Monday, March 1, 2010

Keepin' cool in shades of Ghana

Underneath it all..

I love Ghana and I am overwhelmingly happy here. Most of my blog posts depict an optimistic picture. Most days I laugh and smile excessively. Most days I go to sleep so grateful.

But underneath it all, I still experience a great deal of frustration and sadness inside.

Life is hard in Ghana. Life is so hard in Ghana. I'm not referring to how hard it is for me, as a white, in Northern Ghana. No, not for me; life is hard for the average Ghanaian. A common response to the question: "how are you doing" here is: "Oh, we are managing... Small small". This really summarizes the situation of the vast majority of people I interact with here in Northern Ghana. They are just managing, and hopefully for most, "small small"; gradually- little by little- things are getting better.

Some days when I am feeling demotivated it is easy to blame it on the sweltering heat, blame it on lack of sleep, blame it on overwork and lack of time off., or maybe its because I haven't been eating well, haven't been exercising.. but really, days like today, I have to acknowledge that underneath it all, sometimes the daily tragedies just get to me.

In lieu of the fact that I want to always present an honest picture of my personal experiences here, I share these feelings openly and candidly with you- wherever/whoever you are. I respect and appreciate the time you take to connect to my life and I send you my love and gratitude as I sit here, blessed fan blowing on my face, thermometer telling me it is 35.5 degrees, Sulemana sleeping beside me with his hand on my lap.

I really love you all.

Oh! the places you go!

As explained in the previous post, my current role in Ghana has required me to travel a great deal throughout this nation, (been to 7 Regions in Ghana), and even beyond these borders briefly.
Instead of providing an in depth summary of my movements, I thought I would write a few key words that come to mind when I think of my time at each of the various places.
Burkina Faso- real fresh amazing yoghurt, baguettes, children dancing and singing, feeling ashamed of my inability to speak French, bathing and sleeping in the open with the sun/moon right above you.
Ohawu Agricultural College- (Volta Region, Ghana)-Eating too much Kenke, huge dam that everyone claims they own, power outages, being aggressively challenged on the relevance and sustainability of EWB's work.
Nigeria- Amazing ice cream parlour that even had banana splits, nicely paved roads and street lights, Western clothing and lifestyles.
Pong Tamale Animal Health and Production College (Vet. College, Northern Region, Ghana)- Sheep everywhere, great food (spaghetti!) and connections with female students, dedicated principal who I know will facilitate transformative change at this college.
Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (Kumasi, Ashanti Region, Ghana)- passionate Christian youth worshipping God, beautiful tropical gardens, trees, forests everywhere, coolness!
Bolgatanga (Upper East Region, Ghana)- rastas wanting to "be my friend", great beaded jewellery and vibrant Ghanaian cloth everywhere. Spending too much money.
Kwadaso Agricultural College (Kwadaso, Ashanti Region, Ghana)- lots of cows roaming around, magnificent, enormous trees, projector that didn't work, amazing professors and principal, missing Carissa (past volunteer).
Accra (Greater Accra Region, Ghana)- watching Avatar in an amazing movie theatre while eating popcorn!, Airport- filled with mixed emotional memories, eating too many scoops of real ice cream, packed streets and traffic like you can't imagine, gaining weight.
Tamale (Northern Region, Ghana): friends everywhere I go, a great ("great" as in: wonderful, and as in very large) family, comfort in knowing where to buy things I need and how to get around, riding on my moto, eating dried pineapple, greeting people in Dagbani, great Canadian friends/colleagues.

"Surname: STRATAS, Given Name: ROBIN REBECCA... Occupation: ___________?"

As a group of Canadians (all Africa Program Staff from Ghana) travelled across the Ghana/Burkina Faso border, in addition to pathetic attempts at bilingualism, we filled out the necessary forms. Mostly straightforward... I filled in my name, my passport number and expiration date, my current mailing address, and the reason for my visit to Burkina.. but then, just when I thought I had it covered, just when I thought I was almost finished this mind-numbing activity, I became stumped: "Occupation:_________". My immediate reaction was to peak on my colleague's sheet, as I had done for some other parts of the form, to see what they had written: "ENGINEER". Well okay, my engineering colleagues have it a bit easier. That won't work for me though. So I sat and thought: okay, how can I summarize and describe what I do in about 20 letters?
I settled on the most general, vague, indistinct title I could: "Development Worker".
Upon further thought, I realized that just in the same way I found it difficult to tell a border official- who doesn't care at all- what I do, I haven't been able to effectively communicate to Canadians about my work here.
I know that blog posts like these can become long, boring, confusing, so I will do my very best to be concise. If you have further questions- please ask me. I really appreciate all comments and questions on this blog.

So for simplicity's sake let's say that my work is focused in 3 general areas:
1) Working at MADU- a Ministry of Food and Agric (MoFA) District office. Here I have primarily been training Field Staff (a core group of 10) on implementing a curriculum with farmer groups, that EWB developed called Agriculture as a Business. Main goals of this practical curriculum are to 1) strengthen existing farmer groups, and 2) develop farmers' agribusiness skills and abilities to increase profits. Here, I've also been generally building the capacity of the staff: trainings and workshops on "Quality Extension", and Goal setting, individual etc. Here is where I have made some amazing friends with incredibly dedicated, underpaid field staff, and had the chance to interact face to face, on fields and under mango trees, with the farmers I am ultimately working on behalf of. The first part of my placement was mostly focused here, at MADU. I am now transitioning out of this position.

2) Working in Agricultural Colleges- This work was previously being undertaken by Carissa Vados, incredible volunteer who is now back in Canada. I am following up with her work at the Vet College (AHPC) on developing a course outline for a new class on entrepreneurship- designed to address the current challenge of unemployment in graduates, and to provide overall inspiration for students to be innovative. Further, I am now also working at Kwadaso Agric College (these are likely the 2 best Agric colleges of the 5 in the country), also pushing an Entrepreneurship course which already exists, and also enhancing the Extension curriculum to be more farmer-first, participatory approach, innovative, and inclusive of agribusiness skills. At this school I am also piloting an Entrepreneur Competition which, depending on success, could be scaled up to all colleges next year. I am super excited about this initiative, because after personally spending time at a district, and hearing of all my colleagues frustrations at various districts, I am excited about addressing one of the root causes by improving the quality of education, so graduates already have the key knowledge, skills and attitudes before they enter the workforce.

3) Finally, I work for EWB to support our staff here on team MoFA: this means that I am responsible for the Junior Fellowship Program in Ghana (this summer we will receive 8-14 University students who will spend 4 months in Ghana), as well as training new Africa Program Staff, coaching and supporting staff, facilitating workshops at team meetings, tracking health and safety, coaching and managing our (Ghanaian) National Service Volunteer, Adam etc.
You can see that the work I do is rich in diversity but there is still quite a bit of overlap. All involves people, and some form of education. All that I do is ultimately driven by a desire to improve the lives of Ghanaian farmers.. I believe that through building the capacity of field staff, agric students, and the Canadian staff who engage with Ghanaians, we can make a lasting difference for Dorothy. All of my work is also driven by a love and desire to work with people and help them grow from where they are to a better place; my desire is to help people become more joyous, fulfilled, and enriched; and to help them become better human beings overall. My blog is called Addicted to Impact because, like any addiction, I can't get enough. There will never be a day I say, "Okay, my work is done. The world is now perfect". I believe there will always be ways, in every single day, that I can be used to make an impact in someone's life.

"Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can."- John Wesley.