07 2 / 2013
Going to America was by far the best vacation I have ever had. Friends and family, hot showers, clean streets, great food and wine… you get the picture. AND THANK YOU TO EVERYONE THAT MADE IT, like I said, THE BEST TRIP EVER!!
After over one and a half years of living in Ghana, a month in the good life is something I could only dream about until I stepped foot on that plane. America is truly as great as all of the Ghanaians think it is. I’d beg someone to take me there too. My impressions when I first got there were of how orderly everyone is and how healthy everyone looks. Everyone was moving at a pace, I knew what was going on and what I was expected to do. I just got to blend in. My trip was relaxing and entertaining and I enjoyed pretty much every minute of it. Things were different, life had indeed moved on while I was here, but thankfully not in the dramatic way I thought it would. A lot of things were still the same, my friends and family still loving and supportive, so it was surprisingly easy to fit back in. The only thing that was really overwhelming were the amount of choices I had for everything. What to do, what to watch, what to buy, which brand of this and that, what to eat, what to wear, what shoes to wear! It felt like I had to make a million decisions by ten o’clock every morning. I know I’ll get used to it when I’m there for longer, but I’m glad that’s over for a while. Other than that, I thought I would be overwhelmed and angry at everyone for the lifestyles lived there. You know—the consumerism. But it was the opposite. I was thankful for it. Thankful that Americans have such a drive to get something better for themselves. After being here, I’ve seen what a negative effect the absence of that has on a society. We are constantly trying to encourage that here and it’s beyond difficult. So thank you advertisements, Target, and the Jones’s for making us strive for more.
Getting back to Ghana has been interesting. I’ve dived right back into a few projects that are cumbersome and really putting the typical difficulties of working with Ghanaians at the forefront. I’ve constantly had to talk about grant money with them, and have been spending a lot of time planning activities with Ghanaian men. The patience it requires is taxing. The first few days were drainingly jet lagged, seriously I didn’t sleep at night at all, and then would try to sleep all day. I think it took me a week to get back to a normal schedule, 45+ hours of travel will apparently do that to you. Turkey was amazing by the way! I’ll post a few pictures soon.
After coming from America, and getting back to Ghana, I was able to reevaluate my first impressions of it without the taint of worry that I will be calling this place my home for the next two years. I know how to live here now, so I don’t have to worry about it. That doesn’t mean my impression changed to think of being here as a vacation by any means. When I arrived back at my site, I couldn’t help but compare it to America. Everything here is dead or dying. It’s dry. The trees are still here, but they’re a muted green color from the dust. This is exaggerated by the fact that I left my site just before harvest time, when every farm is at its best, and have returned when harmattan is in full swing, a season created by winds blowing dust from the Sahara desert and plenty of crop burning so they’ve turned to dirt with some few remains of the stalks that once towered out of them. There is now plastic trash covering all of the fields. And the animals are starting to fall into their emaciated, dry season look. America has better looking vehicles in a junk yard. The children still walk around with tattered clothes and missing shoes. And I’ve had two people tell me that people have been dying like fowls. It’s unfair, but it’s life.
Despite that, I’m happy to be back. Seeing everyone again has been wonderful. They’ve been so happy to see me and welcoming. I think they missed me. Everyone is asking me how America was, and how my family is doing. Then they proclaim how good America was to me, “Look at your skin! It is so white!” My transformation from tan and dirty to pale and white is astonishing to them. To put this into context, I’ve been asked a few times by Ghanaians asking me to take them to America if they would start to look like me once they got there. “My skin and hair will change right?”… uhh, no. And on the other end, I’m always hearing how black I will be after staying here for two years. Creative… but again, no. Because my skin appears to have changed, I have lost all credibility.
02 11 / 2012
On October 19th, volunteers from the Upper East region brought students together to have the first-ever food security youth camp. The camp was by and large a huge success! We held it at the new Ghana Institute of Organic Farming at my site in Sirigu. To kick-off the camp, we started with an introduction session to food security, a term almost all of the students weren’t familiar with, despite living in a region where 15% of the region does not have food security. Also on the first day, I led a session to introduce 4-h. 4-h clubs in the states are youth clubs that allow students to “learn by doing”. They were initially established as a way to teach youth to learn and experience new technology, basically to demonstrate the advantages of innovation. The students chosen to attend the camp are ones that have demonstrated leadership abilities, and the hope is that by attending this camp, they can use the information to start clubs, similar to 4-H, to work on projects that can eventually increase food security in the region. To make the definition of food security really stick, the students were split into three groups (food availability, food access, and food utilization) and were asked to apply what they learned throughout the camp to their group’s pillar of food security.
We covered topics to teach students how to improve upon each area of food security. For food access (people have food access when they have the purchasing power to buy the food they need), we did a practical session on building chicken coops, had a discussion with a resource person on animal rearing, and had a practical on soap making. All ways that farmers can increase incomes. For food utilization, Stephanie Carey held an interactive session on nutrition and I brought them to a tree nursery where we are growing and transplanting moringa and many other trees. And for food access, one of the most challenging areas to improve in the region, Dawn Rostad led a session on sustainable agriculture, my counterpart, Peter, led a session on organic farming where we visited an organic farming plot, and Jennifer Bryant, our resident garden expert, led a practical session where we established a school garden.
To supplement the core practical and discussion sessions, PCVs from the Upper East region led lecture sessions also relating to these topics. The days were full of substantive learning, and we held sessions on these topics: activities clubs can do, holding a meeting, resources needed to start a school garden, animal rearing, beekeeping, animal housing, climate change and desertification, climate adaptation, and a few health-related lessons on neem cream, malaria, and HIV/AIDS.
On the last day of the camp, we invited the farmers from farming groups I work with to come and hear what the students have been learning. Each group, (food utilization, food access, and food availability) taught the farmers what they had learned throughout the week. It was well received by the farmers. The students know what resources and knowledge these farmers are working with much better than we do as volunteers. They listened with open ears, made sure that each student had a chance to talk, and asked great and relevant questions. It was a wonderful thing to watch and be a part of. The community really came together to make it what it was- a huge success!
15 9 / 2012
Lesson Learned- Illiterate farmers don’t get clip art and it takes more than a ‘for sale’ sign to sell trees.
The rains have arrived and the seedlings are ready to go! To get the farmer groups on board with this, my counterpart and I held an agroforestry workshop that included a lecture, practical, and a little tour around the nursery. The pictures in my last post are from the workshop. The attendance was a bit low on account of the rain, but for the 20+ farmers that came, I think most of them understood the importance of planting trees. I even got to talk to them about climate change and desertification. Showing the pictures opened up some discussions between the farmers. They talked about how the trees were planted in rows, how terrible it would be to not have trees, and my favorite- the most simplistically drawn picture in the powerpoint of a fire burning with firewood had them discussing what it could be for a good five minutes. Lesson learned: Illiterate farmers are unfamiliar with clip art.
Doing the workshop in the classroom, a setting where some of them have never been before, might have been a bit counterproductive and distracting, but they seemed to be taking the training more seriously. I had brought up agroforestry before during meetings, and they just sort of nodded along. “Yes, we know the importance of trees and that they are good for the land. Yes, we want to plant trees. Yes, we will come to the nursery and buy them.” But that wasn’t happening. We were at the nursery every day and no one was coming to buy them. So does no one want trees? It turns out they do! For the farmers, this workshop was their excuse to come. A few farmers from each group came to the workshop, so at the next meeting I had with them on whatever other topic (savings group or soap making), I followed up with those farmers and had them tell the group what they learned and what they saw; this was with mixed success. The more important thing is that their trees are planted and growing. And we are moving even more trees by the schools buying them, and my supervisor is having the farmers plant them around the school.
22 7 / 2012
I’ve seen my fair share of failed aids projects. Broken, stolen, and useless… Apparently it takes a hot guy with some hipster shoes to get the job done. I’ve been seeing kids in toms shoes around my village this past week. They were distributed by AfriKids (unfortunately Tom himself was not present that I’m aware of), and they will be used and worn for years to come.
22 7 / 2012
The science club at St. Joseph’s Junior High School in Sirigu is a very active club with about 50 members in forms one, two and three. They have weekly meetings and executive members that speak at the meetings. The teacher that organizes the club, Wellington, is highly motivated and does well with the kids. So far, they have completed a tree planting project at the school, organized excursions to science-related locations in the region, and led a street cleanup in the community. At the science club’s first meeting of the year, I visited the club and was asked to give a talk about the environment. The students and I discussed environmental solutions (this was after a talk on environmental problems given by the organizing teacher), and the students were incredibly concerned with the lack of local solutions to waste management. I posed the question to the club, “What is a locally available solution to the lack of waste management?” They came up with the project idea of an incinerator.
Typically, trash is burned in piles with a child, or student, watching over it. During the week, trash is just kept in piles around the compound and market, which leads to it being picked through by animals for food, children for “toys”, and blown away by the wind. Ghanaians know that it is important to keep the environment clean, especially to reduce breeding places and shelter for mosquitoes, but they don’t have the resources to do so.
With the help of the GYD Committee’s Small Grant Fund, the students and I built a demonstration incinerator at the school site. They have been using it to store rubbish during the week, and on Friday, instead of burning it in an open pile, they use the incinerator (basically a small burn-barrel). After the first couple of uses, I asked the students if there were any problems and to tell me what they thought about it. They like it a lot, but there was too much smoke coming from the barrel when they burn the trash. This meant that there wasn’t enough oxygen getting to the fire that should be consuming the waste, so we added more air-intake holes at the bottom and left the lid up while burning the trash. Problem identified and solved! The school looks better, and the students and I are applying for funds to expand the project to the community because they think it will be a good solution to the village’s waste management challenges. Thanks GYD!