First and foremost, I would like all of us to mourn the death of my laptop. Well it's likely salvageable but probably not until I return to Canada. The screen has been rendered useless. And so can only write updates while actually at the Internet Cafe instead of writing them ahead of time and then uploading as I had hoped. This will result unfortunately in unedited updates, likely of a lesser quality than the ideal. So please bear with me. The other more tragic is result is that I see absolutely no way to upload pictures!!
So I have started work at the college, as my last post explained, but I'd like to give you a glimpse into one morning at the college.
I am waiting in a classroom with about thirty-five desks scattered around and two small whiteboards fastened to an old blackboard to make one usable whiteboard. As I wait, sweating in the heat young men and women slowly start to filter in to the classroom. As they do they begin re-arranging the desks into neat rows and they wipe down the desks to remove the dust that covers everything in this dry climate. While my back is turned looking out one of the doors to see if more students are coming, one of the students who was first to arrive has arranged one of the desks at the front of the class for my bookbag and has placed a whiteboard marker and eraser there for me to use. Surprised I thank him and he smiles and returns to his desk.
All the students are in uniforms. White shirts and brown slacks for the boys and blue dresses with white trim for the girls. There are about twenty-two boys present and three girls. The students are already joking and teasing each other as they settle in and I can tell this is a friendly environment where almost everyone is comfortable with everyone else. They are all paying extremely close attention as I introduce myself and explain my purpose for being there. I ask if they are having trouble understanding me, because being from where I am, I may have a tendency to mumble or speak too fast. They say they understand just fine, and this turns out to be true as we get deeper and deeper into discussion as I rarely have to stop and explain something I've said. I however have a somewhat harder time understanding what a few of them are saying, especially the shyer ones who speak quietly.
I write the word "entrepreneur" on the board. I ask what does it mean to be an entrepreneur. My goals for this discussion are twofold, EWB wants to know what the student's existing attitudes and understandings about entrepreneurship, and the college wants the students to spend some time thinking and learning about entrepreneurship. While I'm absolutely certain that I have absolutely nothing to teach the students about entrepreneurship, I do feel confident that a group discussion about it can provide the first steps for both the aforementioned goals. I will be able to learn what they think when they think entrepreneurship, and the students will share and debate with each other about the topic.
It quickly becomes clear that these students know a quite a bit about entrepreneurship and have a great deal to say on the topic. I write on the board all the different qualities that they say an entrepreneur has and all the things they say that an entrepreneur does. It was an entertaining and illuminating discussion. The students were eager to participate and share and I quicly became aware of some interesting class dynamics.
We then moved the conversation to the topic of "obstacles". I wanted to get a picture of what the students saw as standing in the way of starting up small businesses. If I thought they had a lot to share with the first topic than they were overflowing with input on this topic. The number of things they were able to identify was astounding. We discussed everything from an unstable economy and political instability to a scarcity of resources, disaster, conflict among partners and the perception of risk.
It was clear that these students had all the ideas and attitudes that I felt it would take to be successful entrepreneurs, but they simply do not find themselves in an enabling environment. Fortunately more entrepreneurship makes room for more entrepreneurship. So maybe as more young people take that risk and are successful, it will contribute to creating an environment in wich it is less dangerous for others to attempt. Unfortunately, however, that sort of risktaking alone will not ensure success, nor will it work in every environment. For real success governments like that of Ghana need help to invest in the necessary infrastructure and services that business require to be successful. That sort of help needs to come from the international community, and it will only happen as a result of pressure of citizens. So, get to work!