Last Friday there was an interschool culture competition for Primary and Junior High students in a nearby community, Abutia Kloe. Students from my community participated and I got to see some of it despite having some other fieldwork I had to do. While I was there I saw choir singing, drumming and skits performed by the students. Unfortunately, I missed most of the bobobo dancing, which was the main attraction, because it is the most popular type of Ewe dance/music.
A while back I wrote that I had a grant approved to build two institutional latrines for a Kindergarten, Primary, and Junior High school in a nearby community, Abutia Agove. Well after a lot work and a few setbacks, the latrines were finally completed during the first week of July. Now that the school children have a viable place to do their business, they won’t be tempted to “use the bush as their toilet”.
Part of the reason the project took almost 6 months to complete was because the pits were so difficult to dig. Under the terms of the grant that I received from Ghana WASH, the community was to dig the two pits seven feet deep. However, it turned out the ground is full of stones that were very difficult to dig through. In fact, the community broke 4 pick axes before giving up at six feet. Another problem we faced was the initial placement of the Kindergarten latrine. After we had already the begun excavation, a man from the community threatened to take us to court for trying to build the latrine on his land. Even though we believed the land belonged to the school, we decided not to go to court and move the latrine to another site. We were also set back another couple of weeks because our cement supplier ran out of cement. When conducting business in Ghana, encountering problems like these is the norm.
To go along with these brand spanking new latrines, we also trained a school health club, food vendors, health teachers and head teachers. The school health club consists of 30 students from the Primary and Junior High school to act as health and hygiene leaders in the school and ensure that the latrines are properly used and cleaned. Properly operating a latrine isn’t a trivial task, especially when a whole student body is using it. Plus, there are no school janitors.
I still struggle when leading workshop sessions, because I haven’t reached the point where I can facilitate hour-long sessions in Ewe. Fortunately I can use English with the teachers and most of the older students. But the food vendors and younger students learn the best in Ewe. During the course of the workshop I facilitated sessions on hand washing and latrine operation and maintenance. Overall, the 4-day workshop was a success and I’m looking forward to seeing the schools positively change their health and hygiene practices.
A few weeks Ghana WASH conducted video shows in a few of the communities we’ve been building latrines in. The purpose of the video shows was to sensitize the community on the need of proper sanitation and to determine whether the community is ready to continue with the Open Defecation Free (ODF) evaluation process. Some communities in Ghana are designated ODF by the Government of Ghana. The idea is to give the community the a sort of badge of honor when all its community members stop open defecating. And other communities can look look at ODF communities and also strive be get the designation.
Before the video show, we walked around the community between 4pm and 6pm to take photos to show to the community during the video show. Here are some of the photos I took:
And you can thank me later for not posting any open defecation photos.
Last week Peace Corps volunteers from all over Ghana brought two senior high school students to Kumasi for the STARS conference. STARS, which stands for students taking action reaching for success, is a weeklong leadership conference run by Peace Corps volunteers for 60 second-year senior high school students in Ghana. During STARS, students learn about what it takes to be a leader, health (HIV/AIDS and malaria), career options, community volunteering, and more!
Many of the Peace Corps volunteers who brough students work at a senior high school, so their primary job is teaching science, math, art, et cetera at a senior high school. Many of these volunteers find it easy to choose their best students to bring to STARS. However I don’t work at senior high school, so my job choosing students was a little more difficult. Fortunately, there is a senior high school in my community (Abutia Secondary Technical School), so I approached the headmaster about the possilbity of bringing two students to the conference. He was on board with the idea as long as I did all of the legwork. Since I don’t know many of the students at the school, I decided to select the students using an essay contest. One boy and one girl who wrote the two best essays would be chosen to attend STARS. The essay prompt I came up with was “If you had the opportunity to sit down with the chief of your community, what 5 recommendations to develop your community would you give him?” In the end the selection turned out to be easy because I only two students (one boy and one girl) turned in essays.
STARS was held at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, one of the best universities in Ghana. Perhaps I’ve been in Ghana for too long, but I was really impressed withKNUST. The campus was relatively nice and most of the students and staff were friendly. Although the campus was quiet because school wasn’t in session.
At STARS, the 60 high school students were randomly divided into 6 groups with 10 students in each group. During the week a served as a group leader for one group, but I wasn’t totally in over my head because I had the help of a mentor who is a current KNUST student and a junior group leader who was a STARS student the previous year. The mentor helping my group is an art teaching assistant at KNUST. He is a really talented artist — last year he got accepted into the New York Accademy of Art, but he couldn’t go because of the high cost. As a group leader my job was to stay around my students from 7 am in the morning until they went to bed at 9pm. Needless to say I was exhausted by the end of the conference.
In case you were unaware, the 22nd of March was World Water Day. To celebrate the day I attended an inauguration ceremony for a water facility in Aveme, a community along the Volta River. For the previous nine months or so, my NGO and I have been working the community to prepare them for the water facility. This included forming and training a Water Board composed of community members to manage the facility. We are trained school children, food vendors, and natural leaders in the community on the importance of using clean water. We hope that the people we trained will eventually educate the rest of the community.
The water facility, provided by Safe Water Network, pumps water from the Volta River and filters it using slow sand filtration. The interesting part about the slow sand filter is that it uses a natural biological process to clean the water as opposed to other filters that use UV rays, chemicals, etc.
The water is filtered to United States standards. After the ceremony I drank some of the water directly from the tap and it tasted very pure. In fact, I think I may have gotten a little sick the next day because my body isn’t used to drinking water that pure.
For more reading on the facility’s inauguration you can read Ghana WASH’s press release here:
Easter is a big deal in Ghana, especially in the Volta Region. It’s probably a bigger deal here in Ghana than in the U.S. For instance, the day after Easter is a Government holiday in Ghana, but not in America. Ghanaians also celebrate Easter differently than Americans. There aren’t Easter Bunnies, colorful eggs, and toffee (all candy is called toffee) in Ghana. However, Ghanaians do have unique ways to celebrate Easter.
On Saturday, the day before Easter, an annual custom in my traditional area of Abutia took place. People from Abutia dress in red and bring out their drums and hunting rifles to parade dance around the community. During the parade they play war songs, dance war dances, and fire their rifles in the air. The whole event is led by the war chief of Abutia who lives in Norway, but came back to Ghana for the festivities.
On Sunday I went to church in my community. However, instead of a normal two and half to three hour service, we received a five-hour service, partly because more than 50 people were baptized. After church it proceeded to rain for the rest of the night, which was nice because the weather was cool. We also had our regularly scheduled “light off” from 6am to 6pm. Every three days the Government has been turning off our power during those times to save electricity.
Here is an article about a water system Ghana WASH helped build in Asukawkaw, Volta Region, Ghana. Asukawkaw is about a three hour drive from my community.
I thought this part of the article is very indicative of development work:
While Cornelia and others are ready to patronize the new water center, there are still some who continue to source water from the river. Cornelia says these households know that it is the water making their families sick, but it will take time to change everyone’s behavior.
It is easy to give a community water facilities, toilets, etc. But changing people’s bad habits is very difficult. It is especially frustrating because the change is a gradual process and often occurs many years down the road. Many times you never see the fruits of your effort.
Disclaimer: I had very little involvement with this project.