Ghana, Tamale and an unofficial village stay

Hello friends!

It has only been a week since I last wrote, and so much has happened since then. The past week has been packed with learning, insta-constant sweat and loads of incredibly friendly people. Before I dive into the details of the very brief village stay, here is a quick recap of the week’s events:

Monday: Arrival in Accra, the capital of Ghana, after almost 24 hours of travel. We stayed in a guest house and made our first attempt at setting up bednets – the key is to not let it touch your skin while you sleep, or else you will be itchy the next day from the high concentration of bug-repelling DEET!

Tuedsay: Travel to Tamale, which amounted to a pretty well worry-free 13 hour bus ride. The weird divide between the comfort of the bus and the bustling world outside was definitely unsettling.

Wednesday: First day of in-country training in Tamale, which included a scavenger hunt on the town! This activity was meant to throw us into the Tamale experience head first, all the while checking off important must-buy items like mobile phones and malaria treatment, and performing fun tasks like bargaining for cloth, learning some Dagbani proverbs and eating some Fanyogo (yum.). My favorite part of the experience was walking through the inner market, which was a great maze full of stalls, people and interesting smells.

Thursday: Last day of in-country training.

Friday: Team meeting with the GaRI APS, where we collectively created a system map of the Government of Ghana (GoG) and discussed among others the Theory of Change (see my first post), as well as a meeting with my placement coach, Binnu.

And now, for the village stay! For past two days, the GaRI JFs lived in separate rural villages. The purpose of this very brief village stay was to get a sense of what it means to live in a rural Ghanaian village before we begin our work, mine being at the District Assembly level. The hope was that this may allow us to see the perspective of the people we meet with regards to government, as well as what needs are being truly addressed and which ones are not.

The name of the community in which I stayed is Yulinayuli. This village is about a 20 minute shared taxi ride outside of Tamale, but seems like a world away. The village itself is agglomerated with another 2 villages, and all together make up about 200 residents. I stayed in a compound with a local farmer, his two wives, 5 children and dozen goats. The entire experience resulted in more learning than I think I have ever done in two days. The list below contains a few highlights of my experience of village life, but I would be glad to go into details over a phone call (!!! –I have a phone, see below).

-Learning Dagbani dances, including the very popular Azonto “Wash and Wear”, which children found hilarious when I danced to it

– Taking my first bucket bath, washing my first set of clothes by hand, being proposed to jokingly for the first time (and many times after that!)

– Walking around the village with my new friend Yvane, visiting every singly compound to talk with the residents, seeing and learning about the processing of shea butter, rice, cowpeas, soya, and groundnut paste

-Greeting everyone I meet with a “Desiba”, “Antire” or “Aniwula” (good morning, good afternoon or good evening), followed by many repeated “Naaaa”’s, and a possible “Alafee” (I am fine) when I am not certain what to answer, followed by some hearty laughs at my misunderstanding

– Walking slowly in the late afternoon light, watching smallboys play soccer and just enjoying the total lack of that constant rushed for time feeling

-Learning how to carry a pot of dirt on my head – I was “no hands” for a few seconds! This dirt was collected by the community women to plaster the floor of the compound next to mine. Later I participated in the process of pounding the floor, where all the women were rhythmically pounding the ground and singing to the sound of drums. It was an incredible, muddy experience! (look up “Ghanaian Floor Pounding” on Youtube)

– Walking to the neighboring village through a wide field with Sia and Mariane, talking about dreams, how silly it is that I cannot catch a Guinea Fowl, and how strange it is that my skin burns in the sun

– Meeting the 3 chiefs in their respective huts, speaking through a translator and laughing about all my silly outsider girl mistakes

I had the opportunity to talk to people about the communication mechanisms that exist between their village and their District Assembly. Assembly Members are located around the district in assigned jurisdictions; they are meant to serve as the two-way information link between constituents and their local government. As my placement will be revolving around this information loop, I focused on getting an understanding on how information is currently shared to and from the 3 agglomerated villages.

The current setup in Yulinayuli revolves mostly around the traditional authority. When the Assembly man wants to hold a forum to address the village, he must ask permission of the chief, who then calls on the village to meet up either that night or the next day.  Likewise, the chief holds a meeting every Monday and Friday morning, where community members are welcome to join in on discussions about local concerns. These concerns are then passed to the Assembly man through the chief. Traditional Authorities are regarded with high respect in Yulinayuli, and therefore have a very important role to play in community development. My current assumption is that this is a common pattern in many villages of the Northern Region – it will definitely be a point to explore throughout my work at the DA.

Speaking of which: tomorrow, I will be heading out to Yendi, where my placement journey really takes off! I will be arriving on time for a public forum concerning the relocation of residents for a lorry park. It will be a first dive into the dynamic of public forums, which is one of the aspects I wish to explore over the next few weeks. I am excited to jump into the functions of the District Assembly and learn how I can align my placement alongside my partners, who specifically are the Planning Officer and the Community Development Officer.

I look forward to sharing what I learn about the dynamics at the Yendi DA – I will be using the next two weeks or so to get a better understanding of how to best pursue my placement. It is now pretty late here in Tamale, and I still have some packing, research and showering (again) to do before I go to bed. Tomorrow is a big day! On a final note, here are my two phone numbers:

233 57 320 0544

233 54 683 8273

If the first one doesn’t work, just try the second one. An easy and cheap way to call international is through Skype, and calling cards work as well too. Send me a message if you want more details!!

Good night 🙂



T-minus 44 hours

Just a week ago, I was writing my first blog post from Fredericton, anticipating my departure on Sunday morning for a week of training in Toronto. Well, it’s the end of day 5, and I am sitting in the front room of the EWB house beside several other JFs, getting some last minute work done at the end of the day.

(-Disclaimer: I am writing this in a very exhausted state, so words will be limited for this particular post. Hence the photos for visual aid.)

Here was the day’s schedule:

We worked this morning on the Sorghum Case Study, revolving around the placement of Mike Quinn in Zambia in 2006. The project was a partnership of EWB with CARE Zambia to promote Sorghum as a viable farming alternative, as maize is quite susceptible to droughts. We brainstormed some areas of risk and some possible ways in which EWB could add value.

We then headed out for lunch – today myself and a few other JFs got to eat in the Kensington market at this incredible little bakery. So satisfying.

After lunch we started out with a session on messaging and communication, which entailed methods to keep in contact with our EWB chapter, friends and family back home (like this blog!). Part of the activity was figuring out how to write the main gist of our placements embedded within a vision of our sector teams.

The final session revolved around cultural integration, which is a point that EWB puts much emphasis on in overseas placements. Several volunteers in past years, whether it was for short or long term placements, expressed the importance of creating a sense of mutual respect and genuine relationships through getting really involved in local culture. This is definitely something I am very excited for – it will be a experience different than any one I have ever had before, yet a truly amazing one!

We had some sector specific time, for which the GaRI team met up for supper with some past African Programs Staff (APS) including Dan Olsen, who was recently a team lead, and Dhaval, who was a JF on the team in 2010. We had the opportunity to ask questions about the sector, gain some insights on what we may see in our placements, and hear some hilarious stories! The whole meeting got me in a really good space, and I am still riding the happy high of our conversations. 🙂

Tomorrow is the last official day of pre-departure training, in which we will be hearing from Alanna for an agriculture session, and a full afternoon of “practical exercise”; the aspects of this session are kept secret until tomorrow! We are then finishing the day with a “Ghana and Uganda JFs” goodbye fiesta at the National Office!

Goodnight peeps!

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Fun fact: Blogging a first post is much more difficult than I thought it would be. Not because I have nothing to say, but because there is already too much I would like to write down. It took me way too long to finally put somewhat of a focus to this upcoming post. So, bear with my jumpy change-in-subjecting!

What is the purpose of this blog?

“So, do you have any plans for the summer?”

“Yes, I do! I am actually going to be working in Ghana through Engineers Without Borders Canada.”

“Wow, that’s exciting! So, what will you be doing?”

Good question. It sometimes hurts to give such a short answer, but it’s hard to explain this to the dental assistant while she is flossing your teeth. I’ve learnt a lot about the team I will be working with this summer, Governance and Rural Infrastructure (GaRI), in fragments here and there; Monday night Skype calls, conversations with past JF’s and loads of documents. It leads to a pretty unsatisfactory feeling when all I can get out it “I will be working with the Ghanaian government, focusing on service delivery”. I hope to be able to really build the idea of what I will be doing in Ghana through this blog, as the summer rolls on. As my understanding grows, I will be sure to directly share it with you, to the best of my written articulation. It is important to note that this blog will be written through my point of view; it may not always be a direct reflection of EWB’s beliefs. That being said, take what I say with a grain of salt!

This blog is also a means to generally share my thoughts. Honestly, I am so excited to share the first hilarious circumstance I find myself in here, as it is sure to happen. I am also looking forward to sharing my experience with just about everything: my host family, my new friends, the culture, the atmosphere, the weather.. What’s important is hearing back from you. If you really want to hear about my favorite food and I have not shared it, please ask! 🙂

What am I doing in Ghana?

For the next four months, I will be working in the Northern region of Ghana with the Governance and Rural Infrastructure team (GaRI for short). To put it simply, GaRI strives to unlock efficiency and effectiveness within government functions. This is approached through many angles such as staff and project management, training, monitoring and evaluation tools, feedback mechanisms, and more.

For you math-savvy/visual people out there, think of this as a function who’s determining parameters are efficiency and effectiveness:

Of course, the real picture is a bit more complicated than this. It involves good communication, attitudes, trust, commitment, politics… Many soft, highly influential aspects. I will probably be able to get more into this once I am in Ghana. Bringing it back to the basics: the most general vision is that the output will result in quality services that are equally accessible to all Ghanaian citizens.

The GaRI team is currently working on its new strategy, called the Theory of Change. This strategy is based off of the team’s vision of the ideal District Assembly (DA). It is re-evaluating what specific change the team would like to see, as well as the key actors, and the team’s assets and capabilities. These thoughts are being organized by determining the current reality at the district level, then figuring out what role EWB can play in helping the district move towards the desired reality.

Now, where does my placement tie into all of this? Exciting news, I have a partial answer to this! Ideally, the JF placements for the team would support the Theory of Change. Since this strategy is still being laid out, the JF placements are not 100% determined. Here is what I know, however do bear in mind that it is likely to change up a bit! I will definitely keep the updates rolling on that one.

The current placement layout: I will be working at a DA (TBA for which one), helping out with transparency and accountability to constituents, as well as ways to collect and process feedback. A portion of this will be through the improved sharing of information from the DA to its Assembly Members. Some questions that my placement will address:

– What is the information that should be shared with Assembly Members?

– How can this information be made easily accessible and consistent?

– What issues require feedback from constituents and Assembly Members, and how can it be collected and processed?

I will be sure to write about upcoming changes to my placement! Since the placement is still volatile, it shouldn’t be a surprise if there is a drastic change to what is above. Just the same, it may not change at all. Personally, I like the suspense – it’s keeping me on my toes! It is a first taste of what it means to work in the development sector. My impression is that with every new understanding of the system, an adjustment is made, as is required for working in such a complex environment.

How have I been preparing for my placement?

Over the past 5 months I have:

– Learnt a bunch through the Foundation Learning program: This is a program rolled out by EWB. It comprises of numerous assignments such as articles, case studies, and books. (that last one specifically: Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe. Awesome read!)

– Attended the Engineers Without Borders National Conference, where I got to spend the entire first day with the 2012 Junior Fellows – I’m quite excited to see the JF’s that I have met again, and wish all the best to the Southern Africa group that is leaving on Saturday!

– Spoke with a ton of inspiring people! Between conference, Skype calls, and meetings, I have had the opportunity to speak with many African Programs Staff (APS) and return JF’s (Junior Fellows that have been overseas with EWB in the past years)

– Got poked by a large number of needles, and spent enough hours in Carleton Health Services for the nurses to know me by name

– Been mentored by three of the greatest people, Robyn, Larissa and Chris!

– Ridden an exhilarating emotional rollercoaster, which brought me from excited out of my mind to asking myself “what I am getting myself into?” in seconds (really.)

– Got some great advice from my friend Lettie, who is originally from Accra, the capital of Ghana

– Had several Monday night group Skype calls with the GaRI team

– Worked on 3 assignments that were given out by the GaRI team – I was assigned to investigate the delivery of a service in a Canadian city (I was given the subject of roads), read up on a case study of the relationship between Assembly Members and their DA, and to attempt to grasp the ongoing process of government decentralization in Ghana (I hope to get a better understanding of this once I’m in the action!)

What is going to happen in the next two weeks?

The next two weeks are packed with action:

Now-Sunday at 5:40 AM:  Currently, I am at home in Fredericton, doing some last minute packing and preparation. I have been trying to spend as much quality time as I can with family and friends – I still hope to see my little cousins, hang out with my brother, have a family barbeque and celebrate one of my best friend’s birthday’s before I leave bright and early at 5:40 AM on Sunday morning for Toronto.

May 6-13:  I will be landing in Toronto around 7:00AM on Sunday, where I begin a learning-packed week of pre-departure training at the EWB house with all of the Ghana and Uganda JF’s. Guaranteed that an emotional post will come out of that week!

May 13-14, Flight to Ghana, which will be about a full day’s travel. I’ve never been this far away from home, so I’m actually quite excited for the travel aspect. (I say this now..)

May 15-16: I will be spending my first few days in Tamale, the capital of the Northern Region, for some sector-specific training with the GaRI team.

I will be sure to add to this timeline as I go. For now, I think I will be wrapping up the post. (small satisfaction for first blog post written, ever). Expect to hear from me soon!

PS: I would like to recognize my brother Ben, who came up with the name to this blog over breakfast just a moment ago. He is into song lyrics and knows how to come up with these things. So thank you Ben! 😛