Working_in_Ghana_with_ MOFA

Monday, June 12, 2006

Back in Bole: The Work Begins (Monday May 5th )

Being back in Bole feels great. Some of the children here have remembered my name now; I am not just “Kubrini, How are you? I am Fine…Thankyou”, they now yell “Sister Gigi!!!” from across the fields. That is much better.
Since my return I have learnt many new things about Bole, one very important detail; highly related to this blog entry, is that there is internet access 5 minutes away from my AGRIC office (MoFA). I will be heading over this evening to see if I can make plans to use it on a regular basis.
This weekend I took out all of my hair twists…yes, I know, I practically just got them in…I lasted two weeks before the itching and the heat got the best of me. My head feels so much lighter and after removing a handful of my own hair the itching has finished…AHHHHH!!!
This week was very productive. I started preparing for the District Food Security Network (DFSN). I conducted around 5 interviews and hope to have at least 3 or 4 more completed by the time I go to Mandarai (Village I will be staying in for around 5 days), on Wednesday. The DFSN is aimed at finding as many stakeholders as possible who are working towards food security in the district, interviewing them and creating a profile of their work. Since the Bole district does not have many NGO’s working in its area, we must try to find other stakeholders interested in collaboration with MoFA, the District Assembly and other important members who aim at sharing ideas, information and resources in order to be more efficient with all assets in order to better achieve food security. EWB will be funding the first four meetings (two of which I will be present for). I have a lot of work ahead of me this week and the weeks to come.
This past Friday I attended my first staff meeting. It turns out that I have met most of the AEA’s…on and off since I first arrived in Bole, however it was great to have them all together for the meeting. I aimed at trying to use some techniques to make the meeting more time efficient. I suggested coming up with some ground rules for the meetings…only one person can speak at a time…interruptions like phone calls will cost you 10, 000 cedis (~1.5$ Can)…a TroTro Station…The director and I came up with an agenda with time limits; I was the time keeper this past meeting, next meeting someone else shall keep watch on the time. Since MoFA has changed their organogram (staff structure) we decided to split the staff up into groups to brainstorm the best ideas for how the AEA’s should best report according to the new organogram. I think the group discussions were quit successful.
Apart from all the suggestions, there is one important suggestion that I failed to make: getting the group to sit in a circle or horseshoe. I now take it for granted how in most meetings I attend with EWB and in Canada we automatically sit in a circular formation as to make communication between all colleagues fluid. Sitting in rows at a meeting was extremely difficult for me…next time we hope to try out this suggestion. Change does not occur over night and maybe it is best to introduce one idea at a time as to not bombard the staff with all the suggestions all at once.
At the end of our meeting we discussed dates when we will hold the AEA training workshops. The AEA’s decided that it would be best to have the workshops two days in a row, as to cut down on the amount of travel time and havoc the bad roads reap on motorbikes. This will be lots of work for me…I hope to prepare everything well in advance as to have the most successful training workshops possible.
This past weekend I attended the Catholic Church. There were far more people attending this Church than the Methodist Church I attended two weeks ago. The music was great; the TamTams definitely made the music most enjoyable. I have returned back to Bole with a Jimbaye drum, I hope to learn from Sister Allison, my past roomie, how to drum. She has taught me a little, however I have much to learn.
One of the other EWB volunteers working in the East, Jeff, has called me about meeting with some of the MoFA group to go visit MOLE National Park. I am looking forward to the attraction as well as meeting up with some of the friends I have become close with during this whole internship experience. Going to Mole will be a treat after being on the farm for a few days. I am looking forward to leaving my comfort zone in search for a new learning experience. My only wish is to not get sick, so far so good.
I can not believe it has been a month since arriving in Ghana; time fly’s by. I am looking forward to the rest of my stay here. There will be lots of hard work, many great meals, many warm days, many rainy days and above all, much to learn.
I send out my love…and hope to hear from some of you soon…


Sister Robin (Long term EWB volunteer who put the MoFA Junior Fellow project together), has just left after visiting Bole for 24 hours. She looked through some of the work I have been doing and has been most helpful at guiding me through some of my challenges.
The District Food Security Network (DFSN) is where I have been focusing my energy lately: it seems that the work is coming together well. Since I will be gone for five days, it will put a halt on my work, therefore when I get back I will have to focus on working hard with the Director and Gabby in putting together the first meeting for the DFSN.

Sister Robin made me feel much more comfortable and feel less guilty for having such a great home stay as well as such a “superstar” District to work with. Lindsay (McGill President 2005-2006) has always been a mentor whether she knew it or not; she also makes me realize that my comfort level helps me accomplish more…I believe she is right! Thank-you both for your words of wisdom and encouragement!

It seems that when ever someone from EWB visits me they fill me with more motivation and excitement. They are catalysts that make my job run that much smoother! When they leave, I feel as thought there presence was merely a dream…

Back to work…I must tie up loose ends before my farming experience in the village.


Where I stayed…
I spent 5 days and 4 nights in Mandari, a village located around 20 minutes away from Bole, off of a long dirt road. Mandari both has traditional housing; made from mud and clay finished with beautiful native designs, otherwise the housing was made from cement with tin roofs. There are 4 boreholes in Mandari; one which does not work because it is old and does not reach the water table anymore, the one directly beside the broken bore hole has very hard water (it is very salty), the third one has less salty water (the one I used to fill my water bottle) and the last one I did not see nor taste the water.

Mandari has two chiefs, one whom is a Ganja chief. The village people go to the chief when there is an argument or quarrel that needs settling; the chief tries to settle the argument, otherwise he guides those in strife to the proper authorities. Both the chiefs live in the village centre. The Ganja chief (was the only chief I had the pleasure of meeting) “hung” out at the store in town. When first greeting the chief I had to remove my sandals and kneel before him. He was a very cool man, he spoke excellent English and was extremely friendly.

Mandari has a daily market, which consists of around 3 or 4 booths. The merchants are mainly women. They mostly sell spices, as well they may have fish, eggs or nuts to sell in addition to one person who may be selling street food. There are no fruits being sold in Mandari; one would be lucky to arrive in Mandari when mango’s are in season otherwise if you shake a shea nut tree you may be lucky to have a few fruit fall down in order to eat the sparse flesh that surrounds the large nut.

The women of Mandari are well known for the Shea nut collecting and processing. So far they manually process the Shea, however there are some NGO’s in the area preparing Shea nut processing centres for the women.

The village is picturesque with its miniature storage huts, native housing with unique engravings and the skyline is silhouetted with hills afar separating Ghana from Cote D’Ivoire. The land is green, lush and fertile.

Across the road from where I was staying was the primary school. Before school the children line up, decide which song to sing and march rhythmically while entering their classrooms; their lyrics are about how the children march on the land, the sea, the air. The singing and drumming are my favourite parts of social interaction in Ghana and it was refreshing to be in a place where, due to the lack of electricity, the music that was played was that of the people

Who I stayed with…
I stayed with a farmer named Moses. Moses is a father of five (youngest being 9 months and the oldest being 11 years) and is married to a woman named Helen. Helen works in Tuna (another small town located further than Bole). Helen has the children stay with her in Tuna, therefore it was myself and Moses that stayed in his two room housing. Moses’ Mother stays in the room next door. Moses’ mother is constantly processing spices and groundnuts. Two students from Wa University of Development Studies were staying in Moses extra room.

There is no electricity in Mandari and there is also no running water. They harvest rain water for bathing and drinking. Otherwise the water is fetched from the local borehole (the closest one to the house is more salty than the other borehole). I noticed while washing my clothes that the harvested water that is consumed (as is) has little worms swimming in it. Stagnant water, regardless of how often it is topped up, has many different varieties of life. I am unsure how clean the rain water is let alone how clean the roof (on which animals tend to climb upon),as the means of harvesting, is.

As for Moses; he is the innovative farmer in the community. He has around 15 acres of land. His largest crop is maize of which he grows two varieties of which last year he harvested around 8000kg. Moses also strategically grows yams of which grow on a field where the forest has been burned down; to allow for the roots of the native trees to be inhibited from competing with the crop for water. Moses trusts the AEA’s and follow their advice by hiring labour and paying them for planting 100 mounds over 1 acre of land. Each mound will yield one yam…you do the math. Moses also began cashew farming in 1997. He intercrops with his cashew trees when the plants are young. He also makes sure that his trees are well pruned in order to allow for proper growth, leading to optimal and quality yields. He prunes his trees with a machete like tool called a cutlass. This type of pruning is extremely energy intensive. I pruned trees for around half an hour: after sweating excessively and removing my gloves to drink some water I was displeased to see that I had wriped open two large wounds on my hand…I have completely skipped the blister stage and have jumped straight to the stage of open wounds.

Farming is labour intensive and extremely tiring.

In addition to all of the crops mentioned above Moses also plants sorghum, of which I had been very helpful and successful at. He does not space using any special tool, he basically makes marks in the ground with a large stick where I (and twenty of his school children) planted three seeds covered in poison (to detour the birds from eating the seeds) and pressed the soil over the seeds with our feet. He wanted to plant quickly, therefore he did not plant as efficiently as he would have liked to.

Moses is also one of the 10 first entrepreneurs in Apiculture or bee farming in the district. He has yet to harvest any honey. He has 10 beehives and protective gear. Most of the hives are now inhabited. The rainy season is a time for the bees to be busy making the honey and reproducing: he will only harvest around January or February. He has many plans for his Apiary: to sell the honey and to sell the wax for candles. He hopes to constantly be enlarging his bee farm to one day sell internationally.

In addition to all this Moses also teaches at the primary school. The class consists of males (60%) and females (40%), who range in age from around 7 to 15. Some students understand and speak English better than others. The class size was around 60 students. There were not enough English reading books for all the children and so they had to share. Regardless, the desks were overcrowded therefore there would not have been enough table space for all the students to have their own book.

Moses is himself still in school. He is doing his JSS (Junior Secondary School), which I could assimilate to junior high in Canada. He attends classes during the summers, and a program that normally takes around 3 years to complete will take him around 4-5 years to finish.

Although Moses does not even have his JSS he is still teaching the children at primary school, a job that is usually filled by a person who has finished their (SS) Secondary School (like high school) or senior secondary (somewhat like college in Canada).

With that being said, the teachers are not as qualified as they could be. Observing the class I noticed many things: the teacher scolds the children for them not correctly reading a sentence (though it is him who is mistaken), the teacher makes the task at hand very confusing for the students, the class lectures are not efficiently planned well, some students do not understand English and there is a lack of light in the classroom. These are just some observations, I am sure I can come up with a better list.

After shadowing Moses for the day I would come home to help the women with their daily routine. The women who live behind Moses are his sisters and their children. I was lucky because his niece could speak English. She helped me communicate with the family.

With the women I helped sift through the rice that would be cooked and sold with beans and pepe (chilli pepper paste) at the market. The rice has many impurities in it that are hard to see, but need to be removed…like rocks or seeds. I would help the women peel cassava that would later be dried and processed. I would help prepare the variety of stews that would be served with the TZ (at night time) or TB or FuFu (at lunch time).

I tried to help sift the floor for the TZ, but was laughed at because my whole body would shake as my hands tossed the sieve back and forth. I tried stirring the TZ, but did not last too long either…I suppose it may take some time to champion the art of TZ stirring. I helped to peel the Ceedublee (yam), that would be boiled, then pounded into FuFu. I had around 4 pounds at the FuFu before Moses’ sister took the pestle/pounder away from me while giggling at my lack of technique in FuFu pounding. Regardless, I made the effort and satisfied my hunger with their staple food.

Basically I would help the women prepare the food and clean the dishes. If I returned from my daily activities with Moses early then I could help the women prepare for their livelihoods. Their livelihoods are making and selling rice, making taffy out of cow’s milk and sugar, or trading livelihood (processing of agricultural outputs into ingredients that can be used for food preparation).

Farmer’s Livelihood…One day in the life of Moses…
Moses is an extremely busy man. He wakes up in the morning around 5:30am, he has his “tea” (Milo: hot chocolate) with bread. He prepares for his school lessons and goes to teach from around 8am until around 1pm or 1:30pm. After school he has lunch that has been prepared for by the women and then he goes to his fields to farm.

As a teachers incentive he can get his school children out of school to help him with some of the labour needed on the farm; experience in the eyes of those in the community.
Moses farms on his Saturdays and on Sundays he teaches the Sunday school at 9am and attends the Church assembly from 10am-noon. He also returns back to the church at night time for the evening sermon.

Moses is motivated and takes risks. He trusts the information that Charles brings to him (AEA from MoFA), and also asks many things of Charles in order to better his farm outputs and make his job more efficient.

Farmer interviews…
Moses has been farming all his life. His father taught him how to farm and he is extremely greatful. He has 15 acres of land. He has many different crops, but he mainly relies on Maize. Moses does most of the work on the farm, otherwise he hires labour or gets the school children to help him. Most of the labour is manuel, however when chemicals are available and affordable he will use them if they will be efficient with his time and are appropriate. Sometimes he will rent a tractor in areas where the tractor can access the land. He stores his yields inside his house in large bags. He gives 10% of his yield to the church (who feeds the poor and feeds the church staff), he gives some of the yield to his family and then he sells some of his yield at harvest time, but also saves some of his yield to sell later when the prices will rise.

The largest problem with farming is the maintenance and planning of the farm year. With maintenance it is making sure there are no weeds, pruning, stabilizing the plants on sticks (as to not touch the ground: yams). This requires lots of labour and or outputs which are not always readily available.

Farm planning: when the farmer has not forethought what he will do with his land then he may not efficiently produce as much as he is capable of.

AEA’s are sometimes found to only go visit the farmers that serve them Pito, and some farmers consider this inefficient or bias. AEA’s are not thought to go out to monitor all of the farmers’ fields (mainly due to lack of AEA’s as well as lack of fuel).

Family interviews…
Moses believes that electricity is what the village needs in order to develop. He says that the internet will open the world to the village. He also believes that the young people will not stay in Mandari because there is currently no electricity. He believes that the electricity will entice more youth to stay in Mandari. He has been told that the electricity brings many problems: fires that deplete all the assets of the victom. He believes that the benefits far outweigh the cons.

Apart from interviewing Moses, there were not many people I could interview due to the language barrier. I observed many things as well as had the opportunity to speak with Moses niece about life in the village.

The women seemed very content with their lives: possibly I was lead to believe this through a false representation created by my mere Kubruni presence.

Although, when asking Moses niece:

How is life? She said it was good. She was happy and her family was happy. They had food to eat, especially since Ceedublee was introduced to the community nearly a decade ago. The Ceedublee was imported from Cote D’Ivoire, and is part of the yam family. The name of the yam variety is unknown, however the man who imported it was named Ceedublee, therefore that is what they call the yam.

Those in the community who do not live a good life are those who are lazy she says. They do not work or farm. They steal from others to eat, and they go hungry because they do not work.

She sleeps in the same room as her mother, her auntie and four other children who are part of the extended family. They only have one bed, so some of the children sleep on the floor, on matts I was told.

Her uncle is who helps her and her mother when they need it. Her father passed when she was very young. Her uncle will be the one who helps her pay for SS (~500,000 cedis: where around 7,000 cedis is ~$1 Can).

The children fetch the water from the borehole situated around a 7 minute walk away from their house.

Most of Moses’ extended family are Muslim, although Moses is Pentecost. I was told that there are 3 main religions in the village: Muslim, Christian and Pagans. The Pagans are mainly the traditional religion.

As for medical treatment or nurse stations, Moses has told me that there is one nurse station in Mandari, meanwhile his niece was unaware that any medical services where available. They both strongly suggested going to Bole for any medical advice or treatment.

Spare time…
The female children weeded for money on their spare time. If they were not helping their mothers with daily chores they could be found playing what I know as “Hacky sack”, using a ball of leaves that they had tied together. They were quit good at bouncing the concoction with their legs using many different manoeuvres. It was interesting and fun to watch, especially because they would sing songs while playing.

Since the World Cup has begun, Ghana is consumed with watching Football games/soccer games. Ghana, Black Stars, has yet to play. Despite not having electricity, the Football tournament is watched on a black and white TV through the power of a car battery. Brother Moses can be found watching the game when he has finished farming and preparing his lessons for school.

Development in Mandari…
Students from the University of Development Studies in Wa were staying with Moses, as I had mentioned above. They are interested in getting Mandari attached to Bole’s electricity grid. They proposed there idea while I was staying in Mandari, and the proposal was accepted. However they are waiting for final approvals and funding which will only be found out at the end of summer. I hope that this village will get there electricity. They would benefit greatly, as would any community who acquires electricity.

Special Events…
The Friday that I was in Mandari, unfortunately a Muslim woman had passed from what was thought to be native fertility drugs. Her funeral was reason for the community to come to a stand still. The farmers could not farm.

The funeral consisted of prayers and a burial. The community wanted me to take pictures so that I could send them back from Canada. It was a sad day, sorrow and sobs of mourning filled the air. The woman who had died had left behind some small, young children, which makes me the most uneasy.

The funeral will persist for 12 days: on the 3rd, 7th and 12th day there will be more prayers for the deceist.

Another event which I was lucky to have attended was the HIV/AIDS awareness animation presented by Papa Dev, the NGO based out of Bole. They showed an HIV/AIDS awareness video with at TV powered by a portable generator. They carried the equipment on the back of two motor bikes. The presentation that was aimed at taking 45 minutes ended up taking around 2 hours. The first time they played the video none of the children could hear audio because of those speaking in the room as well as those children making noise outside.

The HIV/AIDS awareness video was very vague. It did not describe what AIDS was; it basically told girls not to accept gifts from men, and to abstain from sex. The animator tried to summarize the film by asking what the children had learnt. No one responded. He basically said that you can contract AIDS through sex. He did not even bring up the idea of the use of non-sterilized needles used in medical offices. I found the whole awareness inefficient, vague and lacking many great points.

Of course, there are pests everywhere…here I found them to be the worms in the harvested water. They may not be harmful while swimming in the water, but once ingested, who knows.

Also, sand flies were very prominent. They are like tiny flies that bite. They leave red marks once they have quenched their thirst. They are not itchy, thank goodness!

The mosquitoes in Mandari are sparse, or otherwise they were easily deterred by the bug spray. Regardless, I did not find them as much a pest as I do in Bole.

Uhhh, huhhggg Moments…Out of my comfort zone…Learning Opportunities…

The most prominent for me was the drinking/bathing water. Moses, while out on his field drank water from a tub of water sitting out on his field. When he poured it to drink it I was drawn back. The water was yellow and had filled with sediment. I suppose when you are thirsty you will drink anything!

The water in the collection basin at home had little worms in it. Again, the household would drink the water without batting an eye at the quality of the water. What were they to do with the water anyway…other than boil it.

When I first arrived I insisted that I bathe in the cold water, but after seeing the worms I had asked to boil some water (that would cool), so that my mind would be at ease. The warm bathe was not as satisfying as the cool one, but it sure made me less concerned about the state of my health.

My basic knowledge. When Moses was teaching the class his topic was recording and graphing. He was measuring the height of the students…4 ft 6 inches…4 ft 10 inches…4 ft 16 inches???...4 ft56 inches???...I asked the boy sitting next to me how many inches there were in a foot…he had no idea. There was a curfufle cascading from my inquiry which lead to Moses asking me what I had asked him. Moses’ response was that there were 30 inches in one foot. I did not want to correct him in the middle of class. He finally realized his mistake, but failed to inform the students…I did not want to embarrass him in front of his class. While his students were using his data to create graphs he was constantly changing the data as he was trying to learn how to calculate the proper heights.

The role of women in the society. I felt like a slave to the man. WOW, it sure made me appreciate the respect the men I have grown up around have shown for women! I am so grateful to not feel subordinate to the men in Canada.

The hard working, obedient children. The extended family had around 4 young girls who helped with the daily chores. They never whined to their mother about having to do it, and they never “talked back” or disrespected their elders. It was beautiful and made me realized how spoiled most of the children I know, and how spoiled I was while growing up.

Religion. I was a target for the missionary preaching’s of Moses, who insisted on lecturing me on the bible and on the Pentecost religion. I don’t know why this makes me sick to my stomach…but once again I had to hold my tongue as he proudly lectured me on why I should follow him and his faith. At one point I saw anger in his eyes, and it frightens me to think how religion for some brings such negative feelings; regret, fear, resentment or shame. On the other hand, I am contented by how religion can conform a community; decreasing the havoc that could be a result of lack of fear or shame for ones action’s.

How I can learn from Moses and how Moses can learn from me:

Moses taught me:
That bee sting venom can help fight off malaria
How to prune a cashew tree
How to sow sorghum
What colours to not wear while bee farming (red and black)

I taught Moses:
Some Chemistry: Basic Chem/Organic Chem (JSS course)
How many inches in a foot

Overall, I am grateful for my “unique” experience in Mandari. I really appreciate many things I took for granted in Bole. I have skimmed the surface when coming into contact with poverty; however I managed to get a small taste of rural life in Ghana’s Northern region. I would hope that more people from Canada could have this experience, or one as similar, as to be more appreciative of the things we take for granted. I hope that I will never forget this experience and that I can carry forward this lesson in the future so as to have a better understanding of the work that the AEA’s do (having a greater impact with MoFA), so I can better my life and forever use this knowledge when making decisions during the course of my career.

Love, peace and happiness to all of you who were interested enough to read till the is those of you who I love dearly...


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