Thursday, January 17, 2008


A NEW YEAR MISSIVE: Warning - longish (for a blog), only for the really interested!

Refreshed and ready to ‘get stuck in’ again. We have just enjoyed a wonderful break in Capetown with our sons: David and Beth, Phil and Maike, Mike and Ali + Raif (grandson) and Safi (grand-daughter); we also had the added pleasure of the company of my senior brother Martin and Miriam and their son Kenneth, and my junior brother Pete – what a really great family gathering. Mike and family have since moved on to Malawi to take up residence in the capital city Lilongwe; Mike is to begin a new future as a partner in a small air charter company – Nyasa Air Taxi Ltd (or something similar!). What next, where and when will we meet, who will dare to visit us? - One would be guaranteed a truly memorable and enjoyable visit. We can cope with visitors around Easter, July/August, end of October and Xmas; our friends Dave and Jan from Northwich are planning a visit in July /August and we could probably cope with an additional couple.
Getting ‘into the swing of things again’ in Lawra in the Upper West of Ghana
It’s Sunday January 13th and we are enjoying a relaxing week-end at home after a pretty hectic first week back at work; Jenny’s busy sewing using the sewing machine sent out by Pippa (via Sam and Capetown) and we have just put the tops on the jars of ‘my’ lime and orange marmalade which I couldn’t resist making from local fruit, to go with Jenny’s superb home made bread. The bread nearly didn’t make it though; Jenny had put the yeast and flour out in the sun to accelerate fermentation but the sight of white nosed goats in our courtyard alerted us to their unwanted trespass, so the bread has a slight ‘goat spittle’ flavour to it!
This is a (temporarily) bountiful time of the year in the local market. We make good use of local produce; yesterday we bought pork (fresher than any you will get at home) and naturally reared, with some green peppers; so it’s sweet and sour pork tonight – even if it is a little disconcerting, one minute seeing the pig being transported to market on the back of a bike and then a few minutes later seeing it freshly slaughtered on the wooden bench in the market in front of you! We enjoyed ‘West African chicken’ with local groundnut paste, onions and tomatoes on Friday; we will put beans to soak overnight tonight, so it will be some sort of bean salad for lunch next week and probably a bean stew with plantain bananas one evening. We also bought yams which we use as a potato equivalent, so we’re likely to have yam chips and ‘fillet steak’ on another evening.
You’ll probably gather that we’re beginning to make ourselves at home by now, especially with ‘ipod’ podcasts downloaded from radio 4 that we obtained in Capetown –it’s so good to hear Kate Adie, Melvyn Bragg, the News Quiz, the Now Show, from our own Correspondent, Crossing Continents etc.

What about our VSO work you might say?
We have had such a busy week, Jenny: getting rid of a Harmattan*(see end) dust layer in the Teachers’ Resource Centre (TRC), working out how the newly purchased ‘play equipment’ can be brought into use and planning the next term’s work with colleagues; besides coping with a constant flow of requests for photocopying, typing etc. Me: getting a new Education Management Information System (EMIS) up and running, helping inexperienced (in I.T.) colleagues prepare the Ghana Education Service (GES) annual report for Lawra District, and next, preparing to support the Director and key assistant Directors of Education with the budget preparations and Strategic Plan for 2008-9. This probably all seems a bit far-removed from the images of poverty that you see in the media back home but our work is all to do with building the capacity of: local teachers to teach better, and of managers of the Education Service to manage better, which all has a longer-term benefit for children and the community as a whole – or does it?
However the toughness of life in this rural outpost is brought home to you on a daily basis: work colleagues report having spent Xmas and New Year attending funerals; people dying of typhoid, TB, and pneumonia, largely preventable diseases and a product of the poor diets, lack of water and sanitation and the absolute drudgery of life for most of the largely illiterate population in this area. An early morning visit to town at 6.00 am reveals a column of women and children carrying huge loads of timber on their heads ready for cooking the day’s meals, in between which are regular visits to the nearest borehole to pump water, the toil of carrying it back to the homestead, and then do all of the washing, cleaning, shopping etc!
An illustration of events conspiring against the poor is the fact that the re-opening of schools in this area has been postponed by a week as the government has yet to provide funds for the food that schools have to purchase to feed their students – not a problem in the big towns and cities.
We also find ourselves approached occasionally by children and adults asking for money, of which they are obviously in need, but we hold a firm line on not giving in to such requests, which are also made of local Ghanaians who seem to hold a similar line in not giving.

So life is really tough for locals here, employed or otherwise; most of what we take for granted is completely unattainable, even for our work colleagues – it is with sensitivity, care, some trepidation but enthusiasm that we re-commence our work and hope that our service will be valued by those whose lives we are hoping to improve in the longer-term.
Happy New Year to all of our friends, acquaintances and readers (r?)

Nigel and Jenny

*Harmattan is a strong dust-laden wind from the Sahara which blows for several weeks between November and February leaving heavy layers of dust in its wake, as well as creating a whole range of unpleasant dust associated ailments for those living here.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Stop Press - Just collected new Kindergarten Play Equipment

Today we collected some fantastic 'Ghana made' play equipment for the Kindergarten Project that we are supporting at Brutu in the Lawra District. See for your self - we are so pleased and excited. The next step will be to train kindergarten staff in its use and then sort out storage facilities so that it can be used by the children as soon as possible...more later! We are off, from Accra, back up to Lawra at 5.00am tomorrow, Monday 7th January so must go now!

Capetown for Christmas

Just returned from a real family get together with our three sons, their partners and offspring and two of Nigel's brothers. Needless to say we had a brilliant time and managed to see Phil windsurfing for the first time in a long while.

We have just spent a couple of days in Accra purchasing equipment and materials for the Kindergarten project and are now refreshed, ready to start a new year in Lawra.

We will keep you posted on project developments as and when they happen - meanwhile progress can be viewed at :