Welcome to my blog about one Cuso International volunteer adventure happening in the Upper West Region of Ghana. The information and ramblings presented here are my opinions and not necessarily those of Cuso International or VSO.
In March of 1956, Ghana became the first African Nation to become a democratic free nation.March 6 is the national holiday to remember its independence.Unlike holidays in North America, here the festivities are in the mornings and focus on school children and marching. No fireworks or picnics. In every community all around the country, schools are selected to march in the Independence Day celebrations.They wear their best pressed uniforms, gloves, images of national pride and stern faces.The students practice for weeks before hand and compete for prizes and prestige.From the smallest of nursery school students to the police and army cadets, all are invited to participate.
Women move through the crowd selling water, candy, fruit balls (similar to donuts but without the hole), frozen juice, ice cream and many more treats.Due to the heat the marching starts before 8 am and is finished around 10.Early arrivals will get a coveted plastic chair under a canopy and officials have a large bandstand area on one side of the open stadium.Most of us are crowded around the perimeter being pushed from behind or if you are luck sitting on the ground at the edge of the rectangular route of the continual marches.Babies were even passed forward to sit on the laps of strangers who got the best seats in the front.
School children have the day off school so they are present by the hundreds cheering on their selected classmates as they march. A fun morning for all but I do miss the fireworks of Canada Day.
Inservice Training in the Upper West of Ghana takes on two different faces.In one kind, teachers demonstrate lessons with a small group of students from their class, usually around 16 students, for all the teachers in the division.In this model the teachers see how a teacher at a different level tackles content material in subject areas they select at the beginning of the year.In addition to the content, the teacher giving the workshop can demonstrate teaching strategies, learning planning, active student participation and evaluation techniques.In theory these should be beneficial but often fail to demonstrate new or innovative techniques or strategies.In addition, topics of interest to P5 might be little interest to P1.
I had the opportunity to conduct a staff only INSET on a broader topic that was more pedagogy but still included homemade learning resources and active learning techniques.Due to scheduling conflicts and teacher illness, only 8 of the 14 teachers were able to attend but they were involved and asked great questions.I must admit, it was not my best inservice presentation but I learned a lot about Ghanaian ways of reporting and regional supervision.Much more prescriptive than in Canada, teachers are bound by very rigid expectations about lessons that often interfere with their creative thinking and individual adaptations.This and the 60 plus pupils in every class made the dialogue in both directions very interesting.I give a more focused workshop tomorrow on Phonics which will have the teachers as the students, working with hands on materials, and the Head Teacher in the role of Circuit Supervisor evaluating me.I am expecting even more discussions and problem solving.
My first remedial teaching group of girls was at Limanyirr Primary School. They were funny 10 and 11 year olds, interested and excited to show me what they knew. They have beautiful names: Ziinatu, Nadilia, Rukaya, Muratu, Samia, Shama, Huda, Mufida, Fridous, and Asana. I will have 30 students, in 3 schools, that I will work with an hour a week for 8 weeks and then in April I will get 8 groups of 10 for about 45 minutes per week to assist with their reading literacy. I have so little time to try and make a big difference.
Ghanaian women are know for being good providers, great mircro-farmers and being the mainstay in keeping the family together. In working with these girls the Ghana Education Service hopes that there will be more women succeeding in schools, universities and in the local communities. I am glad to make a small contribution and also teach the local teachers how to reach these children.
Below are some of the students at St. Aidan's Anglican School. I share this school with an excellent teacher from the UK and will be continuing on with this school and five others in the third term when that teacher returns home at the end of her placement. I will miss her knowledge and collaborations when she leaves at the end of March.
This last picture is of Fongo Local Authority Primary at break.
The first week of class interaction is now complete.The students are generally warm, friendly and eagar to learn.Class sizes vary from 48 to 70 and the age of the pupils at P4 (grade 5 in Canada) range from 9 years old to 14 or 15.Often children who live in isolated villages do not attend school until they can come to Wa and stay with family members.
The conditions in the classes are similar.Wooden benches with attached table tops that are filled with 2 or 3 students.In the larger classes, it is often difficult to get between the rows and many have to squeeze 4 into a desk.Students usually come with pens and workbooks but they are in poor condition.The textbooks are soft cover books for each subject but are shared by each desk and often are torn, missing pages and falling apart.Despite the conditions the teachers carry on, some with a high degree of success.I observed teachers, young and old, who had great teaching skill and good methodology.The lack of hands on resources or active learning techniques made many of the lessons the same but teachers were happy learn and could not wait to have me teach a lesson or demonstrate a technique.
On the school yard, often just a patch of dirt or in best cases an area with trees, students laughed and played just like Canadian students.Many of the girls were excellent skippers and the boys and a few girls loved to play “football” or soccer to Canadians.The African Cup is on now so it is a great topic to engage the students.
Most schools have a nursery program on site and the little ones will come over to see the “mansala” or white woman.They just stand and stare at you and are thrilled to get a high 5!
Next week I begin working with groups of 10 girls in each school who have had struggles reading at this level.I look forward to the personal contact and opportunity to possibly make a difference in their lives.
I have had some interest in the foods and meals that are available in Ghana.I have not worked with any local ladies yet but I do cook a lot, usually twice a day.For breakfast, my roommates and I have ground nut paste with honey and toast.The bread is made by local ladies and you buy it at night because it is too hot for people to have ovens and many women cook outdoors.Occasionally we have hot oatmeal but that is purchase at a premium at an Afro-American store.
Lunch and dinner are more interchangeable.The local staples are rice and beans of several kinds.They use shea oil that you get in round balls and use for sauces and frying.I have a propane burner so it is like using my gas stove top at home.The beans are soaked for at least 12 hours and rinsed a few times while checking for stones and sticks in the batch.They then are boiled for several hours with a mixture of vegetables such as tomatoes and greens.The greens are rough in texture when raw but when shredded and boiled are quite like spinach.There are lots of onions, at the market, so they are added to most things with garlic and some local spice packets or Italian spices I brought from home.
Yams are also a local favourite.These yams are big, brown and rough, and when cut open, are pure white like a potato but a little bitter.My roommate, Miriyan and I have experimented with this root vegetable and have made something like mashed potatoes with powdered milk but no butter, and salt.They taste much better when refried with onions and garlic the next day.We also made yam fries.Although a little bitter, they are not too bad and the coarse salt and spiced mayonnaise.
I have also made variations of cabbage soup with the tomatoes, greens, very expensive carrots, even more expensive green peppers and some imported pasta.Ghanaians eat with their hands so they serve rice with the soup so they can pick it up.
The locals pound the yams to make a powder and then make a smooth dumpling that they ferment.The blob is not to my taste but they put it together with a stew-like mixture made from okra and vegetables.Bits of the dough is pulled off and then they dip it in the stew. This is called Banku and the unfermented ones are called Fufu.Neither of these I can stand but many volunteers have come to like these local delicacies.One "spot" or restaurant/bar I went to sold fried yam balls and they were delicious but apparently difficult to make.
You can also get fish and chicken at the cold storage houses but I have not gone to buy any yet.In the market you can get fresh butchered goat, lamb, chickens and possibly beef but I cannot go there.There are too many flies, strange smells and unsanitary conditions.The other protein we seem to use a lot is eggs.We have had refried rice, omelets, deviled eggs, boiled eggs with beans or rice and scrambled eggs.
When we have been out, my roommates and I have had some excellent dishes that we are excited about learning to cook.Fried bean balls, ground nut balls, ground nut soup, Red-Red, and others.
Late Friday night there was a terrible sound from the back yard. We dared not go out to investigate because of the lack of light but it sounded as if something was being slaughtered. To our delight, when we got up for Water Day and went out to the back yard we found a hours old kid and the mother goat.
We were careful not to disturb mother and baby but we were excited to see the kid begin to walk around.
Unfortunately our morning was not perfect and the water did not come so we will have to use what we have for the next four days. Flexability and adaptation the way of life in Ghana.
Ghana is a county of warm spirits and generosity but sometimes you need to get together with other volunteers to chat about the challenges it also brings.Regularly on Friday nights, volunteers go to a “spot” Alems to do just that.We had Holland, France, Great Brittan and of course Canada at the one this week.It was a small group but nice to have a drink together and share some local food.
I have introduced to a soft drink called Alvaro which comes in pear and mixed pineapple, which is fantastic.It is produced in Kenya, East Africa and is a mix between malt brew and fruit.It is a great choice for a drink at the Spot before dinner.
Our dinner of ground nut soup, rice and fried fish was slightly interrupted by a power outage that lasted most of the evening.The staff, quickly recover to this common occurrence by bringing candles and carrying flashlights to the tables.A very nice evening was had by all.
Today was the regional market where goods of all kinds are available. Plastic containers, fresh vegetables, beans, rice, butchered meat, live goats, new and donated clothing, cheap jewlery from Asia, mattresses, spices (mostly salt based with oil), tires, used Asia bicycles, and much more. Shade is provided only from umbrellas, and makeshift stalls that line the alley ways. It is rude to take pictures so the ones I have included here are those I could snap as I walked along in less crowded areas.
A week here in Ghana is up and there have been some major culture shocks.I am in Wa in a house with two roommates, Bob and Miriyan.
Miriyan and I have one wing of the house and Bob is in the master suite on the other.There is a living/dining room in the middle with a tiny table and sofas and chairs.The kitchens is good with a cook top, fridge and sink.Water is available every 4 days from an outside tap so large garbage cans of water are kept in the kitchen and bathrooms.We have indoor plumbing well, fixtures which we use the stored water to flush and wash.A bucket shower is becoming a way of life.
I have made up my bedroom to bring as much of home as I can.What it lacks in luxury is made up for by lots of sentimental touches and homemade charm.I have two large windows and a ceiling fan so at least now in the cool season (35 or so degrees).
At market as in most countries, prices are not fixed but negotiated. Ghana has its own twist on this however. People are willing to haggle a little with you but most shops will have a similar if not identical starting point. Your business negotiation is always done with a smile, and a lighthearted attitude so not offend or make the vendor think that you do not like them or their goods.
Today I had the task of buying a bicycle. I need some form of transportation to get to my schools and to meetings at the GES (Education office). I asked the Resource Center’s caretaker, a former teacher, getting close to retirement for the best place to start and he offered to come with me. We asked around the office but only one man had purchased a bicycle recently and it was for his daughter so we were not sure of the going rate. Other volunteers over the last 3 years have paid 70 – 130 Ghana C. I was prepared to spend 100. This is a lot of money because an income is often 400 GC. ($150 CDN = 100 GC)
Well we went to about 7 places and all started at 150 GC for the bikes with 3 gears and 120 for those with no gears. At each place I was directed to the youngest sales person, likely because they spoke English best, and they just shook their heads when I suggested 100 for a geared bike. At one place they had me try out a bike that wiggled so much I thought I had just reached my 90th birthday. They had a good natured chuckle and I joined in. In the end I went back to the 3rd or 4th place I visited to get a 3 gear bike at 110 GC, the best price I seemed to get.
Once the price was settled, I had choice of bikes in the category I chose. They are used bicycles, mostly from China and often with stickers still on them. Some had broken bells, bald tires and disconnected wires. All were “women’s” touring type with carriers and bells. I chose a silver beauty with a brown seat (being convinced it would not get as hot in the hotter weather to come). It has a back flasher and a peddle powered front light for rides after the 6:30 sunset.
All in all I was quite delighted and my companion who said little in the process praised me, insisting on proudly pushing the bike ahead of me as we both walked back to the GES. A successful day!
A week here in Ghana is up and there have been some major culture shocks.I am in Wa in a house with two roommates, Bob and Miriyan.
Miriyan and I have one wing of the house and Bob is in the master suite on the other.There is a living/dining room in the middle with a tiny table and sofas and chairs.The kitchens is good with a cook top, fridge and sink.Water is available every 4 days from an outside tap so large garbage cans of water are kept in the kitchen and bathrooms.We have indoor plumbing well, fixtures, which we use the stored water to flush and wash.A bucket shower is becoming a way of life.
I have made up my bedroom to bring as much of home as I can.What it lacks in luxury is made up for by lots of sentimental touches and homemade charm.I have two large windows and a ceiling fan so at least now in the cool season (35 or so degrees) but it cools off in the evening.
The market is a 30 to 45 minute walk. There we buy eggs, tomatoes, cabbage, very expensive green peppers or carrots, rice, beans, oranges, pinapples and flour. We buy powdered milk, juice, and have brought tea with us so there is lots to drink besides our filtered water. Most people do not bring their lunch to work so it can be a long time for the break when families go home to cook. There are small open air stalls where you can buy anything that also will sell meals until they run out for the day.
Evenings are quiet and I get a lot of reading done as well as communication by email when the connection works. There is also lots of housework to keep up with. Everything is done by hand - dishes, laundry, mopping, and dusting (needed a lot).
Most travellers like to think that they have brought only the important things and have a reason for every item they place in their bag. I, too believed that every mosquito repellent option, piece of clothing, pair of shoes or cosmetic was just the bare necessity for 7 months in an isolated part of the world. My baggage adventures proved I was wrong!
When I started planning I was told that one bag at 23kg was the limit with my laptop and one other carry on piece so I was pleasantly surprised when the airline allowed 2 when I checked in 24 hours in advance of my flight. Two lighter bags about 20kg each seemed ideal to allow for those last minute items.
The flight over to Accra through Chicago and Washington, DC went as expected and I was even able to sleep for about 2 hours of the 2 day experience thanks to the small down pillow I had packed. I was met at the airport by Richard, a very friendly and helpful VSO staff member and was whisked off to a comfortable hotel to wait the arrival of more volunteers from Britain who arrived later that night. It was great to meet them especially Miriyan who will be also working in Wa and sharing a house with me. (Posting on the house to come later.)
Over the next two days Miriyan, Jackie (the experienced volunteer) and myself went to meetings at VSO, walked the main street for visitors and purchased things that needed to be bought in Ghana. I got a solar powered cell phone, and a dongle for internet service. To add to our purchases VSO supplied a blanket, sheets, mosquito nets and water filters in a bright "Dora the Explorer" bag.
VSO was able to secure a flight for Miriyan and I to travel to Tamale and then a ride to Wa the next day with a VSO representative the next day. My luggage was now a big problem. Only one bag of 20kg was allowed and I had one at 25 and one at 20 as well as 3 small rather heavy carry on bags. Needless to say the repacking went on and I had to leave a bag in Accra to pick up in Feburary when I am to return for a meeting. I was overweight at the airport but fortunately not charged for it and had 3 carry ons that were difficult to carry and would not fit in the overhead compartment. My motorcycle helmet had to sit on the floor between my feet.
I guess the moral of this story is what you need and what you want are likely not the same. I will be learning to get by with a little less, be less concerned with the comforts (althought I am so glad to have my pillow) and to value what it truly important first of all. Tomorrow I arrive in Wa.