September 10, 2012
September 10, 2012
HO, GHANA – Nadia Nyarko, 17, is in her fourth year studying general arts at Mawuko Girls Senior High School, a boarding school in Volta, a region in southeastern Ghana. She also volunteers as a peer educator with Village Exchange International/Ghana, VEG, a nonprofit organization that aims to provide small loans, income-generating projects, and sexual and reproductive health information to young women in Ho, the capital of Volta.
Nyarko says that Village Exchange Ghana has helped her greatly through the club it has formed at her school.
“This is because we have been able to form a club in the school known as a peer counseling club,” she says.
The club provides the opportunity for the students to learn about issues related to young people, such as reproductive health. It also prompts them to think about future careers and share ideas about how best they can achieve their goals in life.
As a peer educator, Nyarko says she helps manage the club at her school and shares with her fellow students what she’s learned at the organization, based on the belief that young people are more likely to listen to their peers than adults. She says she has helped educate young women about how the choices they make in life will affect them. She says that this may be the only place where she and her peers have such opportunities to learn lessons pertaining specifically to young women.
“The outside world is different,” she says. “We all might not get this chance when we leave school, so the basis is good for us all.”
Nyarko says volunteering for the organization has not only enabled her to teach others but has also inspired her to consider her own future. After she finishes school, Nyarko says she hopes to volunteer with the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, which supports Village Exchange Ghana in programs related to reproductive health.
“I have a lot of dreams, and one of that is to become an international barrister,” she says, smiling.
Nyarko says that young girls need role models in order to learn positive behaviors that will help them reach their goals. She says young people, and young girls especially, face a lot of challenges, such as negative peer influence and other social deviances that lead them away from these goals.
She says she is lucky to have the opportunity to be exposed to various mentors in organizations such as Village Exchange Ghana. As a young peer educator, she says she looks up to “Aunt Emily,” or Emily Adevor, who is one of the directors of Village Exchange Ghana.
“I like Aunt Emily because she is always there for the young girls and serves as a mentor to us,” Nyarko says. “As much as she criticizes us, she does that to ensure our best interest, especially because we are girls and we need a lot of direction.”
She says her teachers also provide crucial guidance.
“In addition, our teachers have also been of great help, especially our headmistress, Ms. Denis Akwasi Attei,” she says.
Volunteers at Village Exchange Ghana say the center aims to empower young women through various initiatives, such as microfinance projects. The center also provides a space for children to study and play after school. Volunteers say the center is one of the few organizations that operate in Ghana’s remote regions, and they urge other organizations to expand their services into these areas in order to provide more opportunities to more youth across the country. To do this, though, they say the center needs more volunteers and supplies.
Both secondary school enrollment and attendance for females in Ghana are currently less than 50 percent, according to UNICEF. Ghana is currently off track to meet targets to promote gender equality and empower women, goal three of the Millennium Development Goals, a U.N. anti-poverty initiative that countries worldwide have pledged to achieve by 2015.
Bernice Nomesi is a staff member and a peer educator at Village Exchange Ghana. She says the objective of the center is to create an atmosphere for young women to come together and learn the skills they need to empower themselves.
“Most of them after getting pregnant and [having babies] at such tender ages are left to fend for themselves by their families, and they have no special skills to start a business of their own,” she says.
The organization aims to give women these skills by offering various opportunities to participate in microfinance projects. Nomesi volunteers with the microfinance projects in which young women make beads and batik tie-dye to sell.
She says that the projects have trained and assisted a number of young women who are both in and out of school. The profits from selling the handmade arts and crafts, textiles, beads and clothing benefit the women as well as help sustain the center.
Woyeram Amegatse Yesefa, a first-year student at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, also volunteers with Village Exchange Ghana’s microfinance projects. After completing senior high school, she received training in making beads and assembling them into jewelry and other items, so she applied to work on the organization’s bead project.
“It has been very wonderful,” she says of her experience with the organization.
She says it’s important for young women to take advantage of the opportunities offered to them in order to secure their futures.
“I know that there is a lot of opportunities out there for young people, especially women who are marginalized,” she says. “They need to take charge of their lives and realize that the system is changing, so they need to change with the tide.”
She says Village Exchange Ghana provides these opportunities.
“VEG has provided for some of these young women an opportunity to believe in themselves and know that they need not only have an education in the four corners of the classroom but to also believe that education is diverse,” she says. “There is so much that can be done to help young people, and working with VEG has opened my eyes.”
Yesefa encourages young mothers especially that it is never too late to start a new life for themselves. She says that unexpected and unplanned things happen in life, but that when they do, women can’t give up on themselves. Life continues and there is always a way out, so they should try to develop themselves and forge ahead, she says.
The center also has volunteers from abroad.
Shoko Arakida, from Japan, is one of the foreign volunteers at Village Exchange Ghana. She has been in the country for more than a year now and helps to teach batik tie-dye and bead-making in the center’s microfinance projects. She also assists the women with sewing as well as offers advice on what fabrics to use in terms of texture and color based on the season.
“I have enjoyed every bit of my stay in Ghana so far, especially spending time with the children and their mother[s] as well,” Arakida says.
Nomesi says that some children in the area also come to the center to do their homework after school. Some use the library to study and research, while others use the recreation center to relieve stress.
“When some of the school children get home from school, there is no one at home to help them with their assignment,” she says. “Due to that, they are always here because we assist them in that area as well.”
Nomesi says that the center also arranges outreach programs at local schools for young women and children, including videos and role-playing activities to educate them about making positive decisions to secure their futures. She says they have received good feedback from the students on these programs in terms of the questions they ask and the suggestions they give. She says the students also share what they learn with their peers, expanding the reach of the programs.
“When they go home on vacations, they are able to influence their peers who have not had the opportunities as them in a positive way,” she says of the boarding school students.
Nyarko says other organizations are doing positive work in Ghana as well.
“I know of other organizations, such as United Nations Populations Fund, Green Earth, World Health Organization, Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana and UNICEF, who are helping and assisting communities and individuals in the areas of health, education and so much more,” she says.
But many say that only a few organizations reach out to people in the hinterlands, such as Planned Parenthood Association, UNFPA and UNICEF. Volunteers say Village Exchange Ghana is unique because not many organizations operate in Ghana’s remote regions or provide as many programs and facilities as the center does.
Yesefa says that because Volta is a remote region, she never heard of any organizations operating humanitarian initiatives in the area before volunteering at the center.
“This is because they always concentrate on the big cities and forget about us in the hinterlands,” Yesefa says.
She urges all the organizations working with children and young people in the country to continue the good work that they are doing in other regions but also to stretch their wings to deprived communities as well.
Volunteers say Village Exchange Ghana is also unique because it has a library, conference facilities, skills development programs in arts and crafts, reproductive health education and microfinance projects, among other opportunities. Nomesi says she is hopeful that the center will continue to grow here in Volta as well as expand to other regions so it can provide the services it is rendering here to young women nationwide.
To do this, Yesefa says that the center would need more employees. She says one challenge has been having enough employees to monitor the children at the youth center.
“We are not able to attend to all on time,” Yesefa says.
She says that the center also needs updated learning materials.
“We need more current materials for the children to read because most of the books and other learning material there are quite outdated,” Yesefa says.
She says the center also needs a projector.
“Another challenge is that we need a projector to help us in screening our videos both at the center and also for our outreach programs as well,” Yesefa says.