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