“Love, care, attention, empathy are universal values. What I learnt is that being spiritual is important. People in Europe are often dipped in conformism, not always being able to remember their own essence and existence.’’
It is important to be reminded of inspirational stories about people who make an impact with their work. They could be motivational for us to create an environment where our positive contribution matters to improve the society we live in. A moment to break away from our Western day-to-day habitual concerns.
Jovana Savic shared her experiences with Brussels Express, and the following interview was conducted at Soare Internationale meeting in Brussels.
Jovana Savic is a passionate young woman with bright visions about socio-economic development through education. Today she works in Ghana, Western Africa, as an Education Programme Coordinator. She relocated there a year and a half ago.
She grew up in a small town in rural Serbia. In addition to English and French, she also learnt Greek and Chinese at the University of Belgrade. In 2014, she completed her postgraduate studies in Business Development at the Vrije University of Brussels, Belgium. But how come she decided to move to Africa? She explains this as a gradual process after working for various NGOs for Africa and South-Eastern Europe.
“That’s the beauty of International Brussels. I was asked to monitor and fundraise for a few organisations in East Africa. But I decided that I want more than that, I wanted to live there for at least a few years so I can really understand the culture and people. The opportunity appeared to be in Ghana, which took me by surprise, but after living there I fell in love with country and its people.”
Inspired by her working and living experience in the Balkans and West Africa, she finds a lot of similarities between them. She believes in the importance of providing the youth and children with adequate skills and opportunities.
Jovana works for Ghana Health and Education Initiative. Their mission is to enable communities in the Bibiani-Anhwiaso-Bekwai District of Ghana to improve their children’s health, learning success and opportunities by building local capacity and providing necessary resources and support. They envision a future where children—free from illness and illiteracy—can realise their full potential, a future where healthy, educated young people will lead their communities out of poverty.
Can you describe the area conditions?
It is not that densely populated. It’s surrounded by vividly green forest. There is a rainy season and a dry season – everything gets dried out. Last year, we had two months and a half with no rain, high temperatures (over 43 degrees Celsius) which has a negative impact on the agriculture and food supplies. The main income comes from Cocoa collection, which is then dried and exported to the West for chocolate making.
Jovana emphasises that working in the village Humjibre, rural Ghana in Western region, is very different from the capital Accra. The organisation is covering 6 communities with 5000 people.
“The beauty,” she says, “is that “we are community focused, working with local staff. I consider myself more as a facilitator and someone who is there to bring in new skills and improve the educational environment. At the same time, I have learnt a lot not just about development work but also about beautiful Ghanaian culture.’’
What are the most important things you learnt during your stay?
When you go to a funeral in Ghana, you see people dancing. I wasn’t shocked to see that. And of course, at the same time, people are also crying because they are mourning. What really touched me was the life celebration. That is something which we have to improve here. From Ghanaians, I learnt that you really need to be grateful for what you have. I felt it before, but the experience of living in rural Ghana just deepened the gratitude.
Are they different from Europeans?
Love, care, attention, empathy are universal values. What I learnt is that being spiritual is important. People in Europe are often dipped in conformism, not always being able to remember their own essence and existence.
How did your relatives react to your choice to dedicate time and live in Ghana?
People who know me expected it, my family and friends are very supportive. They were supportive because this decision did not come over night, it was a gradual process and it took me a few years to achieve and settle on the continent. They might not fully understand my motivation and calling but when I explain how fulfilling it is and show the results, they realise the impact of my work. Because, at the end of the day, the only true measure is happiness.
How is the educational programme structured?
If you enter a primary school in rural Ghana, you will notice there is one teacher per 50-60 students. As a result there is a huge number of school drop outs and high levels of illiteracy. We have Early Childhood Literacy program where we enroll the non-performing students and teach them English and basic Maths skills. We give them supplemental classes every day after school. After 2 years 95% of students are able to become top students in the classrooms in their regular schools, which I find amazing. It is important how you teach, not what you teach. Our classrooms are creative classrooms and we have this policy to encourage students and give them attention, so they feel valued. People just need an opportunity, the distribution of talent everywhere around the world is equal, but the distribution of opportunities is not. This is what we’re trying to put forward.
Do you provide the top students with scholarships?
Last year the Ghanaian government abolished fees for senior high school and because of that decision we are not awarding scholarships anymore. Since 2005 up to last year we have awarded around 113 scholarships. Those scholarships gave a lot of opportunity to young people to continue their education, and sometimes even study abroad. We have around 10 cases where those people who benefited from our scholarships now help the organisation from the distance.
Are there volunteering programmes available?
Yes. Volunteers are able to come and enjoy the community under the annual Summer Serve and Learn Programme. There are different sessions, health, and education related. Usually, the volunteers stay for 2-3 weeks. Girls Empowerment Camp is a necessity. After the camp has been introduced to the community, the level of teenage pregnancy has dropped. For example, ten years ago a lot of girls used to get pregnant and that would stop their further education.
We believe that this programme has prevented that because, for the past 6 years, we haven’t had such cases among participants. These are some of the workshops we provide during the camp: Leadership, sexual reproductive health, we teach them how to earn pocket money, for example, soap making and jewellery. The more opportunities, the more results. If people decide to join the Health Programme, they help the organisation collect the data that show if we should scale back, improve or continue the projects. The international volunteers are mainly college students from US and Canada, but I would recommend the programme to anyone who is interested to better understand how development works on the field in rural Ghana.