Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Village Visit Two - Destination: KyeKyewere

The rest of the teams began their respective odysseys this morning, with the earliest risers leaving the hostel at 8am. While the first visit had included some information gathering, a large part of the focus was still on cultural interaction, getting to know the people and learning the dynamics of how to make connections and contacts in the field. In the time between that visit and this, the teams have narrowed down the problems they are attempting to solve and as such, they were much more focused on idea sharing and field research on this village visit. Again, teams split into groups of two or three to help get as wide a spread of information as possible and some even brought some pretty interesting looking foam prototypes, to help explain their ideas!

I personally was lucky enough to be traveling with the groups taking the trip to the nearby villages in the Ashanti Region; Adumkrom, Agyereago and Kyekyewere. Packing all our utensils, mosquito nets, food supplies, mattresses and twenty or so bodies into a fairly compact tro tro (the small min-bus which is the most prevalent form of transport here in Kumasi) will definitely be remembered as one of the highlights of my IDDS experience. Throw in a broken door, some rope ties and two unnecessary companions to the driver in the front seat, and you had a right merry party making their way northwards from Kumasi. At one point, two of our mattresses fell off the roof and we had to rely on some Ghanaian goodwill and a trailing car to catch up with us and give them back!

The Mangwasi team had to get out and push to get to their village!

This helped put our own transport troubles in context

The Northern Region of Ghana

Our first stop was Konongo, the district capital of the region. Each team had a different agenda and the water plant, the hospital clinic, the school and the market were some of the various destinations that comprised the two helter skelter hours we spent here. Casserdy and Amber took a visit to the school to get some ideas from the children as to the problems they currently faced with the latrines in the area while the newly titled Cool Storage Team travelled around the market, finding out information about the vegetables on sale and seeing the speed with which they go to waste. I personally tagged along with the Cool Storage team, and for some reason I couldn’t quite put my finger on, provided a huge amount of amusement for the market women!

After a brief drop off of the Adumkrom team, we made our way back to Konongo to pick up the ICT group, busy at work in the medical clinic. The ICT team are working on a project to come up with a low cost machine that can weigh and measure babies and then provide an SMS technology attached, that mothers or health workers could then transmit this information by text message to a health clinic that may not be easily accessible. Walking into an open plan room at the back of the clinic, we were met with quite a sight. Evan Wheeler, a UNICEF employee working on the ICT team, squirmed around on the ground, acting the part of unruly child, as two of the nurses attempted to measure him using the team’s rapidly crafted foam prototype! Miguel, a team member studying at the University of Sao Paolo was absolutely glowing when I talked to him afterwards, buzzing about his very own first hand experience of co-creation in action.

This little girl looked absolutely petrified by the whole situation

Evan seemed to be enjoying the process much more!

There was definitely a major feel good factor in the bus as we made our way to our next port of call, Agyereago. We alighted to about fifty children running forward to grab us and welcome us to their village and an impromptu game of Frisbee quickly ensued. Realizing just how many kids were playing (almost a hundred) and our limited resources (we had one Frisbee) we decided to call the enthusiasm filled but slightly manic game short and we set off exploring around the village. Tombo and I were escorted by some of the kids to look at the crops the villagers farm and just about managed to survive the physical assault as each of the kids tried to grab a hand. We all reconvened for a sumptuous feast prepared by one of the village women, and were just tucking in to some Jollof Rice when we realized that we had managed to lose Jose! A frantic few minutes followed but all was soon resolved – turned out he just wanted to find some corn.

We were just preparing for the next leg of our journey when we were called to an urgent meeting with the chief of the village. Agyereago has quite a complicated power structure at present, with rival chiefs, a committee, and absentee chiefs all thrown into the mix. During our first village visit here a week and a half ago, as well as our reconnaissance visits before the start of the conference proper, the chief was not present and thus was not informed about the IDDS vision or mission. As a result, when he eventually showed up, he was more than a little perturbed by the large group of foreigners settling in to his village. What followed was one of the tensest meetings I’ve ever sat through, made all the more intimidating by the austere expression on the chief’s face, and the ominous sound of Fu-Fu pounding which formed the backdrop to our conversation. Thankfully it seemed the stern look was just a front, as the translation quickly revealed that he was actually delighted at our presence in the village, and looking forward to working with us in the future!

Evan and Sam check out Agyereago

Miguel is mobbed by a group of kids

Jose, thankfully re-united with the group!

We eventually left Agyereago, tired and emotional, and less than ten minutes ride along a bumpy road left us in what would be my personal home for the evening, Kyekyewere. We arrived just after dark, which wasn’t ideal as it meant that our meeting with the village chief would have to wait until the morning. Despite our tardiness, we were graciously received by the villagers and served a tasty mix of palava sauce and Yam, accompanied by an almost cloudless sky. Kyekyewere is bereft of electricity but the brilliant thing about this is that after 7pm it is quite simply impossible to get much work done, and thus there is a clear sense of community as the village comes together after a hard day’s work. In our case, we sat around outside our home for a couple of hours, telling stories and learning some softly sung Ghanaian tunes, taught to us by our village liaison, Niimo.

After this peaceful interlude, it was time to get to work. We rose early in the morning and soon after, the Cool Storage team met with the chiefs in our village to discuss their project. As we were being introduced it became apparent that one of the committee members was the exact type of tomato farmer that the team wanted to talk to, quite a stroke of luck! The team, with their conversation specialist Tombo Banda leading the way, spent the next hour or so quizzing the farmer about his tomato crop, how he brings them to market and the amounts he loses to waste on every trip. They even ended on a quick business proposal, seeing whether he would be willing to pay for their cooling and storage device, and if so how much!

Meanwhile, the ICT team were busy at work over in Agyereago. Another stroke of fortune had fallen their way, it was baby weighing day at the village! As a result they could see the process first hand, rather than simply asking questions about it. Evan even got to weigh and change a baby himself and this obviously provided a steady flow of banter from the nurses and health workers on duty. After quickly taking the van over to Conongo to pick up Jessica and Stephen from the Local Chlorine Production team, we settled in for our second Jollof Rice meal of the trip. In our conversations with the owner of the household, Stephen learned that a water dam had been built by another Englishman from Manchester, over twenty years ago. He and his teammate spent the rest of the afternoon investigating this, and the nearby water treatment plant, while the rest of us split into two groups to perform the hotly anticipated technology demonstration.

After our last set of village visits we had talked about the need to have something much more interactive to help transmit our vision to the villagers, and eventually we settled on the demonstration of how to make a corn sheller our of sheet metal, a device developed by Amy herself. Each team had packed their little kit of tools and jigs with them and it was definitely a part of the visit that we had all been looking forward to immensely. In villages around the country, community meeting were being called to notify people about the impending demonstration, and by the time we started, there was a sizeable crowd ready to witness what we had to show. Miguel, Evan, Paulina and I had done a dry run ourselves just before, just to make sure we didn’t make complete asses of ourselves in front of the whole village.

We brought our finished product (“here’s one we made earlier”) out with us and started by checking in with the villagers about how they currently go about getting the corn off the cob. After this we demonstrated our model and while expressing huge admiration for it, the villagers just wanted us to give them the one we had created. After explaining our tools a little more clearly, we started to show one of the men how to make the design. It quickly became apparent that he was far more skilled with his hands than any of us and within ten minutes, he had another fully working prototype to show the crowd. We made a presentation of some more sheet metal (already cut into the ten inch pieces necessary for the design) and the jigs, and we hope that by the next visit the village will be much more heavily populated with corn shellers. What really grabbed the villagers attention was the elegance of the design and the simplicity with which it could be put together (even an English major could do it!), as well as the huge amount of time it will help shave off the process in the future.

Everyone gathering around for the demonstration in Mangwasi

The chief's own pretty inventive, if a little dangerous, solution to the problem

Benjamin introduces the Cassava Processing team's idea to the group

Again, the buzz on our return to the hostel was quite infectious, as teams shared information about their projects, and attempted to outdo each other with stories from the past few days. I checked in with the rice de-stoning team and it seems they had the biggest adventure of the whole group. Their trek to the Northern Region took them all the way to the lawless, rough terrained no-man’s land between Ghana and Burkina Faso and even included an altercation with a crocodile! They came across some great information for their project too though, and they are beginning to narrow their problem down to figuring our a way to thresh rice, rather than focusing on the de-stoning aspect. Their team, and all the others, got to bed pretty early in preparation for a day of Entrepreneurship sessions with the effervescent Paul Hudnut. We were lucky enough to have Paul on our visit to the Ashanti Region, and he’s excited about getting the participants thinking about the how to design their potential prototypes for the market!

Hazwan looks like he doesn't quite know who talked him into this...

Sule and Geoff do some information gathering

Newsflash! - Rice De Stoning team tames crocodile!

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