooperative society is easy. Any more than ten adult people can voluntarily form themselves into an association and get it registered with the Registrar of Co-operatives.

·        Social service: The basic philosophy of cooperatives is self-help and mutual help. Thus, cooperative foster fellow felling among their members and inculcate moral values in them for a better living.

·        State assistance: Government had adopted cooperatives as an effective instrument of socio-economic change. Hence, the Government offers a number of grants, loans, and financial assistance to the cooperative groups – to make their working more effective.

·        Perpetual assistance: A cooperative society has a separate legal entity. Therefore, the death, insolvency, retirement, lunacy, etc., of the members do not affect the core existence of the cooperative society.

Cooperatives can also empower people to improve their quality of life and enhance their economic opportunities through self-help. Also, registering as a cooperative can increase the confidence of a group when applying for a loan or other financial support. There is also more support from NGOs to expand your business as cooperative IGG is a widely recognised certificate.

Now the IGGs can gain support and benefits from organisations, banks, resource personnel and more as they are now registered as cooperatives.
The IGGs and Team Tolon volunteers celebrating after the presentation of cooperative certificates.

Rahman and Gifty

Friday, 17 March 2017

Team Tolon’s Livelihood Projects: The Volunteers Perspective

When I started my twelve week volunteer journey with International Service I had no idea of the extent to which I would integrate with the Income Generating Groups (IGGs) we are working with. I am amazed that we are able to share ideas even when we are out of the community. It seems there is tremendous progress with the work so far. Typing this post about the IGGs is my attempt to put their position into context, and I hope will give you knowledge of the project we are working on.

We are working with IGGs in five communities within the Tolon District, namely Kangbagu, Wayamba, Yogggu, Dimabi and Dundo.

Kangbagu has a 30 member IGG named Bohimbu Viela who are into the processing of Shea butter. They are very optimistic and hardworking.

Their major setback is inadequate finance to expand their business. They also think linkage to bulk buyers will bring about improvement in their income generating activities. Bohimbu Viela has the potential to be a very profitable IGG. They have the necessary skills of financial management and recording keeping the last cohort trained them on, and are well on their way to success.

The IGG Walima Kavi was also created after the NFED program. These women have meetings every Wednesday to discuss issues of income generation and also to improve their manufacturing process. They are into the processing of rice and shea butter.

Walima Kavi are keen on International Service and NFED’s work but sometimes expect a little more than what the organization can provide. They are hardworking women who take their work seriously, and they produce and sell at the market every week.

This group needs a lot more of training on record keeping and financial management as they seem not to be putting to work what the past cohort showed them.

The name of their IGG is Biehigu Tagya which translates to Life is Changed. Their main activity is shea butter production, although they also have secondary activities such as soap making, dressmaking and rice production.

Biehigu Tagya’s idea about International Service’s partnership with NFED and its work is very positive, as they see the impact it has made on them since their involvement.

Dundo’s IGG is named Bagsim Viela. Their main focus is rice processing, although they have secondary activities of shea butter and nim oil production.

The members of the group work in their individual homes to produce the rice, and do not have shared facilities. Bangsim Viella sell their produce at three different markets; Katinga, Nyankpala and Tamale. The group’s primary source of funds is through personal savings. They also have group savings which is distributed in challenging periods to the group members, to keep them active in the IGG (personal welfare).
Bagsim Viela is a hardworking group but sometimes pessimistic. They are skeptical to change and reluctant about taking financial risk. Although the group produces rice and shea butter in low quantities, they are of good quality, and they are also capable to produce in larger quantities to attract bulk buyers if they get the necessary financial resources and equipment.

Though they struggle to embrace new ideas, they are hard working and ensure they sell every week at the market. International Service and NFED Tolon need to build the women’s understanding of the importance of risk taking is when it come business, as well as to encourage them to take their financial record keeping seriously. The future of these women is bright, all they need is to exercise patience and cooperate with International Service and NFED Tolon. They should put into practice all the training they have been given by all the past ICS volunteers and patiently await the results.

Yoggu has a 34 member IGG that are hardworking, always willing and wanting to learn new skills. They always want to better themselves with anything that is brought forward to them by International service.

Their major setback is the fact that they lack funds for raw materials for production, so they produce the same quantity each week. Also, they are unable to reach other market centers, like that of Tamale, as transport from the community is poor.

Yoggu seem to follow and implement the work of each cohort and are on the way to success. They seem to be among the most serious of the IGGs we are working with; they all turn up to meetings regularly and contribute when the need arises. They have a strong belief that once they are able to improve the finance and transport situation and are also linked to bulk buyers, their business will excel. 

Girls Growth and Development (GIGDEV)
GIGDEV is a dressmaking group set up in 2008 by Sella Nitori and the NGO, GIGDEV. The IGG is a dressmaking group made up of 45 women, 40 of which are students. The age range of the group is 14-22. The women have been taken through new skills in sewing and also literacy lessons from NFED. Financial management and recording keeping training given to them by past cohorts has been of great help to them as it helps them in saving to acquire new sewing machines.

To conclude, although there are undeniably some variation in the outlooks and attitudes of the different IGGs, they all remain fully engaged with our project. Overall they are largely motivated and hardworking, and in support of the work of International Service and NFED. Over the next cohorts, we see the IGGs thriving more and more as they are able to gain easier access to water, better ways to transport their goods, and become more confident in handling their finances. This will empower our women to become more efficient and increase their profit in their livelihood activities, eventually reaching out to bulk buyers, in turn helping them reach their potential.

Nasmah Nashiru    

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

International Women Day – Empowering the rural woman

I am pleased to join in celebrating this year’s International Women’s Day as an International Citizen Service volunteer working with rural women who are striving very hard to better their lives. It’s a day to celebrate women and to look beyond their limitations to acknowledge the valuable opportunities they bring about; to present them as empowered agents of change rather than as marginalized groups and, above all, an important occasion in which we reflect on the need to empower women and celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women in our country and the world over. As we celebrate this day today, I’m reminded of my stay in Tolon and the trips to six of its surrounding village which really revealed how much work is still needed to enhance the situation of women around the rural realm of the world. I am encouraged to note that the theme for every year’s Women’s Day celebration must have been “Empower rural women – end hunger and poverty” and not be changed until a bridge is created to close the in just socio economic gap between women in rural areas and urban centres.

As I reflect on this theme and the necessary steps that need to be taken to empower rural women, I am happy to note that International Citizen Service through our volunteering have made commendable progress in empowering women in Northern Ghana, especially in Tolon, my place of volunteering. International Citizen Service is a UK based NGO that runs humanitarian programmes in seven communities in the Northern and Upper East Regions. We work mainly with women, children and people with disabilities in the areas of education, livelihood, female empowerment, sexual reproductive health and disability rights. Our project partner is a division of the Ministry of Education in Ghana; Non-Formal Education Division is responsible for coordinating literacy activities in the country.

Now allow me to walk you through a phase in a working history of ICS/NFED Tolon and to shine some spotlights on our women’s Income Generating Groups (IGGs) as we happily celebrate this year’s international women’s day. Once Gandhi said that, “a woman is not less than a male in any aspect; be it her mental strength or her intellectual strength or her spiritual strength, she has the potential to work actively in every sphere of the life”. These remarkable women are working to transform their lives and communities. They started off having little or no business experience, but now the women of the IGGs are managing a variety of small businesses in the fields of dressmaking, Shea Butter and Rice production in six communities in the Tolon District namely; Dundo, Dimabi Yepala, Yoggu, Wayamba, Kangbagu and Tolon. I acknowledge the works of our predecessors for making these IGGs firm as it is now. They did a massive job by starting a pipeline process of putting these groups into co-operatives. My team, (cohort 6) after taking over to begin our twelve weeks tenure on the project on 12th January 2017 have ensured a successful project so far, nine weeks into our placement; we have completed the process by getting these groups their certificates from the Department of Co-operative which has now legalized them as functional co–operatives. Also our dressmakers have been richly developed by Mr. Musa, a renowned fashion designer/lecturer from Tamale polytechnic whom we called upon to take them through some series of new fashion designs. Their feedback after the training signified a very fruitful session. We have also succeeded in selling our group’s produce, their success stories and other rising matters to the public in an awareness creation exercise at the Katinga market.  Again, in order to raise extra funds for the groups; we are currently on the verge of acquiring motor tricycles from MASLOC for four of our groups to serve as a secondary source of income to them aside the profits they make from their actual businesses. Over the next few weeks we have planned to organize a durbar for the groups. The purpose of the durbar is to create a forum for bulk buyers and financial personnel to educate the groups on how to optimize the quality of their produce to attract bulk buyers and also to intensify their knowledge in proper financial records keeping and bank transaction. We are still working on a Dagbani manual on rice and Shea butter production and audio visuals of all our Dagbani presentations and trainings. This will serve as reference document to which the groups will refer when the need arises; we hope to finish them before our tenure come to an end.

I’m inspired by the fact that through our volunteering, over 250 women in and around Tolon have been given the opportunity to be creative and optimistic; turning current and past challenges into future opportunities. The knowledge and skills that the sessions contain are for wider female empowerment in Tolon, giving them the independence to keep up their businesses and be responsible for their own futures.

Here in Tolon, we celebrated the Women’s Day at the chief’s palace by inviting our women groups to share their stories and opinions surrounding their businesses. This was followed by presentation of their co-operative certificates and was concluded with inspirational messages from the chief of Tolon and our able team leaders Edward and Caleb.

We at ICS/NFED – Tolon envision a Ghana where women are empowered to realize their social, political and economic potentials and together we can make a difference. As we celebrate International Women’s today 8th March, 2017, I entreat stakeholders responsible for the welfare development of rural areas to have a relook into the redistribution cycle to affect the rural people and urge that we all recommit ourselves and do our utmost as a nation to close the socio economic gap between the urban woman and the rural woman. Parity among women is progress for all!

I wish you a happy International Women’s Day!

By: Enock Dekyi

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

A Day in the Life of an International Service Volunteer

In Tolon, one day to the next is never the same. There are always new challenges to overcome, hard work to be done and fun to be had.

A typical day in the life of an International Service volunteer based in Tolon will start with waking up to the prayer call at roughly 4 am (then going back to sleep until your alarm gets you out of bed). You wake up to the sounds of chickens, cockerels, goats, cows and guinea foul all wandering around, going about their daily business.

When you walk out of your bedroom into your compound you are greeted by your host parents and children all saying ‘dasiba’ (good morning) and seeing how you slept. Then you visit the family toilet which is a long drop (a hole in a hut). After this you fill your bucket up and head to the shower cubical, where you will become refreshed and ready for the day!

You come back into your room and your host mum will have already been in and set your breakfast out, this will normally be bread and tea or hot chocolate. Some days (normally in the weekend) you will get porridge instead.  

We head to the office for 9 am to continue the plans for the communities that we are working with. We start an energizer to get everyone awake and raring to go, before getting on with our work for the day. Whether it’s helping getting Motor Kings for our IGG groups, planning school sensitizations or having an active citizenship session, it’s always great to get stuck in.

Once or twice a week we will be out the office. Sometimes organizing a training for our dressmaker groups, heading on a research trip, going to schools or visiting our communities .

Over lunch you break for an ice cold Froyo (a frozen yogurt in a pouch) fried yam, wasa wasa or fried rice, then head back for an afternoon at the office.  We usually finish the day around 4, which gives us plenty of time to plan all that is needed to head into events fully armed.

On the cycle home you get stopped by many people greeting you and asking, ‘How was your day?’ ‘Did you sleep well?’ ‘How was the office?’ It’s really nice to be a part of a community as welcoming as Tolon! You will also get used to the many children coming up to you and saying ‘Siliminga what is your name?’ or ‘Siliminga Hello!’ (Siliminga means white person).

Most days there is some form of event going on over at the Chief's Palace, these will always include lots of drumming, dancing, happiness and excitement. Everyone is welcome at these events and if you're out and about a local will always invite you to go and watch.

One thing that all of our Tolon volunteers and team leaders enjoy after work is going for a cup of Attire. This is green tea and is made by one of our volunteers Rahman. This activity always includes lots of socializing and dancing. Everyone in the Tolon team enjoys a ‘womma womma’ which means dance in Dagbani.

A typical night includes relaxing in the compound with the host family and finding out about their days. Some nights your chef hat will be on as your host mum tries to teach you how to cook a Ghanaian meal. Or you might decide to wash your clothes using soap in some buckets, play with your host kids (my host kids are really into watching Shrek - we've watched it three times), go to other volunteers houses for dinner, or perhaps just relax and have an early night.

Food in Ghana is very different to in the UK. There are a lot of carbohydrates you’ve probably never had before, from fufu to banku, yam and even TZ. Trying new dishes and helping prepare them has been a great way to get involved in the culture and improved my relationship with my host family. In the particular area of Tolon, fruit and vegetables are not common in the dry season, apart from the occasional orange or some bananas from the weekly market. So when our team leaders walk into the office with a watermelon from Tamale it really makes everyone's day.

We hope this gives some insight into our day to day lives while living in Tolon on our International Service adventure. Every day is made to learn, eat or experience something new!


Monday, 30 January 2017

Team Tolon: Finding our Feet

I’ve been assured by my UK Team Leader, Edd, that the first days of placement are the hardest. And so far no ones been taken ill, had an argument, or even fallen off their bicycle – so it would seem we aren’t doing too badly.

My first few days on my International Service placement in Tolon have been a mix of extreme highs and extreme lows. It is the beginning of what is looking to be an incredible experience, but life is simply so different to at home in the UK. At times it has been tough, but I can already sense myself growing stronger and more resilient because of it.

Our team has an eclectic mix of personalities and backgrounds, their skills ranging from accountancy to musical theatre. Below you will find a summary from each team member, outlining their motivations in getting involved with International Service, and their favourite moments so far.

“I signed up to the ICS programme because I love to help people in deprived areas. Also I love development work so this was a great opportunity for me to go into it. My favourite moment so far has been going to the enskinment of the new Chief of Vowqu, as well as visiting our placement communities. Skills I’ve learnt so far include how to manage people and their expectations.”  - Caleb

“I wanted to be a part of International Service ICS programme because I knew it would be a wonderful opportunity to be a part of Ghanaian culture and meet new people. As a team leader I get the opportunity to work with young people, linking the volunteers, International Service and the partner organisation to deliver a project with sustainable outcomes. My favourite moment was being asked to attend the enskinning of a new chief and showing him my dad dancing.” - Edd

“I chose ICS because I felt it was the right time to move out of my comfort zone, out of the classroom, to the outside world, to impact and to learn. My favourite moments so far have been meeting the communities we will be working in and also the fact we are placed in host homes within the community. More so, getting to share ideas during office hours makes me feel fulfilled. My placement on the finance team puts me on my toes as I have knowledge of this and must be ready to give results. I have a strong conviction that by the end of my stay in Tolon I will have built up my confidence in anything I go on to do.” - Nasmah

“Living in Tolon has been the biggest culture shock I’ve ever experienced. From being smothered by Ghanaian children on the way to work to eating unheard of food (ever heard of ‘fu fu’?). I have the most amazing, funny, welcoming, generous host family who have made my time in Tolon so comfortable; I have really enjoyed the journey so far and hope the next two and a half months are just as incredible!” - Alice

 “I am in a profession that deals with enabling people to have control over their health and their lives. I have the dream of enriching my knowledge and skills in human relations in society, capacity building and human empowerment. I also hope to make friends from across Ghana and the UK. I hope that our team will leave a legacy here in Tolon.” - Enock

 “I signed up to the ICS programme because I wanted to see the world from a new perspective and experience a completely different culture to mine.” - Kawal

“I am a graduate of High School and currently a compassionate supporter of international development and a dedicated forest restorer. I hope working with ICS will aid me to gain confidence and learn how to work cross culturally. I have played a great role as a member of the transport team and hope to make more of an impact to have a successful NFED and ICS goals achievement.” - Rahaman

“I applied because I wanted to make a difference while seeing a new part of the world. My favourite moment so far has been going into my selected community and attempting to dance with the drummers and other village members. I have learnt to be adaptable, for example showering using a bucket and using a toilet that is a hole in the ground.”  - Nat

“I decided to join International Service because I want to acquire new skills and also share the knowledge I have.” - Ihsan

“I decided to do ICS because I wanted to travel whilst being fully immersed in different cultures, while also make an impact. My favourite part so far has been becoming part of a community, and learning the local language Dagbani. Highlights have also included visiting chiefs and taking part in community events.” – Kim 

 “I decided to do ICS because I wanted to see a positive change in my community. My favourite part so far has been my time in the office because I am learning a lot from that.” - Gifty

 “Living and volunteering in Ghana for the past couple of weeks has been eye opening and challenging to say the least. From drop toilets to cycling with bags of water attached to my bicycle through the midday heat, new experiences have been around every corner.” - Yasmin

 “I have enjoyed my time in Tolon so far, but what really scared me is the food we eat and the journey to the communities we’ll be working in. In all I have found the program to be very interesting and hope that it will bring a good impact to the people in the district of Tolon.” - Elizabeth

For me, I chose to apply for International Citizen Service (ICS) because I wanted to do something worthwhile and that would push me out of my comfort zone before heading to University. I’m already learning so much and know this experience will stay with me for a lifetime. My favourite moment has got to be fetching water with the women in my host family, and attempting to carry it on my head as they do. It was a great way to get involved in family life.


Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Culture shock!



Our time zones may be the same, but my routine in the UK and here in Tolon is completely different and I am sure you can guess which one you would prefer…
Back home in London, my day starts off with endless snoozing on my iPhone’s alarm while in Tolon my day commences with the sound of lambs, chickens and cows. What better way to start your day than nature’s very own alarm clock?!

In the UK, as I leave the house struggling to find my car keys and trying to remember if I turned the heater off, in Tolon I find myself in a flood of little children offering to carry all of my belongings until I reach my destination. Small, squeaky voices singing: “Siliminga [white person] hello…Siliminga what is your name?” is the song that welcomes me every day as I go to and from work as the children exercise the English they have learnt in school. I use this as an opportunity to improve my Dagbani.

Our group (cohort 6) spent the first week introducing ourselves through community entry. This included: meeting the income generating groups (IGGs) that we’ll be working with and paying respect by meeting the chief of Tolon and the chiefs of the individual villages that we will be working with over the next 3 months. Back home it would take me hundreds of emails, a few voicemails and a couple of letters just to the get attention of with my local MP while here in Tolon, we were greeted with traditional drummers and dancers, nuts and even a couple of marriage proposals!
Team Tolon, Cohort 6

The chief of Tolon took pride in telling us that this village is one of the most peaceful villages in the area. From the evidence of the children of Tolon he was not exaggerating! Tolon is flooded with children running around playing. Of course this is the same for children around the world, but the children of Tolon are definitely unique. Both the little girls and boys can walk a mile carrying litres of water on their head and go back and do it all again without complaining. I tried carrying one bucket on my head and spilt half of it all over myself! They hand wash all of their clothes religiously and even offer to do mine! And after a long, hot day at school while most of us would sit in front of the telly, these children go to the roadside and help their families with the jobs that need to be done. Aren’t they your dream kids? 

While my first week in Tolon is certainly the biggest culture shock I have experienced and despite the lifestyle being completely to my life in London, I have never felt more welcomed, loved and safe than I do here.

As cliché as this may sound, amaaraba and welcome to Tolon!

Monday, 12 December 2016

It’s almost Human Rights Day… But should the people of Tolon even care?

Volunteers and IGGs on quality research trip at Pagsung shea butter center
When our media sub team asked me to write a blog, it didn’t take me long to decide what I wanted to write about. Human Rights Day is this coming Saturday 10th December and it has got me thinking. The organisation that I am doing my International Citizens Service scheme through, International Service, is a human rights NGO, but how have human rights actually played a role in my last six months on placement? What relevance do human rights have to the people we work with?
My Ghanaian counterpart, Francis, and I have led two groups of volunteers since June on a project that is by now very dear to my heart. Our project works with rural people in the Tolon district of Northern Ghana to improve their income generating activities, and to assist them to be better able to support their families.
We have assisted mainly women in income generating groups to become cooperatives (being in a cooperative provides many potential advantages), and to improve the quality of their product, be it shea butter, rice processing, or dressmaking. Both of our two cohorts of volunteers have worked very hard to help assist the groups that we work with, and I am very proud of the achievements that they have made.
However, as I thought about Human Rights Day, and what that means for Tolon, I realised something. If we were to ask the income generating groups that we work with what they think has been achieved together, they would list the research trips that we organised, the training sessions, the cooperative certificates, but they would never mention the advancement of their rights. Of course they wouldn’t. I’m pretty certain that most of the women that we work with don’t even know what ‘human rights’ means. So, how do human rights impact on the people that we work with, if they are unaware of their existence?
Rights Based Approach: what does it mean?
First, it is important to consider how human rights and development work together. International Service describes itself (on its website) as an organisation that takes a ‘rights based approach to development’. According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,
‘a human rights based approach is a conceptual framework for the process of human development that is normatively based on international human rights standards and operationally directed to promoting and protecting human rights. It seeks to analyse inequalities which lie at the heart of development problems and redress discriminatory practices and unjust distributions of power that impede development progress.

In other words, an organisation that takes a rights based approach focuses on whether people have access to their rights, as defined under international law, such as the right to an education. It also focuses on how the organisation can ensure that people acquire these rights and comply with their duties to respect and provide these rights to others.
Human rights approach has brought in the donors and opened doors
So, how has a rights based approach impacted in practice on our NFED Tolon project? One such way is that it has contributed to International Service being accepted in Ghana, and has provided funding opportunities.
Whether you agree with human rights or not, they are universally accepted concepts under international law. Nearly every country in the world has signed at least one international human rights treaty. Therefore, it is easier for international NGO’s to offer assistance to a country when they aim to achieve the same human rights goals that a country has already subscribed to.
Furthermore, donors are more likely to donate to organisations that are safe bets, that take an approach that is universally approved of.
Therefore, it could be argued that by taking a human rights approach to development, International Service is better placed to gain funding and gain support from the countries that they want to work in. If International Service had not taken a human rights based approach, perhaps they would not have been successful enough to start up our NFED Tolon project at the beginning of this year.

Human rights approach is a participatory process
By taking a rights based approach to development, International Service has also been guided by certain principles deemed essential to human rights. One such principle is that development should be participatory, namely, that the people who are meant to benefit from the efforts of the NGO should participate in the design, planning and evaluation of a project.
It could therefore be argued that human rights have had an impact on the women that we work with when we conducted initial needs assessments to find out what they wanted from us, or when we have asked them whether they thought an event was successful and what needed to be improved.
Human Rights approach focuses on capacity building
Another way in which a human rights approach impacts on the work we are doing in Tolon is that it focuses on building the capacity of local people, rather than providing resources. International Service is very clear that it is a skills based organisation and not a resource supplying one.
This has a significant impact on the people that we work with in that we don’t provide them with school buildings or boreholes for instance, but with skills so that they have the capacity to go out and organise boreholes for themselves.

IGGs and volunteers at an awareness activity at Katinga market
Does it matter that the income generating groups that we work with don’t know what human rights are?
Regardless of the above ways in which human rights have impacted on the people that we work with in Tolon district, this can’t overshadow the fact that the majority in these communities still have no idea what human rights are.
For instance, when the project was set up, International Service and NFED Tolon would have designed the planning documents in line with human rights. But the majority of the women that we work with can’t read. They wouldn’t have been part of this analysis of human rights a great deal.
Then, as the project went along, various groups of volunteers would have turned up and maybe mentioned they were part of a human rights NGO, but most of the time the women we work with would have been listening for the part that told them what volunteers were actually going to do, rather than the rationale behind their work.
When considering the perspective of our beneficiaries, human rights wouldn’t have seemed particularly important, if noticed at all. But does this even matter? Who cares what tools or approaches are used if it brings the results Tolon district wants?
I decided to get the opinions of our team on this point. We all agreed that the majority of people that we work with don’t know what human rights are and we discussed whether we should be doing more to inform our community about human rights.
Some volunteers were concerned that by explaining rights to the people we work with, this would not improve our beneficiaries’ lives any more, and might even cause harm. For example, if they went back to their families and ‘demanded their rights’, this could have a destructive impact on family dynamics and not actually achieve anything.
Some argued that human rights are intrinsically a Global North ideology that can’t properly be made sense of in an African context. Therefore, human rights language could actually confuse and complicate matters rather than improve development. If this were the case, then it would be extremely important that the people that we are working with in Tolon district were aware of the actual harm International Service was causing.

Despite the fact that most African countries have legally recognised human rights as their own by signing international human rights treaties, and even the African Charter on Human Rights, demonstrating a regional consensus that human rights are not, in fact, harming African nations, this argument raises the point that beneficiaries need to have a full understanding of the organisation assisting them in order to be able to protect themselves, and ensure that they are being assisted in a way that they agree with.
Therefore, perhaps a compromise needs to be found between encouraging local people to understand and be aware of their rights, yet introduce this awareness in a strategic and gradual process, so as not to disrupt communities.

In sum, despite a lack of awareness surrounding their rights, human rights have a significant impact on the women that we work with. Therefore, it is important to raise awareness of our beneficiaries’ rights, albeit in a strategic and gradual manner. 

Post by Katie Connan