Body Space

EWB has a cool way of asking “how are you doing?” that they call “head space, heart space, and body space”. Pretty self-explanatory, I think  – head space if how you are doing intellectually/mentally, heart space is how you are doing emotionally, and body space, physically. I would write about all three, and may do so eventually, but today my “body space” is by far the most interesting.

Most notable currently is the burning sensation in my knees. It seems unlikely that my knees would be burnt, seeing as I don’t wear anything in Ghana that shows my knees. However, I went to farm with the ladies today, so rules that like don’t count, and I figured I would use the opportunity to tan more than just my lower leg. Result – burnt knees. Bad idea.

My legs are quite sore, but that is for a far better reason. Yesterday I had my first training run! I was up before 5am and in my running shoes by 5:30, running a total of 12km up and downhill. I am preparing for a half-marathon in October, the Run To End Poverty (happens with the Toronto Scotiabank marathon). But the point is, I am clearly out of shape and now my legs hurt.

I cannot fail to mention the taste in my mouth, which I think can count in “body space”. I kindly was given some fresh milk from a friend yesterday, which I forgot to drink until today. It was boiled just now to ensure it was safe, but somehow with having been boiled twice and left to sit for far too long, the milk curdled and turned sour. I still drank an unnecessary amount of it, leaving a bile-like taste in my mouth even now that I have brushed my teeth.

My arms are a little tired, maybe from having carried my laundry quite far yesterday. It hasn’t rained in over a week so we don’t have much water at home. Saadah decided to walk to the roadside and use the water flowing there, and I happily accompanied her. I am still not skilled at carrying things on my head, however, so carrying buckets with wet clothing is a struggle for my weak arms.

My hair is wet because I just had my (3rd last! Ah!) bucket bath under the stars.

My skin is darker than it was this morning, and now you can tell which part is tan, whereas earlier I couldn’t be sure. Spending a day at farm leaves you coated in a layer of dirt.

I have been doing better about not itching my mosquito bites/picking my scabs, but even still there are scars or wounds spotting my arms and legs. (Mom, don’t worry, I’m still healthy).

My nose is pink and peeling a little bit.

My fingernails have some orange residue on them from when I painted my hands with zabla (think henna) at the wedding.

You may think that this sounds like a pitiful state of physical being, but it’s actually quite wonderful. It’s nice to feel physically exhausted and to use my body to do work. It’s humbling to know that little mosquitoes and rays of sun can overpower me. It’s great that I get orange nails and leg scars to serve as souvenirs when I get home. I know when I am showering with running water, using a laundry machine, and buying peanuts from the story rather than harvesting them myself, I will wish I was back in this body space.

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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)

A:

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…

 

Doin’ it for Dorothy or Jesus? Thoughts from a Christian in EWB

Last Friday, I was sitting on a bench with some ladies, waiting for hours for my bus to arrive so I can journey to the Volta region. I decided to stretch my legs and stroll around the area, and whilst doing discovered a very interesting tree. It was a beautiful green-leaved mango tree from far, but upon closer inspection, the leaves were all black! A dark substance, not unlike soot, covered all the leaves I could see.

 

Beautiful mango tree

This news is shocking to some, but by now I have learned to expect it. You see, my work is in the leaf-beautification industry. But perhaps I am getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you my story.

I am a butterfly. I have not always been – I spent most of my life as a caterpillar, on the ground and oblivious to the black soot nature of leaves. I had seen the trees from my perspective, and they looked just fine. I didn’t give them much thought, to be honest. I never stopped to consider who made them or why they were the way they were.

Who knew such a pretty tree would have soot-covered leaves?

Then, one day, the Landscape Designer found me. (Who knew such a man even existed!) He told me about how he planned the entire garden, and put each tree in its place. He told me who I was – a caterpillar of the garden – but that it was time to transform into a butterfly. And so I spun a cocoon and emerged with great wings.

The Designer described his sorrow over the black soot, which he explained to me was from motos and trucks who drive past with their exhausts. What made him really sad was that some poor caterpillars were eating those leaves and getting sick because of it. He shared crazy news – that the ones driving these vehicles were in fact caterpillars themselves! These were the mischievous ones. But in fact, all caterpillars are a little mischievous, sometimes without knowing it. Before making my cocoon I myself had been wearing soot-emitting shoes! I was completely unaware.

He informed me that now since I had become a butterfly, I was an Assistant Gardener (how privileged I am to assist this great Designer!) and that it was now my duty to help care for the garden. “We must restore the leaves to the fullness of their lush, green beauty”, he would tell me, “and take care of those dear caterpillars of mine who are getting sick”.

As a young butterfly, I was just learning how to use my wings and what it meant to help garden. I was sad when I looked at the leaves, so I would just flutter to them and begin clearing some soot. It was hard work! But by the end of the day, me and the other butterflies doing this would look at the tree and cry because you could not notice any difference at all.

With the help of some friends, I came to understand that to fully restore the trees, the underlying problems must be dealt with. As an Assistant Gardener, I should be addressing the trucks and motos! I was so happy to see that there were some marvellous caterpillars that had already thought about this issue. They were spending their time trying to convert the exhaust fumes into a safe substance that wouldn’t harm the trees. Others were crawling on the windows to catch the attention of truck-driving caterpillars. These caterpillars didn’t even have their wings yet and already they were passionate about gardening work! I quickly became friends with them and worked with them to best improve the state of our garden.

Check out my cool new wings!

I love gardening. It is a joy to get to share in the cool things the Designer has made, and help him to make his garden as beautiful as it is intended to be. I get to help mischievous caterpillars see the errors of their ways, and share with the marvellous caterpillars what it means to be an Assistant Gardener of the Landscape Designer. Sometimes I get discouraged that I am not cleaning well enough or influencing enough moto-drivers. But the more I get to sit and discuss with the Designer, the more I have confidence.

You see, the Landscape Designer has a brilliant plan. He is often off drawing up sketches of what the Final Garden will be, once all the restoring work is done. “Some of the soot is very hard to get off”, he tells me, “but one day soon I will send a powerful rainstorm to wash the soot away and give new life to dying leaves. I will even add blossoming flowers. In the meantime, dear butterfly, continue your work. All the gardening you do is an important part of the process. Though I have plans to complete the beautification process, the contributions you make are not in vain”.

He even told me that my very existence was a part of the beautification! “As a butterfly, you make the garden prettier with those colourful wings of yours”. The Landscape Designer longs for more Assistant Gardeners – anyone who wants wings is welcome to spin his cocoon and get to know the man behind the garden.  

And so that is my story. I once was a small caterpillar, and now I am a growing butterfly. I am passionate about gardening, like other butterflies and some caterpillars around me. And we are working together to restore the garden, addressing the sources of exhaust and soot in the process.

Unity is Strength

                Hawa, Saadah, and I finished eating our dinner of TZ and meat soup. Saadah rose to start washing dishes, and I offered to help her rinse and dry. We washed in unison, forming an effective assembly line. Hawa soon joined us, taking the start of the line as the pot-scrubber. “We are working communal”, Saadah pointed out, and it made the whole process a lot more enjoyable.

                I remember in my predeparture training in Toronto having a session about mindsets and worldviews. We spoke about how some cultures are individualistic, while others are communal. It was pretty obvious that Canadian and other Western cultures were very individualistic, and we were told to expect to find much more communal ways of thinking during our placements.

                I have seen this community-focused thinking on many different occasions over my time in Ghana. It is evident in the ways families operate and children are raised, the way meals are eaten, and the way people prioritize conversations and people over work and productivity. One obvious example of this mindset in action is the concept of “communal labour”. Around this time of year, everyone has lots of work to get done on their farm – whether weeding, planting, or harvesting. Rather than spending weeks trying to accomplish it on your own, or even hiring others to do it for you, farmers will simply call their “communal labour”. They let their family, friends, and neighbours know which day it is, and dozens of people will set aside that day to come help you with your farm, finishing the entirety of the work in one day. The kicker is that it is free! The farm owner simply provides lunch.

                However, it is expected that when each of those other farmers calls their “communal labour”, you will go to assist them. The result is two to four weeks of back-to-back communal labours, reaching to almost every farmer in town. Everyone’s work gets completed, but in a manner which exemplifies values of generosity, friendship, and community. I think it’s quite the brilliant system.

                The wives and I finished the dishes in no time, and I pointed out how fast it felt. “Unity is strength”, Saadah responded, “isn’t that so?”. “Yes, it is so”, I answered, amazed at this deep mindset of Ghanaians and wishing there was more of it back home.

 

Saadah and I on her wedding day!

 

My Egg & Bread Friends

I had just arrived back from an amazing three days at Mole National Park. All of us JFs, along with some African Program Staff (APS) had taken a tro-tro to the beautiful site to recharge, have fun, share learnings, reflect, plan, and have some awesome discussions. There were elephants, baboons, and warthogs. There was “white people food”, and I ate plenty of vegetables. There was even a swimming pool. It was strange for all of us, going for deep immersion into Ghanaian culture to a setting where we felt like such tourists, but it was a wonderful visit nonetheless.

We were back in Tamale, where we had gathered with the rest of EWBers in Ghana for the “Team Ghana Retreat”. I jolted awake at 6:15am, not sure why my body would not let me sleep. I decided to take the opportunity to go for a walk and have a nice, slow chance to wake up.

It was nice to be on the familiar roads, using simple greetings as I passed others. I decided to stop at the stall selling Egg & Bread, a Ghanaian breakfast classic.

The women working there greeted me, and we had as much of a conversation as I could offer in my broken Dagbani.  They laughed as I struggled to ask how their work was going, and how their children were, and finally I decided to just sit down and read. Reading my bible and drinking tea is my favourite morning routine in Canada, and it was nice to have the chance to do it in a beautiful Ghanaian context, with these friendly women providing the “tea” (in this case, Milo, which is still called tea so it counts).  I told them I was going for a walk, but that I would “go and come”, saying hello to them as I returned after my lovely walk along Tamale streets.

A few mornings later, I was back at the Egg & Bread, and delighted to see my favourite ladies working there. There were too many of us Canadians to keep track of, so I volunteered to be on “help with orders” duty. This meant getting to stand with my favourite women, helping stir some drinks, remind them of orders, and laugh along with them as they taught me to say “Zayini, Dabai, Dabaata, Dabaanahi, Dabaanu” (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) so that I could communicate “Dabaata Laam” (3 eggs) and “Panu, 30 peswas” (the quantity of bread). After all the time I had had with Canadian friends, it was refreshing to be around such lovely Ghanaians and just appreciate their company.

Working happily together, running to the corner store when they ran out of Nescafe, and patiently serving our large team who was in a rush to pay and return, I just watched and marvelled at these women. The fact that the smiles on their faces could be so large despite such mundane affairs for them gave me so much joy, and I truly consider my experience richer because of meeting them.

We never even exchanged names, but I consider them great friends.

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p.s. A big shout out to my favourite lady of all – my mom! Happy Birthday, mom!

The Tro-Tro Ride

It’s amazing what you get when you put a bunch of EWBers in one place.

The setting was a tro-tro ride – more than five hours on poorly-paved roads, squished into a vehicle that would never hold as many people in Canada. I was still recuperating from a night of two-hours of sleep from a few days prior, and yet I boarded the tro with nervous excitement for our trip ahead.

What an amazing five hours! I would turn to my left and have an amazing discussion with Gaelan about her time learning about traditional authority in villages (chieftancy) compared with Government authority (District Assemblies, etc). I listened as she would passionately recount her plans to initiate a museum in her community to acknowledge and celebrate the region’s rich history. Guillaume would pop his head from behind, and along with Ryan would engage in a conversation about the emotional experience of being a JF so far – the integration, the challenges at work, the thoughts in our minds about EWB’s Vision.

I would pause the sweet conversation to nap, lulled by the vibrant buzz of energetic voices, content knowing I was surrounded by an amazing group of friends.

I later awoke and spoke with Binnu, one of EWB’s long-term volunteers. The conversation started about the idea of comfort zones. Did you have to be outside of your “comfort zone” to be in a “learning zone?” Is it possible to still grow and challenge yourself while not necessarily feeling uncomfortable? In what ways was I being challenged already? How did I see myself growing? To what extent should we push ourselves to grow in areas of weakness, and at what stage ought we to focus on the strengths of our personalities and be content with not being 100% in every area? What rich discussion!

We arrived at our destination hungry for lunch, anxious to see elephants, and buzzing with excitement from the energy of the ride up. 

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Education in Ghana

I have been blessed to have made another “Siliminga” friend the past few weeks. Alex came to stay with us in Nakpayili for just over two weeks. Alex is studying to be a teacher, and thus spent his time at the local Primary school observing how school works here and getting to teach himself and inspire the teachers with some (more creative and engaging) teaching methods. Alex kindly wrote this post for me, sharing his impressions on the Ghanaian education system.

Access to Education

On my first visit to the local Ghanaian school I was immediately impressed with the amount of children attending primary school from the local area. The lack of access to a good education for many children is a widely known global problem with estimates suggesting that over 120 million young children worldwide do not have the opportunity for a decent primary education. As far as I can tell, Ghana is at least making an attempt at minimising this problem, though there is still a lot of work to be done. In this area of the country certainly, most major villages have a primary school and smaller communities tend to be just a few kilometres away from a school. However, through speaking to a variety of people I have been informed that this is not the case nationwide with many communities having little or no access to any education at all. The Government still has a lot of work to do in order to establish this wide access to education, but it seems to be walking slowly on the right path at least.

Lack of Resources

The Ghanaian education system however, has a wide range of other problems that need to be addressed. I can only talk from the perspective of a narrow range of rural schools of which I have experienced or had discussions about, and have had been told differing information from different people, but schools seem to have a serious lacking of teaching resources/provisions. I have been told by some that the Government has just told schools to improvise for their teaching materials; on the other hand I have been told by others that schools are granted a monthly capitation which they should use to spend on resources and school facilities, etc. Either way, from what I have actually observed in school there is little-to-no decent learning materials; textbooks are minimal (in a class of over 40 students, there may be 10-15 textbooks meaning that up to 4 children could be sharing one textbook – that is old and ripped – to study from); and exercise books and pencils seem to be funded individually by students (although last year a Government initiative was meant to have provided every pupil with one exercise book per subject).  Although primary school is free in Ghana, the need to fund some equipment, exam fees, etc. along with considerable rates of poverty, many families cannot afford to send their children to school well equipped (or even at all in some cases) and this consequently challenges children’s potential development thus creating a large percentage of failing students and a diminished number proceeding to a higher level of education.  Moreover, learning and teaching is further diminished by the lack of educational provisions. In Nakpayili primary school for example, the school (with over 500 students) owns just one ruler which is formed from a stick about 1 metre long with the numbers 1-18 written on it with unequal intervals, seeming to bare no relevance. All of the tiny amount of resources the school holds have been improvised and created in similar ways. It is extremely challenging to try and teach and learn effectively in these sorts of conditions.

Teaching Methods

Another issue that rose to my attention was the teaching methods used by the teachers within class. The methods would seem unorthodox or extremely old fashioned in the eyes of ‘Western’ society. In many ways it is good for different cultures to have their own edge to the delivery of education,  and western methods should not be imposed on the rest of the world as the correct way as this is completely untrue,  but in my view the methods I have experienced in Ghana rely too greatly on repetition and ‘forced learning’.  The class would repeat – after the teacher’s example – a key word from a text, written on the board, many times over without understanding the meaning of the word or even the layout of the phonics within the word enabling them to read it in all contexts. Information and knowledge is always repeated again and again in order for it to get ‘drilled’ into the children’s minds. Consequently they would not understand the reasoning behind the method or information, or have any understanding of the subject/ topic in a wider context. Similarly, in mathematics children are drilled the answers to and knowledge of various sums; however their range of basic mathematical vocabulary and understanding is minimal. Furthermore, basic problem solving and reasoning skills that should form a key part of the mathematical curriculum from a young age have not been acquired by even the eldest/most advanced pupils. This could boil down to several reasons: the teaching methods used, the fact that the language medium (English) used in class is not the first or regularly spoken language of the community, the lack of routine within school, or even in some cases the children’s desire to learn when they don’t understand what benefits they will receive from it. Whatever the case is, many local teachers believe that a change of teaching methods is needed, they are just not quite sure how to implement it within the classroom as they have never known anything different from the current system. Some have mentioned that more practical and experiential learning is required, others have revealed the need to review the language system and how English is used within lessons, friendships and communities to make it a more understood educational language. All of these ideas have arrived from well educated local Ghanaians who understand the current system and the communities; and these ideas would benefit children’s development greatly.

Discipline: Caning

One of the aspects I have found most disturbing with Ghanaian education is the constant use of the cane as punishment. Its use has actually been made illegal by the Government but amongst rural schools who are not observed regularly, it is still widely known to be the main source of punishment. Although the face is avoided, all parts of the body may be caned, including occasionally the back of the head if the child is sitting down. What has troubled me even further is how children are even caned sometimes if they do not know the correct answer to the question when the teacher feels they really should. It’s a huge pressure for children to learn and recall the correct information. This punishment is not light and the children genuinely fear it, but it is traditional amongst these communities and it will not be easily subsided.

Optimism for the Future

Although there are still problems within Ghanaian education, and many further developments are required, the system genuinely does seem to be slowly moving forward on the correct path. Teaching is becoming a good career for Ghanaians with a decent salary and it is planned that by 2015 all primary and Junior-high teachers will have to be qualified to at least diploma level and senior-high to degree level. Being able to provide education for all young children in Ghana is a key target of the Government it seems, and the educational system as a whole is a significant issue that is being constantly observed and discussed amongst political parties, especially with elections imminent. If significant advancements are maintained then the distant future is beginning to look bright for Ghanaian education, but for now I would say that the students and children of this nation need as much help as possible, as do the teachers who all have high hopes for the education of this country.