Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Continuing support for Women's Groups in Lawra District - Ghana, and for Orphans in Malawi

We arrived back in North Wales, in the UK, on September 27th 2009 at lunchtime; at 7.30pm on the same day we found ourselves rehearsing for a Vaudeville (Music Hall) with Ruthin Musical Theatre. We joined in with all sorts of crazy musical/theatrical/farcical deeds for the Vaudeville, which was performed in our local village hall in Llanfair DC and succeeded in raising £7,500 for local and overseas charities. £1950 of this was earmarked for African developments with which we were both partially and significantly associated.

£650 went to the Open Arms Orphanage in Malawi and £1300 was earmarked for continuing our support to credit union development with Women's Groups in the Lawra District of Ghana.

£650 has already been transferred to Lawra through the continuing involvement of Eric , our good friend who helped us set up the first Credit Union in the Lawra District with the Song Taa Group in Tuori village. Eric's last report, sent to us by e mail, in addition to several Skype to mobile conversations from the UK (Eric gets a better mobile signal than we get at home!) triggered the first £650 donation. The second £650 donation has also been transferred ready for the next village group; having had satisfactory feedback from Eric.

So far the money has been used to significant effect; enabling local women to manage, allocate, collect and re-allocate the money according to the needs of the different 'women's enterprise groups' at the time of the year when it is most needed. The initial Tuori group has now gone through a full (annual) cycle and the interest payments received have now increased the communal 'pot' by a further 50 cedis!

A further £130 was also sent out for the Tuori credit Union by a dedicated group of women craft enthusiasts in Ruthin; they held an Open Day and the proceeds of the day were donated to Song Taa.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

So Farewell to Ghana and then what?

On Friday March 13th we officially finished our placement as VSO’s with the Ghana Education Service in Lawra. For the next few months we will be travelling overland in our own vehicle, across Africa from West to East, with our friends Berwyn and Julia from Ruthin in north Wales. We will depart on the first leg of our journey on Wednesday March 18th.
We will record our journey on

So it’s goodbye to Ghana and VSO, for now; we hope to be calling in on a number of VSO colleagues en route as we travel through , Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroun, Gabon, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi (to visit my brother Martin and Family), Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya (to re-visit our son Michael’s birthplace – O’Loitokitok) and then……?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Song-Taa (Self-help) Credit Union Evolves

Today, Wed 25th February, Song-Taa met to discuss how to allocate the 1500 Ghana Cedis which now rests in their new bank account. It was agreed that 1200 GH₵ should be earmarked for allocation immediately and that 300GH₵ should be held in reserve. It was further agreed that 1200GH₵ should be allocated between January and March for Pottery making and Petty Trading for the first period, Pito Brewing and Petty Trading for the second period of April to August, and Grain Trading and Petty Trading for the final third period from September to December. This mainly follows the growing seasons. With the help of Eric Kaliebu from Ministry of Agriculture (MOFA), the group discussed and decided on a three month repayment period with an interest rate of 5 pesewas from each beneficiary, the money to be collected by the group representatives and paid to the Executive to be banked.
Much laughter and nodding of heads took place when it was suggested that the women should take great care of the money borrowed and not let it fall into the hands of ‘THE MEN’. They will surely do this.
Plans were put in place to keep a meeting attendance register as it was felt that once some people knew there was money to be handed out, they would arrive in the queue without any serious intention of putting the money to good use or even paying it back! Only those women seriously interested in benefiting their small businesses would be considered.
On Friday 27th Feb all the women in the village met, to inform them of the decisions taken by the executive committee and prepare the way for loan requests to be considered.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Home Strait - though not quite straight home!

Celebrating Australia Day in Nandom - didn't know there was one!

It is hard to imagine that in just over 7 weeks we will be concluding our direct involvement with VSO development work in Lawra – 2yrs has really flown by.
We are busily finishing off projects: Jenny, with Ruth (VSO), is completing a phase of ‘Phonics’ training for Primary School Teachers.
I am off to the Rural Bank today to help open the new bank account for the Song Taa, meaning self help, Tuouri Women’s Group (see last blog). They have now formalised their group and will soon begin inviting requests from village women and deliberating how much to loan, to whom, for what, for how long etc, etc.
We feel really pleased at this use of Ruthin Inner Wheel ‘s money, especially as we know that there are two extremely reliable and capable local Ghanaians, Eric and Denisia, who will continue to provide support. We intend to maintain this contact and continue to seek and provide financial support for this type of activity which directly affects the quality of life in villages, without wasting money on excessive salaries and spanking new 4 x 4 pick-up trucks, which seems to be the norm (not VSO) with the typical Aid Agency out here!

We are of course preparing ourselves and our vehicle for our Trans-Africa Safari
We will be accompanied by Berwyn and Julia from Ruthin, travelling through: Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroun, Gabon, Congo – Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi (to visit my brother Martin and his wife Miriam), Mozambique, Tanzania, and ‘possibly finally’ Kenya – to visit our son Michael’s birthplace at O’Loitokitok, on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. We aim to be back in the UK around Sept 1st – but who knows? More later!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Ruthin Inner Wheel helps tackle poverty among Women in Lawra Ghana

Through a generous donation of £900 Ruthin Inner Wheel is helping us to assist women in Tuori (our local village) to reduce the extent of their poverty by enabling villagers to generate more income. We are working to help groups of small traders to improve their businesses, hence their incomes, hence reduce poverty, through setting up a Credit Union. The CU will be administered by village representatives, they will consider applications for re-payable loans from women’s groups in the village; they cannot borrow again until they have repaid; the village reps vote to allocate the money to their priority projects. The fund is a revolving fund and stays intact as it is loaned and repaid. We have the help of a couple of brilliant Ghanaians who have done this in similar communities where the CUs are still thriving and the quality of life in those villages is gradually improving. It's the type of development that really could do with more financial support as it can make a real difference in very local communities.

Progress to date.
We met with the village Chief and Elders to share ideas and discuss village needs. The men were not too keen on our working solely with the women of the village; the women reassured them that a happier woman would benefit everybody! Agreement was granted to arrange a separate meeting with the women only.

We, Jenny, Nigel, Denisia (a villager who speaks very good English and is a volunteer at the Orphanage in Lawra) and Eric (a Credit Union expert from the local Ministry of Agriculture) met with the women on Monday December 8th, out in the open at 4.00pm. To our great surprise, almost 60 women participated; it also took a long time getting going as every arrival generated a welcome dance. Eventually, Jenny, with the help of her picture drawing skills, led a session to elicit the main activity groups the women were involved in which included: Pottery and Basket-making, Tomato growing and selling, Pito (local beer) brewing and selling, Kosi (local cakes), Shea Butter, Grain processing and general petty trading

6 different groups then gathered separately to elect three representatives to take part in a further meeting which will get down to the ‘nitty gritty’ of discussing the things which they most need, to enable them to improve their group’s activity.

It was sundown by now so we all gathered together again to reflect on what had been agreed; we breathed a huge sigh of relief as this was a very ‘high risk’ meeting which turned out well. We meet again in January, by which time the different groups will have discussed and agreed their priorities. We are so grateful to Denisia and Eric, without whom we would have been sunk, and to the women for their participation, warm welcome and brilliant humour. We could not take photographs at this stage as it could have upset the delicate dynamics of the meeting – maybe next time.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Coal Pot Queen: Camping in Gbele Game Reserve

This weekend we decided to test out our camping skills and to explore some of the practical issues which might arise when we begin our overland journey to Capetown in just over 4 months time. It was great fun camping, but freezing cold! However we are now quite re-assured that we can rely on our new tent and our ‘coal-pot’ (charcoal cooker) for any essential camping stops on our journey.

We took a trip to Gbele Game Reserve, about 120km East S.E. of Lawra along a very rough dirt road. Our home for the weekend was a new tent that our friends, Dave and Jan, brought out earlier in July

We were able to pitch in a good shady spot 6km into the reserve.

The Gbele Reserve is bisected by the river Kulpawn which is really good for bird watching; our camp site, which also hosts 3 luxury tents, was just a few hundred metres from the river. We were the sole occupants of the site; it was wonderfully peaceful with amazingly clear, starlit skies. When we signed the Reserve’s visitor’s book we observed that only three other visitors had signed in since we last visited 15 months ago. The reserve has huge potential and very friendly and helpful guides; but insufficient training prevents the guides from being able to identify even the commonest of birds (which is what tourists are keen to know) and a consequent lack of confidence prevents the guides from voluntarily imparting the vast amount of local knowledge that they have about the plants, trees, their various uses etc. So much potential, for both overseas and Ghanaian tourists!
After the night time cold at Gbele, when we got back to Lawra it was 35 deg Celsius (95 F) inside our house at 7.00pm!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Nothing Succeeds like Success - Given the Chance....

Chris's home, Chris and brother, Jenny, Chris's father.
A particular success story is that our support for Chrysanthus, our neighbour's nephew from Dondomoteng (see photos above) is proving to be very worthwhile; his school exam results were very good and we are now supporting him with some extra studies, some accommodation and a bicycle to get around on in Wa - we sense a long-term investment coming on here! He is a very capable and decent young man, from a very poor family, he is the first one to even go to Secondary School. What we would like to do is to try and find some sponsorship so that he can progress to University, either here or in the UK - We are sure that he would acquit himself well and any sponsor could be sure of making a sound investment.

In general life is pretty good here
, about 90 degrees inside our Teachers' Resource Centre, in Lawra (where we work) today, just a little different from the October snow in the UK. We have beeen working hard here but we have also made sure that we have travelled and explored Ghana and surrounding countries.
We are now entering a season called the Harmattan - it is very hot and windy during the day - coming from the Sahara desert - but quite cool at night, we even have to put a blanket on sometimes!
We have a few months (5) remaining in Lawra and we are beginning to wonder how we will cope with the luxury and prosperity of the UK.

Our way of life here is very different
: at about 4.00 a.m. the call to prayer at our local mosque is the first thing to disturb our sleep, followed soon after by the many cockerels (they do not seem to be able to crow at the same time here!), then we hear the first villagers and school children pumping water at the borehole, then it's the school's wake up alarm (a piece of wood banging on a big metal bar), then it's the Guinea fowl, turkeys, goats, and cows that parade by and graze around the house sniffing, snorting and scrapping; then it's our neighbour's motorbike (about 6.00) as he goes off to the village shop, then it's Jenny showering pouring luke warm water over herself with a cup from our bucket of bore hole water - such luxury! Breakfast at 7.00 - work at 08.00; and we are supposed to be retired!
Amongst the things we will not miss will be the snakes (four around the house to date), scorpions, the myriad of flies in the evenings (inside - May to October) and the long dark nights - 6.00pm - 6.00-am every day throughout the year; but UK is a long time away yet as we intend to finish here on March 31st 2009 and then travel south, arriving back in the UK, probably at the beginning of September; more of that another time.

Jenny is having a very domesticated week this week; she works really hard at the TRC but she still made a date and walnut cake, a chocolate cake and some hummous this week - fantastic, a real treat. My contributions, over time, have been home made mango chutney, lime pickle and orange and lime marmalade. Enough for now, if we start talking about the food that we do and do not have we will be here all night.
Jenny and her VSO colleague, Ruth, are facing a bit of a quandry at present with the Kindergartens (KG) project they are involved with; the KG staff have not been paid for 10 months and have just embarked on strike action (wouldn't you? , they are paid only £6 per month!) - unfortunately this is just the time when vital training and investment is being put into action - a real dilemma. Onwards and upwards!