Friday, 31 July 2009

Our Experience teaching at Morning Star School by Laura and Cat

The classroom: Three planks of wood. An aluminium roof. No electricity. And worst of all, the ‘toilet’ is anywhere you want it to be. With an open space substituting for a door we are frequently visited by a selection of farmyard animals, including goats, chickens and lizards. Our shacks resemble stables more often than classrooms. On one occasion, a pupil returned to class to find his seat was being occupied by a chicken laying an egg. When monsoons hit, the lack of windows, never mind glass ones, makes teaching virtually impossible. Our shouts are drowned out by thunderstorms and rain floods the classroom, whilst the opportunity is seized by the kids who take to the muddy pools and return, stripping off their clothes, leaving us to attempt to teach stark naked, soaking wet children. As comical as this may sound, reality is tragic. Lacking these very basic necessities is, in turn, a huge obstruction to education. Imagine what the standard of education in England would be if school ceased to function every time it rained? To think that in our school days we had almost expected resources such as electronic blackboards and Apple Mac laptops, and most certainly never even questioned that we would have a seat to sit on, a pencil to write with and four walls to keep us dry. Everyone knows of the poverty that exists in Africa, but nothing can prepare you for when the Oxfam faces of malarial, malnourished children now have a personality and a story behind them.

The teachers were more than delighted to hand over their roles to us. As far as they were concerned, summer vacation had started early. Ever since our arrival they spend their days sitting in the playground playing football, sleeping, distracting our lessons by blasting out their music, or disappear completely with the excuse of “town”. Nevertheless, they need only to return once in a while with cane in hand to ensure their superiority will never be doubted. On one occasion we walked passed a classroom where every child was sitting in absolute silence with their head on their desk. Confused, we sat them up only to be stared back by a sea of tearstained faces and scarred palms. Their teacher, who had left them alone all day, was angry when he returned to a noisy classroom. Although we make clear our distaste towards their method of disciplining through use of the cane, we fear that we are fighting a losing battle against a deeply embedded cultural norm. Since the children themselves accept this as the proper and natural part of schooling, it is not surprising that the older children carry their own canes to use against the younger children and why this tradition has continued to be passed on from generation to generation of teachers.

Although at first we were impressed by the children’s use of intellectual vocabulary, we quickly learnt that such fancy terms were merely memorised definitions with little thought for their meaning. For instance, they can robotically recite a dictionary definition of what a computer is and a list of its functions, though most have never actually seen one. When we pushed them to think creatively their stories again highlighted the disparities between our childhood and theirs. Whilst our childhood creative stories had always involved some magical land where the hero would live ‘happily ever after’, we were surprised to see how normal it was for their stories to end with death or famine.

Despite these emotional challenges our experiences have most certainly not been devoid of laughter. Whether it be teaching a class of seven to twelve year olds about the importance of protective sex to prevent against HIV/ AIDS on the first day of school, or being told during a lesson on ways to combat water pollution, ‘Madam, Madam, stop shitting in the water!’, our kids never fail to amuse us. In fact, despite western world presumptions that a childhood without proper playgrounds, footballs, or even a pair of shoes to come to school with is not a proper childhood at all, these children laugh and play with an African happiness that certainly transcends the stiff upper English lip.

Regardless of the school’s current imperfections its inspirational origins are humbling. The school was founded by Madame Cecilia who was herself orphaned and suffered many hardships in her youth. She originally set up the school in her garage for orphaned girls who were being sent out to work as street-sellers. She begged their guardians to let them attend her school for free. As the governmental schools were not as well taught as the classroom in her garage she was finally persuaded to take children of both genders orphaned and not. In 2005 she was forced to move to a larger rented plot of land due to the increase in numbers where we now teach and she is saving money with Tzedek’s help to build a new school with walls and floors and books.

One of the children Morning Star has provided for is twelve year old Mohammed; a boy with no father, a crippled mother, and an amputated leg due to a snake bite where he was left to die and only found three days later. This is just one of the many cases. The very fact that the children feel fortunate to have the opportunity to go to school here embarrasses us as we remember every attempt we made to play truant. Morning Star not only offers these children an education but more importantly allows them to fulfil their childhood which is a rare and precious commodity in this country.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Dezra iii- day to day...

I have a morning routine:
1) Brunch bar: scoff it down praying the doxycycline (malaria pill) won’t remind me of its existence all day long.

2) Surf through a pile of clothing: The majority of these, I swore I wouldn’t wear again before washing due to walks through the markets (I spend most of my time closing my eyes nose and mouth!) and the state of children’s hands. However when you’re desperate- it’s surprising what a nights sleep does to your memory.

3) Power walk to the other house: By power walk I mean stroll and at least have in mind that I should be in some kind hurry. Although this is only by Western thought, Ghanaians generally have no concept of time.

4) Avoid human contact: However lovely greetings are through out the day- they can be a source of frustration- especially when there’s more than 5 people demanding different responses at once. More importantly though, if you’re planning on sitting in close proximity to someone afterward, is avoiding our little neighbour -as cute as he may look. I learnt the hard way. Only the other day, seconds after Shuku climbed up my legs and wrapped his own around my neck did I have a man cycle past, stop, and point to me commenting in broad Ghanaian accent, “shit, you have shit on you” before continue on his way!

5) Travel to Jana village: More often than not is an adventure in itself. On a standard day we break down, but on more eventful ones we experience anything from being handed a random baby for the entirety of the journey, saturated by torrential rain as it enters the non existent widow to just having the cab driver arrested by the police.

6) Arrive in village and enter the little cement class room: this normally involves me failing miserably to hide my amusement at the parrot fashion greeting of ‘gooood mornin’ maaadam’ and the ‘we ah fiiine thank you’ that immediately follows (despite not uttering a single word).

Over the last few weeks, much has become same old. Today however it was not same old. And I wished it was. Today my morning saw me with a family shattered by the loss of their child, that tiny girl who only days before led me by the hand to the home of her sick friend. I stood speechless infant of her 8 year old sister who, only hours after was eager to learn with her peers. Completely out of my depth and unaccustomed to their traditions, I could only follow sheepishly behind our teachers who had been waiting for us to arrive so we could pay our respects to the family. As I took off my shoes and stepped inside, the hundreds of statistics I had previously heard at home vanished. These are individuals. This is reality.

Dezra ii - change...

Change, I have come to realise, is an entity not bound by time - despite what I naively believed before I came here, by money (again I’m very easily convinced) or by power. I believe change is governed only by the mind. If you will it, if you allow it to happen, or accept it, a difference can be made, even in one conversation.

The question is, from where, after a week of exhausting every raw emotion possible, has this new outlook arisen? The answer was even a surprise to me, pouncing on me from somewhere I least expected- Jana School, where I have found a new surge of respect. Within the space of 20 minutes, including two short prayers customary at the beginning and end of any meeting, the teachers had already come up with many ways of enforcing discipline without force or brutality. Listening to them speak- bearing in mind about how in Ghana caning is the cultural norm- it was hard not to feel proud of how quickly their attitude changed, even if it meant going against the grain. This certainly reflects Maltiti as an institution and the principles by which its stands, a charity that I believe is at the forefront of a significant shift in education. Setting a standard for others in the area, no child is overlooked. With each child given a chance to thrive I can now honestly say I feel extremely privileged to be a part of this ‘family’ they speak of.

As the sun was setting, a shard of light pierced through the corner of a window, shattering into thousands as it hit the metal gratings, bathing a group of children in a warm red and orange glow. It was at this point that I truly believed my new feeling, merely a week old were firmly anchored down, with no chance of escaping. Singing, dancing and drumming, the children’s spirit, kindled by our own (around five Sillymingers*) attracted more youngsters who began to flood in from the street. It was the negative space in this composition, the gap between the crowd however, that really captured my attention- A little girl hovering by the doorway- half cast in shadow, the other glowing in colour- a tiny baby strapped to her back. For me, this painted a picture of what was actually happening all around us, the real plight of youngsters here, and thus, just how important this gathering was.

Although MCF have set up after-school clubs every night to keep the children up to date with their learning (due to half the day being spent learning Arabic), these Wednesdays and Thursday advocacy classes aim to inform children of their rights to speak, be educated and to receive healthcare. It offers them the opportunity to voice this to their parents and others of authority through traditional dance, singing, poetry and debate. Many speak about topics including, HIV/AIDS, disease, protection against abuse, becoming orphans and being proud of their nationality.

The root causes of lack of education in rural villages are one of MCF’s major targets. Many of these children, like the ones I teach in Jana are forced to work before and after school in order to provide for their families.

Nevertheless, it is quite hard to fathom that this kind of poverty actually exists. Seeing it on an advert or even on the streets is tough enough, but when it is staring wide eyed in front of you in a class, the reality really hits home, and hard. Just yesterday a small girl of about 3 or 4 clambered on to my lap outside and fell asleep, exhausted from what I initially thought was the midday sun beating down on her head. (I can only imagine what my school is like in summer – bare foot and sparse clothing). However, as my hand caught the back of her neck, I realised she was burning with a fever (honestly as if I had touched a hot potato). Confirming this was the teacher who sadly explained this was most likely to be malaria. Although it is a disease that for westerners can be quite easily treated, for this village it is extremely expensive and particularly dangerous for young children, whose immune systems are not as developed. I thought about this on the journey to her hut, led by her equally tiny friend. How easy it would be for me to just gather the tablets myself? Unfortunately, it was at this point that I understood the true meaning of sustainability, something this would not promote. Eventually, I reached a group of women and an elderly lady who mirrored my outstretched arms to take the child. This was evidently not her mother. Oddly though, I did not think twice about my action, as I would have done at home. There are no strangers here- only a tribe whose closeness, in every aspect of life give a completely different meaning to the word community.

*Sillyminger: Dugbani for white people. Here it is common for people to refer to you by the colour of your skin. It takes a while to get used to not only due to the emphasis we have on P.C terms in England, but also because silly minger certainly isn’t a term you going to want to start splashing about in the uk!

Sunday, 26 July 2009

the football

The football. Last sunday I had one of the most insane "cultural experiences" of my life. (I am sorry I could not write sooner but I have been slightly under the weather.)

It is Real Tamale Utd. vs Ashgold and Tamale need to win or they will be relegated. The Stadium built by the Chinese and funded by the USA is worthy of England supporting about 20,000 seats and proper toilets. I fear for my life as Jess and I are pushed through a seething crowd of fans squashed into a tiny space whilst David tries to buy the tickets for 3cd (about $1.80)and the others are nowhere to be seen. Someone pulls us through a door and we are in the Stadium grounds where our lungs are able to take in some air. Jess and I wait quietly and patiently by the door minding our own business whilst soldiers with machine guns and sticks keep control. Every now and again another group of people burst through the door and we try to melt into the wall but nothing serious happens and finally our group makes its way through. Instead of the smell of fish and chips and beer, we are greated with soya kebabs and water sachets balanced on the heads of women. Instead of chants there is drums and every sort of homemade percussion which gives the whole game a tribal feel. We can sit where we like and we choose the half way line close to the front surrounded by fans. The atmosphere is one of humour, excitement and anxiety and the noise is wonderful. No other whites, No other women.
Before the match starts a half naked man with a snake comes on to the field- a traditional healer we find out later. He then joins a group of men who turn out to be chiefs and they all start fighting! Its Anarchy! The soldiers come to defuse the situation but everytime one chief pushes another the crowd stands up and shouts! Suddenly everyone stands up as the "commisioners" enter their VIP box and Real Tamale Utd. run on to the pitch followed by Ashgold. The only advertisement on the pitch is glo- the mobile network that is supporting the premiership.

The stadium is half full, the noise is deafening (though everyone is sitting down) and the whistle goes. At that moment we realise David went to get water 20 minutes ago and he isn't back- I breathe a sigh of relief as I see him walk down to our spot. It turns out he had been caught in a stampeed as fans tried to enter the stadium whilst the Police/army were spraying everyone with water and using their sticks. David had made a great escape and all was fine.
It turns out neither side were amazing at football but A for effort and tackling. RTU has a free kick, we hold our breathe, no goal. David tells us he heard last week the police teargassed the spectators because things got out of hand. Ashgold has a free kick! no goal. Don't worry though because we do not belong to a tribe so we will be fine. We decide however that we will leave ten minutes early if RTU are losing because there will be riots and the police have guns. A woman balancing biscuits on her head sells some goods in front of us. Medics are running on (with their little golf car) no.31 Ashgold is down! Luckily he was obviously faking and he can carry on playing. Random people are standing around the pitch and the soldiers are watching the game on the pitch. No.16 RTU is dribbling to the goal and! he misses. I cant help but think winning and losing is now a matter of life and death. I have never been so into my football!
The fat chiefs start another fight on the pitch- Mr. Chief in green does not understand you cannot just take the football because you want your side to win. A penalty to RTU! Its a shame we have to wait twenty minutes to take it because another fight breaks out on the pitch. We wonder why they seat all the fans together? are they crazy? yes. The crowd start throwing water sachets at the soldiers and the chiefs. Anarchy. Football continues and five minutes later we are all standing up shouting, RTU scored!!! Kadri is our man!
Unfortunately it starts another riot amongst the chiefs, the crowd are throwing things, the soldiers are coming! Its half -time and the situation difuses. We find out that most of the soldeirs were probably peace-keepers on the Lebanese border. Though there was at least half an hour injury time they were allowed 2 1/2 minutes and the next half of the game was more of the same. Fights, medics and subs with only one yellow card in the whole game! I asked how much the players were paid and I was told 3-400cd/month which is approximately 120-170 pounds. Not much.
RTU won one-nil and Katie even managed to fall asleep in the second half. At the end of the game instead of rioting there was massive rejoicing and cheering so we all went on to the pitch and were mobbed with calls of "snap me" with the camara or "marry me" which was a little less understandable. The referee had more protection than Obama as he was escorted from the field. What a day, what a game.

Talia Chain

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Amy's first blog

Yesterday I went into a rural village for my first time on this trip. What i saw was just poverty and I can't think of a better word or a more meaningful one. The dusty roads and mut huts that I see from a foreigners eyes as 'quaint' or 'typically African' are in reality these peoples homes, and If felt almost guilty for having taken pictures ones we'd passed, from a bus we went on to Mole NAtional Park. But there's nothing I can change about that whilst I'm out here - thats how people in these villages live. Development has to start at a smaller scale and that, hopefully, I can help with.

Yesterday I started my part time work at a school with an organisation called Maltiti, which shows parents the importance of giving their children an education, and sets up schools and after school clubs for the children to be sent to. The organisation is doing some amazing work - I hate to think what these children would be doing without it seeking to give them an education. WE actually saw a a 10 year old girl with a bucket on her head going into town to sell her produce. Her parents don't see the point in sending her to school. In this kind of rural village, the concept of having an education has to be justified to parents - how strange a concept to us! But since they believe their children will work the fields, or sell goods in town or in the market (not only 'when they grow up', but now when they're young too), they don't see the point in their children growing up knowing to read and write.
The school is in the village so it is accessible to the community, but there are no resources to teach with. I've started to think back to my primary school and just how many square objects and colours were in the room even, that we could learn from, makes me realize how priviledged I had it when I was young.

I also work at an NGO called PROWACID which carries out women and childrens empowerment projects in these rural communities. The focus of this NGO and Maltiti are to assert rights in these rural villages which should really be a given. PROWACID carries out small scale projects though, and seems to have focused recently on changing the traditional roles of women in these communities. Not only have they had to teach families that domestic violence is wrong (how 1950s is that!?!), but they also are persuading these communities that women and young girls should have opportunities to education, skill learning, and taking part in decision making. Right up my political street, as the organisation has encouraged women to stand for district elections, as well as encouraging people to vote for a woman, and has got a few women elected - though hardly a proportional amount! It's also like asserting feminism here - something I strongly advocate (maybe from my suffragist-school-upbringing...)

At the moment though, we are working mainly on securing funds to carry out individual projects. The projects seem to be quite sustainable as they use drama workshops, forums for discussion and one on one chats in order to get across the rights that the project is focussing on.

So that is a very vague overview of what I'm doing here. But hopefully as time goes on, I will be able to see the bigger picture of what both projects do and be able to see the results of my work.

To end on a light note, we had sooo much rain this morning that we're all enjoying a break from being constantly sweaty! And a few of us went to Mole NAtional PArk on Saturday...and then we all enjoyed a strange Tamale vs. Accra football match on Sunday which will be blogged soon!

Much love to all

Amy x

Sunday, 19 July 2009

I work a lot based in the CIAHT office. Its three small dark rooms in a construction site where unemployed men hang out all day. It has no internet and the stained moldy walls are filled with different social issue posters and newspaper clippings of the organizations great work. The employees come and go they are all really friendly. They have comic Ghanaian music videos playing in the background and employees taking naps on the floor is a normal occurrence.

My first task was to look at a proposal for money from Finland, for a project to find and rehabilitate trafficked women. There was a lot of problems with it and although I was a bit nervous to speak so boldly. I explained it needed [in my opinion] re-writing a better structure and the English was awful. I was a bit unsure, who was I to come into their organisation and give advice? My logic was that If I couldn't understand things , the people in Finland wouldn't either.We re-wrote the whole thing in more detail.

I asked my boss a lot of questions about the project, so I could put the details into the proposal I felt he'd left out. He said they wanted to rescue 150 women from being trafficked ,many would have been forced into prostitution. The organisation then give them economic,medical and emotional rehabilitation. He said that they get one hour with a councilor for the emotional rehabilitation. I was in shock. Just imagine one hour ,then on your way, 'sorry about the ten years of prostitution and abuse but thats all we've got time for, have a nice life!'. I asked why so little and he replied it wasn't ideal but there are no counseling services in Tamale. I suggested they start mutual support with group therapy, or maybe train victims to volunteer as councilors. One of hand comment was turned the next day a step closer to reality as my boss found someone willing to facilitate the support group and do the training for free.

The idea then took shape as a friend suggested that a research project should be done about counseling in Tamale. I didn't know what this was but apparently its before an NGO makes a project of action an in depth study is don't to look at the current situation and what should be done. Talia [a friend on the program] and I are gong to work together on it. It will consist amongst other things of asking what are the counsellings provisions now? Interviewing women to see what they want and suggesting what could be in the future.

My organisation is confident funding can be secured and even wants to start a new organisation for victims of human trafficking! Its really overwhelming and exciting and two months suddenly doesn't seem like enough. Theres too much to be done.


the rural villages

After two weeks volunteering in Ghana I have been assigned a really interesting range of tasks by my NGO [Centre for initiative against human trafficking CIAHT ]
I have visited rural villages the NGO works with. Compared to urban Tamale [the main city in the north where we live]its a different world. The villages are my cliche picture of Africa, mud huts and thatch triangle roofs. When we arrive at a village we must greet the chief , sometimes bring a live animal as a gift. [ not the normal greeting if i visit someone in Leicester].

CIAHT knows that a lot of children have been trafficked from the village so works to address the root of the problem ,poverty.[see previous blog for what trafficking is] .A Shea butter farming schemes was set up to give the village a livelihood. We were in the village to see how the scheme was going.The results were'nt good. Snakes biting them as they farmed it, the market was to far away to sell it the list ran on. It was my job after returning to the office to write up a report on the day, CIAHT will work with them to overcome the problems.

It makes you realize a development project is a successful because of the detail. An example we were told was the well meaning UN gave thousands of mosquito nets to Ghana.The problem was they were red,which in Ghana means death so no one would use them. We are all seeing the difficulty of translating well meaning intentions into successful results rather than often doing more damage.

The next day I went with an NGO from Holland and my NGO to another rural village. We were there to review a school feeding program . The community was taught farming skills,they then made food which was sold to the school for the lunches. The hungry children got lunch and the unemployed parents got a job! I liked seeing how my NGO was working with bigger organization. My NGO based in Ghana, were working with the village community with money from Holland. It seemed like a good model.

The village reaction to me was a bit overwhelming. I made little children cry as they were so scared ,by this white person! Every pair of eyes fixed on my white skin I could feel them scanning my every detail. Children would brush my arm as if to see if the white came of on their hand,like a paint.

I also got some really uncomfortable questions. One older lady with colorful clothes and a baby wrapped on her thin back asked me why it was I was rich and they were poor? I didn't really have anything to say. Another women without malice or venom asked if I pitied them. I wasn't really sure if they wanted my pity or not,so I told the truth. Their economic situation did make me feel very sad for them. I was also true i was in awe of their warmth, hospitality,constant jokes and laughter in spite of their poverty. I loved their colorful clothes and their community and deep spirituality. I realized after, it made have been a bit offensive. 'Sorry your so poor you cant afford food and your children are in slavery guys ,but by the way, I love your dress!' I'm still thinking about it am not sure. They seemed so amazingly happy and free. I have no idea whether this is human natures response to suffering, I have no idea what they really feel before they go to bed at night but they seemed so happy. They seemed much happier that the average person in Britain. Maybe the whole rich in other ways thing is a true cliche.Maybe not maybe you can never be truly happy in poverty. I have no idea.

On they way back from the village in the land rover, the brown dirt roads were like an awaful roller coaster. All the Ghanaians in my NGO were quite chilled, fine ,relaxed. I closed my eyes in discomfort thinking of never again taking the miracle that is smooth tarmac from granted. A minute later to the amazement of my colleges, I was retching by the roadside, my breakfast decorating the road. Being in Ghana sometimes makes us all feel very weak, the Ghanaians seem so tough in comparison. From the village to the road,being in Ghana I have definitely left my comfort zone.


people we meet

Volunteering and traveling obviously opens your eyes to different things. The biggest thing I keep feeling is the power of one person to change things. We met Molli from New York, now in her thirties. She volunteered in her twenties and saw need for the diagnosis of autism in Ghana. She then started her own NGO, single handedly and currently helps people starting their own NGO's. An American women in the market queue in front of me I randomly met, with blond platted hair that couldn't have been more then twenty started an NGO for little girls to get an education. They make social change seem so within reach.

The people making a difference aren't just foreigners. I sat waiting with my co-worker [as its Ghana and waiting is a big part of life!] I asked him about how he came to work at the NGO. He told me his story. Born to Sixteen brothers and sisters, with a father with many wives and children and little money. His mother didn't encourage him and his siblings didn't go, but for some reason he wanted to go to school. There was the obvious problem, money, but he told me that as a little boy did laboring work to earn his schooling. He then worked this way through University. At university he attended lectures that started at 6.30 in the morning [but to get a seat you needed to arrive at 4.30 am as the 300 capacity lecture hall was filled with 700 people] .The lectures lasted six hours with a five minute break, people regularly collapsed from heat and hunger. I couldn't relate it to my lectures at Manchester with the awful levels of attendance and student apathy. He is now working in the NGO to change society. He was so softly spoken and humble and didn't seem to feel any great significance to the story,barely worth mentioning. It was a normal one apparently. The normalcy shocked me more than the story itself.

Ghana is full of NGOs and volunteers trying to make a difference. Its a mixture of empowering and dis- empowering and overwhelming to be here so far. It seems like theres so much work being done by amazing people and organizations to improve things, but looking around walking in the street, theres just so much injustice that needs to be changed.


Cente for initiatives against human traficking

In Tamale our new home ,the group of the 16 of us here with 'Tzedek' live in two houses and have placements. We have teachers,nurses and NGO workers. I'm working in an NGO, a Non governmental Organization which works to combat Human trafficking.

Human trafficking [something which before arriving here I knew little about] is a form of modern day slavery. Children and young adults are sold from their homes in rural villagers to traffickers. The traffickers target the poor uneducated rural north. They tell them if they sell them their children they will find them good jobs in the prosperous south. This is a lie. The reality is they are made to work but receive little money .They live in diabolical conditions and are often forced into prostitution and develop AIDS. They are taken to the South of Ghana for example Accra, or the neighboring countries. There they enslaved until old age. I spent a day at my placement in utter shock. I couldn't compare my world in England to this story from some horror movie. There are communities so poor that selling their children seems like the best thing for the child. It was a bit too much to handle, I couldn't begin to react.

The Center for the prevention of Human trafficking works to address the root of the problem lack of education and poverty. They visit the rural villagers to educate them .They also try and help the villagers develop skills so they can earn a livelihood and therefore not need to sell their children.

The NGO also helps to track down the traffickers. On my first day my boss after being absent all morning, showed me an article about an arrest of two Nigerian traffickers in the capital of Ghana. He had reported them to the police and helped with their arrest. He sincerely apologized for missing my first day .I had to laugh at his apology I told him I thought it was fine, he was doing something ever so slightly more important than greeting me.

I work in the NGO five days a week, but the staff work seven days every day of the week! We work from eight to five with a lunch break.While the electricity does work my first job has been to edit a proposal for a grant for money from an overseas donor. Its really interesting to learn how an NGO works and be part of it. Working in the NGO is different that other offices. The electricity cuts out every now and again. Just like that the computer monitor turns of and we have to wait until who knows when. The first time it happened the shock on my face obviously showed .'Its Africa' laughed my co-worker, 'get used to it!


Lucy's first blog

Stepping of the plane and queuing in the humid airport the first signs of the social issues in Ghana were visible. The sign on the Airport wall read clearly, 'visitors are warmly welcomed but pedophilia is illegal in Ghana and anyone coming for illegal sex is not welcome'.
The passengers [a mix of Ghanaian people dressed in bright prints and cliche travelers wearing the obligatory 'individual uniform' of baggy clothes and bracelets] walked through to went to collect their bags.

Our first experiences in Accra were quite comic,we were like rabbits in headlights. The women carrying heavy loads were fantastic[the novelty has since worn off]. The sewage running down the streets and the people sleeping rough made me feel far from home.

Ghana is very religious and its visible in the streets. Everywhere comic shop names with God in the title make me laugh for example' God is with you hair Salon' and 'grace and glory cold store'.

The 14 hour bus ride from Accra to Tamale, which is where the 16 of us will be volunteering for 2 months was great fun. We watched Ghana change from the urban city of Accra to rural villages with traditional mud huts in mountain settings. The loo stops were an experience in themselves. Our toilet experiences ranged from a hole in the ground [which we were charged to use] to a kind of communal drain. I will never take a toilet seat for granted again they are wonderful creations that make me very happy.

Tamale, our new home for two months is quieter and the poorest part of Ghana. The poverty is very visible in big and little ways, from shoeless children to lack of infastructure. As much as the poverty has impacted me the friendliness also is so overwhelming. The way that every person greets you in the street and smiles really makes you feel welcome .The little children mesmerized by our strange white skin enthusiastically greet us with 'silly minger' meaning white person. Apparently its 'dugbani' a local language but I'm sure some joker tourists must have started a trend.

We have been in Tamale for a week and a thing I am still adjusting to is the contrasting view of time in Ghana. They are very laid back, for example, a meeting scheduled for two can be attended at four. Life in general is much slower [including the internet of the computer I am currently writing on in a local internet cafe] .Talking to a Ghanaian man whilst I was waiting for someone [who was late, surprise, surprise ] ,he mocked the western view of time. 'Time is money' to you he chuckled at this laughable concept. I see him sitting on that bench every day, doing as I can see nothing with his time. I'm not sure why

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Dezra's first impressions

In every sense of the word, I feel as if I have entered a strange land, an alien culture, and life so abstract to my own, that it is almost incomparable.

This notion was not slow in coming however. Soon after our 25-degree welcome as we stepped of the plane (note: at 5am) we were struck by a more powerful and less natural force - the Ghanaian taxi service. Ambushed by 10 men in black and white uniforms, two months of luggage was literally prized from our clammy hands and catapulted into the back of a minivan that may have once featured on the Flintstones. Unfortunately for us, their first request for payment in chocolate was swiftly and conveniently changed to dollars due to the indelible word ‘mug’ that must have been scrawled across our faces somewhere over the Atlantic.

Yet, the feelings of slight violation quickly dissolved as we started the rickety journey through the streets of Accra, to a place many of us doubted even existed (The Rising Phoenix- enough said). As we neared, the rocky roads morphed into wet sludgy mud and it became clear that there was to be no differentiation between human, animal, or waste. Petrified at what we had got ourselves in for Cat, Jonny and I decided to ‘check out;’ what was to be our home for the next few days. Literally wading through people’s homes, it was hard to fight the reflex nose wrinkle as the stench seeped through our clothing. The hostel on the other hand, within a matter of seconds, had received a significant status update, as, despite its location- deep within the slums, lacking both electricity and running water…it was not a mud-hut.

Our first Ghanaian encounter appeared in the guise of a thirteen yr old boy. Admittedly this phrasing may be a little obscure but the truth is- so was the boy. Looking no older than nine, Felix spoke in the strong ascent of a thirty year old, whilst recalling the life of a man of sixty. A water seller on the streets, and starving, he had been abused by his mother – evident by the slashes on his arm- and a witch with whom he lived with (scarily they do still believe in them- I doubt he got this idea from the wizard of oz). Nevertheless, with conversations interjected with songs laughter and games including acrobatics from the locals on the beach it was almost impossible to feel sadness for any period of time. Cruelly creeping in later though was the harsh realisation that this story was not unique.

After our first (surreal) Shabbat - pitch black and surrounded by Rastafarians singing ‘raindrops on roses’ and a day of wangling my way out of a marriage proposal by one of the Ghanaians (by claming my fiancĂ© at home would not be happy!) we began the everlasting journey to Tamale – an experience to say the least. 250 stops later (although impressively only one breakdown) and having still not arrived, I was convinced a flight to England and back could have been a viable option- especially as they were by no means the M1 ‘welcome break’ we are accustomed to. Indeed, just by looking at the selection of children’s books being sold the contrast was clear - ‘Koffi has Malaria’ being one of the bedtime selections! Nevertheless the breaks gave us an insight into how the green north differed from the bustling south evident from even the people who although still rushed to sell, had softer tones creating a warmer atmosphere. However, the poverty intensified.

Clearly, bearing witness to this and the hundreds, maybe thousands of narratives similar to Felix that lined the streets of Tamale. A sensory overload, where women and children walk in a torrent of vibrant colour with their livelihood( nuts, fruit, fish, yams etc) balanced precariously on head. Where clean water sold can only be found in sachets and where children lay sprawled out helpless along open sewers, unable to escape open from the suffering that surrounds them. It is hard to believe that just last week I was happily walking down the streets of London, armed with a Frapachino, oblivious to the world so far from my own. Yet, my one realisation was the inability to respond to any of this with pity. Because, despite everything, these sellers still walk with pride, fight disease with dignity and display a kind of joy happiness and warmth that would put most of us to shame.
Our first couple of days in Tamale were spent finding our feet (in mud and dust), being jumped on by random children and just generally learning the lingo as not to get lynched by the locals for not replying correctly to a good morning/afternoon/evening. Though, superseding all of these ‘survival tips’ was the golden left hand rule. That is- you may as well forget this part of your body, it will get you nothing but evil looks.
Our next taste of Africa was a party thrown by the NGO’s that we are working with for the next few months. I have been given the Maltiti child foundation (MCF). Founded by one of the locals, passionate about bridging the divide between education in rural and urban areas, MTF works with some of the most underprivileged pupils in Ghana, finding ways to keep them in education, preventing child labour and giving parents the means to support on their own. As well as this my time will also be spent working with an organisation looking to eliminate child trafficking and abuse, tackling the root causes on the ground.
My first experience of teaching in Jana School was daunting, and that was before I even stepped into a classroom. As we walked past a field where men were using cows to plough, and women who were beating beans large ceramic pots I knew this would be a very different ball game what I was used to. Speaking as much Dugbani as they spoke English, I was almost immediately left to fend for myself in a sweltering room (well, area) crowded with forty children a piece of white chalk…and a cane. This was the point where I decided to abandon both the objects in my hand (one more quickly than the other) and resort what I knew best- freestyle. After about thee hours of flailing arms and laughing 6 year olds we successfully labelled head, hands, feet and legs (I knew all that anatomy at university would come in handy!) counted to 10 and remembered the ABC.
…I was going to post this blog today, but, after experiencing one of the toughest moments I have faced on this trip (albeit only a week), I decided to add a little more. Two young girls were dragged out of my class this morning- whipped, beaten and caned until sweat and tears drenched their clothes and masked their faces. There was little I could do as I stood stunned in font of their traumatised peers- this obviously a familiar occurrence but once which never gets less horrifying. I came home and cried. I am not ashamed. I am not ashamed, because I hope to God that there will never be a day where this behaviour does not provoke the same reaction. We should not become immune. To, accept or allow justification for this act- even from a culture that endorses it would be a disgrace. At home, we are taught that if first you don’t succeed try, try and try again. Here, their first attempt is their last. We are taught to learn from our mistakes, yet their mistakes are not accepted - and they learn nothing but how to shy away from a cane.

Refusing to return to school if things were not changed, Sophie and I spoke to the head of the program tonight (who was admittedly as shocked at this as we were) and managed to add a key principle to the rules that would abolish the use of the cane in the five schools that it works with.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

arriving in Ghana

A striking feature in Accra, Tamale and perhaps the rest of Ghana is the copious amount of billboards on the roadside. They advertise loans, electrical goods, dentists, health you name it. This is what I first noticed as we drove down the dark muddy road to our hostel in Accra- the Rising Phoenix.
The mysterious Jon had picked us up from the airport with very little complication and he was now leading the way in one of our broken cars with no seatbelts and a broken speedometer. I mention to the driver that I heard there were more fatal car accidents than death by malaria in Ghana. He laughs- we are very safe in Ghana he says, and our skin is too thick for the mosquitos. Ghana is such a relaxed, happy, welcoming country but they hinder thier own development by not seeing the faults and problems in front of them. If they are not recognised they will not be dealt with and those who admit them deal with it slowly, slowly fighting the tide of those who refuse to be made aware.
We arrived at the hostel at about which is a breezy, scenic place by the sea. It is situated in a little shanty town where people sleep wherever they like and during the day women cook in the streets with their little barefooted children runnig around- a common sight in Africa. It is very friendly though and the several Rastafarians who "took us as their friends", as well as our trusty Jon, our new Canadian friend Mike, and our American NGO worker Molly showed us all the best places to go. In general, the hostel was just enough for most of the group though the electricity did not turn on till the minibus arrived to collect us on Sunday.
Sunday was the 13hour coach ride to Tamale with Nigerian films blaring at us and an experience in itself. We were anticipating with excitement the site of our saviours David Bush, the intern, and Peter, the help us with everything man. They met us through the crowd as we fell off the bus and were bruised by the driver and his helpers throwing our suitcases at us. For some reason he was demanding $100 but what did it matter? We were now in the safe arms of David and Peter.
Another few taxis later and we were home to one of our lovely houses with fans and electricity, two chickens and three bathrooms. Our haven. The last few days have become a sort blur with all the NGOs coming round, the waiting so common to the Ghanain lifestyle, the market, the party, the food, Peter, the malaria pills and so on. Yesterday was my first hour and a half of teaching with Caroline in Morning Star with more volunteers to follow. I love it however exhausting it may be. The school is a few shacks and no toilet. I thought I was prepared but I was not and if any teaching is to get done the conditions must be ignored and hand sanitiser will have to become our best friend. I already know three names in my class of ages 7-8 who cannot read much: Sarah, Adam and Abdul Rasid.
Madam Cecilia owns the school and Eric is the headteacher. More on this to follow.
Madam Talia