Posted by: devonhamilton | November 19, 2010

Week 7

Sorry for the lack of updates, the internet has been down in Koforidua for the past few days! Here is what we have been up to since my last post –

Last week we ran three comprehensive workshops for the peer mentors. We focused on the MDGs; proposal writing; and fundraising. It was interesting to work with the mentors because they asked a lot of questions and were eager to participate, unlike some of the schools we had previously visited, so it was nice to have a bit of a discussion around Ghana’s progress towards the MDGs.

During the presentations I have been focusing on MDG 1 (eradicate extreme poverty and hunger) and MDG 2 (achieve universal primary education). MDG 1 refers to providing people with basic needs, or the things they need to live a decent life: food, water, clothing, shelter, and medicine. Ghana was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to achieve the specified target of halving the proportion of the population in extreme poverty; this was achieved in 2006 (well ahead of the 2015 target). At the national level, poverty has been decreasing, but there are huge disparities between regions. For instance, poverty has increased in the Upper West and Upper East regions (Northern Ghana). According to the United Nations, over 70% of people whose incomes are below the poverty line in Ghana live in these regions.

In terms of MDG 2, there have been policy interventions carried out in Ghana to help attain this goal, such as the construction and rehabilitation of classrooms; school feeding programs; and the abolishment of primary school enrollment fees. While I was presenting I emphasized the school feeding program, since it had come up again and again in my research. However, I was challenged on this point by a mentor who said that the food being served through the feeding programs wasn’t nutritious, good quality food, which was something they had seen first-hand but something I obviously did not come across in my research. It was so interesting to hear their perspective on Ghana’s progress towards the MDGs versus what we had been reading online and in the UN reports.

We also spent a day last week handing out letters to schools and churches to offer to run our MDG workshop for them sometime within the next three weeks of programming. I only expected this process to take a couple of hours but it took up our entire day! Needless to say this involved a fair bit of walking, taxi-ing, and waiting. This week we conducted an MDG review session with the mentors on Wednesday, and then we began our workshops at various schools on Thursday. Right now we are assisting with the workshops but by next week we are hoping to take on a more supervisory role. I think we are all looking forward to seeing the mentors take the lead with this project – they are very ambitious in how many youths and schools they want to target and I think we are all confident in the sustainability of our project.

On Saturday, we took a tro-tro to Kumasi, the capital of the Ashanti region (for those keeping track, I have now visited five of Ghana’s ten regions: the Ashanti region, the Western region, the Eastern region, the Central region and the Greater Accra region). A tro-tro is a minibus that holds about 13 people, and is fairly cheap. The unfortunate part is that they don’t run on any sort of schedule, you just board the tro-tro and it doesn’t leave until its full! On Saturday this meant sitting in the tro-tro for an hour before it filled up. On top of that, a man decided to preach at us from outside for the duration of this time. After we finally departed, it took us about four hours to get to Kumasi and then we spent awhile trying to find a hotel – many of the hotels we looked at wouldn’t allow two women to share a room (and we clearly didn’t want to pay for five separate rooms) but we lucked out and found decent accommodations for around 18 cedis per night. I know I previously mentioned that we were going to attend a funeral in Kumasi, but there was some confusion with the dates and it was the previous weekend!

Kumasi was massive and overwhelming. The Bradt guide (highly recommended for anyone looking to travel to Ghana) insisted that it was one of the most hectic cities in Africa, and I think I was still surprised at how busy it was. The market was absolutely crazy. I took a few pictures but I don’t think I quite captured its essence. We laughed about the fact that we thought the Market Circle in Takoradi was busy the first time we walked through it, because this was about a hundred times more chaotic. We met up with one of Fred’s friends in Kumasi and went out for dinner and dancing in the evening. On Sunday, we did some walking through the city, so I saw the Chief’s palace and the Kumasi zoo (from the outside, we didn’t go in). I also had the opportunity to do a bit of shopping in Kumasi – I bought a couple of paintings and a game called oware. I don’t know how to play yet but Fred told me that he would teach me – it’s supposed to be similar to backgammon. In the afternoon we attended a soccer game between the Kotoko Warriors (Kumasi’s team: the porcupine warriors) and New Edubiase. A ticket was just 3 cedis! The Kotoko Warriors lost 2-0.

We didn’t leave Kumasi until Monday morning. For the return trip, we took the Metro Mass Transit bus instead of a tro-tro, which was perhaps a mistake. We just missed the first bus to Koforidua (remember, they leave as soon as they are full), so we had to wait an hour for the next one to arrive. Once it arrived, we boarded, but we waited two and a half hours for the bus to fill (every single seat!). Afterwards, we still had a four hour ride to Koforidua, which seemed to take forever, especially since I had two chickens seated beside me. We left our hotel in Koforidua before 8am and somehow didn’t get home until after 4pm. Frustrating, to say the least!

The good news is that we came home to some of Mama Augusta’s delicious cooking. I think I will probably dedicate an entire post to her food in the future, but I need to mention her here because I think that picturing her cooking helped us to survive the bus ordeal from Kumasi. I can’t emphasize enough how wonderful it has been to try traditional Ghanaian food this way, especially since we were all becoming very tired of constantly eating in restaurants in Takoradi. Typically Mama Augusta brings us breakfast in the morning: either an omelet, rice porridge, or oats with coffee, tea, or milo (a kind of hot chocolate energy drink – yum!). Everything she has made us for lunch/dinner has been amazing, including: groundnut (peanut) soup, yams with palava sauce (I’m not sure how to describe palava sauce, its kind of like a spinach sauce), jollof rice, and this week we finally tried fufu. Fufu is kind of a starchy dough ball made from pounding cassava and plantain, and served in a light soup. We were warned about how fufu might sit in our stomachs (its recommended that you eat it before 4pm and go for a walk or something afterwards!) but Mama Augusta worked her magic and I think it sat fine with all of us!

This week we were informed that 100 children were going to be staying at the YMCA for a couple of nights, which was noisy but fun. They were very curious about us and created some sort of game where the bravest one would run by where we were sitting, which was pretty funny for us. A few local boys stopped by one night and gave us a surprisingly thorough Twi lesson, so my vocabulary has moved beyond animals – I can now also count to five! It is easier to learn now that we have some works written down, but the differences in pronunciation seem so subtle to me that I am having trouble differentiating some words.

Yesterday we visited the Bead Market in Koforidua, which is held every Thursday. Needless to say, I was in heaven and made many purchases! I felt like I could have spent my entire day there. The market had a vast selection of necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and loose beads. I am looking forward to attending again next Thursday and adding to my collection!

At the moment we have four workshops booked for next week and we are in the process of calling schools and churches to add more. We are also going to visit Boti Falls this weekend, which is about half an hour away from Koforidua. The climb is 2-3 hours and apparently the views from the top are amazing, so stay tuned! We are also thinking about travelling to Mole the weekend of December 3, it is a far journey though (I think around 10 hours?) so if anyone has feedback as to whether or not it is worth the trip I would appreciate it!

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