Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Microcosm of African Brain Drain

Brain Drain: the unfortunate reality that most of Africa's most intelligent, educated people end up leaving Africa to work in a country that is richer and more profitable. From the outside, it is easy to say that they should stay in Africa. Invest in their country. Use their skills to benefit the next generation of their people. But in many cases, a job abroad can pay more than quadruple their home country, not to mention living conditions, infrastructure, etc. But.. Can you really blame them?

I knew about this phenomenon, but have more recently come face to face with a microcosm of brain drain here in Africa. Ghana can relatively easily be divided into two; the North and the South- though this oversimplification often frustrates me, I confess that in many ways the North and South of the country are vastly different. The North is characterized by a drier, more extreme climate, poorer quality of education, higher prevalence of Islam, and perhaps are about 50 years behind the development of the South (as a result of slave trade, gold, cocoa, and general colonization all along the Souths coast, on the Atlantic.)

Some people in the South talk generally about "Northerners"; about how they are backwards, rough, aggressive, etc. Similarly, Northerners can have oversimplified perspectives of those in the South- as unfairly privileged, rich, full of opportunities, etc.

Because the best schools are in the South, any Northerner who is fortunate enough to complete their primary education in the North, and is brilliant, is almost guaranteed to further their schooling in the south. After graduation, how much do you think they are pulled back to the North? This is like a Zambian-educated Doctor who finds work in London...

A friend recently told me that Ghana's best lawyers are Northerners- but you'd never know it because they are all based in the South. It is very likely that these few, top "Northerners" are sending back money to their family in the North, it is probable that they are helping to pay school fees of some of their siblings/relatives, and that they visit on holidays; but it is highly unlikely anyone could convince that person to come back to the North to settle permanently.

So you see a picture where all the brilliant, educated, trained, exceptional Northerners end up contributing to the economy in the South, and the North remains closer to stagnant as vast numbers go uneducated, barely literate, or merely basic education. Some Southerners may come to work in the North- but this is almost always a temporary situation; and not something they are proud of. I can't count the number of southern Ghanaians I know that have never even been to the North- not once, "Why would I go there?", they ask.

Quite often, someone of the street will be greeting me jokingly, and say that I should send them to my country. More seriously, people I know well in Ghana often state that they'd love to go study abroad. I have often told people my very biased opinion quite openly- "I wish you would stay here." Or, "fine, if you go to do your masters in the UK, come back to Ghana. Ghana needs people like you." Is this arrogant of me?

I ask the question again- can I really blame them for wanting a better life for themselves? If you knew you could double, triple, or quadruple your salary by moving- would you stay where you were, out of the goodness of your heart, to sacrifice and give back to your community?

I am inspired and touched by the Ghanaians I know who are entirely committed to staying in Ghana. Even some have been abroad, to UK or US, and have come back and are still convicted that they should stay in Ghana. This is promising. The future of Ghana lies heavily on the shoulders of Ghanaians. Though westerners will come and go, and foreign aid and charity may abound, real, lasting change and transformation - I believe- will be borne out of a generation of Ghanaians who want to see change in their country and are ready and willing to enact and ignite that change for a better Ghana.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

What have your hands got to say?

Take a minute, and look at your hands. What colour are they? How do they feel? What (if anything) is on your fingers?

Prior to coming to Ghana, I never thought much about my hands.. except that I didn't like them. They were too big, somehow not feminine enough. I'd been told they were long and would make me a good pianist- but I still have yet to learn the piano. Apart from being a fast typist on the computer, which helped me in writing papers during University, I never really thought twice about my hands.

On several occasions, I'll greet someone in Ghana and we'll shake hands and then snap together (I'll have to show you this in person). And many a time, the person will remark; "You have such soft hands!"

My host brothers in Wamale often want to just hold my hand or rub my palm because "it is so smooth"..

This post is not to brag about my hands, but to ask; what have your hands got to say? What do your hands say about who you are? What you do? What you can do? What you have done?

If you look at my hands, apart from being big, I have long nails. Mostly because I am not consistent with cutting/filing them, and they grow fast. I have never worn acrylic nails but have almost always had relatively long nails. In Ghana, especially rural Ghana, this shows people that you are wealthy, and that you are not a farmer. Long nails mean you don't do a lot of physical labour, and certainly don't weed, plant, or harvest. You probably don't wash your own clothes or weave baskets or braid hair or wash bowls.. you probably have an office job, "real work"... Some in Ghana, even males, will keep their pinky fingernail long intentionally...

My point; the length of your nails says a lot about your position and lifestyle.

Having soft hands and white, white palms is like icing on an already luxurious cake. Your hands are soft: you probably- no, you definitely!- haven't been washing dishes by hand or scrubbing clothes by hand your whole life. It's clear I've been blessed/spoiled with dishwashers and washer/dryers my whole life in Canada.

And I think it's self explanatory, the perception of you when you have a huge diamond ring on your finger, or even silver ones..

I remember shaking Amos' hands, after he had been working in the mines for several months. They were swollen, with blisters, and almost as rough as sandpaper.. I almost felt embarrassed to shake his, knowing what he would say about mine subsequently.

Just another example of how something so insignificant to me growing up, is now something I am conscious of, almost every time I greet and shake someone's hands.

What do your hands say about you?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

This is my perspective..

Hello my dear friends, family, colleagues, distant acquaintances, strangers..

I'm taking part in The Perspectives Challenge this holiday season to raise funds for Engineers Without Borders and get people asking important questions about the way we approach development in Africa. After over 14 months in Ghana, I am more passionate and hopeful than ever.

I've shared my perspective on an important part of Engineers Without Borders' work and beliefs, and I invite you to read it here:

If you like my perspective, and/or the work EWB is doing to alleviate poverty in Africa, please donate generously to Engineers Without Borders today and help me achieve my personal goal of raising $3000. It's simple and easy - all you have to do is click the donate now button.

I assure you your donation will go to a reputable Canadian charity doing important work in Canada and Africa. 87% of every donation goes directly to that work - EWB has one of the lowest overhead budgets in the country thanks largely to thousands of volunteers (students and professionals) logging unbelievable hours. Take a look at my perspective and feel free to ask me any questions you might have - this isn't just about money. And when you donate to EWB you are helping to create lasting change, not ongoing charity.

Thanks for your continued support,

With love and immense gratitude, Robin Stratas