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Archive for July, 2007

I just came back from the village of Fakwasi, where there is an MFP platform installed. For those of you guys who don’t know about the MFP project, it’s the project that I’m working with, please read the links here:

Rural Energy – Ghana
A movie about the MFP

I’m excited to share with you about the work that the MFP is doing in the community. It seems like a really simple technology and a simple concept, but it is changing lives. Akua, a woman with 4 children was busy cleaning cassava roots when we came early to do our monitoring visit. We asked her for her story.

Akua makes a living selling gari, which is a product made from cassava. You grate it with a grater, dry it, and fry it. Before the platform came to the village, Akua just managed to make ends meet, but then 2 years ago, something terrible happened, and Akua lost her husband. She fell into despair. Akua could not possibly make enough gari to feed her family because to grate all that cassava would be unrealistic – she got aches from her back just with the workload she had now, and the cassava grater would cut her hands. Other women in the community sometimes had to go to the hospital when their cuts would need to be treated.

The MFP, which has a machine which grates cassava came to the village, and because of it, Akua is able to make a living to feed her family – she can make 4 times more gari than she could before, and because of it, she doesn’t get aches in her back and cuts in her hand. Because of the platform, Akua can send her children to school. Business is good for Akua — gari sells very quickly just in her own village, and Akua has expanded her operation and now travels to the neighbouring village to sell as well.

The platform has been helping women to really reduce their poverty, and almost every person that I’ve interviewed about the platform has been absolutely ecstatic about it. Women in Ghana have life hard – for example, to make banku, you have to grind everything by hand before you spend hours mixing it. I never realized how much work it is to grind food because here in Canada, we just buy ground pepper, we just buy flour, we don’t have to do any of this by hand, let alone every day. The number of hours that women have to spend making dinner every night just astounds me – in the village we would regularly eat our supper at 8 at night, even when the women would start making the meal at like 3 or 4. And this is with the MFP in this community, I couldn’t imagine what life would be like for a woman to have to grind her own corn by hand every day.

This is why I’m happy about the MFP, because if it can help these women in the smallest way to get some time for them to actually make a living getting themselves out of poverty like Akua here, then I’m ecstatic. Of course, there are a thousand things that I don’t like about the MFP, but that will have to wait for another time, because I have another story to tell.

*The title of this entry is Biribi wo soro, which is part of the Akan proverb: “Nyame, biribi wo soro na ma embεka me nsa.” (God, there is something in the heavens, let it reach me.” It is a proverb which expresses hope, and which is why I feel it’s appropriate here.

P.S. Thanks guys for sending in your thoughtful and encouraging comments, I am reading them, even if I’m not responding to any of them, it’s because the internet is really incredibly slow here so I don’t have time to respond to them, but I just want to let you know that I really appreciate it! 🙂

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This past week, we got the opportunity to go to Molé National Park to see the wildlife.  It was pretty cool.  Unfortunately, my camera had broken last week when I was staying at a village *sniff sniff* so I don’t have any good pictures for you guys to see.  We were led by a guide who had a rifle with him at all times because the animals in the park are completely wild, and as such, are extremely dangerous.  The elephants, warthogs and crocodiles we encountered could severely injure us if we came too close and alarmed them – a baby elephant could easily rip a man’s limbs off.

But the weird thing about that day was that I didn’t feel quite as threatened in the park as I did after the trip, when I went to the small town of Larabanga, which borders the reserve.  There is a famous mosque in Larabanga, it is the oldest mosque in Ghana, and the architecture is quite unique – Kitty and Anne, you would both love it – so I wanted to have a look with my friends.

I went with a long-term volunteer who came to Molé with us, and she made sure to follow the proper traditions of meeting with the Chief Imam and getting his approval to see the mosque.  But after that, as we approached the mosque, we were swarmed with kids and adults, a massive crowd of people gathering around one place — around the Tourist Foreigners, the Oburunis that we were.  The experience was quite unsettling – kids all around not just asking for, but demanding money: “¢1000! ¢1000!” They didn’t know how to form complete English sentences yet, but they knew that we had cash to give.  We were confronted by a group of villagers asking for an entrance fee before we were allowed to even see the mosque.  We weren’t allowed to go in, and even just looking at the mosque from the outside required a fee.  Another group of my friends, when they innocently took a picture from a distance,  were swarmed by another group of villagers which yelled at them, accusing them of lying, breaking laws and insulting the traditions of the village.  The kids grabbed the arm of another of my friends, and pulled her off her bike, to her bewilderment.

It was quite shocking.  We finally managed to get everybody calmed down, and we talked with one of the elders of the village.  My friend apologized and said that we, as tourists, had come, not knowing the traditions of the village and that so many people, on their way to Molé, disrupt the life of the village, and we were sorry for that.  The elder was angry at the villagers’ behaviour, and responded by saying: “The only thing that you have done wrong is that you have given money where it was unwarranted.”

What he said has made me think about the whole meaning of my time here… of Westerners’ time in developing countries.  I hear about how when we give money to developing countries, then a “culture of dependency” starts to grow, where people come to expect that they will be given handouts, and will just go up to people and ask for money, because they can expect that it will be given to them.  It really makes me question whether being a development worker, doing things for community and for poor people is really helping those poor people at all.  Are we really giving them dignity, or showing them that begging a rich white man for money is the easiest and fastest way to get cash?

The swimming pools and quiet, comfortable resort of Molé National Park heavily contrasted with the unruly chaos of Larabanga, and it showed to me that tourism is a dangerous double-edged sword – it can enrich people, give them jobs and allow them to make money to send their children to school, or it can make people greedy for money, greedy to play on rich tourists’ guilt complex.  It is an ugly side of development that, unfortunately in EWB circles, we don’t talk enough about, I think.

I still really want to help in developing countries, but I really have to think, and look deeper into the impact of what I am doing.  I think we all do ; we all really need to think about whether giving away money is empowering or whether it is disparaging.

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Mr. Lawal is one of the elders of a village called Vutideke, a village on the edge of the Volta Lake in Ghana, and I got the opportunity to learn about this amazing person.  Mr. Lawal is a member of the Ewe tribe.  The Ewes are famous for their fishing skills, and also for being a people spread across many countries — there are Ewe in Ghana, Togo and Nigeria (Mr. Lawal himself is a Nigerian.) Mr. Lawal first started his schooling in Yeji, a town in Ghana, and he loved it.  However, his passion for education was not shared by his parents, which brought him into sharp conflict with them, and because Mr. Lawal was so young, he was not able to continue his schooling.  Ever since then, Mr. Lawal has been passionate and determined to make sure the kids of the village have a good education. Mr. Lawal remembers the exact date that he and his family settled Vutideke – December 24, 1969.  It was 5:00 in the evening, and it was a Wednesday, he recalls.  The family worked hard to develop the village, they even planted the trees to have a forest around the village, one that I enjoyed the fruits of as I cooled off in the hot summer sun.  That is not all — Mr. Lawal has been a part of every major development in the village, from the water pumps, to the feeder roads, from the primary school to the grinding mill, he has worked so hard, and now there are hundreds of villagers, with hopes, dreams, even a football team. And the kids go to school too!  Even though the other teachers are undedicated to the children of the small, out-of-the-way village of Vutideke, Mr. Lawal volunteers his time every day to teach the classes – at one point he was teaching 6 grades every day all by himself!  Such is his passion to make sure that these kids have a future. There is so much about this man that inspires me that my only worry is that I will run out of time to write.  But it is men and women like Mr. Lawal that makes me confident that Ghana’s people are just as good as any “foreigner.”

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