My Community Xchange Experience

Agnes Cioffi's counterpart is Contrad Balig, (Youth Alive, a Non Government Organisation working with young people living and working on the streets of Ghana)

My name is Agnes Cioffi, and I am a Development worker working with young people and communities in Plymouth, for an Organisation called PETRA (Plymouth Federation of Tenants & Residents Associations). My time in Bolga, Ghana has been a massive emotional experience and a significant, life changing journey. Whilst there are some similarities, which I would argue is due to the influence of Western Culture and I would question how effective even in our own culture some of our practices are; yet the differences that exist are profound.
The programme has opened me up to new ways of thinking and looking at the world in new ways, and in addition, has also made me aware of my own skills, and being able to demonstrate the value of ‘relationship’ and the importance of play, whatever our age! It has left me asking questions such as do we try to control the external environment in the UK to extortionate levels, and in doing so are we creating our own stresses and problems in society?  Are we too precious at times with what we believe to be important, and why is that? I have learnt that it is good to accept that some things are out of our control, as control can prevent change from happening! And that co-incidence does not happen accidentally, it happens for a reason; sometimes we are just too busy to stop and think about it. And you can make a huge difference, sometimes when you least expect it!
I am happy to admit that despite having close family and friends here, having experienced the intensiveness of a different culture, the strong sense of togetherness in Bolga, and the feeling of optimism despite all the odds, I have come back with a feeling of ‘un-connectedness’, and lots feels like it is missing.  Whilst one of the biggest impacts was witnessing the extent of the poverty, I will treasure and hold onto what I loved most about Bolga: the innocence, faith, humour, and the feeling of liberation; from being away from many of our bureaucratic procedures and controls! I have found it more of a culture shock returning to Plymouth then actually going to Bolga.
So what next? Well, I am excited about the relationships that have developed between Plymouth and Bolga, and the potential for future exchange work and other projects, not just for workers but for real families to be involved to connect and share their own experiences, and to make links with wider society. Residents, children and young people from the Dreamscheme initiative in Stonehouse arranged their own art and craft sessions to create pictures of Plymouth for me to take to share with the community in Bolga, and are now looking forward to meeting my counterpart. My counterpart is also excited to meet the community in Plymouth, and about the prospects of being able to develop a Dreamscheme project in Bolga which can link both communities together. An exchange in dialogue and bringing something new to both communities is therefore already starting to happen!   And my heart has been left in Bolga, so as they say in Bolga: “Ma wa limna” (I will come back!).

My Bolgatanga Experience

Some of my host family
Brushing my teeth with ‘mum’ (and you can just see the toilets in the background)
The Lorry park/market
At the water bore
Presenting a gift from Plymouth
to my counterpart

From Plymouth to Ghana (Photo courtesy of The Herald, Plymouth)

Some of the Young People from the Lorry Park