Life Update: Travel, Retreat and VOTO Quarterly Meeting

My life has been insane and awesome for the past few weeks.  The combination of a whirlwind schedule and a lack of network coverage has led to a fairly extended radio silence on my end about what’s been going on.  In an effort to make up for that, here’s a quick-and-dirty highlight reel from the past couple of weeks.

Personal Travel

All of the Ghana JFs took the week of July 1-7 to do some personal travel in the Northern Region.  This time-span included two statutory holidays and a weekend, so for anyone keeping score about whether I’m slacking off, I only had to take three of my allotted six days off for this full week of travel.

Some high points – and low points – include:

  • Kat and Véro stopping by Kumasi to see Votolandia, Kejetia and Manhyia Palace
  • Seeing antelope, crocodiles and ELEPHANTS on safari at Mole Park
  • Canoe trips and village tours (strange experience – ask me about it)
  • Seeing an ancient mosque at Larabunga near Mole Park
  • Kat and Véro both being the victims of attempted robbery by baboons
  • Taking pictures of the most hilarious goats
  • Haroon getting terrible food poisoning and having to be hospitalised in Damongo
  • Alex being a superhero and taking the best care of Haroon
  • Kat and I staying in Tamale, a primarily Muslim area, for Eid. Amazing!
  • Visiting the Tamale cultural centre and getting sick deals because it was Eid
  • Staying a night with my chapter’s EWB Kumvana fellow, Esther
  • Chatting with Esther’s family and learning her Jollof recipe.  So wonderful.
  • Staying a lovely night with Kat’s host family in Accra

This holiday was much needed.  Towards the end of June, I was feeling pretty burnt out.  Adjusting to a new culture, work environment and lifestyle, while amazing, can feel pretty heavy at times!  Exploring this amazing country refreshed my mindset.  It reminded me how lucky I am to be here doing work that aligns with my passions, and how important it is to do things that make me happy.  Simple things like buying the food I like (even if it’s “obroni food”), exercising routinely (even if it feels silly to be jumping around while everyone’s asleep), forgiving myself when I can’t get everything done (even if I set high expectations for my workload), and getting out and exploring (even if I’m a little tired) make a huge difference to my wellness here.  Taking time for myself to travel reminded me that these commitments are just as important as my commitments to my work and my chapter.  I need to take care of myself to be my best.

Mid-Placement Retreat


West Africa Mid-Placement Retreat (MPR) for EWB fellows and staff was held on July 8-10 at the Aylos Bay Resort at Akosombo in the Eastern Region.

Highlights of the weekend include:

  • Touring the Akosombo Dam generation facility (my inner electrical engineer got really excited, may blog about this separately later)
  • Swimming in the Volta River
  • Personal and professional development sessions
  • nEWBie olympics, including some sick rap battles, a fashion show and lip-syncing Wrecking Ball.  My team (the Gazelles Ponctuelles) won!!!
  • Singing in the Night of Inspiration.  This was a big deal for me!  Making more noise in public places – just because I want to, without having to or being asked to – has been one of my personal development items since starting the JF program last winter.  I’m really proud of how far my confidence and assertiveness has come.
  • A boat trip down the Volta River
  • Playing Werewolf and campfire games in the pitch dark of dumsor
  • Bonding with all of the amazing EWB LTFs, JFs, staff and Kumvana fellows

This weekend reinforced my connection to EWB.  As I’ve mentioned before, at VOTO, everyone really works FOR VOTO – which is amazing!  VOTO is an incredibly independent, self-sustaining organization at this point, essentially breaking out of the incubator model.  I’ve developed a high allegiance to VOTO over my time here.  It was nice to refresh my connection to EWB over MPR and to put my work at VOTO in context.

VOTO Quarterly Meeting

VOTO held its Quarterly Meeting (QM) in Kumasi on July 15-16, one week after Alex and I returned from our travel and MPR.  July 15 was the formal QM, while July 16 was a retreat day at Bosumtwe Lake, about an hour outside of Kumasi.

You know the drill – here’s the exciting stuff:

  • Having a very full VOTOlandia!  All Kumasi and Accra VOTO staff along with Mark Boots (CEO) and Sean Boots (Dir. of Product Design) from Canada piled into the house for the day.  There were something like 30 of us!
  • VOTO staff in the US, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Canada and more joined the meeting via Webex.  It was super interesting to see how an all-hands QM can work in a growing (almost 50 people) distributed international team!
  • Getting an even better sense of VOTO’s past, growth, future direction, finances and partners, among other organisational topics.  This really reaffirmed my belief in VOTO.  This isn’t a “cowboy” organization!  We’re on track for sustainable, growing success.
  • Having the chance to contribute to discussions, even as an intern.  Everyone had the chance to be heard.
  • Rita’s cooking was next level.  Oh my goodness.  Spring rolls in Canada are nothing compared to Rita’s spring rolls
  • Bosumtwe Lake was absolutely beautiful.  Fun fact: it formed because of an asteroid impact.  How rad is that!
  • Team Intern WON the retreat day competition, “Feats of Skill and Strength”.  We are officially the best team forever, according to our certificate.

The QM was really inspiring.  It left me feeling so excited about VOTO as an organization.  We’ve come so far and we still have so much potential to grow and serve so many more people.  Not to mention how inspiring the amazing people in this organization are on a personal level.  My inspiration from QM built on my refreshed mindset to increase my motivation to work hard and wring every drop out of this experience.

What’s Next?

Want to hear something crazy?  My placement is well over halfway done!  I only have 40 days until I’ll be back in Canada.

You’ll find me over the next few weeks a) working my butt off to try and accomplish as much as I can before taking off, and b) squeezing in as much travel as I can.  If all goes to plan, this will include weekend trips to Wli Falls and Cape Coast, as well as a work trip to Kintampo with an agricultural project.  Looking forward to sharing about these adventures.  Until next time!


Thanks for reading!  I know this post was pretty rapid-fire – I purposefully didn’t go into detail to keep it a digestible length.  If I mentioned anything that you’d like to know more about, please ask in the comments or send me a message!  I’d love to chat more about any of it – just didn’t want to put everyone to sleep with a 50 page post 🙂  Cheers!


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