Monday, July 13, 2009

Village Visit 1- Destination: New Longoro

So we finally feel like we’re in Africa. Away from the comfortable environment of KNUST we spent the last few days in rural villages around the country, both in the Bromg-Ahafo region and in the Ashanti region. The general buzz around the Tek Hostel on our return would suggest that overall our first experience of village life was a positive one. The welcome and hospitality we received from the villagers was something I will never forget, and hopefully this weekend will mark the start of a fruitful relationship between IDDS and our rural community partners in Ghana.

In total, IDDS visited ten different villages around Ghana this weekend and each of those visits comprised members from a variety of project groups. The logic behind this was pretty simple. Each village we visited face very different challenges and living conditions and as such the teams split up to help cast their fact finding net as widely as possible. I personally travelled North with the teams travelling to Dwere, Gomboi and New Longoro and we set off for our destination at 3pm in the afternoon.

Finally nearing our destination

On our way we dropped into a large scale Cassava Processing Plant to help get the Cassava Processing team up to speed on how the process differs at opposite ends of production scale. After a couple more hours on the road we eventually arrived at New Longoro, where all the teams would be spending the first night. We were lucky enough to be staying in Pastor George’s house, just outside the centre of the village. The great man himself was working with one of the other teams in another village and so couldn’t be with us but the spirit of hospitality with which we were greeted definitely had his indelible imprint. The aptly named Comfort was our host for the weekend and duly provided a robust serving of Jollof Rice to help settle us in.

Just before we ate, Amy relayed a pretty amazing story to us. Pastor George has been working with D-Lab, a class run by Amy in MIT, for over three years now and each fall students come out to New Longoro to work on different appropriate technologies and designs to help improve the quality of life in the community. The students gain a huge amount from this experience and a large part of this is down to the incredible bond that exists between the students that travel to Ghana, and the community partners themselves such as the Pastor himself.

Over the years, D-lab students had been finding it difficult to work after 7pm, due to the lack of available lighting. This had never been raised by the group as an issue but one year they arrived to work on a project, and found that George had helped build a large outhouse specifically for D-lab to use after hours, equipped with lighting and mosquito wire. Sitting inside, Amy told us that as a result, this house would always hold a special place in her heart and for me, this seems a perfect example of the Bao Me Na Me Mmoa Wo (Help me and let me help you) philosophy by which IDDS strives to live by.

The Church in New Longoro

After our meal we split up to find our various sleeping arrangements in the village. Comfort found room for nearly all of us in the house but myself and Amy travelled into the village to stay there. Amazingly, I found myself sharing a room with two seventeen year old twins, Job and Jacob, who are as obsessed about football as I am. Both have had trials with big teams in the country and on seeing the ball I had brought, they promised me a game in the morning to prove just how good they were. It was a slightly surreal experience staying with them though, as they had a massive sound system beating out Rhianna and 50 cent as I snuggled in under my mosquito net and tried to catch some sleep. I guess we are just hosted by the families in the village who are most well off, which makes sense.

We got up bright and early the next morning to accompany Amy to the river, as she attempted to do her washing there without attracting any notice. This turned out to be pretty difficult given the means of transport for which she had provided for her clothes! The small trye-esque contraption was dragged behind her as if it was a pet and the villagers really didn’t know what to make of it. On the plus side, I got to try out a water pump on our way – really highlighted my lack of upper body strength when compared to the village women themselves though. The Hydro Powered Light team and the Chlorine Dosing team were particularly interested to see the river, as this would provide one of their main sources of information for their projects. One thing they discovered was that the villagers actually preferred the contaminated river water to the clean water accessible through Boer Holes, as a result in a taste difference and a lack of knowledge as to the real effects of drinking dirty water.

Amy and her groups travelled to Gomboi and Dwere soon after and we in New Longoro, after a quick breakfast, met to discuss our plans for the day. With completely different projects to think of, our participants had completely different ideas about who they wanted to talk to, and what they needed to find out. As such it made sense for everyone to split up separately and attempt to use the local contacts we had in New Longoro to help speed up the process. One of these in particular, a Peace Corp volunteer by the name of Ashley, was to prove invaluable for a number of the teams. This wasn’t to stop Kofi giving him a hard time though, joking that it meant free meals for him when IDDS came to town!

Our main goal for the trip was to attend a committee meeting at 2pm so the teams hadn’t too long to find out the information they needed. Vaibhav and Mustafa, of ICT Baby Monitor and Cool Medicine Storage respectively, got lucky by having their point of contact, a local health worked named Mr. Adams, brought to them by Ashley. Delia from Groundnut Threshing went looking for some Groundnut farms and Lisa went to search out women who attempt to make oil from Shea nuts. All the groups had been drilled to attempt to interact with the villagers as real people, rather than as sources of information, as this would help them wrap their heads around the scale of the problems facing the community on a daily basis.

Kofi checking out some groundnut farms

At 2pm we made our way to our intended meeting place, directly under the mango tree. In traditional Ghanaian fashion we arrived at the arranged time, fully expecting the meeting to start much closer to 3pm! The caller had only gone through the town announcing the meeting an hour or two earlier but we still got a turnout of about 50 to 100 villagers at the meeting which looked a positive sign as Kofi prepared to present our mission to the committee and the elders. This would not have been in any way possible without the wonderful translating abilities of Timo, a participant at this year’s summit who is also a native of New Longoro.

Timo and Kofi work together to explain the IDDS vision

Once Kofi had presented the IDDS vision, the individual projects and our hopes for working with New Longoro, the floor was opened up and a lively debate duly ensued. The villagers discussed the merits of the twelve projects and attempted to come to a consensus about which of the two projects they thought were most applicable to their village. We were delighted to hear such a debate, even if we couldn’t understand a word of it, as it meant that the villagers were genuinely interested in working with IDDS over the next couple of weeks. The villagers expressed particular interest in Shea Oil Extraction, the ICT Baby Monitor and the Kid Friendly Latrine projects, much to the chagrin of Mustafa, who expected his Cool Medicine project to be top of the list!

Watching the committee meeting enfold, and taking particular interest in the part that Timo had to play in it’s successful outcome, I was struck by just how sustainable a model for development IDDS 2009 really is. We are going into these villages, not as surveyors, voyeurs, or even purveyors, but rather simply as equals. We have project concepts outlined in our heads but it is up to the villagers we are working with to help turn those concepts into creations and that sense of ownership came across strikingly in the attitudes on show during the meeting.

The Elders converse among each other about the projects

After the meeting, contact details were exchanged between the relative parties and the teams were free to get back to their job of finding out as much information as possible about their relative projects. I accompanied Vaibhav and Mustafa on their trip to the local health clinic to see if I could learn any more about the processes by which they were redefining their projects. Vaibhav met with a local woman to discuss how babies are currently measured in the village and was shocked to find out that out of the nine children she had given birth to, five had died within a couple of days of birth. The instant interest in the project expressed by the village women at the meeting suddenly made a lot more sense.

Mustafa was busy finding out how local medicines are stored in the village here, and while being impressed with the setup on show, he was becoming increasingly disillusioned that the availability of electricity in the village would eliminate the need for any sort of medicine water cooler system. However, on our walk back to Pastor George’s house we unexpectedly landed upon some information that will probably change the direction of the project in a major way. We stopped a man on the street to see if we could ask him some questions and he very kindly brought us into his nearby house and made us feel very welcome, again a wonderful example of the natural instinct towards hospitality that exists here in New Longoro.

It eventually transpired that what he really needed was a device to help preserve the Cassava which he was forced to travel a long distance to the farm every day to collect, as it becomes stale after less than a day. Mustafa quickly proposed an altered prototype which would achieve just that function. He inquired to see how much such a machine would be worth to the farmer, and was delighted to hear it was a figure in the ballpark of about 50 Cedi’s! Walking back to the Pastor’s house for dinner, Mustafa remarked that he is worried he might be catching the IDDS bug that Suprio spoke so eloquently about.

Suprio finds a friend in Adumkrom

The general consensus among the teams seemed to be that our first taste of village life was a hugely positive one. All the participants seemed to have found out information that was useful for their projects, and had plans to use the following morning to find out the remainder of what they needed to know.

The next morning I got up at 530am to get in a quick game of football with my two football crazy new friends and after a quick breakfast it was time to get back to work. Mustafa and Vaibhav again visited the hospital, Rajnish and Mark (from the Plastic Product Recycling team) went to the local market and Lisa tried to find out some more information on the Shea Oil Extraction Process. It made sense for some of the teams to examine the other nearby villages as the New Longoro was not particularly suited to their projects. Both the Hydro Powered Light team and the Cool Medicine team were interested in exploring a village that was completely without electricity and as such spent the rest of their morning in Gomboi. The remaining IDDSters took a trip to the local Junior High School to meet with some of the students there and tell them our background and the reasons why it was important to study hard if one wanted to be an engineer, or even a lowly journalist!

Just before we left the village we played a highly competitive 11 a side game of football with the Gomboi and IDDS participants on the one team, and a New Longoro select eleven on the other. After a disappointing 4-3 defeat we piled into our mini bus, sweaty and out of breath and settled in for the long ride home.

Some tools available locally

I don't think a caption would shed any more light on this picture

The hostel was absolutely buzzing on our return. Everyone had plenty of stories to share from each of the villages and the teams had plenty to catch up on after they had been re-united. Stephen had us all in stitches as he explained how they had almost been accosted by a snake during their first village committee meeting. Thankfully the villagers had their clubs at the ready! We finished off the exhausting weekend by making some easels for the teams gallery sketches later in the week. Looking forward to seeing the teams develop their project ideas over the next few days!

Our easels in pretty good shape after our quick fire set up


christine said...

Really enjoyed this post, excellant, and interesting to hear about what the projects are and how they are recieved by the local people and I like the personal info because it gives me a feel for being there and what the interactions are like. Thanks,Chris

Esta said...

Well this really really interesting. I attended some of Amy's classes at MIT (as an auditor) but for me to link these projects to practicality is something different. I am so glad that you guys are in Ghana, hopefully we could get the project duplicated all over Africa.

It is great that you are updating us on the blog. Keep it up.
Esther Nakkazi, Uganda