In Seven Days

I suppose I’ll take the afternoon off work, go back to my room and pack.

The 12-15 kids who live in my compound might join me. They are likely to make that process more challenging by touching just about everything I own. I’m going to miss hearing them shout various pronouncements of ‘David’ at me everyday after work. Their dance routines outside my room door were continual sources of amusement during the summer.

As for my bike, I’m still not sure what I’ll do with it.

I might give it to Kareem, who has been my best friend this summer. On my first week in Gushie, I braved a walk through the village after work. Kareem seemed to drift out of his house to greet me. For the following 2-hours he taught me dozens of dagbani sayings (which I promptly forgot). That evening, he came by my room to take me to meet his group. In September, Kareem will leave Gushie to go back to school in Pong-Tamale. That is a 1-hour bike ride from here. So I suppose he will need a bike.

I think I’ll ask Issahaku to pick me up on his way back from the office.

Since I started working here, I have spent most of my days in the OMOA office speaking with Issahaku, Amin or Mohammad. If I was having a slow day and letting myself rot away in that office, one of them would always come in and ask me about anything and everything. From extension work to Canadian culture; from Canadian culture to human life expectancy; from human life expectancy to polygamy. We somehow managed to bridge the gap between each subject.

He should leave for Tamale at around 4:00 p.m.

That’s about the time the men of the village gather on that bench under the tree by my compound. Everyday after work I biked home, rolled to a stop near them and shouted ‘enteree’. They usually only responded ‘nahhh’, but every now and again they would test my dagbani skills by adding a different greeting. To that, I would usually have to respond with either ‘allafi biena’ or ‘gwom bien’. I got better at figuring out these responses as time went on. Sometimes I would use a different greeting with them to try and catch them off-guard – it never worked.

After we leave Gushie, Issahaku and I will pass through Savelugu.

I met Mohammed on my second Saturday in Ghana. That day, I took a tro-tro to Savelugu in order to find a tailor, buy a bike and get a hair cut. I saw a barber shop as the tro rolled to a stop in Savelugu, so I went there first. After that, I asked one of the fellows in the shop if he knew a tailor. Mohammed then rose up and offered me a moto ride to find one. While I did turn down the moto ride (since I am only allowed one if I have a helmet), Mohammed was not deterred (confused though he was). He walked with me to meet his tailor. And then to buy a bike. And then to get my bike tuned up. After that, I ran out of money. So he went with me to Tamale to visit Barkley’s bank. About 6 hours after we met, Mohammed brought me to the Savelugu taxi stand and said his farewell. He didn’t ask for money (as I had expected); he didn’t even ask for my number. My next time in Savelugu I made sure I got Mohammed’s number. I’ll give him a few calls when I’m back in St. John’s.

I’ll stay in Tamale that evening.

I’ll give Fuzzy and Jamal a call when I’m there. My Tamale friends have been calling me regularly since I met them – always to greet me and ask when I would be back in Tamale. Maybe I’ll be able to say goodbye to them in person.

This picture displays the fine work of my tailor and barber.

David

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Mangos and Subsidies

During pre-departure training in Toronto, one of the exercises our group went through involved analyzing a failed initiative in the Upper East Region of Ghana. This initiative was the Pwalugu Tomato Factory, which existed to process locally-grown tomatoes into tomato paste that would be sold within Ghana. The factory ended up going under for a variety of reasons – a big one being that agricultural subsidies from EU countries undercut the market, causing the locally made tomato paste to be more expensive than imported paste. Thus, customers bought the less expensive paste, and the factory was no more.

In the late 1990’s, a Dutch businessman saw a market opportunity for organic mangos in the EU. Given his strong connections to the Ghanaian agricultural industry, he hired a few mango experts to assess the viability of growing mangos in the Northern Region of Ghana. To that point, mangos were primarily grown in southern Ghana, and those trees had no organic certification.

The mango consultants assessed the soil and temperature conditions in the region, and said organic mangos could be grown here. They told him to plant Kent trees, and to expect income generating yields 4-5 years after planting the trees.

Thus the ITFC was founded. It began with a few hundred acres of trees owned by the company and eventually expanded to an outgrower scheme. This means that they had to go around to farmers in the region, convince them to plant a few mango trees and labour for 4-5 years before making any profit. The farmers were used to harvesting crops some weeks after planting them; waiting several years before any harvest would occur was an unheard-of request. But the ITFC told them that mango farming would increase their annual income – moving them from subsistence farmers to profitable farmers. So farmers bought into the scheme. Up to 1400 farmers were recruited by 2008 – recruitment tactics were working.

But there was still one hiccup in the project – and it was a fairly large hiccup. Most farmers, 7-8 years after planting their mango trees, were harvesting little to no mangos each year. So farmer recruitment stopped, and the ITFC decided to focus on getting adequate yields from the mango trees already in the ground.

It turns out that Kent trees weren’t suitable for the climate in northern Ghana. They thrive when nighttime temperatures reach 10 degrees celsius, but the temperatures in the Northern Region never fall that low. Current projections estimate that the trees will take 15 years to acclimatize to their new environment. That means that for the earliest planted trees, adequate yields are 3-4 years away.

As a result, some farmers have become disengaged and mistrustful of the ITFC. OMOA exists to alleviate alot of the concerns farmers have, and that job has become quite difficult in recent years. Many of the mango farms are not being ‘slashed’ (the grass is not being cut); AEAs and management need to keep on top of many farmers to get them to spray their trees; and some of the pruning work that has taken place recently has been done poorly.

Right now, the ITFC and OMOA are trying to bridge the gap that exists between now and 2015 (when yields are predicted to increase). It is a trying task and requires alot of time in the field talking with farmers.

Lets assume that by 2015, yields reach a level that generates income for the farmers and for the ITFC/OMOA. Grade A organic mangos will be exported mainly to Europe and sold at an unsubsidized price. Grade B mangos will be produced into dried mangos and mango juice as a secondary income for the company.

Now lets assume that a developed country (lets say Canada) figures out a way to grow organic mangos and wants to exploit that market in Europe. On their way out of the country, Canadian Grade A organic mangos will be heavily subsidized to ensure that Canadian mango farmers make an income. This will cause Dutch and UK customers to buy the cheaper Canadian-grown mangos when they’re at the supermarket, leaving the ITFC mangos on the shelves.

There are many aspects of the ITFC’s business model that I am not aware of. Those aspects might make this mango project work in the long term, but to some degree, this project will only succeed in so far as external forces allow. Poverty will still exist in African countries as long as other countries want it to.

Many people assume that they can only affect the quality of life in developing countries through taking a plane over and spreading first world ‘wisdom’, but there are very important roles that Canadians can play on their own soil if they want a world in a better state of equilibrium. Until widespread action evolves from that line of thought, many more empty fruit factories will shoot-up throughout Africa.

The ITFC/OMOA compound behind the Tamale-Bolgatanga Road

The OMOA office. My workspace is a 1×1 square foot corner on Issahaku’s desk

David

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What I did last Thursday

6:20
I wake up. Listening to the people moving outside my window, I know I’m one of the last to wake in Gushie. I kick my bug net out of my way as I get up, incidentally enlarging that hole which appeared in it a few days ago.

I head outside and see my landlord with a bunch of other men in the village sat on the bench outside. Tossing a ‘desba’ their way, I head towards the woman selling pic-and-peas down the road. It’s a dish that involves cowpeas, gari, and some spicy liquid on top – it’s a pretty good breakfast. After downing that with my anti-malarial pill, I head down the road a little further to get some rice in a ‘rubber’ (a black plastic bag) for lunch.

7:30
I finish my bucket shower (using the drain in my room) and bike to work. I’m the first one to arrive at the office. This is the usual, as my three coworkers live in Tamale (45 minutes away) and drive into work each day. I make some tea and put in copious amounts of sugar and cream (as is the Ghanaian way), then check my email.

8:45
After ‘browsing’ (going on the internet) for a while, I head to the curb outside my office to hail a ride to the village 20 minutes away.

This week, OMOA has been hosting its quarterly farmer meetings. They are all done in dagbani, but I have been sitting in on them to ask the farmers questions (through a translator) about their relationship with the ITFC AEAs. Today’s meeting is in Pong Tamale.

After 30 minutes and a few chats with ITFC employees (they work out of the same building as OMOA), I manage to hail a ‘tro-tro’ (a modified minibus – it is meant to hold about 12 people, but seats are added so that they hold close to 20). I score a seat next to the side door, which will make for an easy exit once I get to my destination.

9:30
I arrive in Pong Tamale. After walking around arbitrarily for a bit, I see my coworker Amin (the OMOA Administrator) picking up some pure water sachets (filtered water in 500ml disposable plastic bags – how I drink all my water) for the meeting. I head over and he leads me to the meeting location.

The meeting begins. Even though I don’t understand the words coming out of his mouth, I know that Issahaku (OMOA Coordinator) is talking to farmers about new district by-laws that are meant to curb bush fire problems. My dagbani skills have been coming along ‘biela biela’ (slow slow, i.e. gradually), but a little too biela biela for my liking.

1:00
After getting back to the office and chilling with the OMOA staff and executive members for a bit, we begin to brainstorm ideas for a Cordaid funding proposal Issahaku asked me to write.

OMOA is currently in a precarious position: the association is meant to operate off a 2% source income allocation from each mango farmer, but mango yields have taken longer than expected to increase and make this business model work. Currently, OMOA is reliant on donors to pay staff salaries. It is estimated to be another 3-4 years before mango yields increase to a level adequate enough to sustain staff salaries. So during that time period, OMOA needs to find ways to sustain its operations (i.e. pay staff salaries).

So it was an interesting conversation.

4:00
After everyone else left the office to head to Tamale, I pack up my stuff and bike home. As I head down the hill towards my compound, the kids in the area run alongside me. They take my bike and helmet while I unlock my room door, and take them inside once my door opens. The plus side of this scenario is that my bike and helmet are now in my room; the downside is that the kids came with them.

After managing to kick the kids out (‘chumna, chumna!’ = ‘go, go!’), I take my book (currently the first lord of the rings novel) and sit on the ledge outside my door and read. The kids go through a variety of activities while I do this: dance to get my attention, climb up onto the ledge next to me – a few of the bolder ones worm their way onto my lap. The nerve!

7:30
A light shines in my eyes. Someone outside my room door is trying to get my attention. My landlord is beckoning me to come eat TZ and pepe soup with him. I gladly comply. We go outside near the bench he was sitting on this morning and assume a squatting position while we dig into the bowl of TZ with our right hands (not with our left hands … never with the left hand).

8:15
My recovery period for TZ is complete. I am now able to stand and walk to the middle of the village to hang out with my ‘group’.

My group is essentially a group of friends my age who hang out on a bench outside each night. But it’s more formal than any group of friends I have in St. John’s – there is a group leader and a deputy leader. Also, if one group member is not adhering to group standards they can be voted out of the group. Apparently that has happened before. So the standards for behavior are a little higher than they would be during at evening at Big Ben’s.

But tonight nobody is at the group. I suppose the rains and cold weather (cold for Ghanaians at least) scared them off. I take a long route back to my room.

9:15
Dental hygiene has not forsaken me in Ghana – I brush, I floss and I rinse my mouth with water.

Then I head to bed.

David

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A Visionary Post

This post is about as thick as cocoa porridge. If that’s your kind of thing, then read on (but make sure you look through EWB’s Vision 2020 first).

To me, EWB has always seemed a little scatter-brained. It’s an organization whose name appeals to engineers, whose activities appeal to those interested in international development, and whose programs in Africa seem so ridiculously abstract that they may only appeal to those with a sense of adventure.

To get into specifics, in Canada the main project areas of EWB can be vaguely categorized as youth engagement, public engagement, political advocacy, global engineering, and the team formerly known as fundraising. In Africa, EWB’s work currently involves 4 countries (Ghana, Uganda, Malawi and Zambia). Five EWB teams exist in these countries, with Agricultural Extensions in Ghana, Governence and Rural Infrastructure in Ghana, Water and Sanitation in Malawi, Business Development Services in Zambia, and Agricultural Value Chains in Ghana/Uganda (to work solely in Uganda in September).

These teams have not always existed as such. EWB has been jumping around and changing focus areas repeatedly over the past 11 years. This has resulted in a present focus on African program areas that don’t correlate to each other or to programs in Canada. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, as this type of dancing around is necessary in development work where real problems are tough to spot and real solutions next to impossible to achieve.

However, I think that these frequent changes in direction will eventually cause (if they have not already caused) EWB to become a series of independent cogs going in unrelated directions with no real unity. Within a growing organisation with a high turnover rate, this can be, and possibly has been, a problem. An organisation should have overarching traits, goals and themes that fuel it’s work.

Before January, EWB revolved around the disgusting term ‘capacity building’. To me, this term has no real meaning and does not befit a machine with any control over it’s cogs. However, in January, EWB released a new organisational vision. The vision is meant to guide the work of EWB in Canada and in Africa over the next 8 years through outlining EWB’s purpose, the problem we are solving, our principles and our approach.

—-

In using the vision as a means to hold the many limbs of the organisation together, lets take a look at how my placement in Ghana with the Ag-Ex team fits into EWB.

This past Fall, EWB team MoFA decided it was time to formerly change their focus. Working within the Ghanaian Ministry of Food and Agriculture had seemed like a good strategy for a while, but a top-down government mentality made it difficult for EWB to effectively scale projects and change attitudes at a reasonable rate. The team had learnt alot during their time within MoFA. A fair bit of this knowledge revolved around agricultural extension work.

With extension work becoming increasingly prominent in the private sector, team MoFA saw an opportunity. Over 60% of the population of Ghana are farmers (many of these farmers rely on extension work for new farming ideas and techniques); small changes in agricultural extension work can have far reaching effects in Ghana (agricultural extension work is incorporated into most agricultural organisations and projects); and very few other organisations actually focus solely on agricultural extension work (making it an area in which EWB can actually add value).

And so team MoFA became team Ag-Ex.

My placement revolves around this reasoning. I am looking into how the extension chain works for a private sector organic mango company and trying to use team knowledge to optimize this chain. I will also be making recommendations on how the team should move forward given my experiences with OMOA and the ITFC.

In many senses, my placement does not directly relate to the vision of EWB. However, when the vision is related to the ambitions of team Ag-Ex, my placement objectives become more relevant. My placement is important for team Ag-Ex to grow and learn about what techniques are currently working and not working within the private sector agricultural extension field. It is important for team Ag-Ex to see how knowledge garnered from many years of working within the Ministry of Food and Agriculture translates to the private sector.

I do think that the current ambitions of team Ag-Ex relate to the vision. More specifically:

  1. Delivering effective extension work revolves around investing in people and making the most out of the skills they have. These people can be the individuals who train AEAs before they head out to the field, they can be the ones who provide new ideas or advice for knowledge transfer to farmers, or they can be the AEAs themselves.
  2. Based on what I have noticed and on what many others (farmers, AEAs, external observers) have seen, effective agricultural extension work can change the lives of many throughout Ghana.
  3. The agricultural extension sector is changing – extension work is becoming more common within private companies. EWB is changing with it. We are positioning ourselves well to partner with and provide support, knowledge and relevant mindsets to companies that are new to extension work.

—-

Despite these specific references to how team Ag-Ex relates to EWB’s vision, I think that the main purpose of the vision is to have a mindset within EWB staff and members that is continuous throughout the organisation. As long as I am a JF, if I try to have conversations with the people I interact with that will result in a better use of the skills they are responsible for; if I try to optimise the work of OMOA and the ITFC through whatever means at my disposal; and if I ensure that I work with my two partner organisations to locate problems and try out solutions, I will be bringing some sort of continuity to EWB’s work.

Over the next 8 years, as long as EWB members keep the mindset garnered by the vision in the back of their mind when they are doing whatever they do on behalf of this organisation, it should ensure a sense of continuity within EWB (even if seemingly scattered work undertakings still exist).

 

David

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Halfway There

I’m getting close to the halfway point of my placement in Ghana. I think the exact halfway day occurs sometime this week. But anyways, to mark this upcoming day, last week the EWB Ghana team had a Mid-Placement Retreat (MPR) for JFs and a Team Ghana Retreat (TGR) for all EWB Ghana staff.

The purpose of the MPR was for JFs to reconnect, share ideas and relax/act like a tourist in Mole (pronounced Moe-ley) National Park for 2 days. It was pretty sweet. We went on a walking safari of the park, saw some elephants, baboons, warthogs and a few deer-like creatures that I forget the name of.

It was fun staying up past 9:30 p.m. each evening (which is a rare feat for me in Gushie), and then waking up later than 5:30 a.m. and going swimming in the pool each morning. I think the highlight of the weekend for me was the Ghanalympics. It involved various competitions between the three EWB teams in Ghana – the Agricultural Extensions (Ag-Ex) team (the one I’m on); the Agricultural Value Chains (AVC) team; and the Governance and Rural Infrastructure (G&RI) team. The competition involved comparing a story told by one member of each team, an ‘Azonto’ dance off (it’s a Ghanaian dance), a rap battle, a photo competition and a Ghanaian accent competition. While my attempt at a Ghanaian accent was a little too Eastern Europeany for the judges, the other Ag-Ex members picked up the slack with storytime and the dance-off. It was also pretty fun chirping the other teams in the rap battle. I think we had a moral victory there.

On Friday we got the tro-tro back to Tamale for the TGR. All of the APS were present for this retreat, and the sessions involved a bit more high-level thinking with respect to the goals of each team and each placement and how they relate to the overall objectives of EWB in Ghana. It was a good change of pace for me – it got me out of the day-to-day tasks mindset I had developed within my placement thus far.

On Sunday we had a Canada day barbeque in Tamale. It was pretty awesome. We had sausages, chicken, guinea fowl, kebabs, vegetables, mangos, ice cream, brownies, and a few other things. (Normally I wouldn’t list all the food from a particular meal here, but given my steady diet of beans, rice and TZ in Gushie, I felt I needed to.) Needless to say, it was a fun afternoon. Later on, we went out for a game of frizbee before going out to dinner.

Monday was a pretty laid-back day for me. It was a national holiday in Ghana (it turns out Canada day coincides with Ghana day, but that holiday isn’t widely celebrated here), so I had the day off from work. A few people got up early to get their buses back to their respective villages and cities, but where I’m so close to Tamale, I just hung around the guest house all day and got a taxi back to Gushie at around 5:00 p.m.

Now I’m back in the thick of things with work. There are the OMOA quarterly farmer meetings coming up soon where I will try to speak to as many people as possible to get their thoughts on the ITFC extension chain. I’m also beginning work on adapting the Agriculture As a Business workshop for OMOA. So it should be a busy couple of weeks.

David

A bunch of JFs after arriving in Mole

Nick (who hails from Corner Brook) posing with an elephant

Sarah (from Calgary) with an elephant

From left to right: safari tour guide Mohammed, Julien (from Montreal), Simone (from Fredricton), Robin (the Ghana Human Resources APS), and Sarah (still from Calgary)

A different elephant

A few more JFs with a different tour guide

Here are those deer-like creatures I mentioned

Mamma and baby baboon

A warthog. One of these was sleeping outside my room door last Thursday afternoon. I started to lob rocks at it to entice it to move –  it didn’t work. Then a parks worker came and threw rocks at it with a bit more force – that worked.

Our room in Mole. Jimmy (from Sackville, New Brunswick) is pictured.

… this guy

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Thursday Afternoon

Work was getting a little dull.

I had met with a farmer group in the morning to hear about the techniques they used for mango farming. I had typed up my findings. There was no more work to be done.

I left the office an hour early to bike home.

Once I reached my compound, I decided to do some laundry. I took my metal bucket, filled it with water and walked to the drain in my bedroom. After soaking a pair of briefs in water, I took my sunlight soap and rubbed it all over the damp material. I got a good lather going. Once I was satisfied the briefs were clean, I squeezed out the soap. I poured water over them. I soaked them in the bucket again and hung them up to dry. Rinse, lather, rinse, repeat.

The cycle went on.

Outside, the winds were picking up. I glanced out of my door and saw the trees moving back and forth in frenzy. I saw the leaves blowing across the ground in circles. The dry soil followed in suit.

I closed my screen door.

I went to the window. I saw the dark clouds approaching. The shop owners knew they had little time left – they hastily packed up their belongings and brought them to the nearest compound for safekeeping. The men sitting under the tree out front sought out cover under my compound’s front porch.

The rains began.

I continued to soak my clothing as the rains beat against the tin roof above me. I continued to lather as my toothbrush, toothpaste and dental floss were blown from their perch on my windowsill. I continued to rinse and hang up my clothing.

I looked out my screen door, and noticed that people were gathered.

Women who were passing, men who were near, and children who had not foreseen the rains sat there. They were all watching the rains fall.

After 11 days without rain, their drought was broken. Their planted seeds could survive. Their work might not be fruitless.

I couldn’t help but smile.

I walked back to the drain. Rinse, lather, rinse, repeat.

The cycle continued.

The sky after the rains

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White Man!

The paragraph spacing for this post is messed up. So, just a heads up there.

*** **** ***

Just for the record, the below story is embellished and meant to be interpreted humorously. I am not constantly being shouted at when I walk through my village, I do not ever run to my room for safety, nor do I feel off-balance when people address me. Since I arrived in Gushie, I have been welcomed into this village with open arms – it’s been pretty awesome.
This is just something that has been on my mind since I arrived here, and I wanted to tell people about it.

*** **** ***


I wake up, climb around my bednet to get to my bedroom door, then poke my head out – the coast is clear. I grab my metal bucket, dart outside to the tap to twist it on and allow my bucket to fill up with water. The angst in my heart seems to increase with water level in the bucket, until … the bucket is full. I turn the tap off and run back into my room. Safe for now.

As the minutes pass and I finish washing myself, I begin to realize I must go out again. I know I need get breakfast and bike to work. Once I get to work I will be safe. Just think about being in the office and it will all be okay, I tell myself. So I step outside, walk hesitantly to the street vendor and get 50 peswas worth of rice. It hasn’t happened yet.
This must be a good morning. Yes. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the goats aren’t whining. This is a good morning.
Maybe the kids had to go to school early, or maybe the adults finally learned that my name is not …
SALAMINGA!
A sharp noise pierces my ear, throwing me off balance. No, not this again.
SALAMINGA! SALAMINGA!
I’m surrounded. The kids have come from every which way to circle me. I force a smile, wave and begin to walk back to my room to get my bike. But then some adults join in.
Salaminga, desba!
Naahhh, I reply meekly. I have given up saying n’yuni David. It seems hopeless.
—-
On many levels, it seems akin to racism. If I heard someone in St. John’s addressing another as ‘black man’, I might have to say something (or at least shoot them a dirty look). But then again, I’m not in St. John’s.
I don’t believe that these shouts are racist. They aren’t intentionally menacing; they aren’t intentionally mean; they are just there. They are about as sinister as saying ‘good morning’ to the receptionist in the dentist’s office. In fact, I am certain that it’s not racism that makes me want to get away from these shouts.
It kinda feels like I’m hearing cat-calls whenever I walk past a group of kids. Except, for a change, it’s the white dude getting objectified.
I’m not sure if I should even be offended when I’m addressed as ‘salaminga’, because people who speak dagbani have been doing it for hundreds of years. To them, it’s not racism, it’s just the way it is. When you see a white man, you shout ‘salaminga’, and the white man smiles and waves. But I’m not sure if that justifies it.
With the group I have been hanging out with in the evenings, I told them (through my translator friend) that in my culture, it’s rude to call somebody ‘salaminga’. They listened. Now I get a “David, annula!”, when I sit by them in the evenings (to which I am pleased to reply “naahhh!”). So it’s not as if nobody is willing to listen or change their ways to make you feel at home. It’s just that the sheer number of people who need to change for me to be perfectly happy is large. Too large.
Or maybe just one person needs to change.
But I still don’t think that’s right.

A bunch of kids outside my room door. They just hang out there trying to get my attention while I read. It’s amusing.

David

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When the Sun Sets in Gushie …

… the streetlights do not come on.

In the village of Gushie, there is no electricity. When the sun sets, it gets really dark. The only things that are visible between 7:30 p.m. and the wee hours of the morning are flashlights going around town and headlights from passing trucks and vehicles. If it’s stormy out, the odd lightning bolt might light up the area for a moment, but that is a brief moment.

In the evenings, people gather in small groups outdoors where they sit in silence between the odd comment listening to the radio. I went to my friend Kareem’s group with him. I sat and watched the stars while he and his friends spoke dagbani.

It never becomes quiet in Gushie. From inside my room I can hear trucks slow down outside my door with loud squeaks as they approach a speed bump, then listen as they rev up their engines in celebration once they have passed it. I usually don’t share their enthusiasm at 2 a.m.

The roadside shops seem to be running before the sun rises and long after it sets. I wasn’t sure if I would ever see a closed shop. But this morning the rains came. And when the rains come, the roadside shops close. I suppose that’s reasonable, because the rains in Gushie come down hard.

Truck going by at night

David

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My Summer Plans

I have written and re-written the beginning of this blog post several times now. What keeps happening is that I start off by describing my location, but then get interrupted and do not resume my work until I’m in a different location.

My solution from here on in is to let you know when I write each post, and then you can guess whether I’m still in that location or not when my writings get posted.

So, without further ado, it’s 7:37 pm (GMT) on 17 May 2012, and I’m sitting in the common room of a guest house in Tamale, Ghana. It’s been a hectic few weeks, with tonight being one of the first free nights I’ve had in a while.

But right now I’m not going to talk about those weeks – I’ll summarize those in pictures at the bottom. Right now I’m going to talk about my placement, because I did not know enough to tell people about it before I left St. John’s.

I’ll be working in Gushie, Ghana. It’s about an hour north of Tamale, which is the main city in the Northern Region of Ghana (a region being the Ghanaian equivalent of a Canadian province). Gushie has a population of 800-900 people, and is on the side of a main roadway. I’ll put up a map of where I am in Ghana on one of these side bars here once I get a good internet connection.

My main partner organization will be the Organic Mango Out-Grower’s Association (OMOA), which is essentially a union of mango farmers. They have two full time office staff (in addition to me), and work closely with the Integrated Tamale Fruit Company (ITFC). The ITFC facilitate the sale of mangos between farmers and export companies in the Northern Region of Ghana.

In order to ensure the farmers have the most productive crops and most delicious mangos possible, the ITFC sends out Agricultural Extension Agents (EAs) to the field to tell the farmers about new techniques and new technologies that can help to optimize yields.

OMOA gets charged for these extension services. Each farmer pays OMOA 2% of their total yield to fund these services, but due to low yields in recent years, that fund has been dwindling, and OMOA has remained reliant on funding from an external NGO (USADF, to be specific).

This is where my role becomes relevant.

The EWB Agricultural Extensions team has recently changed it’s focus from exclusively the public sector to include the private sector. This switch was made for a variety of reasons which I won’t get into right now, but it means that our team is new to Agricultural Extension models in the private sector.

My role in Gushie is threefold:

  1. To work with the OMOA exec. EWB has developed a moderately successful Agriculture as a Business workshop aimed at changing the mindset of the average farmer towards income-generating farming as opposed to subsistence farming. I’ll be working with OMOA employes and it’s elected exec to adapt this workshop to suit OMOA’s needs.
  2. To study ITFC’s extension model. This will encompass talking to all persons along the farming information supply chain – from ITFC upper management to farmers – and studying how information flows from one party to the other. This is bound to be a messy process, so I will post a bit more about this as my placement moves along.
  3. To gain a better understanding of ITFC’s extension work and how effectively it results in a change in farming practice. In other words, do the farmers actually listen to the extension agents? Do the extension agents give the farmers relevant information? Is this information explained in a pertinent way? I’ll be trying to make this relationship more effective.

So that’s what I’m dealing with this summer. It’s a very open-ended placement, so I will likely need to adjust my role as time goes on … or maybe I won’t need to. We’ll see how it goes.

I’ll send you off with a bunch of photos from the past few weeks.

Pretty much sums up my week in Toronto

Q&A with George (EWB CEO)

Eating Groundnut Soup at the EWB house (don’t worry, I washed my hands first)

Waiting for Flight to Amsterdam

Waiting for Bus from Accra to Tamale (2 hour wait, 13 hour bus ride)

Where we stayed in Tamale

How we Slept in Tamale

Bit of casual frizbee for a break

Central Tamale

Tamale Market

David

PS – I took zero of those pictures. I have the other JFs to thank for those

PPS – Yesterday I moved to Gushie, where I’ll be spending my next 3 months. I’ll write a post about Gushie very soon.

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4 Months In Review

I think I would be understating it if I said I had a busy few months.

Adding JF prep work to school work and my usual EWB tasks was quite the undertaking, and often JF prep work got pushed aside in order to study for whatever test I had to study for. Even given this, I think I made progress with personal learnings. One avenue I had for these personal learnings was my Personal Development Plan (PDP).

At the beginning of this term I put together a PDP in order to develop or improve upon parts of my disposition for my placement. So I suppose I’ll go through each aspect of my Personal Development Plan and write about whether I think I made progress in each section.

  1. Improve Cross-Cultural Adaptability
    There were 3 aspects to this goal: to meet with a Ghanaian living in St. John’s, to make a Ghanaian food dish and to speak with delegates from Africa at the EWB national conference in January.
    I have yet to speak with a Ghanaian living in St. John’s. This is mainly due to passiveness and letting school work get in the way of fulfilling this goal. I have not made a food dish yet but am gonna whip one up in the next few days (Seth, last year’s MUN JF, gave me a recipe for Redd Redd (beans and plantain) which seems pretty straightforward and simple). I also briefly spoke with a few African delegates at the conference this year.
    I think I could have done better with this goal. It was my main priority when I wrote my PDP, but I did not put enough effort into it. In fairness to me though, I was pretty busy this term…
  2. Improve Knowledge of past JF roles, responsibilities and hindrances
    I think I did pretty well with this one. I met with 4 past MUN JFs and have read several JF blogs, so I am pretty well equipped from this point of view.
  3. Improve Knowledge of EWB Overseas Programs
    I called an APS working in Ghana once this term (but she wasn’t actually in Ghana at that point). I think I’ll schedule a call with another APS early on next week if I have time. I have done a fair bit of independent research on this though, so I’m in good shape here.
  4. Improve Ability to Self-Motivate / Take the Initiative
    This goal is less tangible than the past few, so it is a little more difficult to say whether I have improved here. I did accomplish my goals of driving my mentoring relationship with Seth, and I did improve my study tactics (considerably). So I suppose I am making progress on this front, but I’m interested to see whether this progress translates to work in Ghana.
  5. Improve Development Knowledge
    I have been reading books, following blogs, and recently started watching a few documentaries relevant to this topic. I think I have made improvement in this area.
  6. Improve Social Abilities
    Ah, my achilles heel. I think I have made progress here though. I generally avoid small talk and human interactions in general (ahem…), but have been putting more effort into doing these things lately. So I suppose that’s a good thing.
  7. Enhance Ability to Juggle Many Things
    Success.
  8. Improve Knowledge about Ghana
    I have been researching the country a good bit and trying to keep up on local events (I hear there’s an election coming up), so my knowledge about Ghana is much better than it was 4 months ago.

Overall, I did meet most of my goals. But the degree to which I improved upon each goal varies greatly, and is a difficult thing to measure. I might have a better idea of whether this PDP actually accomplished anything once I am a ways through my placement, so you might hear from me on this again.

David

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