Nkran (Accra)

I was spending my first week in Ghana in Accra, the capital, and I was spending my time with a local non-profit organization, the one that I’ll be working for for the next three months or so.  And we were having a conversation with one of the employees.

 He mentioned that he noted that EWB employees always like to get out there and live under the poorest conditions, with no running water and everything.  I kind of got the feeling that the people there didn’t really understand why we were doing that.  He went on to say that he hoped that us living in these conditions perhaps gave Canadians the wrong impression of Ghanaians as these desparately poor people and it gave a bad image of Ghana.

 Especially when EWB volunteers were doing things like living without running water, didn’t have easy access to clean potable water, in the blazing heat being attacked by malaria-filled mosquitos… it gives the impression that all Ghanaians live like that, which isn’t true.  Ghana is a country, like others, where there is a lot of hope for the population — it is one of the most progressive countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and is often extolled as a model of democracy.  We should definitely be portraying more in our Canadian media the Africa of Hope — where people are not forced to live hand to mouth, and where they are living well and celebrating life and love.

I agree with him.  But I also understand where EWB is coming from — that we live amongst the poorest, trying to integrate so that we understand the unique conditions of the poorest people in Ghana.  I am a bit torn between the two viewpoints…

Certainly, all my expectations of Ghana from before I arrived were blown away, but the most poignant thing that I didn’t realize was … that there are different perspectives of Ghana from within Ghana itself!  It is something that I should have expected — after all, rural Canada has a different view of the country than urban Canada too, doesn’t it?

So while I’ve had my taste of the capital of Ghana, with all the yummy sweet juice and the wonderful zipping by in taxis on the dusty roads of Accra… I can’t wait to get to the villages and see for myself what the rural life is really like.

So, Atebubu, here I come!


ohia (poverty)

So today was the day for all of us to get our bearings and start our training for being an overseas volunteer. The staff at EWB is absolutely amazing, and I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody told me that EWB has one of the better training programs out there.

The EWB staff is really attentive and they listen to what we have to say, but they also have a lot of experience and a lot of information to give us. Today we learned about defining that misty fog that is poverty. What is poverty to people in Canada? We got some of the following responses:

“Poverty is luck… sometimes you are born poor, sometimes you are born well off…”

“Poverty… is the inequal access to rights, running water and dignities that others in society enjoy…”

“Poverty is the inability to feed your children.”

“Poverty is when you can’t meet your basic needs.”

I think that… when you ask a person, “what makes you happy?” they will answer your question in the context of what they know and have experienced. So for the first answer, it was a construction worker, who did not know a lot of English, and needed his response to be translated. The second answer, which was very in-depth and well-thought out, came from an anthrolpology student at the University of Toronto, and I think that their responses are a sort of reflection of what I perceive to be the experiences that they bring to the table.

Just defining poverty is not easy, we have 4 (I’d say) completely different responses here. But taking poverty in context is so extremely important.

Let’s put this into perspective and put ourselves in a hypothetical scenario. Let’s say that I’m a farmer in Africa in a small village with no electricity, no running water, 8 kids, and not a dollar to my name. Am I poor? Perhaps somebody from the more developed countries say that I am. Economic statistics would probably also bear that out.

But do I see my children as a liability? Or an asset? Perhaps I don’t feel poor because I in fact have a large family that can help me with the harvest.  Maybe I don’t feel poor because I store my wealth in goats instead of money.  Maybe I don’t feel disadvantaged because I live in a world where nobody has electricity or running water, and so it’s not in my scope of the world — it’s not important!

When I spent time in the Philippines, I saw children who were the happiest children that I had ever seen in my life, but materially, they didn’t have much– well.. anything really. But they were sooo happy… how could that be?  Maybe when you’re young, and you’re brought up in an environment like that, and it is your whole world… and you don’t see what you don’t have, then happiness is just being with those you love.

So maybe poverty is a social thing.  A scientist might say that poverty is just another word for disparity.  That it’s all relative.  What’s your take on poverty?

Si mu (to start)

And so, under the peer pressure and to jump on the ever growing bandwagon, here I am in my blog page.  At home, relaxing after my last final in university…

I wonder who will read this blog?  Will there be many?  Will there be few?  What kind of impact will it have?  So many questions… and I haven’t even started.

But, perhaps since this is my blog… perhaps I should be the one starting the conversation.  What is this blog about?  Why is it named “lost in kurow”?  What is kurow?

Well, we’ll start with who I am and where I’m going.  I’m Shawn, a 3rd year Geomatics Engineer at the University of Calgary.  I’ve been involved with Engineers Without Borders Canada, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people overseas work their way out of poverty.

Last November, on my birthday, I was selected to be a Junior Fellow to go abroad on an overseas placement.  Where have they chosen for me?  The country of Ghana, in the humble of Atebubu.

Engineers Without Borders has thoughtful development, and their beliefs and principles will permeate throughout what I do and the reasons why I’m doing it… so sometimes you may wonder why I do some of the things I do, and why EWB takes the approaches that it does.  If you want to learn more, please visit the other websites, Anne has a great description in there.  I can’t stop too long and explain, but I’ll try my best to explain as I go along.

I just have to keep the plot moving along, you understand.

So what is kurow?  It’s the Ghanaian word for “town”.  One of the things that I like about EWB is that it always asks questions.  And this is the type of perspective that I want to take when I am on my 4 month placement (May to August)… I always want to be asking questions.

And who asks better questions than a lost traveller?  Who asks more questions than somebody looking at a lost traveller?

So I’m lost in a town… it’s a metaphor, of course… but that’s where the crux of the matter is…

Where am I?

Where am I supposed to go?

Where do I belong?

Do I belong in the cold, blistery streets of that Canadian city?  Or under the warm baking Ghanaian sun… doing what I love most?

EWB holds to the principle that we as Canadians, as Westerners can never truly know (and therefore solve) the problems that the poor face in their struggle against poverty.  But we can do our darndest by integrating – by getting to know local Ghanaians personally and making their troubles our own.  By being Ghanaians and understanding what Ghanaians go through.  That’s why the title of each article in this blog will be a new Ghanaian word.

But can I ever truly be a Ghanaian?  Will I ever understand such an established culture that I was never born to?  Will I ever belong?

Or will I always be lost in town?