Tag Archives: University

When randomness approaches, just say yes

By: Grant McDonald from Juba, South Sudan

Regret is a word I rarely use, I rarely use it, because I am lucky. From a young age I have been shown that new challenges offer new experiences. Deciding to move to South Sudan last year was one of those moments. A moment in which I had to decide if I would leap at the opportunity, thrust into the unknown, or to simply say no and more than likely regret that decision. I rejected the latter and have not looked back.

The work with Journalists for Human Rights is making a difference here, I know this to be true because I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it in the young Journalist Parach Mach who chose to fight for his contentious story on child prostitution to be published. I’ve seen it in the work ethic of JHR local trainer Onen Walter Solomon and I’ve seen it in each journalist I have had the pleasure of working with as I am humbled by the raw determination in their eyes.

The entrance to room HS16, which has seen better days.

Within my current work, randomness finds its way to seep through. To say I was “approached” would be the wrong term, I was rather “informed” last year that I was the newest professor at The University of Juba and I would be teaching a fifth year course in the Mass Communications program.

For some context, JHR is in partnership with the university with a goal of creating and implementing a Human Rights Journalism course.

I had the choice to explain that teaching a course in “International Communications” was not really what I was here to do, or, simply accept the beautiful randomness of life and take it as my next challenge. I chose the latter.

The students are inspiring. They are determined and constantly seeking out new information. They participate in a way that shows the knowledge being passed on is worthwhile to them. Today, I finished marking their first assignment: writing a press release. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised with the ability in each student.

This was my first day at the university. I have a class of six students who are always seeking new knowledge.

Looking back on my decision, a variety of excuses masquerading as reasons came to mind as to why I couldn’t do this. I was busy, I wasn’t supposed to be doing this kind of work with the university and lastly, questioning how effective it would be for the students and the overall program.

I suppose however, I needed to take the advice I often offer to others which is to never underestimate the power of your own example. For the students, I believe it is beneficial. For myself, I already feel as though I have gained wisdom from this opportunity, an opportunity I would have regretted letting pass.

So if you are reading this and considering doing something outside of your comfort zone, or debating whether or not it’s worth the risk. Choose adventure, say yes. The worst outcome is failure, which is a spectacular character builder.

I fail more than I succeed, yet I rarely use the word regret.


Reflections from JHR’s first year in Tanzania

In February 2013, we launched JHR’s first program in Tanzania. A year later, JHR Trainer Rosella Chibambo reflects on the impact for students at Saint Augustine University.

This is JHR’s first year at Saint Augustine University of Tanzania, and the university’s journalism program is widely regarded as one of the country’s best.

Located in Tanzania’s Lake Zone region, a hot spot for human rights abuses in the country, SAUT offers students the opportunity to study journalism in a place in regular need of quality human rights reporting.

Members of the Mwanza, Tanzania JHR Student Chapter set up a film shot.

Members of the Mwanza, Tanzania JHR Student Chapter set up a film shot.

JHR’s work at SAUT began with a series of human rights reporting workshops attended by male and female students in almost equal numbers. The students were particularly interested in women and children’s rights, as well as press freedom issues.

In collaboration with the journalism department, local NGOs and media organizations, fellow JHR trainer Roohi Sahajpal, and I are planning a media forum on violence against women. We hope this event will encourage students and local media to look more critically at the impact their reporting has on Tanzanian women and their families.

With the help of SAUT’s Legal and Human Rights centre, I have been further developing human rights curriculum begun by my predecessor, Ashley Koen. The journalism department is currently working to implement a new human rights reporting certificate program at SAUT. Even though it will take well over a year to bring this project to life, staff and students have expressed a sincere desire to strengthen SAUT’s reputation for producing quality human rights reporters. One of my most devoted students, Kamilo Albira, has been working tirelessly over the last few months, to develop an English language human rights radio program to be broadcast on the campus station. This will be the only English program broadcast by the station and will appeal to students coming from outside Tanzania, as well as local students. JHR’s program in Tanzania is generously supported by 

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Open skies and open sewers: the two-sided beauty that is Ghana

So there are three things that have become abundantly clear to me since my fellow compatriots and I touched down in Ghana a little over a week ago:

1. Life, unlike the traffic, moves at a much slower pace here.  A much slower pace.  I believe my partner in crime Leah has filled you in on the concept of GMT, or Ghanaian Man Time.  It is that intricate proverbial lock for which patience is the key.
2. Ghanaians like their food spicy, their water cold, and their obrunis (foreigners) susceptible to being hustled.*
3. I’m not in Kansas anymore.

*as in, a cabbie will try to put you in one cab and your bags in another so that you will pay both him AND his buddy.

Take everything I say, as usual, with a pillar of salt.  I’m sure not all Ghanaian cab drivers are con artists, and jollof rice is really not all that spicy once your taste buds regain consciousness.  If anything, it’s a clever way to regulate your body’s internal temperature so you’re less aware of how extremely hot it is on the outside.  SO extremely hot.  Listen, Mother Nature, I’m a born and bred Canadian boy who grew up in mild-mannered British Columbia where the winters are warmly wet and the summers are cooly comfortable (alliteration, you are a most underappreciated literary device,) so when my sensitive obruni skin gets a taste of that relentless Ghanaian sun and Equator-inspired humidity, it knows no better than to cry tears of frustration.  In other words, I sweat.

I sweat like a vegan in a deli, I sweat like a prepubescent kid at the grade 9 dance, and I sweat like the onions Mary puts on our breakfast salad every morning at the station.  And because I’m sweating so much, I also drink a lot of water.  Lots and lots and lots of water, which despite not being drinkable from the tap, is easily obtained through bottles of Voltic, a popular brand of filtered water, or the little sachets of “peer wada” that women carry in baskets on their heads, hawking them on literally every street corner and roadside imaginable.  Make no mistake, water is life when you’re sweating up a storm, and here in Kumasi, life can be purchased in quantities of 500mLs for 10 peswas (seven cents CAD.)

All that being said… Ghana is beautiful.  It’s a gorgeous country with lush greenery, peculiar little lizards (as plentiful as squirrels over here!) and a coastal beach scene that leaves this west coast kid aching at the heart.  And when the sun goes down at night, you can see stars.  For miles.  You can lie on your back and count them, if that’s the sort of activity that helps you sleep at night.  It’s like being in Saskatchewan, except minus the greenery, the lizards, and the coastal beach scene.  But the people are great.  And loud.  And lively as all get out, and while it gets a little overwhelming sometimes, the reality is that this is Ghana.  The noise and the heat and the sweat and the dust and the lizards and the peer wada — this is Ghana.


Finding Value in Youth Employment

In Ghana’s active quest towards economic progress, youth are unfortunately placed in the margins of the development agenda.

[pullquote]“[After the program] I want to go to school. I applied, but I’m still waiting. I pray that they should make [the programme] permanent.” [/pullquote]

 I pass him every morning on my way to work and every evening on the way back to my temporary home in Kumasi. My colleagues and I jokingly refer to him as “LactoSoy”, in reference to the soy-based beverage he constantly tries to sell us. He is tall, young and thin with long, boney fingers and a firm grip. His idea of customer service is grabbing your arm and not letting go. He is not the only hawker lining the long, hilly stretch of Harper Road- there are many of them; young people selling biscuits, sachets of water, cell phone cards, alarm clocks, poster-sized maps of Ghana, toilet paper and many other useful and useless items. I wonder why they spend their days, from dusk until dawn, hawking instead of being in school or utilizing their time and skills at well-paying, formal jobs. But, this is the reality for many youth in Ghana. They are one of the most vulnerable populations who make up a majority of the country’s informal sector, living off insignificant wages with few alternative options.

Unemployment rates in Ghana are high, especially among youth. Ghana’s unemployment rate sits around 8.2 per cent with 800,000 people unemployed and 1.2 million people under-employed. About 8 million Ghanaians live in poverty while well over 5 million Ghanaians live in extreme poverty. In Ghana, youth are considered any person between the ages of 15-35. They represent the country’s hope of pursuing the nation’s social, political, and economic development goals; they are the future leaders, workers, innovators, and most vital human resources. They also make up more than 50 per cent of Ghana’s population. Ghana’s national government stands in solidarity with the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of people living in poverty worldwide by 2015. This includes ensuring youth have access to productive jobs and that their rights to adequate livelihoods are met. Yet many Ghanaian youth are left with few opportunities to succeed in a market with few jobs, limited access to higher education and without the supportive social and economic policies they need to guarantee their futures.

Ghana is the only member of the Commonwealth that has not implemented a National Youth Policy, despite the fact its National Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy (GPRSII) claims “ensuring the implementation of a coherent employment policy on the youth” as one of its broad policy guidelines. As it stands the only programme being implemented by the government for youth is the National Youth Employment Programme (NYEP). The two-year programme was introduced to Ghana in 2007 and operates through the Ministry of Youth and Sports. Basically, it provides youth with temporary employment, on a non-discriminatory basis and is open to anyone from any background, whether he or she is educated or not. Youth are given the opportunity to gain practical experience in a variety of fields, including modules in health extension work, agriculture-business, community protection services, paid internship and vocation jobs, community education and volunteer work. Although, currently, it is Ghana’s only blueprint for youth employment, many feel the NYEP is not working as well as it could be.

Rabi Abdulai (left), Abraham Abubakar Sadiq (center), Osei Ansene Kwado (right). Taken in front of the Asawasi Community Centre.

I met Abraham Abubakar Sadiq, the NYEP co-ordinator for the Asawasi district in Kumasi, on a hot summer morning at the Asawasi Community Center- a young, studious and well-dressed man with unsullied enthusiasm and untarnished vigour, only about a year into the executive position. “Everyone will get something out of the programme, at least temporarily. [Some people] receive a permanent placement,” he says proudly. The programme offers support for youth in two tiers: for those with an educational background to gain experience in government sectors and other private agencies in paid internship programmes, and a chance to raise their grades; and for those with no qualifications or educational background to learn trades and acquire useful skills for meaningful employment. The NYEP is also open to placement proposals and suggestions in other unlisted job sectors. Although the programme has been well received and acts as a window of opportunity for many Ghanaian youth, it has been openly criticized as being unviable, and unsustainable. The major challenge facing the programme is its irregular and inadequate flow of funds and absence of legal framework to support it, hampering its efficacy and outreach, especially for youth without prior qualifications or schooling. “After the two years, there is no guarantee that you’ll get a permanent placement. It’s a very severe challenge,” says Abubakar Sadiq.

            I met two youth presently enrolled in the NYEP later the same day. Rabi Abdulai is working as a typist and secretary at the Asawasi Community Center and has no prior background or qualifications. She would not have been able to attend school without the assistance and experience she gained from the programme, naming “lack of access” as her main obstacle. Abdulai is two years into her placement and her time is almost up. “[After the program] I want to go to school. I applied, but I’m still waiting,” she says with a straight face but with worry in her eyes. “I pray that they should make [the programme] permanent.”

            Osei Ansene Kwado has been involved with the NYEP for three years and has only a few months left in his placement. He applied for the program in high school and got a paid internship position in the health sector working at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital. During this time he has also been able to improve his grades and pay to write exams he wasn’t able to afford on his own. “With the National Youth Employment Programme I was able to upgrade myself. I was able to rewrite some of the subjects I couldn’t get, but I passed with the income from the Youth Employment. Because of the Youth Programme, I’ll continue my education.” Like Abdulai, Ansene Kwado has concerns about the programme’s shortcomings, specifically regarding the internship allowance. “At times, for three, four, five months, we haven’t gotten paid any allowance. It makes it difficult to even go to work.” After his placement, he would like to continue his education and get a job in the nursing sector. I asked him if he would like the programme to run on more permanent basis “That would be very good. It’s not everybody who can continue their education after being employed in such a programme. If they [made the placements] permanent, those who cannot continue their education will be able to [work] for the rest of their lifetime,” he said.

            The NYEP’s new administration has recently implemented exit strategies to address the programme’s sustainability issues. Youth with qualifications will be given the opportunity and support to finish school and upgrade their marks. The government has also set up arrangements with some private agencies and public sector companies, including the Ghana Health Service for youth without qualifications to seek permanent placements. However, funding is a major problem. “We have a very long waiting list and it has to do with lack of funding. The number of people who apply for a placement is quite large, but the number of people who are taken does not match up,” says Abubakar Sadiq.


“With the National Youth Employment Programme I was able to upgrade myself. I was able to rewrite some of the subjects I couldn’t get, but I passed with the income from the Youth Employment. Because of the Youth Programme, I’ll continue my education.”

[/pullquote]            Ghanaian youth have the potential to be the most active agents in revamping Ghana’s private sector and enhancing the national economy, but their lack of experience and exposure to the job market cripples their chances. Organizations like the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) support local initiative projects that offer technical, social and economic support to Ghana’s local population, but the funding is minimal and they do not target youth specifically. As it stands, there is no entrepreneurship module offered in the NYEP. If youth were encouraged to start their own businesses, more jobs would be created, the economy would be expanded, and Ghana’s national development would be given a much needed boost. Abubakar Sadiq concurs, “We need to create the capacity of the youth to benefit the community they live in. Youth living in poverty… maybe some of them have a [business] idea, but to make the idea come into fruition could be a problem. They [need] the necessary support, necessary funding [and] facilities to put their ideas into useful projects.”

 Statistical source: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTLM/Resources/Ghana_NATPOLICYDEC11B.pdf

CIDA’s “Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) project