“Before my placement, I’d had a lot of ideas on how to contribute to my community, but I didn’t know how to voice them or how to put them into action.”

For Paul Asiawon, a 24-year-old volunteer, an International Service ICS placement was the starting point on an incredible journey of activism.

In Ghana, people with disabilities are often excluded from education and from society as a whole. For many, living with a disability means a daily struggle for acceptance and access to opportunities. Due to wide-spread stigma, many families keep their disabled children hidden from view, out of education, and locked into poverty.

Paul volunteered in Sandema, Northern Ghana, for three months as an ICS volunteer in 2016. He and his fellow volunteers worked in partnership with Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR), an organisation that supports young people with disabilities to re-enter education.

Paul’s team ran several teacher training sessions on inclusive classroom teaching and formed three youth clubs to encourage people with and without disabilities to socialise together. As part of his placement, Paul individually ran two awareness raising events and brought the community together to discuss the rights of people with disabilities and teenage pregnancy in the local area.

“Volunteering has improved my confidence and equipped me with a lot of knowledge about development work. The awareness raising events were the first time I did an individual presentation – I felt accomplished.”

Paul has used the skills he had gained on placement to become a leader in his community. Since the end of his placement, Paul has become a secretary of his local Disabled People’s Organisation.

As well as gaining new skills and becoming a leader, Paul has channelled his own development into changing his community for the better. 

Local produce such as cosmetics is an important source of revenue to many people in Ghana. Lacking an education and job opportunities, a large number of people make money by selling products.

 “I realised how high the unemployment rates were for the youth and disabled people in the local area. Whilst there is training available for the elders, there is nothing for the youth or people with disabilities.”

Paul used his new knowledge and network to apply for an ICS Alumni grant to tackle youth unemployment in Sandema.

“Young people are very important when it comes to addressing unemployment in Ghana. I wanted the youth and disabled people to gain quality skills, develop further and not fall victim to Ghana’s major youth unemployment problem.” 

Over the course of three days, 25 participants learnt how to make three different kinds of soap from scratch. As well as learning a new skill, many participants recognised the need to pass on the knowledge on to others.

Mary Afoblikame, one of the participants, said: “I hope we can sell the soap and use the money to buy materials to continue making it. I can also use this knowledge to help others in the community learn how to make soap.”

Paul’s three-month placement will continue to have an impact on the community in years to come. Applying to study development at university and investigating child labour in his community are only a couple of things on Paul’s “to do” list.

“I’m always thinking of the next ideas, always looking for new routes to take or projects to start.”

Paul is a testament to the impact that people with disabilities can have when they are able to take an active part in their communities.