12 July 2006

The Impact

I am sitting in the passenger seat of the Nissan Patrol, the NGOSUV. The driver and I are fetching lunch for everyone at the office. Each day, everyone pools their money and sends a vehicle into town to pick up whatever they request. As a result of having picked up food countless times, the driver always knows the best place in town for any specific food item. As we twist and turn our way through the narrow streets of bustling Tamale, I try to remember the steps we take to arrive at each chop bar, specializing in anything from kenkey, watche, banku, rice, beans, fried plantains or yams. Each item has one specific location that OIC orders from. The best chop bars can be easily identified by the long line-ups of impatient and hungry Ghanaians, as well as the rows of wooden benches where satisfied individuals quickly heave the steaming hot items into their mouth.

As we travel down the main road towards town, I stare out the window at the chaotic scene around me. Most days, I walk down these streets without a second thought. If a gentlemen passes me on a bike with two-by-fours on his head, I gently tuck my head down. If a motorbike weaves its way towards me on the sidewalk, I gracefully stride to the side. This is a big difference from when I first arrived in Tamale, and would dive out of the way of any obtuse object on the sidewalk, be it sheep, cow, pile of sand, or motorbike. These streets are very different from the view of the SUV, and I realize that when comparing them to the tranquility of Canada's roads, just how hectic they can be. Yet in all my time in Tamale, I have witnessed only one bicycle accident, in the pitch black atmosphere of 7pm, when travelling into town to fetch dinner.

We continue down the road and I glance out my window and who do I see? I see Gwen, a newly arrived EWB LTOV from UBC, buying a sachet of drinking water by the side of the road. We continue further along and I glance out the other side to see Sabrina, a Guelph JF, buying food from a chop bar. I look around me and realize that everywhere we go in Tamale, we bump into each other. I stayed at the Maacos Hotel one weekend, and returned from the communal toilet to discover Louis Dorval sucking back a sachet water in front of his room. He was staying next door. I walk down to my favourite yam place, only to discover Robin, Louis, and Russ sitting back having a meeting enjoying some yams.

I cannot help but wonder what impact we have on this community in such numbers. One late Friday evening, after taking a lorry from Damongo into Tamale, a man stopped his bike and approached me on the street; a normal occurrence when you spot a westerner on the streets of Tamale. He immediately asked if I was Canadian. I was at first a little shocked but I assumed that I had just met him before. I answered: "Yes, I am a Canadian... how did you know?"

"Canadians wear the white band" he said, pointing to the Make Poverty History wristband that adorns my left wrist. I then pointed out that not all Canadians wear the white band, but only a small percentage, and how my presence in Ghana would hopefully make more Canadians wear it. "How?" he asked. I hadn't quite figured that part out yet.

He then began to enquire about his Canadian friends Jon (Saskatchewan JF) and Chloe (Victoria JF). I mentioned that they were both good friends, and he informed me that they had travelled to Mole National Park for the weekend.

A little further, someone called out to me on the street, asking me to say hello to Sarah (Western JF) and Sabrina.

Can negative impact be possible? Is EWB fostering the stereotype that all Canadians know each other? I pondered what the implications would be by replying to people that yes, I am good friends with Troy from Vancouver, BC, or Ian from Newfoundland. Whatever they are, they are going to get stronger as the summer winds down, having almost thirty EWB volunteers and staff in various capacities spread across the Northern Region of Ghana.

So the next time you're in Ghana and someone asks you how Kyle, from Canada is doing. You can let them know that I am just fine.

11 July 2006

The Critical Point

The Micro-Enterprise Development projects of West Gonja have reached a critical point in their development of the partnership between the women co-operatives and Opportunities Industrialisation Centres. For the last 13 months, eight of the newest groups have been taking training sessions which cover the process of packaging and marketing processed cassava, to learning how to price their product and make it marketable. In all, there are 13 modules that the women encounter, usually done in one to two hours, once a month. This process takes place before the delivery of the equipment to keep the women focused and to measure their interest in the partnership (done through regular check-ups and attendance records).

The marketing of a product seems unrelated to increasing the livelihoods of a group of rural women, but it's role is suprisingly integral. Products from an initiative such as the gari being processed by these women, or the shea nut oil they also produce (critical to many cosmetics products), is usually marketed in clear plastic bags or in clumps by the roadside and is often very competitively priced when many women sell in a small roadside market area. The little cosmetic appearances that can separate the products can mean a good day of sales for one women or opportunity lost for another.

So we sit in a circle of carved wooden benches under the shade of a date tree and discuss what it takes to make a sale; determine who the customer is and focus on appealing to them.

There are only six groups receiving their equipment this rainy season, however. Six of eight groups for which we are slowly providing proof of our commitment to the partnership, and the last two groups whose queries for proof are still atleast a few months away due to funding.


The partnership is drawn out specifically in certain areas, such as building construction. The women are to produce a structure measuring 16' x 14', and a veranda around the front of the structure 10' x 14'. Upon receiving word of completion of the 26' x 14' structure, OIC sends out a roofing team, a lorry containing all the lumber, aluminum alloy roof tiles, and cassava equipment necessary for full operation.

The arrival of the lorry and OIC NGOSUV is the culmunation of over a year of training and promises from both sides, and an exciting time to be involved in the project. However in June, the roofing was completed in only one village, with only one co-operative. The June 15th deadline approached and quickly passed with only one group finishing their side of the partnership. This represents a huge setback for the project, which OIC had hoped to implement by the peak of the rainy season.

Reasons for the other five groups not reaching the deadline are many. In some instances, rains were constantly delaying the construction of the mud-walled structure, and in some extreme circumstances, even damaging them. This led to the insistance from some groups that OIC complete roofing before the structure was finished to protect what had remained, and then the structure could be completed underneath. This request, while valid, uncovers problems and setbacks in its implementation. The structure is the responsibilty of the group to construct. It is their role in the partnership. If it is incomplete, OIC is unable to continue in its current capacity, because the partnership is not being followed through. The added costs are also quite significant if it is an incomplete structure being roofed. These added costs include additional lumber to prop up a premature roof. The result is a higher investment from OIC than other groups which have met the partnership deadlines on time and completed their structure.

What then is to happen to these five groups of women who have passed the June 15th deadline without completing their structure? Will OIC end the partnership? Will they not receive the equipment? While OIC makes it clear that the matter is serious, at no time do they consider denying these groups the fruition of their full year of training. The problems that have arisen must be analyzed and resolved as quickly as possible to allow the project to continue. Besides the refusal to continue construction, which was explained above, some other problems were found in the unfinished sheds; poor construction materials and know-how in rural areas was due to a lack of skilled labourers in the art of construction. Indeed, it is an art, as these sculptors are able to take piles of earth, add water, and create structures which are resistant to the rains and the wind. However in some villages, husbands were jealous of the opportunities presented to their wives, and would refuse to help construct the shed or find skilled labourers. This resulted in having the women begin construction themselves, on top of all of the other tasks they encounter on a daily basis. the resultant shed was often not square, would collapse easily, or was not to the original specifications agreed to in the partnership.

These projects will in time get off the ground, but it is the understanding of the consequences of the delays which have kept both sides working in the partnership. OIC's patience with the co-operatives, and the women's perseverance to complete the structure is awe-inspiring, and from the rain-soaked earth rise mud huts which will house the enterprise on which these women are about to embark on.

So what then, of that one village which has met the deadline?


Of the eight gari groups a bright light shines from the 18 women who reside in the village of Mognori, a tiny settlement precariously perched on the edge of Mole National Park, the largest wild game park in West Africa. Not only was the Mognori group the first to finish their structure, but they also used mud-brick construction. It is the second of its type in this village, behind only the mosque, and more commonly found in populous centres such as Tamale or the South. In the middle of a picturesque setting of straw-roofed huts and flat-topped mud kraals lies a brick fortress which took the ingenuity and commitment of an entire village to complete. Myself and Patrick are both suprised that they have been able to complete this structure in such short time.

The roofers are quickly summoned from Tamale and allows me to spend a few days in this village to investigate what has allowed this project to flourish. Some positive deviance analysis uncovers some interesting facts. I meet some teachers in the town who live their to teach at the village school. They are some of the few people who speak english, and are able to enlighten me to what has been occurring in this small community. I discover that until the project was completed, the leaders of the group met nightly to discuss the progress, how they would acquire the bricks, and who would be responsible for ensuring the construction site had plently of water, essential for the mortar. The women understood the partnership - they saw the opportunity, and acted accordingly in order to meet the deadline. But how did they do this?
I am suprised to see some men helping out during the roofing phase of the cassava shed. When they take a break during the blazing afternoon sun, I approach one husband who has sought shelter in the shade of a palm-nut tree. After a few minutes of questions about the project, I enquire why he has decided to help. His response is something I will not soon forget.

"They are our mothers. Our wives. Our sisters... when you give opportunity to a mother, you give opportunity to an entire family."

Certainly a phrase that is heard quite often in development, and indeed the very answer I received when I asked OIC of their focus on women. To hear this at the level of the village is to begin to understand what is taking place here, in the village of Mognori.

06 July 2006

Accomodations INDEPTH

A look at the various accomodations I have encountered over the last few months.

Upon arrival in Accra we were whisked to the House of Lords Hotel (pro. House of Looords, just so you know). The accomodations were pretty snazzy. A/C, ceiling fan, as well as a semi-flushing toilet and a shower head that worked in some rooms. If the water had been running and electricity working, it would have been a paradise. Instead, myself and three other volunteers, Luke Brown, Ben Best, and Ian Froude slept comfortably and intimately on a king size bed under a still fan and silent air conditioning unit. This was my first taste of life in Ghanaian hotels.
Things weren't much different when we arrived in Tamale, where we were welcomed with open arms to the Maacos Hotel. During our one week stay, the hotel underwent two name changes, and they bought a freezer! The Maacos is famous for hosting an EWB member at any given time, and I would return for the occasional weekend to Tamale to discover other JFs or Louis, Director of West Africa projects hanging out in the courtyard. Our West Africa Retreat will be taking place at the Maacos. The hotel is managed by the extremely loveable Emmanuelle, who makes your stay as comfortable as possible, and when you're lucky, changes the bedsheets.

The OIC Guesthouse, where I would stay during work-related visits to Tamale, is a venerable palace of amenities. Although running water is rare, it has a shower head, and there is a water heater in the washroom... one day I will break and use it. The complete kitchen also houses a microwave, stove, blender (which Marka and myself used to make mango & banana smoothies one blistering afternoon), as well as a propane stove and rice cooker. Other meals we have prepared include spaghetti, grilled cheese, and soup. The house has a dining room, the first I have seen in Ghana, as well as a family room. It has two courtyards and three washrooms.

In Damongo, one of two accomodations is the Catholic Guesthouse. Another luxurious accomodation. This hotel featured running water, shower, and some pretty cool brickwork. The price was steep however, costing ยข92 000 for a room. Luckily, I only spent one night here.

If you're ever in Bunkpurungu in the Upper-East region of Ghana (hey, it could happen), I strongly recommend the Rabito guesthouse, of Rabito skin-clinic fame. This lovely guesthouse is a series of traditional mud huts with thatched roofs, vibrantly painted and arranged in a circular pattern around a bedrock-ridden courtyard. Each hut has a separate shower stall where morning or evening bucket showers can be had under the beautiful Ghanaian sky.

The complex, like the entire village, is powered by solar-power, and the rooms are cooled by leaving the door and window open. Bunkpurungu is taking a step backwards in terms of progress, and the electrical lines being built towards the village will spell the end of this entirely solar powered town's sustainability. However the reasons are obvious. Store vendors wish to sell chilled minerals, and people want to be able to buy televisions. Denying them these luxuries we so easily take for granted is not something we have the right to do.

My room in Damongo. Walls a vibrant blue and mosquito net in full effect. These are my permanent accomodations for the remainder of this placement.

A view from the opposite corner.

Have a question about any of my accomodations? Want more details? Leave a comment and I will be sure to answer it as soon as possible.