Sunday, December 16, 2007

Lawra Project Funding Update

Follow This link which displays a page we are using to try and explain what is happening to funds raised by our friends, colleagues and acquaintances.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

A Visit to Chrisantus’s family home

A Visit to Chrisantus’s family home
and a night with a cockerel in our kitchen!
We are supporting an 18yr old Ghanaian boy, Chrisantus (red shirt in the photo)with his studies, by buying him books, clothes, paying medical fees etc; last weekend he invited us to visit his family home at Dondomoteng.
We first met his parents in Nandom town at the local Pito Bar (home brewed beer – some similarity to cider?); we then gave them, and half the village, a lift to Chris’s home where we met the 24 children of the extended family /community of 37 all of whom live in the mud constructed compound.
It was a visit with a difference: we sampled more peetou! and were shown around the amazingly designed compound of interlocking dwellings, grain-stores and kraals and were sharply reminded of the huge gulf in lifestyles between the rural poor and city rich citizens of Ghana, as well as the immense gap compared with our own lifestyle. After consulting Chris we took with us soap, salt and a large bag of oranges, as gifts for the family.
We were then humbled big-time when, as we were leaving, we were given quantities of soya beans, ground nuts, two pumpkins and to cap it all – a symbol of real respect for visitors - a live cockerel! All this from a family/community of 37 existing on subsistence farming. We posed for photos and vowed that we must do something, maybe you can help?, to assist them to improve the children’s life chances by finding ways of improving their: living conditions, clothing, access to electricity (solar panels + batteries) and enabling access to education.

Cocka doodle doo – I’m going to escape from you! – or nearly. So, it was home to Lawra with cockerel crowing, sensing its fate, in the back of Mitzi (our car). It’s 10.00pm so we can’t deal with it tonight – so we spend the night with a cockerel crowing away in the kitchen –he got his revenge by signalling dawn continuously until we finally surfaced to silence the blighter - but he was smart! Despite being hobbled he gave us, and our neighbour Madame Kubio, the run around for twenty minutes, escaping into the courtyard and then outside with us in hot pursuit; but we got him. Chrisanthus arrived, did the deed, it was plucked, cooked and eaten for supper as Chicken Casserole with locally produced ground nut sauce, onions and tomatoes – delicious. The real world is a bit uncomfortable for animal rights and vegetarian enthusiasts!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Cycling in the Clwydian hills will improve the lot of children at Brutu Kindergarten!

Some great news this week is that one of our friends at home , Dave Bullock, and his students at Frodsham High School has raised several hundred pounds to assist with our efforts to support the Kindergarten Schools in Lawra District. We are absolutely delighted and we shall certainly put it to good use – for toys, books, class-room improvements etc. Thanks for the sweat and toil on your bike around the hills of North Wales to raise this sum Dave; thanks go to you and all your friends who had their arms twisted to support you!! We will keep you posted, via the Blog, on the use of the funds - our next step will be to meet with the PTA and Rev Sr Justina, (who is the Assistant Director in charge of school supervision and who has a keen interest in this particular school) and work out their immediate priorities. They will be overjoyed.

Our VSO work with Lawra’s Education Service continues to evolve, with us both engaging in a range of sometimes quite unpredictable spheres of work; it is never boring! We keep the Teachers’ Resource Centre ticking over financially by doing photocopying, laminating and document binding with a constant stream of teachers wanting study leave forms, applying for study leave, going away and then not coming back to the Upper West - a constant ‘brain drain’. The Ghana Education Service, in the name of technological advancement has decreed that all 44 Junior High Schools should enter their examination students ‘ data online by December. The fact that none of the 44 schools in the Lawra District have electricity, computers or the Internet and only one teacher has his own computer wasn’t taken into consideration. So, over the next two weeks the TRC is helping the JHS Year 3 teachers to enter their pupils’ exam details onto a special database installed onto the four available computers at the TRC as well as going out to schools (with our own cameras) to take digital pictures of the students because schools don’t have cameras!!

Exploring at week-end helps to compensate for the limited scope for mid-week leisure activities. We have no hills, tennis courts, swimming pools, Operatic Society or the like, no TV, nowhere to go out for a meal, no cinema etc.. but there is an abundance of local bars if you want to drink yourself into a stupor at the end of the working day. We have decided that weekends are definitely to be used and enjoyed and so we are off to Burkina Faso again, this time to Bobo Dioulasso , to explore. We believe it is much greener and fertile than around the capital of Ouagadougu and that there are hills, waterfalls and escarpments to the South heading towards Banfora and Sindou. We get by reasonably well with Nigel’s French.

On the home front, the garden beats us and Harmattan season is upon us!I have completely given up with the garden. We will now have no rain until March at the earliest and I can’t be bothered to lug water to a garden where everything gets eaten by crickets, grasshoppers and caterpillars. Also I feel guilty using water which has to be brought to our house on the head of a woman who has 7 children of her own and works incredibly hard just to make ends meet. The weather is getting hotter during the day and colder at night, from now until December; this last week it has been around 35 – 40 deg day and down to about 15 -18 deg night time.

What a country of contrasts this is.

Bye all

Update from Ghana, Burkina Faso and Mali

Burkina Faso and Mali trip in October/November.
We have just had a great holiday with friends Berwyn and Julia who flew (from Nigeria) to Accra and then Kumasi. We spent a couple of nights here in Lawra and then headed for a couple of nights in Ouaga to try and sort out visas for both Burkina Faso and Mali. No visa forms available at Immigration in Ouaga, for B.F. so sort them out on your return from Mali, and get your Mali visa at the border! No problems. We crossed the Mali border with no problem but had strict instructions not to go further that the Bandiagara Escarpment – Dogon Country and definitely not to go as far as Mopti on the River Niger. We spent one very uncomfortable night in Bankass in a very run down ‘hotel’ with Nigel being violently sick. Fortunately he was better by morning. We acquired a very knowledgeable National Guide who spent the next three days guiding us round the escarpment villages, up to Mopti on the River Niger and then to Djenne, We took a short boat trip up the river at Mopti to an island fishing village – in all its working glory, if we’d had the time we could have carried on down-river for two days to Timbuktu – maybe next time! A fascinating visit marred only slightly by being besieged by small (and large) children all with their hands out asking for a ‘petite cadeau’ or an offer to have their picture taken for money. Thankfully our guide handled it well distributing the small change we had with us to very eager hands.
We visited Djenne home of the largest mud mosque in West Africa. Fascinating history, lovely buildings but pretty unpleasant environment (dirt and rubbish) although our accommodation was excellent. We then spent the last two nights in Ouaga prior to B & J flying home from Ouaga. It is worth going to Ouaga (5 hours away) just for the food and the Marina supermarket!
Bye for now.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Kobine Festival and helping with our Projects

The Kobine Festival is a huge annual Festival in Lawra District. Kobine Festival Photos can be seen via this link.

See how Lawra District Kindergartens are in need of assistance by seeing these photograohs

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Help with Projects and Ghana Photos

Visit our Ghana Help pages at
Visit our Ghana Photos pages at

Flooding in Lawra

Lawra Flooding –September 2007
Northern Ghana has been hit by severe flooding in the last few weeks; Lawra has suffered badly in those areas that are close to the Black Volta River, which flows just two kilometres west of Lawra town; by good fortune we are not affected. The photos taken in June show the normal bank to bank river width, whereas in the September photo the far bank is beyond view. The major impact here is that several farms and homes close to the river have been completely destroyed, in some cases along with the livestock whose kraals were hit during the night; fortunately there is no loss of human life but there are many homeless people, including one of our work colleagues Augustina. The impact in the Upper East Region is huge, with significant loss of life and the destruction of a number of key bridges rendering the already difficult transport routes nigh impossible. As often seems to be the case the poorest Regions continue to have suffering piled upon poverty, exacerbated by natural disasters. The District Assembly here in Lawra is trying to assist the homeless families but they have very limited resources; without external help the suffering is destined to continue for some considerable time.

Friday, September 07, 2007

A few Photos of our First 4 months

We have posted a few photos on our Family Web site - follow this link to view:

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Update on almost four months that have passed in a flash

Update on almost four months that have passed in a flash
Fellow VSOs
I have just been re-reading some of the messages our fellow VSOs have been sending from all over the world. Onome, certainly seems to be getting to grips with things in Beijing, making her mark and probably fluent in Mandarin by now, and Dorothy no doubt has Thai and Burmese tripping off her tongue. Ali, Clare, Carol and Kate – Is it Chichewa or does everyone speak English in the hospital in Malawi? It’s quite a challenge learning (or trying to learn) a new language. Nigel and I have been here three months and our Daagare is still very limited. Fortunately schools and daily business is conducted in English so we are slightly let off the hook. However, we frequently wish we knew more of the language so that we could communicate with the children from the local village who don’t go to school but look after the cattle and goats on the land around our house. (Even if it is occasionally just to ask them to disappear and stop peering through the windows at us as if we have two heads!!) We are gradually coming to a sort of understanding with them.

Working for the Ghana Education Service (GES) in the Lawra District OfficeWork is progressing well and we are beginning to settle into the relaxed way of things, just as VSO staff predicted. Work starts officially at 8.00am and most of the time we make it in for then. The local people are extremely friendly and very appreciative of any effort you make to speak their language. It is the custom to greet and so the journey to work in the mornings, often by bicycle is really cheery and a good way to start the day. The first thing we do in the morning is to go round the offices and ‘greet’ people. ‘Ansoma’ ‘Fo ga be sung’ meaning ‘Good Morning, How was your night’? Then you ask about the children and the wife and the farm and was there enough rain and how many funerals did you have to attend at the weekend? (that’s if it is Monday morning).You might sit a while under the Mango Tree which provides a wonderfully large shady canopy with a couple of benches placed beneath. Then you beg your leave of the people still sitting there and amble off to the office to see what the first task is. This was how our first two months of placement was conducted. It was very hot in May and June and so the relaxed way was essential. Easing our way in gently and ascertaining how we can be of most use and value to our colleaguesWe were encouraged to put our house in order first – not too much wrong with it at all, find our way round the local market and equally as important, get to know the local drinking spots – no problem. We got to know the office staff bit by bit and began to find small things that we could do to help. Nobody really said do this, or do that, we just asked around and did a bit here and there. Gradually we both, in our respective positions began to see how we could help and how our roles were evolving. I am working as a Teacher Support Officer in the local Teacher Resource Centre alongside another British VSO, Helen, also a TSO , building up the resources available. In September we are going out to a few of the local Primary Schools to introduce the teaching of reading through Phonics to Primary 1 and Primary 2 classes and have spent the last couple of weeks making lots of lovely flash cards and teaching aids from bits of card and local materials. Nigel is busy setting up computer systems and training some of the staff in IT skills. We are working with highly intelligent and well read staff whose knowledge of English grammar is exceptional and who are also great fun to be with. We couldn’t ask for a better working environment. Well, all except for the lack of access to the Internet, but we believe it is coming by the end of the year.
Our working environment is good, which is more than can be said for the majority of primary and Junior Secondary Schools. There is a great lack of resources, books, paper, pencils etc (as is the case in most developing countries) and very few of the schools has electricity, although there is a great push within the Education Service to encourage computer /IT literacy amongst its teachers. We have 6 computers in the TRC and organise drop-in sessions and computer lessons for those wanting them.
The paradox of the rainy season - Power on again – but the Rhythm of Life changes
Having previously been experiencing extensive power cuts due to the lack of water in the Akosombo Dam and thus the hydro electric power station being on limited output, Now, with the rains, we have less frequent power cuts but are in danger of crops rotting if we don’t get some more sunshine!
At present we are at the height of the rainy season and whereas we could once see our neighbour’s house and the school buildings, now we have a lush green wall of maize, tomatoes, okra, melons, chilli peppers and yam plants. At this time of the year the goats are all tethered in clusters so as not to eat the planted crops and they are supervised and shifted periodically by young children to chew the grass that grows in the patches of land that cannot be planted; the children consequently miss out on school – a real dilemma. We can get oranges, very occasionally bananas and if we travel 80 kms, the odd pineapple. We also miss the variety of fresh vegetables we have been used to - tomatoes, onions, okra and yams being the ones most readily available, with carrots and green beans a real luxury.The weather really affects the way of life and patterns of work: the heavy rains prevent many people from getting to and from work, there is no public transport and roads become impassable; also the day after the rains, if the sun shines, the office is half empty as people are working on their farms tending crops etc – wages are so low that people are absolutely dependent on what they grow for themselves.

These wheels (Mitzy’s) are made for rolling, and that’s just what they’ll do!
I hope many of you have been following our explorations of Ghana and Burkina Faso on earlier blogs, but for those who haven’t , we made a foray into BF with a couple of other volunteers and visited Ouagadougu for a long weekend. We have to say that this was only made possible by the fact that we were so fed up with the time wasted and the discomfort of journeys by tro-tro (local minibus) that we went out and bought a car. Nigel spent 2 weeks in Accra going through a very tedious and time consuming process of re-registering an ex Corps Diplomatic vehicle, a process he would not willingly go through again. He is a very patient man but this tried his patience to the limit,. However we have been rewarded with a super Mitsubishi Pajero 4 x 4 that has only done 28,000 km in 7 years, pottering about Accra from Embassy to home and back. We have had Mitzy for about 6 weeks and in that time have taken on her on a few minor adventures around the region, the first being up to Ouaga.

Getting out and about: Ougagdougu – Accra – Gbele - Mole
Thank goodness Nigel speaks a passable level of French otherwise we would have been really struggling to get across the border into Burkina Faso with all the forms and visas that had to be filled in. We had a Ghanaian with us and he didn’t speak any French at all. He was surprised at how isolated he felt as not a word of English seems to be spoken there. It is a country not unlike the Upper West and is only a different country by virtue of colonial imposed artificial boundaries. Road signs were good and there was even a peage on the main road into the capital. It is big and busy but better laid out than Accra and the traffic lights work so although there is heavy traffic it continues to flow.
Next after our flying visit to Ouaga was a trip to Accra for a VSO call back meeting. We managed to sneak two days at Cape Coast, by the sea before going off to the Capital on a work related shopping expedition for books and computers before our VSO meeting. Accra is a long way (14 hrs) from the Upper West whichever way you look at it but for Nigel it was a darn site better than his journey down by various tro –tro and bus to Accra to collect the vehicle and a much better way to see the countryside on the way up.
Last weekend we had a brief one day foray into the Gbele Resource Reserve about 2 hours East of Lawra. It was a very memorable trip for some of the wrong reasons. Nigel, with his adventurous spirit decided that just before we reached the entrance to the Reserve he would take a little detour following a sign that directed us to a luxury tented campsite. Check it out for future visits maybe, we thought and headed off down this dirt track. 200 yards further on we were stuck with 2 wheels axle deep in the mud. Not a pleasurable experience when you have to dig the mud out so that you can jack the car up and put logs underneath the wheels at the same time fending off an army of sweat bees and the tiniest mosquitoes with the biggest of bites. From the knees down we were covered in itchy bites that lasted for days. We even resorted to antihistamine tablets from the local chemist to combat the swelling and the itching. Thankfully they have almost gone. We eventually got the car out with the help of the Park Rangers and managed a short guided game walk in the reserve. Worth going back but definitely in the dry season only!!
Our next trip planned is to Mole National Park where there are elephants and a hotel with a swimming pool. What more can you want!

If any VSO is thinking of getting their own transport and is having doubts about the ethics (being a volunteer and all that), don’t think twice. It is definitely worth it and locals have little difficulty reconciling our relative wealth with their own circumstances; our colleagues have no difficulty appreciating, that after 40 yrs of working in the UK, we are able to afford, and should have our own wheels. It takes away all the frustration and you can enjoy and explore the country so much more. It even makes work seem better too.

I’m a Material Girl
Ghanaian women wear some very smart and colourful clothes. At every opportunity they encourage us to adopt the local dress so my wardrobe is gradually becoming more colourful and less western. It is so easy to buy the material from the market and have it made up to fit by one of the many local seamstresses – real made-to-measure stuff and it’s not very expensive either.
So all in all, we are enjoying our placement so far. There are times when I/we wonder what benefits we can bring, but every little helps and things seem to be improving all the time.
E mailing us
Because of Internet difficulties we can only use email and have had to use the following as our email address.
If anyone has emailed us on and we have not responded it is because at present we cannot access this address. Once Lawra gets Internet then we hope we can sort things out. So apologies but we haven’t forgotten you all.

Cape Coast and Accra

Cape Coast and Accra
We have just returned from a week long trip down to the Coast and despite having a successful part-work, part-holiday visit, it’s good to be back in the Upper West.
After being in our placements for 2/3 months, VSO like to call new VSOs together for a briefing and to check out that all is going OK. We felt it opportune to combine this visit with a shopping trip for stuff for the Teacher Resource Centre (TRC) and a very brief look along the Coast west of Accra for possible coastal stays with friends and relatives who just might consider coming to visit us.

The Anamabo Beach Resort near Cape Coast had been recommended to us and after a very long drive (800 km) from Lawra, setting off at 6am, and stopping off at Obuasi, Ghana’s gold mining capital, getting lost in the town and circumnavigating it a couple of times, we finally arrived at the coast at 7pm and managed to secure accommodation, a self-contained bungalow set right on the beach under the palm trees! It contained the biggest bed I have ever seen, which would have fit at least 4 people, with room to spare! The dining/restaurant area was in a building on stilts with a lovely veranda over-looking the sea, very tastefully done and highly recommendable. The cost (including drinks and meals) was around £35 for two of us per night so didn’t break the bank.

We rather warmed to Cape Coast and spent some time exploring, taking in the Castle with an eerie and poignant guided tour of the slave dungeons. We even managed to find “Global Mamas”, a women’s cooperative which makes women’s and children’s clothes from Ghanaian batik cloth and is beginning to export them- through their website. They won a contract with C & A to supply dresses!

The beaches at Cape Coast and Anamabo (just a few kilometres east of Cape Coast) were crowded with colourful ‘pirogues’ – fishing boats made from huge carved out tree trunks which looked very unstable and incredibly heavy. The Sunday we were there coincided with the end of a week-long “Panafest” – a building of links with the worldwide Ghanaian diaspora and their resident local relatives, there were many American accents. It was also fervently religious with all the church members dressing in their finest white and black patterned materials, looking like one huge Welsh choir off to a concert; there was singing in all the outdoor drinking spots with loudspeakers to make sure that everyone was heard!

The north – south divide (as in other countries) was evident on the coast, with more begging than in Lawra; so many more tourists and wealthy people in the south. Unfortunately there is little employment in the Upper West and East regions other than farming and unlike the fertile south regions which get two crops a year, the upper regions only have one season. This means that after harvest here, the young people leave their home towns and go South in search of more seasonal jobs, and like London, the bright lights of Accra beckon.
We enjoyed two and a half days of exploring before we had to leave Anamabo and Cape Coast. In the line of duty we visited Cape Coast University and were overwhelmed by the vastness of the lush green University campus. Not a bad place to study!! Although the university book shop was somewhat disappointing.

We proceeded to Accra for a shopping spree and our VSO ‘call back’ meeting. Shopping sounds good but in fact it is a bit of a nightmare with the traffic; having a car is a mixed blessing, you can get about from shop to shop with your purchases but it takes you forever because the traffic is so congested. Still, in the end with a bit of give and take from everybody you eventually get where you want to go. With money donated by the Royal Netherlands Embassy we were able to buy 2 second hand computers (£100 each) a DVD player and lots of other ‘stuff’ for the TRC. We still need loads of help with funding small projects – Is there anyone out there reading this who is feeling philanthropic?

After a fairly positive VSO meeting we said goodbye to Accra early the following morning and broke our journey back up to the Upper West at Techiman, a pleasing little town which acts as the cross roads between the road to Bolgatanga on the Upper East Burkina Faso border and the road to Wa. Here we came across a quite reasonable hotel, ‘The Premier Palace’ and bedded down early for the night as we were to be off again at 6.30 the following morning. On our journey back we had a Ghanaian work colleague with us – Samuel, a very sociable and well educated chap who made the journey really interesting with his local knowledge, he even bargained for plantain bananas and picked out the best yams for us to buy so we didn’t pay “Nansala” prices!
All in all, a good trip but not to be done too often!!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Visit to Ouagadougu

Viva la France en Afrique – especialement dans Ouagadougu!
We have just returned from our first exploration beyond Ghana’s borders and we feel as though we have just returned from France! A foursome of VSO’s, ourselves, Pete, and Helen with her Ghanaian boy-friend Souf, ventured forth into Burkina Faso for a long weekend; once across the Ghanaian border and into Burkina, if you could not speak French you were in big trouble, nobody could, or would, speak a word of English in the part of Burkina that we explored.

So, it was French road signs, kilometre distances counting down to your destination on the Route National and to our disbelief a péage charging for the use of the roads; add to that supermarchés, boulangeries, croissants, pain au chocolat, baguettes, proper coffee and French wine – what more could you want? We very definitely felt as though we were in a foreign country and three of our compatriots, including our Ghanaian friend, felt totally excluded through not being able to communicate in French; the place at which three of us stayed (the other two stayed with the Ghanaian Ambassador!) even hosted the Tour de Burkina Faso cycle race! Mais oui, c’est vrai!

Mais tous la meme c’était un trés bon repos!
Ougadougu is the capital city of Burkina and is very well laid out and organised and much more appealing than Ghana’s capital Accra, it is more clean and tidy, the traffic lights all work, the banking system is user friendly – plenty of ATMs that work for getting cash, and you can pay by Visa in the hotels.

The colonial legacy – good or bad, that is the question?
Burkina Faso and its people have much in common with Ghana; it is the colonial powers that put in place the wholly artificial and inappropriate borders and imposed alien languages. All in all for we Obruni (Ghanaian for foreigner), it is a salutary experience to see both the good and the downsides of colonialism – we have to leave it to the Ghanaians and Burkinans, who are both exceptionally friendly and hospitable people, to be the judges of the pros and cons of its consequences.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Interesting people and places.
A fortunate consequence of my extended stay in Accra was an invitation to a party at the British High Commission; it was a really enjoyable evening and for a couple of hours I was able to share a dinner table and conversation with the British High Commissioner (BHC) and a couple of distinguished Ghanaians. The BHC was a really affable chap and we struck something of an accord as his parents came from Salford, my birth place, and he is also an avid Man Utd supporter. We talked about VSO and its role in Ghana + world affairs etc - as you do!
One of our co-diners was the West African representative on the Bill Gates Foundation's HIV/AIDS initiative for Africa. She (Juliette) is also developing a horticultural/environmental landscaping business and is desperately short of trained staff to enable expansion; I thought that the Welsh College of Horticulture + WDA/DEIN (Nick W + Julie M) might be able to help set up suitable training programmes, which do not exist here: any possibilities out there?
Interesting times, people and places

Thursday, July 05, 2007

A crisis of conscience - but only briefly!

I guess we are VSOs with a difference:
We have worked for 40 years and now retired with skills to share but we are still adventurous and want to travel. Owning a vehicle might raise a few eyebrows amongst VSO and 'development' purists, but as far as we are concerned it will only help us perform the jobs we are here to do better if our life outside work is enjoyable; work life balance applies here as well!
Two on a 125cc motorbike is not feasible for the distances, heat and terrain involved out here, so 4 wheels it is and we will subsidise ourselves from our pension. We will still be using our pushbikes to get us around and about the village and to the office and back. So only a very brief crisis of conscience!

Taxing times in Accra - with a potential dividend!

This is probably not a good time to write this:
I have been in Accra for a week now trying to secure the purchase of a vehicle. The extreme difficulties of travel by tro tro and bus in and out of Lawra district (from Lawra to Accra: 3 buses, 800km and a total of 24 hours travelling, including overnight) led us to decide that if we ever want to get any friends or relatives out here to visit us, a vehicle is a must. So here I am hoping to pick up a Mitsubishi Pajero this afternoon, which I have purchased from an extremely helpful member of the staff of the German Embassy. Regrettably events have conspired against me as my transaction required me to be in Accra at a time when Ghana was introducing a new currency; all foreign currency transactions were effectively suspended for four days during the changeover. A good thing for Ghana, it all went very smoothly, I just happened to pitch up at the wrong time!
Thus I have been kicking my heels whilst the necessary transactions run their course; thus time for a little reflection I suppose.

Ghana is really good and people are exceptionally respectful of each other and of visitors; we (UK) can learn a lot from the generally hospitable disposition held by all of the Ghanaians we have met thus far; both rural and city-based. Life in the city echoes many of the facets of city life in the UK, lots of traffic and extremes of health and wealth, though the infrastructure, sanitation and under resourced services are markedly different. Similar issues of inadequate access to services in rural areas obtain, but these are accentuated many fold, especially with the lack of access to potable water, intermittent electricity supplies for the few that have electricity, and extremely poor roads, transport systems and poorly funded health and education services.

For us, in general, so far so good; the acquisition of a cooker with an oven, at last, should now expand our culinary capacity and a vehicle will enable us to explore Ghana as well as Burkina Faso and Mali in the near future. We will also be able to get to the Internet Cafe more easily and maintain better communications with the outside world.

That's it for now, time to go and get my number plate changed from (CD) Corps Diplomatique to the regular Ghanaian plate; with a bit of luck the next time we write up our blog will be by virtue of having been able to drive the 100km to the Internet Cafe instead of spending all day travelling by tro tro!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Xylophone makers and musicians of Lawra District

Lawra District is renowned for its xylophone makers and players; one such musician and xylophone maker lives just a few hundred metres from our house and we can hear him ‘tuning-up’ and practising most evenings. On our way back from our Burkina Faso border cycle trip we met this gentleman and his band who had been accompanying George’s 90 yr old mum’s funeral celebration the previous evening and into the following day!The xylophones have wooden ‘keys’ with carefully selected and shaped gourds fixed underneath providing the resonance chambers; the overall timbre is a very soft, mellow and round, xylophone type of sound which is better heard than described!

A Father’s Day bike ride to the Burkina Faso border – Sunday June 17th

It’s hard to believe that we have been in Ghana for 5 weeks and that this was our first real ‘leisure’ day out. Last night we experienced a huge tropical thunderstorm with lots of thunder, lightning and rain so the air was clear and fresh and the day relatively cool. We set off on our bikes with a picnic comprising a bottle of water and a packet of Crawford’s shortbread biscuits. 5km of dirt track later we arrived at the Black Volta River which forms the colonial era imposed border between Ghana and Burkina Faso. We just missed the ‘ferry’ across the 30 m wide river to the French speaking ex-colony of Burkina Faso on the other side. Whilst at the ferry crossing we received a Skype call to our mobile from Safi and the Horrockses in Cornwall; it was such a good thing to happen, the mobile reception was excellent and we exchanged ‘Father’s day greetings etc – it was really quite surreal. Ghana is rapidly developing its mobile communications networks; telephone lines hardly exist in the Upper West Region where we live; we hope that it won’t be too long before we are able to get Internet access here in Lawra, maybe within 12 months?We returned home after a plethora of conversations with many Dagaaba (the local residents): working in the fields, relaxing by their villages, travelling to and from church, and with a group just winding down after a ‘funeral’ in Dykpe (just 1 km from the river); the deceased was the 90 yr old mother of George, a Guidance Counsellor at the local secondary school where we live. We were invited to meet George and the local ‘band’ gave us an impromptu performance on their Xylophones and drums, a very special privilege which we captured on camera. So, a very good ‘first day out’ rounded off with Guinness and Coke in the Evergreen Garden Bar, an avocado and orange lunch at home and a good home made beef curry for supper!

Our Journey to Market (Ngaree Daa)

The local market is about 20 minutes away on foot and about 10 on the bike, subject to distractions en route. On this occasion we stopped to sample the equivalent of a savoury pancake; it was made from ground bean flour, fried in a ‘buttery’ substance similar to ghee, which is derived from the fruit of one of the local trees (a Shea tree). It was served topped with local peppery style spices and was very acceptable; with those we ate at home it was especially tasty with fresh chopped tomatoes as filler!

Our local Internet Cafe – 3 hours away!

Our local Internet Cafe is here in Wa, a 3 hour nightmare ‘tro tro’ journey away. Tro tro = 20 people in a 12 seater minibus with bikes, chickens, maize, market produce etc bulging out from everywhere as well as piled high on the roof, not for the faint hearted! The big snag is that Ghana is experiencing huge power cuts meaning that we sometimes get to Wa and find that we cannot use the Internet because the power is off, usually 12 hours at a time. This is as a result of Burkina Faso building a new hydroelectric dam, which is taking away the water that Ghana needs for its huge Volta dam hydroelectricity scheme, built 25 years ago; the Volta dam is 4 ft below the level needed to operate all its generators and is running at just 50% capacity, a huge economic problem for the Ghanaian economy and thus for wee internet users like us!

Ordering furniture from the local IKEA.

Our house has very little furniture so we have been negotiating with a local carpenter to supply us with a suitable bed, some dining chairs, and possibly a dining table. The furniture is being made to order by Augustine, a local carpenter, at quite competitive prices e.g. £30 for the bed! The furniture arrived by DHL (Damned Heavy Load!) express two wheel delivery, made to order, within the week – and very good it is too!

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Evergreen Garden Bar is our nearest Local

The bar is half-way between home and work and serves a number of functions. It is a pleasant shady courtyard with a well and a mango tree at its centre; we along with many others, including, hens and goats, have already passed many a relaxing hour under the ‘local networking mango tree’. We share the courtyard with a steady flow of colleagues and local residents who park their bikes, motorcycles and bottoms, like us, to seek a shady spot during the heat of the day, accompanied by the occasional ‘tonic’ or Gulder beer as refreshment. A few roasted peanuts, grown 100 metres away, from the stall nearby and a few mangoes from the tree above us serve to make this a most agreeable meeting place. The short walk home, we are learning to navigate our way under the starlit Ghanaian sky, helps us to recover our senses in preparation for the long Ghanaian night. We have a feeling that a few tales could revolve around this bar over the next couple of years.

We have a Garden!!

5.30pm Sunday 3rd June 2007-Well, not exactly a garden but a fenced in piece of land which we intend to develop as a vegetable plot. It was not what we intended so early on in our stay but it just happened. We had been discussing the possibility between ourselves and then mentioned it to Fatou, a senior student at the school who has been helping us out with water collection and a bit of housework/cleaning etc. At lunchtime, he and Nigel were just outside looking around for what might be a suitable spot. Around the house, the land is owned by the school but the local farmers use if to grow yams and graze their goats, cattle, hens and pigs. There seemed to be a patch of land fairly close to our house that was not being used. The next thing we knew was that Fatou had been across the fields to the local village and found out who used the land, asked if it was OK for us to use it, and within minutes there were the farmer and about 7 village men all raring to go putting up a fence (to keep out the goats and the headmaster’s pigs! Money was exchanged for fencing materials but no sum fixed for the, construction (There was a certain reluctance to put a cost on the work, but we decided to adopt the Ghanaian attitude of haggling later and go with the enthusiasm!) They had a job on tomorrow, so they insisted that they could do it today. Digging and pole collecting began, the area was measured out by stride and width between poles. With a degree of apprehension we watched as one man shinned up the trees just outside the house to cut down branches, but unlike Malawi, where the whole tree would have been cut down, only what was necessary was “pruned” so that the tree would continue to provide shade and vital wood for fuel etc.
Within 5 hours, our fence was built and a small patch of land duly designated as our “Garden”. Payment time came and the negotiation began. There was somewhat of a language barrier as the men only spoke Dagaare, Fatou spoke Waala, and we spoke neither. However, Madame Kubino a nurse at the local hospital, who lives in the house adjoining ours and who speaks both Dagaare and good English, and who had taken a great deal of interest in the proceedings, helped out with the negotiations and a price was settled; half of what they had first suggested but amicably agreed upon.
Our next task is to decide what is to be planted!

The Road to Wa – our Regional Capital

Internet trials and tribulations
Having had one unsuccessful trip to Wa to the Internet cafe last Saturday and finding it was “Lights Out” – local term for a scheduled power cut – our hearts sank when we arrived this Saturday to the same situation. Fortunately, however, it was merely a fault and by 12.30pm all was working and we could at last make our first blog update and send emails home since our arrival in Lawra.
Nansara (white person) Shopping
Whilst waiting for the electricity to come back on we sat in “Mummy’s Kitchen”- a local cafe, having a drink when the skies turned black, the wind began to gust and it looked as if it was going to be a real downpour. Street Vendors quickly removed fabrics from their stalls and secured their goods. Sadly, for the local farmers, there was scant rain and all was back to normal as the clouds passed by. The temperature dropped significantly though which made for very pleasant conditions. We have found the Princess Store, a small lock-up shop which sells green beans, green peppers and carrots, so we can supplement our diet with these treats for a short while. I am sure that once the rains begin and things begin to grow we will eventually see them in the local markets. With our rucsack packed with fresh pineapple, avocado and CHEDDAR CHEESE! We headed off for the bus station to find the tro tro to take us back to Lawra. Just get-by taxis on a shoe string (tro tros)We were not impressed with the look of the vehicle, but what could we do, it was the only one going our way. We duly paid and then came the long wait for it to set off. Tro tros will only go when they have a full passenger list i.e. 17 passengers. It took 1 ½ hrs for the bus to fill! Once loaded we were then told we had to change to a different vehicle (fortunately the one we were transferring to looked in much better condition. So, All Change. Then, the engine wouldn’t start so we had to be pushed out of the bus station – backwards, to bump start the engine. Within 2 mins of setting off, the side-door of the minibus fell off!! With the driver’s lackey holding the door in place we set off for Lawra, making a quick stop at the Welders to have the door fixed and at last, after about 2½ hrs delay we were on our way back. No more incidents until about 10 kms from home when we ran out of diesel. There was a loud groan from all the passengers as we all thought we might have to walk!! However, the day was saved by the driver’s assistant who leapt on a borrowed bike, with a plastic jerry can and rode off to find some, further down the road. Miraculously, and to everyone’s delight he was back in about 10 mins complete with full jerry can. We arrived back in Lawra just as the sun was going down feeling that all in all, we had had quite a good day. It is amazing how quickly you adapt to the pace of life out here. Frustration counts for little, patience, a lot.

We have bikes.

We are awaiting our “call back” to Tamale when we will receive our in-country motorbike training and hopefully our licences. In the meantime we have been offered push bikes from G E S. We took possession of these on Friday morning. VICTORY – nothing to do with success. That is the name of the Chinese -made 18 gear bikes. We tried them out around the GES compound and admit there was a cheer as I managed to get my leg over the cross bar (I really could have done with a Ladies bike at my age! ) and pedalled in a large circle without falling off. I haven’t ridden a bike for years, but you never forget, even if you are a bit wobbly at first.
We set off to town to explore but by the time we got there – only 5 mins away – both the back tyres on our bikes were flat. We found one of the many puncture repair guys who had set up shop under a tree in the middle of the day market. Both of the inner tubes had split, so we had to buy new inner tubes for them. Whilst the guys were repairing them, the parcel carrier on the back of Nigel’s had come apart, so we were taken off to the local welders to get that fixed. On the way there the chain on Nigel’s bike fell apart so he had to push the bike there and then back to the repair man who fixed the chain, sorted out my back brake which was catching, lowered the saddle, and raised Nigel’s saddle. OK, we thought we were sorted. We managed to cycle home but found that we weren’t able to change gear!! So Nigel did a bit of tinkering about in the afternoon to see if he could sort them. Well, it is fairly flat round here – who needs to change gear anyway!!! . As the evening approached and the weather got a little cooler we decided we would go out for a little explore. We had only gone 100 yds when the chain snapped on Nigel’s bike. Mission aborted.......
Perhaps we can exchange these super looking bikes for a local Phoenix non geared bike!! These bikes, as the name suggests rise from the dead again and again. Nothing sophisticated but purely basic, simple and repairable.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Journey's End-New Beginning

Hi all, from Lawra in Ghana Upper West Region.
We left Accra in the VSO Landrover on Tuesday to stay overnight in Wa, the Upper West's Regional Capital and then to Lawra; on the way up here it definitely seemed as though there was no easy way back without your own 4WD - which we won't have! So we are on our own now and it will be local 'minibuses' complete with produce and commodities for the market that will be our means of transportation henceforth, so a certain amount of adapting is going to be necessary over the next 2 years; this is going to be quite different to the African experiences with which we are familiar!
On arrival our house was a 'bit' of a mess; really really thick dust everywhere and remnants from previous occupants that had laid untouched since December, not a pretty sight. Thus we are currently staying in the Lawra District Assembly Guest House until the house is habitable. It's bread and cheese and jam (from Accra) at the moment as we have no catering facilities in the Guest House, not too much of a problem for me as I am recovering from my first bout of stomach upset!

So it's little by little at the moment, we know that this is going to be quite some challenge, once we can get in to a place that we can call and set up as home we'll take stock and begin to figure out how we handle the next stage.

It would be useful to have mobile phone numbers of friends and acquaintances who wish to keep in touch (definiteley no obligation and we'll fully understand if you do not want yet more unsolicited texts); texting is our best means of communication as the nearest e mail is 3 hours away and last time we travelled to e mail we got there and the power was off for 12 hours so we came back rather miffed.

We have now moved and are gradually settling in to our rather large but basic house, water is carried from the borehole, no tel line- just mobiles (which work very well), Very green, lots of trees including Baobabs but no wildlife in Lawra. Due to get pushbikes soon until we get our motorbikes in 6 weeks time. Local people are brilliant ,as are our work colleagues to be - not started yet!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Appreciating and Acclimatising to Ghana

Accra, a Capital City of contrasts
We are still in Accra but due to leave for Lawra tomorrow – sometime. How quickly one slips into the Ghanaian attitude to time. At present we are in the middle of a most refreshing rain storm. For the past hour and a half the heavens have opened and rain lashed down, settling the dust and clearing the air. It is blessedly cool and refreshing after our first week of high temperatures and even higher humidity and gives us a little time to reflect on our past week’s activities and experiences –and boy have they been varied!!

Our first week with VSO in Ghana has concentrated around meeting the VSO staff, local volunteers and gaining first- hand experience of shopping in the local area and markets, trying to find many of the things that we will need for our house in Lawra.
A visit to Makola market by ‘tro-tro’ is an experience that you never forget. It is a huge labyrinth of passages between open and covered stalls selling just about everything you could think of - beans and pulses, dried fish, pigs trotters , garden eggs!, plantain bananas, pot and pans, electrical goods, materials and second-hand clothes But to name a few. Sometimes it is best not to look down to the floor at what you are walking on or stepping over! Hygiene and sanitation are not at their best in the marketplaces. At the opposite end of the scale is Koala supermarket, just round the corner from our hotel on ‘Oxford Street’. There you can get just about anything European – We have succumbed and bought a box of Scots Porage Oats, and stocked up on spices to take with us to Lawra hopefully to enhance our cooking.
Cooking Ghanaian style
We had a very interesting cookery session with Comfort in the VSO office on Saturday morning. She introduced us to preparing and cooking yams, plantain bananas, bean stew and egg stew – all staples of the Ghanaian diet. Fried plantain banana is a particular favourite. The locals call it ‘red-red’ and it is delicious eaten with a black-eyed bean stew. Most of their cooking is done in loads of red palm oil. We will not go hungry. Needless to say regaining a waistline might be more difficult than we anticipated.
Travel by tro-tro is something that we will have to get used to. These are minibuses that travel around the cities and between villages and you get on and off wherever you can! The fares are set and once you know the cost they are a cheap and ‘interesting’ way of getting about. We have made one foray into the town this way. The driver’s assistant continually shouts out something vaguely resembling the destination you want and makes an appropriate gesture with his hand, like ‘circle’ and circles his hand in the air.
The FA Cup-Final with atmosphere!
On Saturday afternoon after our cookery session, we went off to Frankies, a local restaurant/bar on the busy high street, and watched the second half of the Man U -v- Chelsea match on their big screen. Ghanaians are mad about football, the place was packed and with a 50/50 mix of supporters there was a great atmosphere.
Our last bit of luxury
Yesterday, Sunday, along with Marieke, a Dutch volunteer, we decided to go in for a bit of luxury and took a taxi to the Labadi Beach Hotel, just east of Accra – to see how the other half live. It was really good to go for a cooling swim. The local beaches are quite polluted, especially those near to Accra and there is a very strong undertow which makes swimming locally pretty dangerous. We will have to explore further down the coast, near to Cape Coast when we next have some leave.
Sundays are special!
It was bliss to find that on Sundays the traffic is 75% less and travelling much easier. Taxis are still available and toot their horns all the time to attract customers or to tell other drivers to beware. They also drive fast when they manage to find a bit of open road – bit like Romans!! The majority of people go to church and all the ladies get dressed up in their finery - beautiful elegant Ghanaian clothes with headdresses and jewellery. It has made me determined to buy some local materials and have them made up for me, especially when we get to Lawra.
That’s all for now, we now await our 6.30 am start on Tuesday to commence our 14 hour drive north to Lawra, hopefully with an overnight stop, possibly at Wa.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

First Steps in Ghana

In the Heat of the Night
Kotoka Airport, Accra, Ghana - as the aeroplane doors opened a blast of hot humid air and heavy rain greeted us. We had at last arrived in Ghana in the rainy season. It felt as if we had had a bucket of hot water thrown over us. 8pm and it was hotter than any day in the UK. Bags were unloaded pretty quickly and we were soon outside the building searching for that comforting sign - VSO. Patience was there to collect us and take us to our accommodation for the next week, Comfort Villa Lodge, a reasonable downtown guest house in the OSU district of Accra. A good night's sleep was required and thankfully our rooms had both ceiling fans and airconditioning. What a luxury - as we were to find out the next day. Power cuts have been frequent over the last three days and without air con the full blast of the heat and humidity - 30 degrees C at 10 o'clock at night!! is pretty sweaty. Under the circumstances we have slept pretty well, with the ceiling fan whirring its way through the night.

All in all we are coping well and enjoying our first few days; we know a little more about our future home in Lawra which we understand to be a quite reasonable house, with some electricity and borehole supplied water - should keep Jenny fit fetching and carrying! (No chance). We also learnt our first few basic greetings in Dagaare, our local language when we get to Lawra.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

D-Day minus One

This is the final blog to be sent from home ground.
What a fortnight this has been. I must have climbed the height of Snowdon just going up and down the ladder to the loft, putting things away. Worse than moving house. You have actually got to find a secure home for all the possessions you have amassed over the years. But we did it and on Thursday finally moved out of our house and in with our long-suffering friends Trin and Cemlyn for the remaining few days. We seem to have packed and re-packed our bags on a daily basis finding things to remove and be replaced by fresh ones we want to take. We have now decided "enough is enough"!! both in terms of re-packing and baggage.

Tough times and a little TLC
Strange emotions have been occurring over the past week or so, probably because I have been getting so tired with everything that has had to be done. On Tuesday night, if asked, I would have declared that I wasn't going through with it, that I couldn't leave my family and friends. However, after a good night's sleep and a bit of Trin's (and Nigel's) TLC I was ready once more to face the challenge. There are still very mixed emotions within me. At the same time I am both excited and nervous about the unknown situations soon to face us and the million and one questions yet to be answered.

Penultimate Goodbye
Last night (Friday) we gathered with a few friends for a meal at the local pub, 'The Three Pigeons'.
The evening ended up with a farewell musical rendering to the Horrockses, words kindly penned by Hilary Clare - a four part harmony to the tune of G & S's "Hail Poetry" from 'The Pirates of Penzance'. We apologise to David and Beth for embarrasing them but you can't get a group of Amateur Operatics folk together and not sing at least one song (often out of tune due to the effects of alcohol!!)
We know that we have been fortunate to experience the company and camaraderie of a truly diverse group of friends who have sufficiently enjoyed, endured! and respected each other's whims and idiosynchrosies to enable us to have had some great times together; we hope to rendezvous with as many of you as possible in the non too distant future, in Ghana, or somewhere in Africa!

Final Check-out and Check-in
Most of our goodbyes have now been said. We have checked in with British Airways online and booked our seats to save time and hassle at the airport tomorrow morning. A 'Last Supper' at Judy & John's house tonight before departure day arrives. We fly out from Manchester to Heathrow at 10.00am, then on to Accra at 2.15pm, arriving in Ghana at around 8pm.

I do hope I shall be able to sleep tonight!!!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Our £1000 Fundraising Target Reached!

After a generous donation of £250 from Ifor Williams Trailers Ltd we have finally reached our target of £1000.

Curry and Ceilidh: Kwaheri* and Fundraising

That's what friends are for!

On Saturday April 28th we had a really enjoyable knees up at Llanfair Village Hall dancing to the Angels' Share Ceilidh Band and enjoying curries, conversation and camaraderie to its full. Thanks to everyone for mucking in with the cooking, preparation, washing up, clearing up and fund raising, and for making it a great evening.
You can view a photo album of the evening by clicking on this link:

You can view the resulting donation to VSO of £500 at:

Well done everyone - what a great bunch of friends and acquaintances, keep in touch after we depart on Sunday May 13th.
* Kwaheri is the Swahili word for Goodbye

Saturday, April 14, 2007

SKWID 2007 April 10 -14

A Brilliant Team
We have just completed an intensive 5 day Health and Skills for Working In Development (SKWID)Programme at Harborne Hall in Birmingham; a tough but enjoyable and really useful course with a great crowd of people who are heading to Ghana, China, Namibia, Malawi, Nigeria, Gambia and Thailand. We hope to keep in touch. Jenny also stayed on for an additional days's training for Teacher Trainers.

Ali, Carol, O, Bernie, Tessa, Martina, Scott, Emma, Pete, Stuart, Dorothy, Claire, Nigel, Jenny, Beth, Serita, Kate.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Budding Hell's Angels!

Motorcycle Training for Ghana
Well, much to my amazement we have now both joined the ranks of 'competent' bikers. I use that word advisedly as after the last four traumatic days I have managed to trash a couple of rows of traffic cones, dropped the bike on my leg, nearly run the instructor over, burst into tears countless times with frustration ~ (all this fortunately in the safety of a large car park training area) and eventually, successfully, clocked 190 miles of road biking around the glorious Shropshire and Worcestershire countryside in beautiful sunshine. I must point out that the above frustrations only apply to me, as Nigel had already had some biking experience (from a misspent youth I expect) and picked up the techniques with no problem at all. And I must thank our instructor, Trevor who had infinite patience thoughout the whole of what was to me both a terrifying and amazing experience.

You might be asking why have we suddenly gone totally insane and learned to ride motorbikes at our age - dedication to VSO. The CBT Certificate (Compulsory Basic Training for motorcycle riders) ~ we can't go to Ghana without them as motorbikes are the form of transport provided for us out there. We are both so pleased that this major hurdle is now over.

Biking is certainly not something I would initially have chosen to do, but then in life there are many challenges which seem impossible that you are pushed into and find that you actually can do them if you don't give up at the first hurdle.

Day 1: Initiation - Desperation
Car park - coned off and marked out with a road junction with white lines etc. First half of the morning/day - get to know the bike, safety checks, gears, clutch, throttle, Highway Code etc. Start bike and ride up and down. No problem except I can't turn the corner and go careering out of the coned area!! Ooops. Don't seem to be able to slow down, speed up without behaving like a kangaroo. This is not supposed to be happening.
End of day - Me - worried, frustrated, feeling sick - 'Nigel, do you mind going to Ghana without me!! I can't do this'

Day 2: Frustration - Palpitations
Still in the Car Park a.m. Petrified, still can't do a U turn, can't get from 1st into 2nd gear, demolish the cones (again) and make a complete hash of turning right out of a mock up junction. Need more practice (on everything)
p.m. this can't be right - we're going out of the gate and into the local housing estate. Follow Trevor round in a complete trance, doing all the right things (just) but only because he keeps telling me what to do. 4 times round the estate and we get back to the car park, still in one piece and feeling a little exhilarated that I'm back in one piece, confidence growing.
Day 3: Anticipation - Satisfaction
Arrive at the car park and no cones!! this means business. Off out onto the open road towards Ludlow. Cups of tea en route - now this is more like it. Arrived at our destination - not without minor hiccups on the way but nothing major.
3.00pm Arrive back at the training centre exhausted but feeling much more cheerful having done 90 miles in lovely countryside.

Day 4 - Exhilaration
Another glorious day out in the Shropshire/Worcestershire coutryside (confidence growing - actually reached 60 mph) exploring the Clee hills and as many back country lanes as possible with Trevor finding a few challenges for us like fording a river and vertically steep hills, both up and down!! Lunch on the top of the hills was just glorious.
After 4 days of intensive concentration I was pretty tired and glad when we got back to the training centre at Kidderminster and even more delighted when Trevor pronounced us competent enough to be signed off and ready for the Ghanaian dirt roads that we will no doubt encounter in the very near future.
Thanks Trevor and VSO, another skill under our belts that we never envisaged acquiring at the age of 59/60.

Flights are booked we're on way!

It's confirmed, our flights are booked and we will be leaving Manchester for Accra at 10.00 on Sunday May 13th

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

It's a Good News Week !

A Cornish Pastiche
It started with us celebrating my first day of a new phase in life (having finished paid employment on Friday March 23rd) by visiting Mike, Ali and Safi, in Cornwall; we also celebrated a new arrival into the world, grandchild number two, Raif, a strapping 11.5lbs boy - wow, poor Ali (mum)! A bit of grandparenting for the next couple of days and then we skidaddle off back to Ruthin and then on to our five days of motorbike training, beginning in Kidderminster and ending in Birmingham. More news when we become certified bikers!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Farewell and Fundraising Evening on April 28th

Curry and Ceilidh in Llanfair Village Hall - Ruthin
As a way of both saying cheerio to our friends and of raising funds for VSO, we are planning a Curry and Ceilidh evening in our local village hall. Friends and acquaintances are invited to come along and enjoy some of the many different curries that some of our gastronomic friends are helping us to prepare (there will be vegge and non-spicy too!) why not come along and enjoy a good evening's dancing and merriment!
We'll be dining at 8.00, dancing 'til late and drinking - 'til we abate! (bring your own tipple - glasses provided!)
'The Angels' Share' have generously offered to lead the Ceilidh at a knock down VSO price!
There is a limited number of tickets @ £10 p.p. available from Nigel & Jenny (all proceeds to VSO) but you'll need to be sharp as demand is high - see you there!
Raffle prizes gratefully received and other fundraising wheezes for the night willingly entertained.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

We are preparing to go to Ghana

Destination Ghana
It has been confirmed that we are going to Ghana for 2 years on May 13th (predicted date - subject to flights). We are still going through the VSO processes but it looks as though my role (Nigel) will be to support the managers at the District Education Office in Lawra, working with staff to enable them to manage better; also to identify the continuing professional development needs and develop an appropriate CPD programme with Head teachers in the area . Jenny's role will be to support primary school teachers with Basic Skills and 'phonics' (a way of learning to read). Lawra is in the (Upper Western District of Ghana), right on the border with Burkina Faso, hot and tough, no hills!

On our bikes!
We have just fixed up our motorcycle training: April 2nd - 6th (5 days!). I aim to finish on March 23rd when we will visit my son and daughter in law in Cornwall for the birth of our second grandchild. We then have a further week's VSO training later in April on a 'Skills for Working in Development' programme in Birmingham.

We have a massive amount of preparation to do, thankfully Jenny finished work in December and is handling it all really well - there's no stopping her, she can't wait to go!

Friday, February 02, 2007

Training for Volunteering and Development

Preparing for Volunteering - VSO training for beginners
Four days of intensive training at Harborne Hall in Birmingham, at the end of January, proved to be really useful in a number of respects.

We met a host of other volunteers who were at different stages: some had been on VSO and since returned as Trainers, others were in the final stages of preparing to leave for their placements and were busy arranging their 'motorcycle training' (Cambodia), others, such as ourselves were waiting to receive their first offer of a placement. A good diverse mix of people from all walks of life, ages, shapes and sizes!

A great team of tutors - a class act!
Background information and discussion on areas such as Development, The Cycle of Disadvantage, Debt Crisis, IMF and the World Bank, HIV and AIDS, were cleverly interspersed with role play and games which effectively and practically brought home the immense problems some countries face and the approach VSO takes within these countries ~ heavy stuff!! Well, it could have been had Nicky, Pamela and Emma, all returned volunteers with brilliant group work skills and an equally good sense of humour, not been our tutors for the weekend. They constantly illustrated the various sessions with real life anecdotes from their own and other volunteers' experiences abroad making us both laugh and think at the same time.

Cultural consciousness:
The second part of the weekend revolved around Personal Preparation to help cope with and settle into working in a different culure - all extremely interesting stuff. I just hope I can keep it in sight when I start to panic !!!

We wound down at the end of each day either in the Hall bar or round the corner at The Bell for a well earned drink. We have just a couple of words for our group tutor Nicky - Farah Fawcett Major!! We so nearly won the pub quiz ~ we should have listened to her!

Keeping in touch:
Having swopped email addresses within the group and pleas of 'Keep in touch, we want to know where you are going', we left on a high, feeling that we had the full support of VSO and Harborne Hall as an information and training centre which would fill in the gaps in our skills. For some, HH was beginning to feel like a second home, they were there so often, cramming in the last of their training before going overseas.

Let's hope that our next visit will see us with a country to go to and specific training goals to achieve.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Feeling in Limbo!

Time goes by
Well time is marching on, Jenny finished work at the end of December, I'll continue to soldier on until the end of March. This is a very tricky phase, Jenny just doesn't know what to do with herself, she's had a quick blast at outstanding jobs in the house and she's feeling quite uncertain about what she will be doing on VSO and consequently is in a quandary about what to do to upskill/prepare herself.

Family affairs
We have now started to prepare ourselves for the reality of VSO, hoping that we can go in May and not September. We are getting sorted on house rental arrangements and trying to work out how we will manage our finances and affairs whilst we are away.

We had a wonderful fortnight in Capetown over Xmas with Philip and David (two of our sons) and with my brother and his family; I think our fabulous Capetown experience and the return to the short days and British weather has added to our current sense of frustration and impotence.

The die is cast - but when and where?
We know that the recruitment/matching process doesn't commence properly until February but having made the decision to proceed, having both committed ourselves to giving up our jobs, we just want to get on with it now. We are also keen to get on with some fundraising but we feel that we cannot begin to do that until we know where and when we are going.

VSO: Volunteers and Development Training
We have a VSO training programme (4 days) coming up next week; maybe that will give us the lift we need. It looks like a pretty intensive four days and I am sure that it will re-fix our minds on our intentions and help us to make good use of the period until February when potential placements become available.