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!!