Monday, 19 October 2015

 Happy families - from left to right: Anastina, baby Shina and Aikins. Aikins is our manager on the project.
 Our day trip on Saturday to Boti Falls. No, that's not Daniel Craig, that's me, Martin 007 Lodziak
 The team at Boti Falls: me, Liz, Patrick, Hermione, Scott and Joel
 The road leading to Abenta. Great view. Very sweaty to walk it!
 Playing vollyball with the locals. The net is made out of string and used plastic water bottles
 Walking to Adawso, the nearest town, accompanied by some of our school kids. Not sure what their gestures represent!
Spot the Obroni (white person)! Shopping in Adawso market - which we do every Tuesday and Friday

Sunday, 18 October 2015

So, we've now been in Ghana for over a month and we're loving it here. It's a much simpler life and, at least on the surface of the locals, a lot happier. I can't say I miss the long working hours, constant meetings and marking, stress and target driven culture of the British education system! Everyday life in the village of Abenta, where we live, is very communal and collective. Ideas from the West make no sense out here like 'stranger danger' – parents being worried about their child's wherabouts because of the fear of dangerous people lurking about. No-one is a stranger to anyone here, it makes for a much more peaceful and relaxed atmosphere. There can't be any big disputes as everyone's life is so public. Privacy doesn't really exist here, and by extension, no-one has any need to feel possessive or closed off from others. There is an African proverb written on the side of one of the school buildings: it takes a whole village to raise a child. That sums up the idea.

Another big difference is that it's not a materialistic culture in the slightest (perhaps more of a trait in rural villages like Abenta than towns and cities). And it turns out, despite thinking I wasn't particularly materialistic, I very much am. I found out on Tuesday night. (I have been given permission from Liz to tell the following story...). So, last Tuesday night. It's evening time, it's dark. The volunteers are sat around the base taking in the beautiful night sky, stars shining bright in the sky and listening to the insects buzzing in the grass. Another calm African night surrounded by tropical trees a green vegetation covering the surrounding hills. Beautiful. Then a scream comes from the long drop toilet, 20 meters away from the base. Liz comes out of the long drop toilet screaming. It transpires that she's somehow managed to drop our brand new state-of-the-art digital camera down the long drop. Some locals hear the screams and so do the volunteers who quickly go to assess the situation. With a torch shining down the long drop it can be confirmed. There it is: our new digital camera, sat without the slightest understanding of what has happened to it, sat ten feet below ground in a pool of wee and poo. It looked out of place in a pool of brown. And then the realisation hit us – all our photos are gone. However, with the combined ingenuity of the locals and volunteers a pasta draining spoon was attached to a long pole and lowered into the long drop to fish out the camera. It felt like some kind of dystopian Crystal Maze challenge. Richard O'Brian laughing at us as the clock counts down and we're faced with being locked into the long-drop forever.

Amazingly the camera was retrieved using the pole and pasta spoon combo. Amazingly the memory card works so we've saved our photos. However, the camera died that night. And what a horrible way to die. I wouldn't wish that on any camera, whether compact, SLR or disposable. Liz felt terrible. I felt terrible. But it's a lesson in materialism. We don't need cameras to be happy and fulfilled. But it is a bit pooey without one...

(So at this point of the blog: a big shout out to Holy Family Year 13 Sociology and Politics students: I promised to send a video to you, via Ms Hall, of us and our village in reply to the videos you made! Unfortunately, for the reason above, this wont be happening for a while now! But we miss you all, hope your doing well and enjoying Unit 3 and 4 Soc / Pol. Hopefully we'll send over a video by mid-November)

That story aside, there's a lot going on! Next week we will be putting together a programme with a local education training provider to assist Abenta Primary School to raise outcomes for teachers and students. We had a big consultation day last week with teachers, parents and students and have a lot of areas we could focus on. The biggest areas are:

- lack of female students in school. There is an old belief, which is dying out, that boys' education is more important than girls. This is changing slowly.

- lack of resources – the government really doesn't seem to value education. The only time gains seem to be made is building up to elections when different political parties make shallow pledges. Teachers are drastically underpaid (compared with other government jobs) and schools are severely under resourced. Teachers do strike, but struggle to make any gains as strike-breaking is legal here, where anyone who has completed the particular level of education can come in and cover on strike days which of course completely undermines the grievances the teachers have. (the Tories are proposing this in the UK with the new and even more restrictive Trade Union bill...). All of these factors make teacher moral very low. A lot of teachers have second and third jobs to get by and therefore their attendance isn't that great, as you could understand.

- poor student attendance – various factors: often have to travel a long way to collect water for the family so miss out on school; on market days they are often taken to the local market to sell on behalf their parents. Also, many of them have to farm in the morning, so can be late for school, if they are able to attend at all.

- Mismatch between the curriculum and the ability of the students. These are clearly kids who haven't received a good education. Their level of English and literacy generally is quite far below surrounding schools. The main reason is because their school was, in the words of the teachers, a death trap, until it was completely rebuilt by Village By Village (our charity) in the last 18 months. Go on Village By Village's website and you will see what they mean.

Random other things:

- I'm not sure I like fufu or banku (local staple foods). However spicy chicken and jollof rice – yes please.

- Definitely missing chocolate.

- Liz and I are off to Cape Coast in a week's time for a week's break by the sea. Can't wait. We're going to do a bit of local sightseeing, including what I'm sure will be a gut-wrenching visit to Cape Coast Castle, the nerve centre of the transatlantic slave trade.

- The volunteers are brilliant. Hermione (not the one from Harry Potter) joined us a couple of weeks ago and is leaving next week. She's been great company for Liz, who's missed out on female company since we've arrived. We do have another female joining the group later on today. This is the second time she's been out here with Village By Village.

- Felt my first pang of homesickness earlier today. I was watching Cambridge United demolish Northampton Town (2-1) at the Abbey. I miss the Abbey Stadium.

- HAPPY 90th BIRTHDAY Grandad!! You're one of my heroes! Gutted to miss the family get-together today.

- I'm playing loads of volleyball and football... Well 'playing' is perhaps not the best way to describe the way I participate but I try and the locals are very forgiving. I thought they were calling me Messi at first but maybe they meant 'messy'.

- #WeLoveGhana

- We have thrown away the pasta draining spoon, just in case you were wondering.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Maaha (Good Afternoon in Twi)

Another great week in Ghana :)

Since the last blog we had the pleasure of meeting our new niece Beatrix May over skype and showing Tom, Jodi and Franz where we live. They also got to meet a student from my class, Zikpi Samuel, who was rather overwhelmed by the whole thing (not surprising given that he'd probably never have seen people on a video link before!). That same weekend we finished off our tour of the village of Abenta, which I enjoyed a lot more after knowing a bit more Twi and it feeling like home.
The view from another part of the village. From left to right: Emmanuel, Patrick, Joel and I

Me doing the very important thing of nesting by sweeping our hut the Ghanaian way - no dustpan needed :)

School has been both a challenge and a joy. We both get on really well with the teachers that we are working with and will miss them and our students when we switch on Monday. It has been so difficult to see how hard the teachers' jobs are made by lack of resources and pay (my teacher hasn't paid for a whole year - no wonder moral is bad). It didn't take long for my class to get used to my way of doing things (i.e. not using the cane) but the language barrier is still challenging. The students English isn't great so I think that will be one our focuses whilst we are here.
Me getting some marking done outside our hut.

The children in Abenta are so lovely and always up for fun activities. I have taken it upon myself, as the only female volunteer at this time, to get girls involved in football and table tennis (the boys usually push them out or they assume they are not allowed to play). On a similar note, it is refreshing to see that girls and boys are equal in the classroom, however, the attendance of boys is much more for various reasons.
Joel and Zikpi Samuel teaching myself and others how to header a ball.
Martin initiating a race where there must be on there bellies the whole time - I see some cheating.

This Thursday we were so happy to be invited to the Mensah family's house (Aikins' mum's house) for a meal. It was the best meal we had all had whilst in Ghana. Janet is an incredible cook and it was nice to have a rest from cooking ourselves. Martin and I were a little disappointed that we weren't the same food as the family (as we like to be immersed in the culture) but rice and red curry is still Ghanaian. We ate with knives and forks - cheating. The village we were in was Gbloo Kofi which is where Village by Village has just left. You could tell how much better the childrens' English was. Aikins' little sister Emmanuela was telling me, whilst doing a video for 'Team Emmanuela' - ex-volunteers who donate to V by V, how sad she is that the volunteers aren't there anymore :(
I had my first taste of sugar cane - unfortunately not a fan :( Martin is though.
Martin with Aikins and his daughter Shena.

We are currently in Korifidua for a weekend break. Highlights so far consist of a toilet seat, washing my hair without dettol in the water meaning I can wear it down and air con :) The hotel is nice and I will spending most of my time by the pool I hope :) Martin was very happy having meat last night (chicken and chips) - he has been craving it a lot.
Our long drop toilets back at Abenta (home). I was struggling to flush the toilet in our hotel room, it was broken, and so turned to Martin and said 'This wouldn't happen in Abenta' - that is when you know it is home. I'm missing it already - looking forward to being back on Sunday.
The view from our hotel room in Korifidua.

We have a new volunteer as of yesterday called Hermione and as of Sunday we will have Scott. Looking forward to getting to know them both.

Hope you are all well. Miss you x

Over and out.

Liz (and Martin)