Wednesday, July 1, 2009

D Day (-7) - Village Visit Groundwork

Having sat at a laptop working on publicity and other logistical issues over the last few days I finally had a chance to visit a couple of villages our participants will be working in and it was easily the most revealing few hours I have spent in Kumasi to date. In total IDDS will be working in ten villages throughout the Bromg - Ahafo and Ashanti regions and teams will visit the same village three times during the course of the summit. As such, it is critical that we get these villages fully on board and that they understand completely the mission and vision of IDDS. Participants will also be spending one or two nights in these villages during their visits so there are a number of logistical issues that need to be worked out between the IDDS organizers and the village elders and chiefs.

Asante leads us on a tour of the KNUST Campus

After a quick 8am trial run tour of the campus with Asante, one of the Ghanaian organizers, I was free to get my stuff together for the visit to the villages. Three of the Ghanaian organizers, George, Killian and Amin were to accompany us on the trip and Jessica Huang, Kofi Taha and his son made up the rest of our party. We set out at 1030am for the office of the Municipal Director of the region, to make sure that he approved of our desire to work with the villages in his area and understood our message. George Obeng spoke mainly on our behalf and I was hugely impressed with his exceptional communication and diplomacy skills and it soon became clear that the Municipal Director felt the same, fully understood our goals and was fully behind what we hoped to achieve.We were only out of the office about two minutes before Isa had found a group of local kids to play football with! We had a quick kick about before moving on to meet some of George’s local contact’s that would prove instrumental during the visits later that day.

Isa gets to know some local kids through the universal language of football

As we sat down for a quick meal and a glass of coke George’s friends began to introduce themselves to our group. Samuel and Nimo first told us their names before Jerry Ziggy, a former radio station presenter, took the floor. He gave a brief description of the work he has done in the past and the contacts that he has in the villages and it was easy to turn back the clock and imagine his animated voice booming out of a speaker station. After this, George explained in Twi the aims of IDDS to the other Ghanaian’s and what approach we needed to take when visiting the villages for the first time. It was interesting being on the wrong side of a language barrier for once and definitely made me more conscious of the fact that I only have about four Twi phrases to my name so far.

Jerry and the others grasped the concept that George was explaining to them pretty quickly and we soon moved into a broader discussion in English on what we would try to explain to the chief on our arrival. Interestingly, I saw a Confucius saying posted on the wall of the Municipal Director’s Office stating “What you hear, you forget. What you see, you remember. What you do, you know” and I feel that these few words encapsulate better than I could the way in which we would like participants to experience village life. Kofi explained this to George, Jerry and the others and we soon reached a consensus on who should speak and represent IDDS in which village.

We set out for Adumkrom, the first of our village stop offs about a forty minute drive from KNUST. On arrival, we were greeted by elder members of the community and they quickly brought us into the palace, a sturdy room at the back of the village. The village itself was pretty small, about 500 people, and as you can imagine our arrival caused quite a stir. We all sat down with the chief and after some formalities Jerry stood up to make our case for IDDS. Again, his media personality shone through and even though he was speaking in Twi and I had no idea what he was talking about I still would have signed up for what he was selling!

Jerry Ziggy explains our mission to the chief

The chief initially looked quite intimidating but it soon became clear that he was very excited that IDDS was coming to his village, and he really seemed to grasp the central idea that we were trying to get across. He also cracked a joke or two that left us English- only speakers behind the rest of the room as we had to wait for George or Jerry to translate them for us. We eventually realized that he was suggesting that when the participants brought the prototype to the village for the third and final visit, they would have difficulty taking it back with them! He said it was a great honor for him to be the chief of the village at this time and to have this chance to work with us at IDDS. The crowd gathered around us also seemed excited about the prospect of working with a team from around the world to develop relevant technologies that could be used in the context of their community.

The indominatable chief himself

Agyaerago, the second village we visited was almost completely different from the first and I felt that a lesson in itself could be drawn from this. There is no single formula for working in the field, the specific local focus is always different and needs to be taken into account if any sort of development is to be sustainable. The people in Agyaerago were far more outgoing than those in the first village and I think this could be attributed to the fact that this village was much closer to the town than the others, and thus more used to visitors. There was also a power sharing committee in this village as there has been some dispute in the past about chiefdom here.

Jess shares a joke with some of the village women

Before we had the chance to go and meet the committee, Isa already had his football out and had challenged some of the local kids to a game, which duly began in earnest. Samuel kept an eye on him as we got our meeting started and Nimo this time was chosen to present our vision to the group. Again, the reaction was wholly positive and we soon exchanged contacts and arranged some quick logistics about food and accommodation. During the meeting Kofi saw a woman carrying maize on her head and asked if he could buy some pieces from here. He wanted ten but she initially only had five pieces and she left to return just at the end of the meeting to give another five and refused to accept payment for them. I think this example exemplified the positive attitude towards our presence that existed throughout our stay here. We’ll have to make sure the team knows to bring a corresponding food gift though, for their first visit!

Mad for Football!

The floor is open for questions in Agyaergo

Some of the kids, not quite sure what to make of us

On a tight schedule, we knew we could only afford thirty minutes in our last village so we had to make sure that we struck a delicate balance between staying longer than needed and rushing the visit. Kyekyewere is only a short distance from Agyaergo but the bumpy and uneven road between the two means it takes a little longer by car. Again, in structure, this village looks, and feels, completely different to the other two. We had a meeting with the chief in a more open palace area and there were also a number of other representatives present from the community. There were plenty of good natured jokes made at our expense in Twi but the chief and the villagers all seemed excited about the prospect of IDDS and welcomed the participants to Kyekyewere with open arms.

Kyekyewere is equipped with latrines

The chief in Kyekyewere listens intently to the IDDS message

A water pump in Kyekeywere

Reflecting on the bus home I realized that the villages were not quite what I was expecting but were still a million miles away from home, and even from KNUST. All in all though, a successful trip which bodes well for the later participant visits. We made it back just in time for our 8pm meeting and thankfully a group had cooked some potluck food for everyone, a god send at the end of such a long day! As we ate we checked off items on the agenda and started planning our next couple of days of preparation. Amy is heading off to the villages in the Bromg - Ahafo Region tomorrow afternoon so we’ve a lot of work before she gets back on Saturday...

Meeting time at the hostel

Thank god for potluck dinners!

Twi phrase for the day:
Ete-senHow are you?

1 comment:

Derek said...

I'm totally loving this blog! Thanks for snapping all the photos... I hope the videos appear soon. (hint: I'm pretty sure Miguel will dance on command)

You all work so hard, keep it up! I can't wait to soak up all your new insights.

much love
Derek, from IDDS08