Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Rain Rain come again

June 6th 9:52

I've been increasingly obsessing over rain, thinking about it on a daily basis. It rained once since I've been here in the middle of the night for about an hour and a half. It rained really hard, the clattering on the aluminum roofs alerted me that it was raining. Many people were hopeful that the rains had set in and they were ploughing their fields and planting early millet. They tell me that in the rainy season there is so much water that the ground can't absorb it all so it runs in the plough ridges and creates little streams everywhere (which makes some of the low areas impassible). It also becomes really slippery in some areas as the ground has a fair bit of clay in it as well as being quite sandy. Ever since then, for about 2 weeks, I've been waiting for the rain to come so I can stand outside and be completely soaked, maybe take a rain shower in the bathing room. Most people too are waiting for the rain, they are now late and if they don't set in by mid-June people are going to have a hard time planting and harvesting enough food to last through the dry season. Since there is only one rainy season in this area, when the rains come is of extra importance.

Access to water is the biggest challenge facing communities in this District. At the workshop last week all the communities identified access to water as their biggest community called Tetaco relies on only one borehole for about 400 people. Each family takes turns supplying the school with water because of this shortage. With only one borehole this means that the women will have to walk long distances to fill their metal basins and carry them back on their heads. I tried to carry a small one on my head (about 1/4 of the size of the big ones the women carry) and it was really heavy and tippy. I spilt water backwards and forwards and to the sides and was exhausted by the time I had made the short trip to the house from the well (about 35m). I don't know how these women can do it for much longer and doing multiple trips in one day. Usually in the morning I walk down to the bore hole and fill up my water bottles - I probably have about 10L of bottles now - to keep them in my room so I have water to drink. I have a little confession to make - the crystal lite I brought is proving to be invaluable - I put a little in the water to give it a little lime taste (like a lemon slice in water) and then I can drink much more. I found I just wasn't drinking enough sometimes of straight water - not because it tastes bad but just because it's hard to chug a lot of water.

So I was thinking about how I was actually missing water and thinking that it's kind of a wimpy thing to miss.....jumping into lakes, turning on the tap, the swirl in the toilet - it all seems so luxurious! I can't think of how many basins of water that would take for me to carry to be able to live that way. But then I thought maybe it's a good's hard not to have water readily available and it's hard for the people here too. I'm sure any woman gracefully balancing a basin on her head would much rather turn on the tap. Now instead of feeling wimpy I feel a deeper understanding of the people here. I feel more integrated into the community and into their daily lives. It's hard to explain. I'm trying really hard to be responsible for getting the water for my own consumption such as bathing and drinking. I have a large container about 10 gallons which I can fill at the bore hole and ask some one to carry home on a motor bike (I know it's kind of cheating). I can also fill the container at the well carry it home - maybe even on my head :) In the begining Amelia, a 17 year old girl living in the compound, would get my water in the morning but I feel like I need to do this for myself. I depend on the people in the house for a lot of things, a room to sleep, a bed, meals, and instructions on how to do almost anything since most anything is foreign to me. The least I can do is help fetch water, pull up the bucket from the well and sweep.

I made pancakes yesterday for everyone. Luke gave me some bread flour and I bought some cream, eggs and used the maple syrup for sugar. It was quite the adventure as I didn't know how to use the charcoal stove or how much oil to use for the pan....(my minimal skills with electric burners and teflon were of no use) They turned out pretty good - if you put enough mape syrup on anything it will taste good - although they were more like deep fried pancakes. The kids loved the syrup for the most part and I blew up some balloons for them to play with. When I tied a string to the end of the balloon and hit it against my hand like a boxer they all laughed. This morning I made some more to finish to milk and brought them to work so we'll see how they like them...:)

So I am asking myself what should be done? If water is the most pressing challenge - and it affects so many other challenges as well - what should the people do? What can I do? What can we all do? Yesterday I had the experience of actually seeing how wells are dug and now I know that any solution will be immensely hard work. Through the integrated livelihoods Program sponsored by Oxfam which I'm working on communities are receiving loans to make organic mango farms. For this to happen there needs to be a means of irrigation in the dry season or else the trees will try so wells need to be dug so people can irrigate by hand using a calabash. They brought in some contracters to dig the wells as the community members lacked the tools and needed to dig their own holes for the seedlings. One man with a pick axe managed to go down 8ft in one and a half days digging a well about 2m in diameter!!! He would swing the pick axe and break the soft rock - very rich in Micas and sand so it comes out shining - and then shovel the loose soil over the edge. It looked almost effortless as shovelfulls of sand were flying out of the hole but taking one look at the guys abs will tell a different story. One they get down too deep they have to rely on a 2 gallon bucket to lift the sand out. One well hit water at 20ft so now they also have to manually take the water out to be able to dig deeper to have a sustainable water supply. The suprising thing was how they go in and out...there was a plank over top of the well with a knotted rope tied to it. The diggers would put their toes around the knotts and then climb down on the rope. The next thing they have to do is line the wells by dropping cement cylinders in the hole. They have to do it soon because if it starts to rain the wells will cave in and then all their labour and the money will be lost. The gravity of the problem is how hard they have to work to pay that money back, cash income is hard to come buy in subsistence farming communities - especially during the planting season as all the money is spent on farming.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Oh Multinationals - when will they get it right?

June 2, Friday 12:57pm


I wanted to write about this story that I heard that Philip my director as well as Ros, a British recent journalist grad doing some freelance in Ghana, were researching. I hope I get it right although some of the details may be fuzzy. I met Ros first in Bolgatanga while I was down there over the weekend and she came to stay for one night in the Ayamba compound where I'm staying. It was really good to be able to talk things through with somebody having a first impression to everything, somethings I think I see now with clearer eyes.

The tomato industry in Ghana is going through some major changes as it is being threatened by cheaper imported canned tomato paste. People no longer want to buy the local tomatoes which causes problems for the local farmers who farm tomatoes in the dry season and use the sales as a source of cash income for the year. Rainy season farming, usually millet, maize, sorghum, soyabeans and cowpeas, are stored for consumption throughout the year and not sold in the market unless there is a surplus.

Recently "Gino" tomatoes has been promoting everything from TV shows to the national futbol team. They have set up a factory near Bolgatanga and are attempting to buy a factory near Bawku. People here apparently think the company is from Italy maybe because of the name. The company itself is advertising itself like a national company, supporting local farmers and what not. In actuality the company is owned by an American multinational and is importing the tomatoes from China. Furthermore, the tinned tomatoes are only about 40% tomato and the rest is starch and filler. Gino even managed to get the vice minister to open the factory with the name Black Star attached which is Ghana's beloved national futbol team and a source of great national pride as they have qualified to play in the world cup. Philip is attempting to try to track their cultural penetration and mount some sort of campaign to stop the opening of the new factory. The other factory, which had agreed to buy local tomatoes, has been paying people far less than even market prices and less than the agreed to price I think. Many farmers will then see working in the factory a more viable option thereby increasing their vulnerability.

I heard a similar story at ZOVFA yesterday talking to Zach (one of the long-time staff). ZOVFA is working on the MYAP (Multi-year Assistance project) which promotes agricultural development. One of the MYAP workings wants to come up to do some field trials with some GMO maize. GMO products rely heavily on pesticides and fertilizers to grow and also has a terminator gene which doesn't allow farmers to take the seeds from the plant after harvest to plant again next year. Farmers become dependent on multinationals to buy seeds and fertilizers as the land has been too depleted of natural nutrients to grow organic crops. ZOVFA being an organic organization against the use of GMOs and inorganic fertilizers would naturally not support such an initiative and such trials are not included in the activity plan agreed to by the MYAP people for the year. The MYAP people want to come up and do them anyways without the involvement of ZOVFA so the staff are trying to get to the communities to advise the people on the consequences of using GMO seeds on their future harvests, on their land and on their health. We are hopefully going to make a song that can be sung and spread throughout the communities advising people on the dangers of commercial agriculture. You can well imagine the frustration of the staff when people on one end want to follow a completely different agenda than their parteners on the other end.


June 1st Thursday

Hello everyone, I can't believe it's June already it doens't seem possible that I've been here for 3 weeks. The time is flying by and there is still so much I don't know. Two and a half months left - seems like such a short time.

I am so happy that everyone is enjoying the blog, that's great motivation for me to keep writing. I want it to be as interactive as possible so if you want to ask questions or want me to clarify something or want me to write more just ask. I appreciate the comments so much even though I usually don't have time to respond to them all. I'm fortunate to be close to the internet though, someone else in the Upper West is 4 hours away so he must be using a cell phone a lot.

A lot of people here have cell phones, no one has land lines as that would be a huge waste of resources to put in right now. THe cell phone deals are also pretty good, you can receive calls for free!! You also don't pay for a monthly plan or activation fees you just buy a units card (like minutes) and then you're set. Unfortunately all the cellphone companies who provide the service are investors from foreign countries. My network is Areeba, it has the best service out in this area.

I want to work on posting more about ZOVFA's programs, it's history and the people I"m working with. But that will have to be in another post unfortunately. ZOVFA's history is an especially interesting story :)

Yesterday and today I've been attending a Communication & Advocacy skills workshop in the ZOVFA office. It's part of the RAVI program which aims to increase people's involvement and lobbying to the state at the regional level. Letting people know their civic rights and what they can demand from their government will mobilise communities into advocacy in their district and regional assemblies. Already one community had managed to get a clinic and another a new school - both work to really meet the immediate needs of the people in those communities as the clinics are usually far away in Bawku and take several hours to bike to and the schools have over 60+ children per classroom and are sometimes staffed by volunteer teachers. The workshop is attended by 4-5 key representatives from each of the 4 pilot communities of the project who will then be responsible for spreading the information in their communities and acting as key leaders in this aspect. It's been alot of fun as the facilitator is really good and therefore the workshop is very interactive. They did the communication telephone line and them message totally got changed along the line of 6 people :) THe original message was that there were 3 teacher for 200 students in Binduri school and the final message was that their were 60 pupils at Binduri school. The RAVI program also includes a lot of dramatization to get the word out, which I can't wait to see some of, as well as dancing.

I'm not sure if I wrote about this but in my first week I attended a women's group meeting under a tree under the RAVI and Domestic Violence Programs. They were all standing in a circle doing some kind of dance, one woman would start along the circle and choose another person opposite her. The women would jump in the circle and kindof stamp their feet and then touch bums while the others kept up the rythm and the song. When they were done the original woman jumped out of the circle and the new woman choose another partner and so on. Naturally I was included in the circle and did my best to figure out the stamping, jumping and butt knocking. You would all have been rolling around laughing if you could have seen me. It was great fun!! The ZOVFA staff person I came with told me that the songs they are singing represent mesages against domestic violence,spousal abuse and female genital mutilation. They sing "Don't hit the child, don't beat the child, don't cut the child - Respect, Respect, Respect". The power and joy of these women singing under a tree, their solidarity and support of one another, touched me more than I can know. The problems that they are fighting are huge and overwhelming, they work so hard all day bringing water, cooking, working and yet they still can come out and dance under a tree with all the energy and strength in the world. It brings me great joy and great sadness because I know that it is through the strength and incredible will of these women and the people here that development will happen. I feel joy to see their strength and sadness to know that the rest of the world, even in Ghana itself, is not choosing to change to make the situation more fair for the people here.

I had a chance to dance the "Jango" a second time last week where fortunately I could coordinate the stamping and knocking and jumping...somewhat:) I am continually amazed by the warmth and friendliness and acceptance that people have shown me and by the time they take from their days to explain and converse with me.


May 29th, Monday 1:37pm

Today was turning out to be an average day with nothing major to report, I was just going to write a clarification of where I am and the places I am refering to for a reference. But then something so wonderful happened that I had to tell someone about this. Today I am in Bolgatanga, a small city about 80km South of Bawku (I say small city instead of town because there is so much going on taxis, tro tros, people coming and going and town to me refers to the sleepy rural life). I arrived in Bolgatanga the night before yesterday on the 27th of May with the coordinator of my NGO (ZOVFA) to use the bank and perhaps print some pictures I took as a gift for a girl I live with (neither of which I was able to do). So today I was trying to figure out if I could withdraw money or print pictures - which involved a lot of walking around in the sun - so you could image that I was hot and sweaty although not desperately hot like before...I must be ajusting :) This boy came around the corner with a water sachet bag in his mouth but it was orange so I started asking around but to no avail. Everywhere in Ghana there are micro-enterprises set up that sell filtered water in sealed 500ml bags called "Pure water". Girls walk around town carrying them on their heads to sell (in baskets of course) and local kiosks have coolers and deep freezers where they are kept cold. I was trying to get a taxi to go back to Philip's office (I'll explain later) and I saw a girl with the orange drink bags on her head!!!! They were 1000cedis!!! (whereas pure water sells for 500cedis a bag and little juice boxes are about 3000 or 4000cedis or 500ml bottle are 8000cedis) and completely frozen....Jublilation!!! I quickly bought one, ripped off the end and bit in....ahhhh ice cold orange flavoured goodness!! When the universe aligns in that one single moment of goodness - it was that good. The name on the package said Sakande and it tasted like an orange popsicle but the best orange popsicle that you've ever tasted. I really hadn't eaten anything frozen yet, they sell yogurt bars and things like this but, for one they are pricy and nobody here eats them here so you would stick scream "western tourist" if you were walking down the street with a frozen treat in hand. An image that I am trying actively to dispell or at least not to encourage whenever I can. It was comparable to the hot days where we were tree planting and Larry suddenly produced freezies after supper and then any day suddenly turned into the greatest day ever because of that.

Danny, my wonderful coach through EWB, mentioned something in an email that was really interesting. He said that treeplanting is the only thing in Canada that compares with farming in Ghana...I think he is right although all the logistical responsibilities as planters are taken care off whereas farmers have to also take care of all those concerns, like transporting the seeds, manure to the field, and the yields to market. The actual physical work though is similar, waking with the sun, working long hours, bending over to hoe the field (here the women bend at the lower back to do most of their work) and the commraderie between people working hard together. I can't really describe it any better than this, all I can say is that any farmer in Ghana would put a treeplanter to shame most days.

This is another side story but after arriving in Bolgatanga on the 27th at night I heard that there was not a bank here that had an ATM so I would have to go to Tamale. So yesterday morning (the 28th) I grabbed a trotro to Tamale last minute, about 160km south of Bolgatanga, to visit the bank and maybe say Hi to Luke, the long term OV(overseas) volunteer based there. I also was hoping to see some of the people from the JF (Junior fellow) group that came when I did although that was a long shot as I did not have their contact information. So I went down to the station and was trying to find a trotro (Ghanaian bus) and I just so happened on a group of people who were heading down to a wedding in Tamale and they had rented a bus and had a few seats to fill...perfect! I met some great people on the way, Betty who was helping me get a seat on the bus, Charity who works with the Red Cross in Bongo and Thomas the driver became my fast friends. We arrived in Tamale no problem where I successfully went to the bank, bought some material to make some pants and a top, and then went to see Luke. I also ran into Sabrina and Ian two of my fellow parteners working in Tamale with Mapronet. On the way back to the station around 2:30pm I met the same driver so I agreed to return with him, he just had to go pick up the wedding people from a house nearby, so I came along. When we got their the people had already left and were at the station relaxing at a restaurant inside. So I thought we were going to leave but we ended up sitting down with the people in the restaurant for awhile. Even when we made it to the bus we were still missing a few people but they filled the bus anyways with extra passengers (a bus never leaves the station without being completely full) and we were on our way....Two people from the wedding party came running beside the tro tro, one man carrying a chicken wing in his hand waving us down. Then all hell broke loose as the people who stopped us were saying that they had the right to come along and the extra passengers were saying that they had the right to stay. We ended up taking everybody along and squishing more people into the row. We left at about 5:30 (instead of 3:00) and I only got back to the hotel where I am staying at 8:30 because we had to drop everyone off (it was another piece of luck that I found this tro tro because I got dropped at the place I am staying and not at the station where they which would normally happen). Afterwards I visited with the driver and Betty for awhile so all in all, it was a good day.

I also wanted to talk about the different places that I am staying and a little more about how ZOVFA works. Before coming here I was also very confused as to how things were organized but now it's a little more clear. The NGO I work with ZOVFA (Zuuri Organic Vegetable Farming Association) is located in Zuuri. The community of Zuuri is beside the village of Binduri (a village by definition here - I think - is somewhere that has a market a few times a week). You can find Binduri on the map, it is about 15km Southwest of Bawku. Bawku is the nearest small city and the central city in the area where ZOVFA does its banking etc. Most of the staff that work at ZOVFA live in surrounding communities such as Bazua, or Garu (usually places where they can rent a room because they do not live in the easily accessible area or places with electricity). Peter, one of the staff memembers, lives in the same family compound that I do with his children and wives. Zuuri and Binduri are small communities without electricity so the staff usually elect not to live there, especially since they all have motorbikes courtesy of ZOVFA so they can commute to and from work easily. They need to motor bikes to access the communities in which they work quickly, although most people in the communities use bikes or walk to get around (it is usually a 5-7km trip to the ZOVFA office for most communities).

Philip Ayamba is the founder of ZOVFA in 1997 and the unofficial coordinator. ZOVFA does not currently have the budget to pay the salary of a coordinator or overall director so he does it concurrently with his job. Philip manages an NGO based in Bolgatanga called "Trade Aid" which is why he and his family live in Bolga and not Bawku. ZOVFA therefore only officially employs program directors of the various projects they are working on, although most things go through Philip and he does a lot of the communication with places like the Oxfam central office in Ghana.

I am staying at Philip's family house - (where is family is from and where they live). Philip's father is the head of the household and Philip is the eldest son. Philips other brothers are in the South somewhere working I think. This is why there is confusion when I say I am living in the director's house. I hope that clears things up a little bit for everyone.