Q&A with the McMaster Chapter

            I received an amazing envelope of 26 questions and motivational sayings from the McMaster EWB chapter, compiled by Shall. I have enjoyed thinking about these throughout my time in Ghana and have included the answers below!

Q: How is your day-to-day life? (Neha)


4am: Hear drums, mosque’s call to prayer, and pounding of Fufu. Wake up temporarily and gladly return to bed.

6am: Wake up. Maybe walk to the nearby school to use the latrine.

6:15am: Sit in my house compound reading my Bible and journaling

6:45am: Brush my teeth & get dressed. Bike to work, greeting everyone on the way.

7am: Arrive at CHIPS compound. Sing worship songs, have a bible study, and pray as a team.

8am: Eat breakfast (porridge and bread or tea and bread)

8:30am: “Work”. This may include riding on the back of someone’s moto to visit a Community Animal Health Worker. Or sitting in a planning meeting. Or doing Human-Centered Design methods (www.hcdconnect.com). Or going to plant soybeans. Or biking to a nearby town to meet a vet or butcher or vet drug store owner. Etc.

12pm: Lunch. At the start of my placement I sat with the guys I work with and ate with them (sharing the same bowl). Now, I sit with Yeda, the wonderful young lady who helps cook for the CHIPS team. She cooks great food!

1pm: Rest time, typically. I may nap or read a book, or sometimes just work through this time. Maybe checking e-mails or doing other computer work, since anything requiring Internet takes forever.

3pm: Continue working.

6:30pm: Realize that it is late as I see the sun setting. Stand and watch the red sun (so cool!). Perhaps toss around a Frisbee with the guys. Bike home, greeting everyone on the way.

7pm: Sit with the ladies at the house. Maybe “help them make dinner” (stir something or hold a flashlight while they do their work) but usually just play with the kids, who sing “silmingpaa kumna, silmingpaa kumna” (white lady has arrived, white lady has arrived). Eat dinner with the women. They also cook great food.

8pm: Bucket bath. Take malaria meds. Get ready for bed.

8:30pm: Potentially do something, like write a letter or send e-mails or call someone in Canada or on the AVC team.

9pm:Lie in bed. If super tired, sleep. If not, read.

9:45pm: Asleep.

“To move ahead you need to believe in yourself – have conviction in your beliefs and the confidence to execute those beliefs.”

Q: Can you tell a story about a memorable person you’ve met?

A: A Community Animal Health Worker (CAHW), Francis.  Francis is the coolest! He speaks English, so I am actually able to understand him which is a bonus. We have had a couple visits to his village. I don’t remember much about the first one, he was just a typical CAHW who had sold some medicines but not very much. And then this month he blew us out of the water with his records of how almost daily he had treated dozens of animals. He arranged an amazing meeting of animal rearers with whom we did some cool participatory exercises. Francis was humble and letting others speak up, but actively listening and stepping up to join in, too. He laughs easily. The only bad thing about him is his lack of cellphone, which makes getting a hold of him difficult. We told him, “you are making such a lot of profit! You ought to buy a cellphone!”. His response was that he is using his profits to buy inputs for his rice field! He explained that he wants to invest his money in things that are productive and can be more profitable for him. I was amazed. Serious farmer, and a very active CAHW, and fun-loving, and humble. As I write this, I am at the Refresher Training CHIPS is hosting for the CAHW, and Francis continues to amaze me. He speaks with confidence and sounds like a real veterinary expert, commenting on which animals need which medicines or treatments.

Q: Relatively how many people/families are of the opinion that farming/working is more important than education? (Nabeela)

A: Everyone that I have met farms to a certain degree. Even teachers will farm in the evenings or during the time of the year when they are on summer vacation. Farming gives your family food to eat, and sometimes extra to sell, so it is extremely important for people’s livelihoods. If you don’t farm enough, you may not have money to sell your kids to school! However, there are a lot of kids in school here. (See the post on education for other challenges with that). I haven’t experienced anyone making the judgement call “do I send my kids to school or to farm” but it is clear that farming is vital and school seems like a if-I-can-afford-it-maybe-I-can-send-my-kids kinda thing. (P.s. Hey Nabeela! Great question!)

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Q: What efforts have you been making to become a part of the community in which you live?

A: I have lived in Nakpayili for 3 months now, and it just feels like home. I spend the majority of time with the guys I work with, however, and therefore less time just getting to know people in town. I learned Dagbani to be able to have simple conversations with everyone I meet. I stop and hang out on the roadside with people eating or playing games. I walk to market and chat with the ladies selling things. I play with a lot of kids – the ones near where I work and the girls in my host family. I attempt pounding Fufu and preparing soups. I bought a bike and bike to different towns nearby. I wear a chinghinni (cloth) way more often than pants or even skirts. But all of these things are just a part of life. It doesn’t feel like “Oh, I need to do things to integrate”, rather, I just go about my days, which naturally make me part of this community. I love all the people here and will miss Nakpayili a lot.

Q: Have you ever been faced with a situation that brought out a skill you never knew you had? What was it? (Aditi)

A: Yes! A funny one is my newfound ability to communicate without words, and read people’s body language. I discovered this especially near the beginning of my placement. I would be walking with a colleague. A man we stop to chat with motions to me and to my friend. My friend responds something, and the man motions some more and points to himself. The conversation was asking if I was my colleague’s wife. My colleague responds, “no, she is my sister”, and the man proceeds to explain that he would like to marry me. Or come back to my country. Or something else along those lines. Perhaps Ghanaian men are just too predictable, but it was pretty cool how I could completely understand the conversation even before having it translated. (P.s. Hey Aditi! Awesome Q. I had a fun time thinking about this one).

 “Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius, and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring”

Q: At this point, what do you think would be the first thing you want to do once you return to Canada?

A: Sister Sandwich. Haha, I have been thinking about this recently, since I will be going home so soon. A sister sandwich is when one of my sisters runs to the couch and yells “Sister sandwich! I’m the bottom bread” and another one of us jumps on top and yells “I’m the cheese!” and the third comes on top and yells “I’m the top bread!”.

Q: How do you feel you’ve grown through this experience? (Samaher)

A: This is another one I have been thinking about recently. Great question, Samaher. I think it may become more clear once I am back in Canada, but I have a few hunches. One is humility. Instead of wanting to be seen as an excellent JF or a huge asset to the CHIPS team, I have slowly come to the point of truly just seeking the good of the team and the people they are working for. Rather than needing glory for myself I am content with supporting a team of hardworking, inspiring men and watching them transform their communities. Another is developing an ability to rest. My mother once told me my biggest weakness was an inability to rest. I have been intentional here to take more rest, even when there is a never-ending to-do list. I even spent 3 days on a personal retreat, forbidding myself to think about my placement, my responsibilities, my impact/contribution…just to truly enjoy proper rest. It has been an amazing area of growth and I pray it can last when I return to crazy Uni life.

Q: If you could only share one aspect about your placement with us, what would that be?

A: I would have you come and spend a day with the CHIPS team, and be as encouraged and inspired by them as I am. You would see how they have a lot of work to do, but never ever get stressed out. You would hear them sing songs and laugh joyfully throughout the day. You would hear them ask tough questions and read challenging books to make them think. You would be amazed at the way they interact with everyone they meet, with gentleness, attentiveness, and love.

Q: What do farmers plant, and who do they sell it to? (Eunice)

A:I am glad to hear you are interested in agric, Eunice, since it’s so huge here. In my region, some common crops are yams, maize, groundnuts (peanuts), soybeans and rice. Primarily, farmers farm to feed their own families. They may sell some to others in their own communities, walking with large bowls of yams on their head to see their neighbours and sell them some. They also may make arrangements to sell to a different part of the country, in which case a truck will come and a few different people will sell their crops and load them on the truck, for the truck driver to subsequently sell them in Accra or somewhere further south. 

Courage doesn’t always road. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying “I will try again tomorrow”.

Q: How big or small are the meal sizes? (Badal)

A: it varies. At the start of the summer, an individual meal was a lot for me to eat, but now that I have gotten a bigger appetite, I can eat a fair bit. In general, meals are way bigger here than in Canada. But you need the energy, especially since it’s a very carb-heavy diet. I often don’t know how big my meal size is, because I usually share food with other people. Someone will prepare the food in a large bowl and we all just eat away at it with our fingers until we’re all full. As we go, someone may top up the bowl with more carb or sauce so you never quite know how much you are eating. Overall, I have been amazed at how much I can eat here. (Apparently it’s common for women to gain weight and men to lose weight when they come here from the West).

Q: What difficulties have you faced with your placement? How did you overcome them?

A: Wow, awesome question. Biggest challenge was being sick. Around 2 weeks in to my placement I finally got sick, and it lasted for another few weeks. I would on-and-off just feel so nauseous, and not be able to eat, or keep food down, and it was awful. I overcame this…with patience? Recently my health has been great! Another (not so physical) challenge was feeling useless, which happens relatively often. It was a common sentiment at the beginning, and comes up every once and a while, especially when I am with other EWBers and am slightly intimidated by their brilliance and intelligence. I am continually needing to overcome this one, by remembering that I am a unique individual and do not operate the same way as other people. I may have weaknesses in areas of others’ strengths, but I have other strengths, too. And ultimately, I should be more concerned with the wellbeing of the people we are serving than me personally having “contributed enough” or “had enough impact”.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So thrown off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade wings in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover”.

Q: Are all Ghanaian JFs extroverted?

A: No. All JFs must be able to be extroverted enough to survive in their placements, but there are definitely some introverted JFs, and they are doing an awesome job!

Q: What do you do for entertainment there, and how are you adopting to their vocabulary or accent? (Brandon)

A: Hey Brandon! I laughed when I read this question and remembered my time in a village with no electricity where I still managed to watch music videos and movies at a generator-powered home theatre. Personally, I love going for long bike rides, and I have been reading a ton. Writing letters back home is also a fun break. Sometimes I listen to music on my laptop. I get to toss around a Frisbee with the team or some kids every so often.

I have a limited functional Dagbani vocabulary, and as for my Ghanaian accent, it’s getting pretty good. I use lots of words in contexts that make no sense in normal English and phases that would be unintelligible to Canadians, yet I seem to be understood quite well, so that’s a good sign. It feels like I’m singing as I speak too – I’m getting into the tonal bounce and will probably sound a bit weird when I get home.

“Forget about all the reasons why something may not work. You only need to find one good reason why it will.”

Q:Are meetings in villages conducted differently than meetings that you have with your EWB team? How?

A: They were when I arrived, but I’m trying to change it! Typically, meetings are very much a lecture style. Important people talk, and others sit bored. Or if everyone gets to talk, people love talking and dominating personalities will talk a lot. (One JF observed that Ghanaians are bad listeners). Also, there is always an opening prayer and a closing prayer, because almost everyone is either Muslim or Christian.  EWB is amazing at meetings – at making them engaging and participatory, and being very intentional to set objectives and be creative about how to meet them. I have seen the CHIPS team become even better at holding participatory meetings, something they already did before I arrived. As a team, we are doing more drawing or other visual exercises. At this training we are hosting, “meetings” now include pair activities, small group activities, presenting your discussions, looking at visuals on flipchart or drawing your own visuals, etc. (I feel like I am helping to create a mini-EWB. It’s great!).

Q: How far do people travel every day for work? (Badal)

A: I guess it depends, but I can share my experience. I bike a total of 5 min to get to the CHIPS compound where I work. The CHIPS guys live and work together, so they don’t travel at all. Teachers may ride a moto 5 min to school, or further if they teach in a different village from where they live. Farmers will either motorcycle or bike 10-15min to their farm in the morning. One of our team members bikes 6km from her nearby village to join us each morning. Some women walk similar distances, with heavy items on their heads, when they go to sell things at a market.

“Make a game of finding something positive in every situation. Ninety-five percent of your emotions are determined by how you interpret events to yourself.”

Q: Favourite food? (Eunice)

A: So hard to choose! At first I really didn’t like a lot of the food (too much fish), but now I have learned to love most of it! Roasted yam with tomato/oil stew is amazing. I love dishes with beans, such as beans with onion and shea oil. Mashed yam, petepete, is another favourite. I also love roasted maize.

Q: What does the gender inequality consideration look like?

A: It’s pretty evident. Women have their defined roles, typically as housewives who clean and cook and raise the kids, while men go to farm and spend their free time sitting with their friends. This is a big generalization and is especially true in smaller towns and villages, and probably less so in the city. Here, in a Muslim village, almost every man has multiple wives, and they are responsible for the care of their household. Even in the village there are exceptions, women who work in the clinic or who sell things on the roadside. There are some men who are willing to help their wives cook or clean. Occasionally I am touched by the sight of a dad playing with his son or daughter.

“Happiness is different from pleasure. Happiness has something to do with struggling and enduring and accomplishing”.

Q: What is the most fascinating market facilitation strategy that you have been exposed to? Why is it interesting? (Meaghan).

A: Eehhhmm… This is hard to answer. Great Q, Meaghan, and I wish I had a great answer for you! My placement is not as explicit of a “market facilitation” project as some of the other JFs’. Even still, principles of creating sustainable business models and ensuring that all actors have enough incentives to do their work have come up a lot. What I have found most interesting is how market facilitation is not the be-all-end-all that I anticipated. My placement has a lot of aspects of Agricultural Extension (AgEx), and so considering farmers’ behaviour change and inspiration for field officers to do their work has also come up. A while ago now, our team did a few days of design and brainstorm for the Community Animal Health Worker (CAHW) program. Some of the solutions were market-oriented: create a new model where there are “Community Organizers” to help expand the coverage, or connect to input dealers to ensure a sustainable supply chain. But other cool solutions had nothing to do with markets and yet were important to try out. For example, we spent some time designing a prototype of a picture book to use for community meetings, to teach farmers about preventative practices. We are also planning a simulation game to teach how these practices can improve the productivity of your animals. I identified lack of vision as a problem in the project, and so we used one of the training sessions to inspire the CAHW of the importance of their work. These things are not market facilitation, and yet necessary to achieve CHIPS’ goals of having healthy animals across the district. Perhaps that’s why EWB is not just the AVC team, and we have AgEx and GaRI and WatSan and BDS…


One response to “Q&A with the McMaster Chapter

  1. Dear Naomi! It was wonderful to read so deep description of you work and life over there. I also remember your sistersandwish from my visit a couple of years ago. Thank you so much for the letter Mummi

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