Sunday, 21 February 2016

Samba bands, football matches and still no rain!

Yesterday the temperature peaked at 38 degrees. It was a bit hot. Just breathing makes us weak obronis sweat. There are signs of rain on its way but we're still about a month away from the wet season (any donations of rain from the UK are welcome). But that doesn't stop the landscape from looking lush and green somehow. The harmattan is still here, so the sky is still dusty.
The last few weeks have been very busy with lots of people coming out to Abenta from the UK. In the four and a half months we've been out here we've met so many people on different levels of the charity and it's given us a good insight into how the charity, and charity work in general, functions. In the last week or so we've had two of the VbyV trustees, Blue and Paul, come and visit the community and see the projects in action along with Neil (CEO) and his friend Steve. We've also had a return of Keith who has raised the funds for the football pitch.

Here we have Ian, Rich and Laura from Banner Insurance, plus Neil, Steve (friend of Neil's), Paul (a trustee) and familiar faces of Brendan and Aikins.

The football pitch has now been completed and it was officially opened by Neil and the trustees last Tuesday. For a long time Neil has wanted to start up a samba band in the village and when I mentioned that I may have picked up a musical instrument before I was put in charge. So after a few practices, with a very mixed ability group (Neil, himself, was in need of remedial classes) we managed to pull of a performance with a 20 strong group (of kids and VbyV workers) to the chief, elders, VbyV personnel and members of the community.

 The samba band in action. Drums are whatever we can find that make noise!

Afterwards the football pitch was inaugurated by the VbyV staff (including myself) vs community football match. It was two minutes into the match. The crowd was vibrant. And there I was, bursting through the middle full pelt like a whippet (if watching on fast forward). The winger crosses it low to me. With one touch, in fact, my first touch of the game, I smash the ball into the roof of the net from 25 yards (although some haters say it was 5 yards). The shot was so ferocious that the brand new net could easily have ripped. I celebrate like Cambridge United have won the Champions League (well, the Johnstones Paint Trophy would do). The crowd go wild with applause. I'm sure some shouted 'sign him up', in Twi. And then I hear the referees whistle. The goal is disallowed. Apparently there was a foul committed in the build up to the goal (not by me I hasten to add). Needless to say, there has never been a greater case for the fourth official using televisual technology to ensure that the right decisions are made and justice can be done on the football pitch. That should have been my moment, but the referee, Kobby, cruelly took it away from me. My other contributions to the game were one header, two tackles and four passes. And I did a throw in. It ended as a 2-2 draw (should have been 3-2....).

I would like to say I headed that ball and it was looping into the top corner. But that would be a lie. (and even if it was true it probably would have been disallowed...).

We did our second two-day teacher training course in a town called Atimpoku last week. Atimpoku is right on the boarder of the Volta region and the school was next to lake Volta. This one had been organised by Miracule and the teachers were very welcoming and highly motivated. It was only a shame that we couldn't get more time to get to know them. Both days we maxed out Ghanaian dishes, from waachi to banku to fufu. Thank goodness we're sweating so much because otherwise we'd be getting very fat!

Miracule explaining the difference between the sounds in the Ewe alphabet and the sounds in the English alphabet and why this causes confusion for students.

Splat on the chalkboard!

The brilliant teachers from the Atimpoku Catholic schools.
Back in Abenta, teachers at the primary school are now doing the phonics lessons which we introduced, and after repeating the reading tests with the students we've seen a huge improvement in their literacy. There's still a long way to go, but it's all headed in the right direction.

Some of the students at Abenta having a look at the new Ghanaian children's books that we bought recently. They'll be given to the school next week. Two of the bulk books are about Ananse, a folk villain for all Ghanaian children.

Other random things:
- Liz and I have both been fly kicked by a hen. Why? Because we were only trying to rescue her chicks, who had got trapped by a wall and weren't big enough to jump over it. In our attempt to lift the chicks over the wall (a bit like an airlift over the Berlin Wall) the mother hen (a bit like the Stasi) came charging at us and then attacked us with her claws. We were only trying to help... I can understand why she was rattled though, the day before a hawk swooped down and stole one of her chicks. Previously, I would have been sympathetic, but now I call it irresponsible parenting.
Here she is. Ignoring the fact that her children can't get over that wall. Neglect. Yet once Liz or I tried to step in she went mental.

- In our last blog which Liz wrote, she mentioned the that schools in our district was closed for a week and a half because of the death of the paramount chief. He'd reigned for about 40 years. But the reason the school was closed is because traditionally (as in a few hundred years ago), if the chief died, then up to about 4 people would be killed along with the chief (usually children and usually boys) in a belief that those who died with the chief would accompany him in the after life. The skulls of those that had been killed would prop up the chief's coffin. Although the belief has disappeared now and the practice is outlawed, there is still fear that there are some people who still practice the tradition. Such people will also practice juju (witchcraft). So, the reason the school was closed for so long was to ensure the safety of all the students.
And some more photos:

Samuel playing in our make-shift afternoon play group.

Playing jenga with the kids who cleared up after the play group!

Liz with Dora, Mr Gyampoh's wife, who is the fashion designer who has made all the dresses and skirts that Liz has bought. A seriously talented designer!

A walk through Mangoase, a town  west of Gboloo Kofi with a disused train line. The train line used to be used by the British to transport timber and cocoa.

A view of the sun setting on our walk through Mangoase. We were guided by Aikins brother, Emmanuel, who is currently studying at Senior High School and hopes to become a Geography teacher.

Liz with baby Sheena, Ernestina and Aikins' daughter.

The bridge over the Volta. It connects the Eastern Region to the Volta region. First opened in 1956 by Kwame Nkrumah, the first prime minister of independent Ghana, but at this point the country was still a British colony called the Gold Coast. Recently it was renovated for a year or so and re-opened last year.

The view from the Volta bridge.

This weekend we had the Mensah family come and visit as well as Kobby's wife, Beatrice, and child Hillary. Here we are in the lounge.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Kumasi and busy busy busy!

Maadwo (Good evening)

This weekend Aoife, Lodz and I went to Kumasi :) A trip we have been looking forward to since we arrived in Ghana. We started our weekend at Lake Bosomtwe which is south east of Kumasi. Beautiful place, shame that the amazing view was blocked by the harmattan :( We met lovely volunteers there, some of whom are living really close to us (near Tinkong). We relaxed, petted horses, swam in the lake and tried out the traditional flat bottomed canoes.
The view from The Green Ranch

Traditional flat bottomed canoe called a padua

The Green Ranch had loads of beautiful horses

The rest of the weekend was spent with our friend Tina's brother and his family. They were unbelievably generous and really looked after us. We went for a lovely meal on the first night, fed wonderful breakfast salads, went to their catholic church, were fed fufu with groundnut soup and meat/fish, shown around the ashante king's palace, watched the end of a football match in the stadium (Martin was defo the most excited), fed 'red red', shown around the armed forces museum and the central market (arguably the largest open air market in West Africa). Such incredible hospitality. My highlight was us all sitting on the floor of Paul and Tina's lovely house playing cards. Francis, Loretta and Benedicta - you are welcome anytime to Abenta and/or the UK/Ireland!

St Peter's Cathedral

Kejetia market

Kumasi's stadium

Random drumming show whilst waiting at a traffic light

Gorgeous fufu

Loretta (Tina's sister-in-law), Janet (Tina and Francis' mother), me, Francis (Tina's brother)

Francis and Martin

Armed Forces Museum

Gold Coast flag before Ghana's independence

Loretta in her shop

Work has been very varied over the last 4 weeks. Teacher training has continued for the most part. Since the training in Gboloo I have popped in twice to check the phonics lessons are going well and to provide them with 85 books for a library. We have been working in Abenta still handing over the phonics teaching to them (excellent progress). Martin introduced a weekly spelling test with little prizes which down very well. I delivered a training session on the EGRA reading tests and then the teachers re-tested the students - this to see how much progress has been made since the introduction of phonics (looking good so far, although results aren't fully in). We have ordered 300+ Ghanaian books from the excellent local publishers Smartline ( for the library and whole class reading :) This means that the children in Abenta and Gboloo can learn how to read in a context that makes sense to them.

Delali and Martin - Smartline books

Other jobs that we have been able to get involved in with are evening English lessons for adults. We have been eager to do this since the start but it means so much more when I look around and see the faces of the people I love in one room. I went with Aoife, Brandon, Aikins, Kobby and Ema to Akorabu and Obwasewoase to paint 'Clean Hands Safe Lives' symbols on the school walls. I would've been awful at this but it was actually quite mathematical. This week school is out due to the Akupem North chief having his funeral so the vols have been included in the building of the football pitch and other bits of labour. It has been nice to have a change. Lots of digging, painting and hammering - I am not the best at it but gave it a good go.

Aoife and I drawing the CHSL icons

Brandon, Ema and Aikins painting the icons

The finished icons :)

Helping with the football pitch

As for free time... It was nice to be so warmly welcomed back by the church that we go to the most. We are translated for mostly but when we don't understand we read our bibles and sing songs in English over the Twi ones :) I have got hugely into a new author who is Nigerian - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Massively recommend 'Half of the Yellow Sun' and 'Purple Hibiscus'. Anyone know of an equivalent Ghanaian author? We have had lots of time for saboteur - everyone has got into it. Aikins' fave quote is 'Are you one of them, or them?' - fits very well. I am still going strong with the 5:30am morning exercise, thanks to Aoife and Aikins for joining me. Lodz made it once so hopefully that will continue :) We love chilling with the kiddies at Abenta. We have been able to spend more time with Sheena (Aikins' daughter) and Hilary (Kobby's daughter) which has been nice. I had my hair cut quite short to help me with the heat - courtesy of the gorgeous Beatrice (Kobby's wife). We had to say goodbye to Brandon which is never nice but confident we will meet up in the UK. That same weekend Aoife went to cape coast, Aikins had his father-in-law's funeral and Brendan chilled at is house so Lodz and I had our first evening alone together since August. We have really taken to community living but it was nice to have our own time. We watched One Left Foot - excellent film.

Me da se ( Thank you) for reading.

Da yie (Good night)

Liz (& Martin)