Back to the Motherland!

October 23, 2012 | Shani Ocquaye, CRM, AFS, Human Rights Advocacy Centre

September has just flown by! I have been having a great semester abroad in Ghana so far.

Despite my Ghanaian heritage and my previous visits to Ghana, I have still had to make a lot of adjustments over the past three weeks. I am very unfamiliar with the city and nobody deals with street names, only landmarks that seem completely obscure to foreigners. So getting around in taxis or tro-tros (cheap, public transportation by minibuses found all over the city) has been quite a challenge. Luckily, there are always kind locals around to help me out with directions and making sure I get to my destination safely.

Due to Ghana’s close proximity to the equator, the sun shines roughly 12 hours a day (6 AM to 6 PM) all year-round. To make the most out of the daytime, this usually means waking up around 6 am every day, regardless of it’s a workday or a weekend. I am not accustomed to waking up at 6 AM all the time, so I have had to adjust my sleep patterns to get the most out of every day.

My placement is with the Human Rights Advocacy Centre (HRAC). HRAC is a not-for profit organization started up in 2008 by a very prominent Ghanaian lawyer, the Executive Director, Nana Oye Lithur. My aunt and uncle (who are my host family) have a home that is conveniently located no more than 500 m away from HRAC. It has been quite nice to be able to walk to work every morning without having deal with the crazy Accra traffic. So far, my internship has been a great learning experience. The HRAC does research projects, outreach and advocacy on a variety of human rights issues (LGBT rights, remand prisoners, women’s rights), in the community and also provides services a legal clinic, so there are always a variety of things to do.

During our second week at the office, Mariah (the other FSS intern) and I had the opportunity to represent HRAC at an Amnesty International conference on the Abolition of the Death Penalty in Ghana. Although nobody has been executed in Ghana since the mid-nineties, judges continue to sentence prisoners to death (often by hanging). As a criminology student, the conference was a very informative session, as the attendees articulated arguments in favour of the removal of the death penalty from the constitution in favour of more human sentences. As I continue my internship, I am constantly making comparisons to the Ghanaian and Canadian criminal justice system. Another interesting thing I have noted is the way chieftaincy plays into the criminal justice system, as well as the policing of communities.

There are always things to do to keep me busy when I’m at the office as well. I have had the opportunity to conduct interviews clients over human rights complaints and I am currently helping complete a report on gender-based violence in Ghanaian schools.

Bye for now! (and Happy Thanksgiving to everybody back home!)

Shani

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