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Africa Day

Africa Day in Amsterdam Builds Bonds with Ghana

Amsterdam, Netherlands - On May 28, UPF-Netherlands celebrated Africa Day 2010, at its Dialogue Center in Amsterdam. Particular emphasis was put on the work of the Ghanaian NGO Community Partnership for Youth and Women's Development, often known in the Netherlands as Partnership Ghana, and Youth Service Initiative, which organizes a service trip to Ghana every year.

UPF-Netherlands Secretary General Wim Koetsier greeted everyone, explained the background of the day, and read Africa Day statements by the UN Secretary-General, the African Union Chair, and the Universal Peace Federation. He and a number of those present wore Nigerian clothing donated by UPF supporter Johnson Adesida, from Nigeria.


Everyone enjoyed a delicious "African plus" meal prepared by Ambassador for Peace Paul Gron. He and his wife, Henna Linger, are from Suriname, as were a number of other participants. Also present was Mrs. Hanneke van Eekelen, who spent two years in Ghana when her husband was in the Dutch Diplomatic Service, and a representative of Sheikh Khaled Bentounes, spiritual leader of the Al’ Alawiya Sufi congregation based in Algeria. Sheikh Bentounes is an Ambassador for Peace, and UPF-Netherlands has a close connection with Al’ Alawiya through Relizapp in Almere.

Youth Service Initiative is a one-year service training program with the motto and aspiration to "Initiate, Educate, Serve, Grow." Stefan from Germany explained how the members live and work together in two groups, in Utrecht and Rotterdam. The year is divided into three periods: seeking to be of help locally, international service, and personal projects. When Youth Service Initiative was in Ghana earlier this year, the young people helped build a Discovery Centre and held forums in schools and colleges. They compared what students learn in the different countries, explored ways to improve mutual understanding, worked on life plans, and developed talents. 

Emi from Germany explained her "Expression Project," which encourages children to express themselves through art. She took some of the drawings of children with whom she had worked in the Netherlands to stimulate the children in Ghana, and had thought to just work through drawing and painting. To her surprise and delight, some of the children sang and danced as a way to express themselves.

Yemi from Italy spoke of visiting the Mole International Park and a beekeeping project created by Yakubu Iddrisu, the founder of Partnership Ghana.

Eleanor Flowers then sang "Siyahamba," a South-African marching hymn, encouraging Edit Inikwo from Nigeria to lead the rhythmic clapping.

Maartje Bos, a social worker, is the European representative of Partnership Ghana. She prepares for and coordinates the Youth Service Initiative visits to Ghana. She had first visited Ghana three years previously, shortly after completing her studies. She had worked with people with disabilities and started a micro-credit project which has helped a number of women who had previously been beggars to become self sufficient.

Addressing the theme of peace and security in Africa, she said that Ghana was quite peaceful and secure; it enjoys relatively good governance and has managed to combine the traditional tribal and modern government systems. A general atmosphere of caring and sharing leads to high feelings of unity, and Christians and Muslims live peacefully together. Fortunately, she said, there is little foreign "interest" or interference. Ghana might be a role model for Africa and Project Ghana an example of what could be done, on a local level, to promote development.

Since 2007, Project Ghana has been supporting youth and women in Northern Ghana, focusing on after-school learning activities such as training in beekeeping and home management. She expressed particular appreciation for its emphasis on empowerment, aiming to stimulate the responsibilities and initiatives of the local communities. Its four-point strategy is to build partnership; provide information and resources; influence skills, attitudes, and desires; and stimulate improved performance.

To many, the theme of peace and security in Africa might seem to be about political and military matters, but after asking "How can the situation be improved in a way that fits in the African context, so the strengths of the culture will be highlighted?" she posed the individual question of "What can you do?" She talked about how she invests herself in service as an individual and how that has led to her own personal growth: gaining new ideas and perceptions, transcending her own boundaries, and creating new contacts. This has brought her satisfaction, energy, and inspiration, enabling her to build bridges and contribute to the development of Northern Ghana. This, she asserted, was in line with Youth Service Initiative's ambition to serve and grow and with the Universal Peace Federation's call for people everywhere to think of themselves as members of one human family under God.

After stimulating more discussion, Maartje invited the audience to also be active, possibly by joining one of the clubs she has started. She invited people to a June 18 meeting with Yakubu Iddrisu, Executive Director of Partnership Ghana.

For more information about Africa Day, click here.

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