Share your story – Erfahrungen mit weltwärts & der .lkj) Sachsen-Anhalt – a mentor

Ein Mentor in Ghana hat uns eine ausführliche Analyse der Zusammenarbeit geschickt. Er sieht gute und schlechte Aspekte bei internationalen Freiwilligendiensten. Wir sind sehr dankbar für den Text, denn durch ihn können wir viel lernen. Wir haben uns entschieden, Namen von Freiwilligen und Organisation unkenntlich zu machen.

[in blau-kursiv kommentiert das Team des weltwärts-Projekts der .lkj) Sachsen-Anhalt]


  1. Introduction

An unforgettable journey with Weltwärts volunteers through partnership with the sending organization – LKJ Sachsen Anhalt started from August, XXX to March, XXX. The volunteers who were part of this bittersweet journey were XXX. This journey involved both pitfalls and benefits for their mentor, host family and organizations and communities they operated in. In specific terms, it was a learning situation for the mentor (who was once a mentor for volunteers from the abovementioned sending organization), the host family and the organizations. Also, univocally, it was an unforgettable moment for the former host family and organization since she was the first volunteer, they both hosted. The narrative description is focused on partnership with LKJ ranging from mentorship to hosting of volunteers in a host family and organizations. And also, the impacts to the various units in the partnership.

  1. Mentorship

My appointment to the position of a mentor came to light in XXX through the decision of some volunteers of LKJ and XXX. Prior to my appointment, I was supporting volunteers in Ho in the Volta Region of Ghana as a mentor. This, I believe, informed and influenced the decision of the volunteers at the time to appoint me officially as the mentor of the succeeding volunteers. The first mentees under my care were XXX from LKJ and two other volunteers from XXX in the volunteering year. I commenced my duty with enthusiasm, determination and confidence. Unfortunately, these qualities started to decline in the second quarter of the volunteering year due to mainly total disregard and disrespect to my efforts and refusal of some of the volunteers to heed to instructions. This was so obvious in their actions and inactions. This narrative is not covering the volunteers of the other organization which I mentored otherwise I would have elaborated fairly the disappointment in mentoring XXX volunteers. Without deviating, I would like to focus on LKJ volunteers.  I mentored them in exception of XXX who was my subordinate at work. Unambiguously, the mentor-mentee relationship over the past years was skewed towards accepting the views and reports of volunteers without engaging the mentor for an arbitration before passing judgment for changes to be made. This has placed volunteers on a pyramid in the cooperation with their voices running from the apex of the pyramid to the base of it for the purpose of making changes for mainly the benefit of them (volunteers) irrespective of their flaws and mistakes. This at some point made the partnership or cooperation imbalance suppressing the voice of me as a mentor in the global south. A newly transformed questionable system designed with uncertainties and information deficiency emerged after XXX volunteering year. This was due to reports from some of the volunteers about my mentorship, the host family, and the host project. [Yes, the new system was not introduced transperently to everyone. We see that and apologize for it. We will learn from it! But we must admit, the changes in the system were NOT arranged due to any reports from volunteers!] Furthermore, the failure to recognize cultural differences and adapt to it, led to controversies in mentor-mentee relationship. Nevertheless, the partnership has a life-changing experiences with both positive and negative impacts.

  1. Host Family

Out of the volunteers I received from LKJ, only one  stayed in a host family at Tokokoe-Abudi. The rest of the volunteers stayed on their own in a rented apartment with a few challenges regarding difficulty in cleanliness, infrequent failure to close water taps, and untimely disposal of waste. The choice as to what family XXX should be part of was made by me. I chose the family of my step father for XXX due to language barrier and difficulty in getting accommodation in other families at Tokokoe.[Ewe is the most spoken langauge in the region] XXX was happily and actively involved in the domestic chores of her host family. She helped in preparing of certain Ghanaian dishes such as fufu and akple. Therefore, I thought at the initial stage that it was the best choice due to circumstances in the host community. But unfortunately, this choice came with several problems hidden from me and the host family. A proposed change was to be made for her successor regarding the host family simply because I was the head of the organization in which she worked and a family member of her host family. But I later found out that it was beyond the issue of staying with my family. In fact, within the first three months of her stay with the host family she never saw anything wrong about my membership of the family until she was called to a meeting which I was also invited to by her host family for advisory purposes because of her late return together with another person in the night from a program in one of the surrounding villages of Tokokoe. [Unfortunatly we never spoke about that.]

  1. Interference in the social affairs of volunteers

Unexpectedly, I received a call from Mo, the newly appointed coordinator of LKJ in Ghana that I was interfering in the affairs of volunteers based on the report he received from LKJ so changes would be made against my mentorship. This was unclear and confusing to me. [I can understand your confusion; I am confused, too.] I went to places with volunteers and there was no occasion that I interfered in their social lives in exception of three occasions which seemed unsafe for them and I interfered to rescue or protect them.

  1. The Establishment of the host project

When the founding of the project started, it was registered in the same year. XXX was my mentee when the foundation started. She welcomed the idea of transforming lives through education and literacy in rural areas in Ho municipality. For that matter, she became one of the first Members of the organization. Due to her persistent and perpetual interest in bringing the organization’s vision of “zero illiteracy rate in rural areas” into reality, she has been working hard even from a faraway place in Germany to keep the dream alive.

Due to financial challenges facing the host organisation in paying wages and salaries for rendered services, this young organization was and is still highly reliant on both local and international volunteers in executing its plan for the benefits of rural communities. In this regard, the host organisation joined partnership with LKJ Sachsen Anhalt for services of international volunteers. This partnership saw XXX as the first international volunteer of the host organisation. The services rendered by her cannot and will not be eliminated or underestimated. Her determination, perseverance, commitment, fund raising ability, creativity and hard work undoubtedly pushed the host organisation forward. We are still matching forward with her creativity and innovation in the management of plastic waste in rural communities and schools. With this, the host organisation prides itself over reduction, reusing and recycling of plastic waste, and improvement in proper disposal of plastic waste in Tokokoe Abudi and Motte.

Additionally, the creation of a website for the host organisation and an Instagram page was made possible by two volunteers.

6. Impacts
There were both positive and negative impacts regarding the cooperation with LKJ Sachsen-Anhalt. [to who?]

6.1 Positive Impacts
There were positive influences which has led to transformation of lives over the past years. It has always been with happiness highlighting them or making them known to people. They are as follows:

6.1.1 Acquisition of diverse knowledge (culturally, politically and socially)

One of the positive attainments of partnership with LKJ since XXX to XXX has been acquisition of knowledge relating to cultural differences between the global south and global north. The way of life of international volunteers in Ghana clearly defined the differences with respect to dressing, food, socialization, values and norms. Several perspectives regarding culture which depicted a true picture of differences in socially constructed behaviors in certain cultural and social settings were displayed throughout the period. Prior to attaining the position of a mentor, I used to have a few perspectives about differences in culture and politics among certain human races particularly between the global south and global north.  [Wow, great analysis!]

6.1.2 Gaining of Exposure

Gaining of exposure has resulted in gaining influencing experiences which have had positive impacts on my personal development. Through this, the timidity in approaching issues on a personal and organizational levels has diminished drastically during the partnership period leading to improvement in decision making without depending on others for the betterment of my life and that of others.

6.1.3 Leadership Skills

My leadership skills improved during my mentorship period. I learned how to lead without creating fearful authority – I was virtually a friend of every volunteer that I received as a mentee. I developed abilities suitable for leading people through the skills I gained in mentoring volunteers. Furthermore, leading people with different characters has created room to developing patience, anger management and exhibition of professionalism in leadership for progress to be achieved in every field I found myself.

6.1.4 Educational Impact

Children of school-going age have benefitted largely from LKJ volunteers since some took part in classroom activities at the Special Unit of the Basic School and the host organisation which enhanced reading, writing and performing of basic arithmetic calculations of pupils. The presence of volunteers in learning environment brought joy to kids which even motivated them to learn more. For instance, there was a particular boy who could not read but XXX motivated him to read to an appreciable level. LKJ volunteers provided learning materials to the host organisation to facilitate learning activities of children. Learning materials such pencils, pens and books. Furthermore, a projector and story books were donated to the host organisationfrom the project fund of LKJ to support Adult Education at the host organisation. This aids in presentation of lessons to adults on very important subjects.

6.1.5 Innovation and creativity

The idea of sewing “pure-water” sachets into plastic sacks for the collection of plastic waste in rural communities in Ho municipality came from XXX. The idea materialized which is helping two rural communities namely Tokokoe Abudi and Motte to manage plastic waste properly. This enables the members of the community to segregate wastes, and brought to their knowledge the harmful effects of improper disposal of plastic waste in our environment. The first plastic sack was a handmade one. A prototype of craftwomanship in recycling.

6.1.6 Touring

With my devotion to making each volunteering year remarkable for every volunteer, I assisted each and every one of them not to be exploited by some cunning personalities in their travels. I did this by travelling with them in order to prevent them from paying unreasonable charges on fares. Also, to show them (volunteers) some tourist centers in Ghana as well as Togo, I travelled to certain places I would not have been to without the mentorship position. Some of the tour activities include hiking (at Mountain Gemi, Mountain Afadza, Wli Mountains and Adaklu Mountain), swimming in the sea and waterfalls (at Busua beach, Cape Coast beach Wli Lower and Upper waterfalls, Ote falls and Biakpa falls), visiting a monkey sanctuary at Tafi, canopy walk at Cape Coast and Amedzofe among others were exciting experiences to state or share. This has impacted my emotional and psychological wellbeing and also made me physically, socially and mentally active.

6.1.7 Building of international network

The last but not the least of the positive impacts has been establishment of international network with foreigners from various European and American countries. This was due to my mentorship position.

6.2 Negative factors

In spite of all the aforementioned positive statements, there has been worrisome happenings that created heated arguments and situations over the past years leading to breaking up of friendships and business partners. Below are some of the negative factors that have stained valuable friendship and partnerships. It saddens my heart to list them since it brings back unhappy emotions but the narrative would be incomplete without them.

6.2.1 Misunderstanding

One of the pitfalls over the past years has been misunderstanding. Some volunteers have not taken the time to think deeply of words of their mentor, host family and organization before reacting to them. Jumping into final conclusion without asking questions or taking the time to understand issues was very infectious to the partnership. Mostly, they felt they understood every situation already so they did not see the sense in reflecting on the words of a mentor or host family before drawing conclusions. This really led to wrongful statements about their mentor, host family and organization over the past years. [I woun’t say that’s wrong. I would add here you clearly see differences between young people from different backgrounds. I remember far more youngsters with an attitude to own the world, than youngsters, who acted carefully and well thought out.]

6.2.2 Lack of communication

Some volunteers have mostly kept quiet on issues troubling them which made mentorship so difficult at some points in time. Their facial expressions and other bodily expressions sometimes helped but proper communication at the appropriate times would have made the cooperation easier. [!!! Oh yes!!!]

6.2.3 Dishonesty

In the absence of truthful communication or giving of the right information for resolving issues, some volunteers have decided to show dishonesty. This could not help in tackling problems that were making them uncomfortable in a host family as well as a host organization. Majority of the problems reported to their sending organizations about a mentor and a host family could have easily been solved if reported to the respective hosts.  Dishonesty does not promote and preserve relationships. It is a key destroyer of unions, cooperation or partnerships.

6.2.4 Refusal to take simple instructions

Regardless of how intelligent a person is, he/she needs advice or instruction in a known or an unknown environment. This was not the case in mentoring some volunteers. As one of them stated when she arrived newly in Tokokoe that “I want my own experience” when I was taking them through an oral orientation concerning the way of life in Tokokoe. In my view, it was a clear indication that she was not willing to listen or take instructions. Truly, she crossed a boundary which was very dangerous and left behind dire consequences.

6.2.5 Refusal to accept mistakes

One of the negative factors was the refusal to accept mistakes. Some volunteers hated corrections from a mentor or host family. An enmity could easily emanate if a mentor or a host family attempted providing corrections or letting them know their mistakes.

6.2.6 Supremacy

“The white race is supreme”. This was the mindset of some volunteers, so they felt supreme leading to racism which influenced the decisions of most of them. Any decision taken contrary to their views is outdated or primitive. Any statement in line with their reasoning power is the best, otherwise blacks or Ghanaians are not learning. This attitude brings unbearable attitude in some of them. [Oh no, I am very sorry that you feel this! At the preparation we had a brief introduction and learning about racism.]

6.2.7 Pretense

As Christian Tosi said “Good food is good food. It doesn’t have to come with pretense.” Being real and truly identifiable in critical circumstances for a good mentor-mentee relationship and/or boss-subordinate relationship was very dim even during the day in the “African sun”. Without pretense in spelling out flaws and problems, a successful end would have resulted in every volunteering year. [Yes, we see the point. It is a big question: volunteers learn and struggle as well as the projects, partners and mentors. Is it to much? Do we expect to much? Can we decide what is posible and fair? Should volunteering stop?]

6.2.8 Societal Norms Infringement

Every society has its norms. Norms are social creatures that a group of people value or cherish. In any attempt to break them you may be seen as deviant. In fact, not every norm is comfortable for everybody especially, foreigners facing newly unfamiliar norms resulting in cultural shocks. But, the refusal to try in adapting to the norms of the people might be unacceptable by the society. Some volunteers linked up with some deviant characters in host communities which had tagged them as recalcitrant volunteers. Based on this, it became difficult to use them in changing the mindset of community members.

7 Conclusion

The past years of partnership with LKJ Sachsen Anhalt has been with experiences and several factors contributing to an unforgettable project era. The contributions of LKJ volunteers in organizations, communities and the host family will forever leave indelible marks. Their efforts in supporting education and the zeal in knowing the culture of the people were remarkable even with the aforementioned negative factors. The cooperation between LKJ Sachsen Anhalt and the host organisation brought notable transformation to two marginalized communities which will be in the minds of children and adults in the two communities. Emphatically, the end of the partnership or the project era should not define the end of transforming the lives of vulnerable groups for their growth but instead should lead us to a new era of hope and cooperation. The partnership has been a great learning situation.

[Der Bericht hat uns nachdenklich gestimmt und zum Perspektivwechsel angeregt. Er zeigt uns einige wichtige Punkte, an denen wir Fehler gemacht haben und aus denen wir lernen können. Es stimmt mich traurig, dass wir auf Kosten der Anderen lernen.]


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