Tuesday, August 18

This is the end…sorta

Everything is wrapping up. Quicker then I may be able to handle. This weekend the Vice wants to bring me to Paga to visit the crocodile pond, and then on Monday I’ll leave Pong-Tamale for the last time and head to Tamale to meet the rest of the JFs for a debrief. We have a few days in Tamale before shipping off to Accra. In Accra I’ll be meeting the National Director of the Human Resource Development and Management Directorate of MoFA to fill him in on all the work at the Vet College. We have one free day in Accra before we fly back to Toronto. I’ll spend two days in Toronto before flying home on the 25th of August and arriving in St. John’s at 11:59 PM.

These last two weeks were nothing like I expected. I’m not sure if ever formed a clear picture of what I thought they would be like, but most everything surprised me. For example, just when I had given up on getting to go on a village stay, Sarah helped me arrange one just outside of Tamale. A village stay is when a volunteer spends anywhere from two days to two weeks in an extremely rural village to get a first hand look at rural livelihoods. I am so glad that I was actually able to have that experience, since it truly deepened my understanding of the Dagomba culture and the attitudes of rural farmers. I stayed with an Assemblyman who represented his community and two others at the Tamale Metro Assembly, which is the local government body. He stayed in a compound with his father and his father’s three wives, his own wife, his brothers and all the younger children. I wanted to learn more about a woman’s typical day so I rose before the sun with the rest of the women, who began sweeping the compound and preparing the fires. They prepared the porridge known as koko that the rest of the family would eat when they woke up. After feeding everyone they bathed themselves and the children. Then they went to fetch water.

This was where I asked to get involved, and although they were shocked by the request they happily provided me with a bucket and a scarf to place between my head and the bucket. Walking towards the watering hole we were greeted by hoots of laughter and a cacophony of questions and exclamations about the white man joining the women to fetch water.


It was I who was shocked when we arrived at the watering hole. The water we were gathering was actually the water that had collected around the foundation of a latrine that was still under construction. I knew the water was unlikely to be very clean, but the muddy brown water was more than I had expected. The women were extremely efficient at getting all the buckets filled and in no time two women were lifting a bucket to be placed on my head. I didn’t get six feet before I knew I was doing something wrong. The women noticed and helped me shift the bucket further back on my head so that I didn’t have to look up into the sky as I carried it. It was incredibly heavy, and terribly difficult to avoid spilling water all over myself. I got about half way before the left side of my neck started to cramp up. I was able to ignore it for about thirty seconds, but I had to admit defeat. One of the women came and relieved me of my burden.

Upon returning, a lot of my time was taken up with preparing the various reports and projects that EWB requires us to complete so that our experiences and lessons learned become part of EWB’s collective knowledge. I also participated in the colleges strategic planning process. They’re hoping to outline their priorities and make a five-year plan.

And so my work at the college has come to an end, and I’m heading home. It feels strange but it feels right. I have moments of wondering about what it would be like to stay longer, follow through on my work some more, build stronger relationships with the people who’ve shared the last three and a half months of my life, but in the end I really am looking forward to coming home.

And the greatest thing is, the work I’ve done isn’t simply going to be left where it is. Another EWB volunteer has arrived who will take my place at the college and continue my work. It’s a pretty great feeling to think that someone is going to be putting all their energy to take something you started even further.

Her name is Carissa Vados, she is 23 and she comes from the Vancouver Pro-chapter. She studied at McGill and now works for Aeroplan. She’s going to be putting the finishing touches on the entrepreneurship curriculum, learning about how extension methods are taught at the college and teaching a weekly ICT course. So to keep an eye on how things are going at the college you can follow her here: http://carissainghana2009.blogspot.com

As for me I’m not sure if I’ll continue blogging when I return. This blog will probably seem less interesting once I’m on the same continent as all of you. As well I am probably going to be fairly busy, and blogging may not be a priority. So I’d just like to thank you all for following my journey, and for commenting and showing interest. It has really helped to share my experiences and to hear your thoughts on them. Thank you so much, and please keep Africa in your minds.


Tuesday, August 4

How to define success

Many projects in the world of development face a difficult challenge.

How will we define success?

Most of the projects that I've witnessed during my work here in Ghana struggled with this question. For example, one project focused on facilitating a planning process with communities so that they could leverage government structures to implement their projects. The end goal was originally seen as achieving food security for the communities. The project would assist the communities in choosing their priorities and in putting these into a Community Action Plan. Then the project would help the most local government structure, Area Councils, to incorporate the various Community Action Plans into its Area Level Plan. Then the project helped these Area Councils work with the District Governments to incorporate these Areal Level Plans into the Districts’ Mid-Term Development Plans. Once this process was completed, funds were released so that each community was able to implement one of the projects outlined in their Community Action Plan. The money would be channeled through the National Government, through the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development and finally to the District Governments so that they could work with the communities to implement the projects. Each of the projects selected were to address the food security needs of these communities. The projects helped some communities with crop production, with animal traction for plowing, or with things like market infrastructure and processing equipment. As the project continued, those who designed and oversaw the project began debating which was of greater value, the food security benefits of their projects, or the exposure of each community and district to this planning process that could be replicated in the future to meet future needs.

Another dilemma faced by the project was the question of targeting. Should the project aim to increase household food security or to increase community food security. Should it trade off having a larger overall impact for the community in order to benefit the most vulnerable households? Which initiative was more successful? The one that saw each woman in a community receive a goat that they could breed and raise, or the one that saw one individual receive processing equipment that she could make available to to community for a small fee? If the goal was targeting the most vulnerable than perhaps the goat initiative seems more successful, but if the goal was greater food security for an entire community than perhaps the processing equipment was the most successful. Yes, one person will be benefiting from the fees that she charges, but now an entire community is able to process a greater amount of food, allowing them to store it longer, making the lean season shorter. And maybe we can say that the processing equipment has had a household impact. If you examine one family, perhaps their food security has increased since the mother can now go next door to grind her maize, instead of traveling all the way to the next community. But then you have to ask, can the poorest household in the community afford the fee that is being charged for the equipment.

There are many questions and many challenges when trying to define and gauge success. And this is something I’m now facing as my placement draws to a close. Have I been successful? Well what did I hope to achieve? Maybe we can examine the goals of the JF program for some guidance.

1. Create positive impact overseas through our partners

2. Create positive impact in Canada through our chapters

3. Create social change leaders through learning and passion in individual JFs

Or to quote the more specific descriptions from the “Orange Book of Change” which could be seen as a sort of EWB manual:

1. To create change overseas by working directly with our partners to have real and direct on the ground impact with rural African communities and our partners themselves. While working with our partners the JF furthers the broader overseas impact and programming of EWB, augmenting the impact we’re already having.

2.To create change in Canada by providing returned volunteers who are able to educate and inspire Canadians to change the way they think, feel and act towards Africa.

3. To create change and learning for the Junior Fellow, allowing them to grow as much as possible. Junior Fellows will emerge from their experiences better equipped to act as leaders for change in Canada and overseas over the long term.

Having these three objectives raises the question of priorities. It isn’t clear which objective should take precedence over another, but it’s inevitable that for each JF there will be times where a decision needs to be made as to which one should be the focus of their energy. Looking at the order in which they’ve been outlined doesn’t even provide a clue to whether anyone has implicitly placed the emphasis on one goal over another since the order in which they appear depends on the document in which they are found. I’ve put these two descriptions in the same order so that it is easier to refer to them.

So looking at my placement up to this point, I’d say that I put most of my energy into objective number 1. My primary focus was on having something tangible to provide the college, or something concrete to offer to EWB’s strategy. I knew that this type of placement wouldn’t really lend itself to “real and direct on the ground impact with rural African communities.” I think I can say I’ve more or less achieved my goals. When I leave there should be a fairly clear plan for the creation of an entrepreneurship curriculum, and EWB is excited and committed to our partnership with the college. In fact there will be a JF from one of the organizations Professional Chapters coming to replace me when I leave. They will continue work on the entrepreneurship curriculum and explore other areas of the college’s work. It is possible to see the positive relationship that now exists between the college and EWB as real success as well. This alone could have huge payoffs that are yet to be imagined.

It’s hard to say whether I prioritized personal growth or connecting with Canada this summer. I definitely feel I learned a lot and the experiences that I’ve had have expanded my understanding of an incredible number of issues. And I also feel fairly happy with the level of communication that I maintained with Canada, through this blog, Twitter updates, and occasional phone calls with different individuals. But I have to be honest and say that I wasn’t very rigorous in either of these dimensions in terms of planning, or in analyzing how well I was doing. I sort just let them happen as they would. I was always aware of them, but I didn’t devote a great deal of brain power to really maximizing the potential pay-offs.

I have to say though, I definitely feel positive about the entire experience! Seen as a whole I feel like I’ve had the chance to learn an incredible amount, I feel I can really apply it all when I get home, and I feel like I’ve actually made a valuable contribution to our work in Ghana!

I’ll finish today with some pictures.

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Thursday, July 23

Sunday, July 19

My work in Tamale

Hey there!

An interesting week to be sure! I've had an incredible opportunity to take part in the assessment phase of a CIDA funded project. CIDA is the Canadian International Development Agency, they're the people who figure out how to spend Canada's Official Development Assistance, which is the money that the Canadian Government sends to countries like Ghana to help in the nation's development. This particular project was known as Community-Driven Initiatives for Food Security (CIFS). They worked with local government bodies to draw up development plans for each community that would be used by those governement bodies. The CIFS project would then work with the community to pick one Food Security issue to adress through one of several possible initiatives. Some initiatives involved providing goats and sheeps to communities along with animal health services and training. Others helped create the physical infrastructure, like market stalls, for a community to operate a funtioning market. Another involved building a grain bank to be used as a storage facility for the entire community.

As the project is in its final year, they are doing an internal assessment to try and develop some lessons learned and best practices, and to make recommendations on how to properly go about either an exit strategy or an extension of the project. They brought together various groups of people who've been involved in the implementation of the project to get their views, experiences and opinions. My role was to record everything that was said at these workshops and turn in into a readable report that can be referenced later as part of the entire assessment. It's been a great chance to learn about how a project operates, see how Canada has impacted communities in Ghana, and learn a lot about the government structures and functions.

During this experience I was staying in an incredible little hotel with amazing service, air conditioning and internet in my room. I have to say, it was nice to be spoiled for a few days. On Friday I met up with a bunch of other JFs who've come into Tamale for a team meeting to make recommendations on what EWB should be doing in the coming months in the districts where they've been working. It was great to see them all again, share stories, and learn about the work they've been doing.

Last night we went out to supper and we had some great conversations, ranging from how the British girls here in Tamale think Adam is really cute, to what sort of economic system functions the best, to how to properly avoid malaria (only two Ghana JFs are still malaria free!).

Seeing as how I haven't really done anything that was visually remarkable this week, I thought I might put up the pictures of my home in Pong-Tamale.

This is my compound viewed from outside. Half is roofed in tin, half is thatch.

This is the entrance to the compound an my host father's hut, viewed from inside the courtyard.

A slight turn right and you see the tank that holds the households water and the building where livestock and poultry are kept.

Shift a little more to the right and you see the rocks that make up the cooking area, the other room where animals are kept.The bathing spot is the walled area at the back.

Keep turning and you see the room where my host mother and the younger children stay on the left, clothes hanging to dry and another room that's just used as storage.

Here is the area for cooking when it rains, a second storage room and a second, less used bathing spot. The door on the right is my host brother's room.

This is the door to my room. When I get around to tidying it up, I'll let you see inside. You can see the edge of my host-father's hut on the right, completing our 360 degree tour of the inside of the compound.

Friday, July 10

Short but hopefully sweet

This week has actually been fairly routine. Here’s an overview.

I’m in Tamale a day early because I’m meeting with some people from another organization that I will be doing some work for in the next two weeks. This organization is in the process of getting feedback on their project from various participants, beneficiaries and partners. They’ve had encounters with EWB in the past and they specifically asked for an EWB volunteer to help them in their stakeholder analysis workshops. They want someone to take minutes at the workshops and then turn the minutes into clear, concise, action oriented summaries. So I’m meeting them today to introduce myself and get to know the project and the people, and then next week we will begin the workshops.

At work I’ve been conducting a few interviews, whenever I can track people down, and in the meantime I’ve been going through the student interviews and compiling all the information together to look for patterns and common threads. I’ve also been helping out by cataloguing the books in the colleges library and separating them into categories. It’s actually interesting to see some of the books that are there. They’ve got ones you’d expect like old veterinary manuals and stuff about agriculture, but I’ve also found a collection of essays from Henry Kissenger, some classic literature, and interesting autobiographies.

The homesickness has been coming and going in waves. Sometimes I’m having a blast here and really excited about learning from people at the college and getting to know people in my community. Other times I’m dreaming about being back home taking Sharleen out for ice cream or hanging out in a friend’s basement. Put all it usually takes is a stroll out into the courtyard to be amused by whatever shenanigans Mariam happens to be up to. On a related note, I hope you enjoy the video below about a tasty snack the children had me try.

And Ian, those are some great questions so since I’ve just gotten them now, I’ll take the week and think about them and see what sort of response to make.

Sunday, July 5

Q & A: Part 2

Here is the continuation of those questions and answers. I suggest you read the post below this one first (Q & A: Part 1). But it probably doesn’t make a difference. I decided to post both of these at the same time, because I’d feel bad if I made you wait.

15. How much of an initial shock was there? How long did it take to get over?

Aside from one initial shock in my second week involving inadequate sanitation facilities, I can’t say the initial shock was that “initial”. I think it took a while to sink in. I was so excited to get going, and to be here that I just went with everything that was thrown my way. It was only little by little are started to feel just how different things were.

The shock I’m referring to above came about when I was staying with my coach Sarah and another OVS Wayne. Their place didn’t have a latrine yet so when you needed to take care of business, you simply went anywhere outside, in a patch of grass where people didn’t walk. It was an extremely strange and uncomfortable experience, especially given the lack of privacy. No matter where you crouched, there were people around. But other than that things mostly flowed along for a while, it took me a while to realize some of the things I hadn’t noticed or cared about in the beginning. But I’ll expand on that in the next question.

9. How are you adapting? Do you feel you are experiencing any culture shock?

As I mentioned it took some time, but little by little I started to get extremely frustrated with the difficulties communicating.It got tiring having to ask the same questions over and over again in different ways, and I didn’t like how I couldn’t relax anywhere other than in the privacy of my room (even then, I can’t leave my window open), because I was constantly a focus of interest and people constantly read into everything that I did farther than necessary. I started to feel alone and cut off, and I started being frustrated with myself for how much time I was spending alone, even though I didn’t have the energy, or the motivation to go out.

As for how I’m adapting, I’d say its a struggle I still face, and occasionally there are dips in my mood. But for the most part I’ve been feeling a lot better. I started by allowing myself to feel comfortable taking time away from everything just to recover and to escape. Once I had admitted to myself that it was ok to do that once in a while, I was able to use that time actually regaining energy instead of further draining myself by brooding about wasting time. Then I sort of just threw myself into it and was really helped by my friend Rahman who has been showing me around, introducing me to people, and has been someone that I can ask about cultural stuff. Learning bits of the language was also an occasional confidence booster, because it felt great when people were really impressed by what I already knew.

Some things still trouble me from time to time, but I always find a way through, whether its by reading, focusing on work and getting motivation from success there, or communicating with someone back home or here in Ghana.

3. Is the government encouraging a certain type of entrepreneurship?

If by “certain type of entrepreneurship” you mean they are promoting the creation of small businesses then I would say yes, that’s what they have in mind. But the government doesn’t really have a whole lot of influence over what I am doing here, and I haven’t yet seen any similar programs elsewhere. So they aren’t actively pushing one thing or another. I think when they raised the issue, their hope was that youth would be able to create their own employment, and I believe the prevailing view here is that that means creating small businesses.

As for other types of entrepreneurship, I interpret that to mean the role entrepreneurship can play in other areas like, social entrepreneurship, or entrepreneurship within larger companies or organizations, or creating specifically growth oriented businesses. As a generalization, most people I’ve spoken to here don’t seem that interested in or aware of those options.

4. What happened to your laptop?

So it appears that there was a manufacturing defect in the wire that carries the signal from computer to screen. It must have been triggered by a bump or a jostle while it was in my book-bag, but this one part of the wire seems to have a weak connection, causing the screen to go all wonky and useless. I was able to continue to use my laptop at the office when one of the two computers was free, by hooking up to the monitor. Unfortunately the computers weren’t free all that often. So a week ago I brought it to a computer guy in Tamale, who took a look and found the defect, and told me the wire would need to be replaced. He also told me that it would be way too expensive to try and do here, and that I should wait until getting home. He insisted there was nothing he could do and decided to open it up and show me exactly what was going on. He showed me how if you pushed on this one part the screen went back to normal. Seeing this, I suggested just putting something in side that would take up the extra space and cause the wire to stay in the position where it worked. At first he seemed to think that that would be impossible, but after some persistence we got some paper to shove in next to it, and now it works fine, although I had to do some alterations and additions to the paper once I got home to make it survive any sort of movement. So basically I, with zero experience, fixed my computer, even if it is only temporary.

7. What ideas/principles learned, while working with EWB in St. John’s have you been able to usefully apply while working in Ghana?

One thing that EWB did prepare me for was being flexible with time. I think perhaps EWB learned its habit of running behind from their volunteers who’ve returned from Africa. It’s not an exaggeration that nothing happens on time.

But seriously, the first and perhaps most important thing that has helped me has been to focus on my strengths. Back home I began to learn through my work with the chapter that there were some things I was good at and others that I was not so good at. Being aware of those things, and being able to pull out the skills you need at the right time has been extremely helpful. For example I was able to adapt my research methods as I discovered what did and didn’t work. If I hadn’t learned to adapt like that back in St. John’s I may have just continued asking the same types of questions, questions that weren’t getting useful answers. But because I had learned to search out the problems, and look to what was working well I was able to shift my questioning style to get better results.

Another thing that has helped, is the experience I gained through outreach of interacting with people face to face. You have to be able to gauge when you’re losing their interest and then adapt, and you need to know when you’ve gotten them excited and use it. This has come in handy when pitching ideas to individuals at the college, and when conducting interviews.

School Outreach has also provided lessons for how to interact with a full class of students. I’ve found that at least for me, I feel I’m more effective when I quickly distance myself from the discussion style of their usual teacher(s). Sometimes it means allowing a bit more goofing around and joking, or simply being open to each and every person’s opinions. I find that if you come from an angle they weren’t expecting than they are willing to give you a chance, instead of treating it like a free period because some guest speaker is in.

That’s not to mention everything I learned about development and rural livelihoods back at the chapter. It’s all been extremely helpful in simply understanding what’s happening around me.

8. In the short amount of time you’ve been there, do you feel like you’re already having an impact? If so, how do you plan to add on to it?

I definitely feel as though the information I’ve gathered so far will be useful. And I also feel that the conversations I’ve had with my coach and with the Vice-Principle will help inform how both move forward in their partnership, so in that way I feel that if I for some reason I were teleported out of the placement, the work that I’ve done would have been a solid contribution.

However, I feel that my placement is a little unique since influencing my partner to undergo some behaviour change or attitude change is not really one of the primary goals. The administration seems to already be on board, and doing their job to the best of their abilities. As such, some of the behaviour change projects that some volunteers implement with their partners are not really relevant to the specific goals of my placement.

As well, the immediate beneficiaries are students and not Dorothy. So I’m not sure if I can measure my impact in the usual way. I need to look to the proposal that we make at the end of the placement and the information that I’ve gathered to see the impact that I’ve had. In fact, those things won’t really have an impact until a future volunteer puts them into action.

On the other side of things, the placement has certainly begun to have a serious impact on me, my eyes have been opened to so much and I’m constantly learning. I also hope that my communications back home have had some small impact on those who receive them.

10. What parts of the culture are you finding really interesting? What are most surprising to you?

The importance of age, and the role it plays in all relationships is quite interesting. We must all bow when we greet an elder, your relative age determines whose bidding you do, and who does yours. Elder siblings get the stools to sit on, and younger children must go fetch things for others. The special treatment that I get as a guest is usually explained in terms of the relationship between siblings of different ages.

I also find it really interesting how everyone at work refers to each other by their title. Other JFs have told me it’s the same at their offices. So Dr. Bempong is simply Vice (for Vice-Principle) Nicholas is simply Storekeep, and my host-father is Operator (for Tractor Operator).

The importance of greetings cannot be understated. At first I thought “Oh yeah, I got it, make sure you greet everyone.” But it is huge, when I started observing others more carefully, I noticed how terribly wrong I have been doing it, and how thorough others are in their greetings.

11. We know that you were involved in Fair Trade before you left, has your point of view changed since you have been there.

First I should let you know what exactly my point of view is. I see Fair Trade as something worth promoting. I strongly believe in the benefits it brings to the farmers that are involved. In a system that is clearly broken, FT offers an alternative path for conscious consumers to adequately reward the work that went into the product that they are enjoying. I also see Fair Trade as an excellent outreach tool. By introducing people to Fair Trade, and by influencing people to buy it you assist people in becoming more globally aware. You bring those that were totally unaware of the injustices of trade to a level of understanding that helps them see that there is a problem. You allow those that see the problem but feel helpless, to feel like there can be solutions. And you hopefully bring everyone to a point where they feel more connected with the products they are consuming and with those who made them, so that maybe they begin thinking about their other habits and choices on a more global scale.

I also believe that it is important to realize and communicate that Fair Trade is not a silver bullet, and as it is currently designed cannot be seen as a replacement for our current trading system. It helps those who are involved at both ends of the chain, and still has quite a bit of room to grow to involve more producers and consumers, but that growth has a limit.

One of the criticisms of Fair Trade is that by creating an artificial price, it distorts the market. This would be true if Fair Trade held a larger share of the market, but since Fair Trade accounts for such a small percentage of the markets in which it is involved (even with the involvement of Starbucks and Cadbury) it does not create any meaningful distortions in price, supply, or demand. The flip side of this argument (as far as I understand it) is that Fair Trade cannot grow infinitely; otherwise the criticism of price distortion will become true.

The other criticism of Fair Trade is that it actually disadvantages farmers and producers who are not certified. Again, as far as my understanding goes, this is untrue because of the scale which we are talking about. Since it does not have an overall impact on prices, supply, or demand outside its own value chain, it doesn’t strongly affect other farmers. In fact, many of the investments that are put in place as a result of the Fair Trade price, such as schools and wells, actually benefit others in the community who are not certified.

As for the focus of your question, my point of view hasn’t really changed. I think I might feel more strongly about it, having met people that I believe could seriously benefit from Fair Trade or a similar system but I have not yet met anyone who has had any involvement.

13. What is your most exciting experience so far?

My most exciting experience so far was probably getting things ready for this Obama campaign. It felt really great as things fell into place. I should probably explain the whole thing first. So Obama will be visiting Ghana on July 10, and some OVS on the Governance and Rural Infrastructure team decided it was a good opportunity to get youth and communities in Northern Ghana thinking about leadership and community activism. So they launched a campaign to convince Obama to visit the Northern part of the country, which has historically been neglected by foreign dignitaries and is also the most impoverished. The focus of the campaign was gathering letters from students that would express the reasons why Obama was admired as a good leader and why he should visit the North. The OVS asked the JFs to try and gather as many letters as possible.

At first I really didn’t think that I would be able to gather many letters, if any at all. But I was put in contact with two local teachers who are part of a small association focused on community improvement. With their help I contacted all the schools in Pong-Tamale and five in Savelugu (the larger neighbouring town), and organized a march in support of Obama. As schools agreed to participate and things started to come together for the march I experienced the most excitement I’ve felt all placement. In the end we collected 934 letters and held a march here in Pong-Tamale with all four schools and about 400 students. Few experiences have matched with the feeling I had when leaving the local government office with the full support of everyone there, or with the feeling I had seeing hundreds of students walking down the road in march that I helped organize.

P.S. – It turns out that I gathered way more letters than all the other JFs combined, and our march was bigger than the march in Tamale. Although, they had a car with loudspeakers.

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Q & A: Part 1

Okay, so once again I find myself apologizing for being late with yet another blog post. Those of you following my twitter or facebook updates may have caught the one mentioning a lack of power at the internet cafe last weekend. So I’ve had to go another week with no email, no research and no blog updates. I hope that this one might help make up for it.

I’ve learned how to make videos! And my laptop is working properly after some creative repairs. So here is my first creation, a short showcase of our visit to Rome. I apologize for the quality, but that had to happen if I wanted to upload it with this internet connection.

And now I’d like to post the answers to those questions that I shared in my last post. I had to divide them up amongst two posts because you’d be reading forever if I put them up together. I’ll post them both at the same time so you don’t have to wait another week for the second half. I’ve also chosen to group them together in what, to me, seems a logical way. I hope to see lots of comments and clarifying questions. So if anything seems confusing or unclear please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to clear it up in my next post.

1. What types of people are attending the college you are working at? (background/sex/age/numbers etc.)

There are around 150 students in total with about 50 students in each of the three levels. There were 20 females this last year with 5-7 in each class.The ages range from 19-37 with the majority being 20-23. A large number of the students were from the southern parts of Ghana, and a number of these were somewhat better off than their northern counterparts. Many students come from farming backgrounds, since most families seem to have a least a little land and a few animals, regardless of financial status. They have all completed Secondary School, the equivalent of High School. They all have an interest in agriculture, and many hope to further their education after graduating, to become veterinary doctors.

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14. What’s available to do at the college in terms of academics? How similar is the teaching (style, depth) to say, MUN?

The college only offers one program, although they are in the process of phasing out an old program and introducing a new one. Previously all graduates received a Certificate in Veterinary Science and soon they will receive a Diploma in Animal Health and Production. Despite the change in name, they are still learning how to become Veterinary Technical Officers, who work under government veterinarians. They learn about the anatomy and biology and all that for various animals that are relevant to agriculture in Ghana. They also learn about diagnosing and treating common ailments and diseases, as well as how to perform some minor procedures. They are also taught about farm management and how to properly raise the animals that they learn about in other courses. This is so that they can properly advise farmers, and also so that they will be better equipped to start their own farms if they choose to. They are also taught agricultural economics and marketing, as well as rural sociology and extension methods.

I haven’t yet gotten a perfect picture of the teaching style, but from what I gather it seems a bit old-school. It seems as though they load a ton of information onto the students and expect them to regurgitate it. The Vice-Principle is trying to encourage teachers to create an actual syllabus for each course so that evaluations more accurately reflect what has been taught in class, and so that class time fits more closely with the objectives of each course. As it stands, teachers decide what to teach based on their knowledge and experience. I don’t think courses go very deep since they have to learn so much material all at once. Students at the college take ten courses each semester (15 each semester in their second year)! I don’t know how anyone can learn that much information.

6. What are the major differences in schools in Ghana and here in Canada?

I’ve definitely been getting the feeling that students learn by rote, and that classes are simply lectures passing on tons of information. But I haven’t been able to sit in on any classes, so I can’t say for sure. I noticed a few interesting things on my tours around schools, getting them involved in the Obama letter campaign. Whenever a guest enters a classroom, one of the students shouts “Stand!” and then “Greet!” All of the students then say “GOOD MORNING SIR.” The headmaster, teacher or guest then says, “Good morning. How are you?” to which the entire class replies “WE ARE FINE, THANK-YOU!” Then the headmaster, teacher or guest says “OK, sit down.” Teachers also seem very fond of the cane, and not at all impressed with anyone acting the least bit silly.

2. What do you consider to be the greatest communication obstacle in your placement so far (if any)?

Well there have certainly been communication obstacles, and I’d even say that they have been my greatest frustration in this entire experience. The greatest obstacles have been those between myself and individuals who don’t speak English fluently, or don’t speak it at all. Even here at the college where classes are taught in English and all students have a functional knowledge of English, it has been extremely difficult to communicate with some students, because of the vocabulary and accents that I am not accustomed to. In the community it is even more difficult again, if it weren’t for the fact that many of the shop owners are quite good at English and that there is usually at least one person around who speaks it, I would be completely lost.

Even with those that speak English it can be difficult and frustrating to communicate, as the words we use will be different and we can’t always understand what the other is trying to say. Often you have to say or ask the same thing three different ways before it is understood. This can get extremely tiring. The other night, Rahman and I discussed our differing definitions of the word “curious”. Apparently you get curious in Pong-Tamale when someone has done something bad to you.

12. Do most people speak English as well as those at the college?

It seems that most people recognize a few English words, but many of them can only communicate in Dagbani. A large proportion of adults do not speak English and it seems as though only about half of the youths speak a little English. Children only learn English in school and don’t use it in the home, so young children haven’t learned it yet, and older children vary in their ability just as students vary in any course taught in school. There’s usually at least one person around who speaks English, which is lucky, but there are still lots of funny, awkward, confusing moments.

In my host family, the eldest, Abdulrahman speaks a bit of English, the second oldest Adamu, speaks a bit as well, and they are my main resources for communicating with the rest of the family. My host father also seems to speak a bit of English, but not as much as his oldest son and oldest daughter.

5. How is your host family?

So, until recently, I didn’t have a host family. I’ve been living with them for about two weeks, and am still just starting to get to know them. Most of my interactions are with the two eldest, as I mentioned earlier. Abdulrahman is 18, speaks English, and is recovering from a broken arm. I’m not sure if he’s employed or not, because he may just be staying home on account of his arm, but chances are that he is not, like the rest of the youth in Pong-Tamale. He is quick to answer my questions, but otherwise quiet and never offers up information or opinions without being asked. Adamu is 15, speaks English, and going to school. She seems to find me fairly amusing and strange. She takes care of the bulk of household chores, and while not as quiet as her older brother, is still fairly reserved around me. Amina is the the second girl, age 10. She is also going to school and seems more animated than her two older siblings. It seems she knows a little Enlglish, but rarely speaks in English. She has plenty of friends in the community and tends to spend her time roaming around with them. Alhassan is the second boy, age 8, and besides in the morning when he’s getting ready for school, and the end of the evening when he’s returning from his playing, I don’t see that much of him. I haven’t yet heard him speak a word, but he seems more timid than his older sister. And Mariam, is the youngest at age 5, and is probably the least shy around me. She has beautiful eyes and seems to find me hilarious. She is pretty outspoken, but I don’t understand a word she says since it’s all in Dagbani. She seems to be the ringleader for a group of youngsters even though some seem a bit older than her. I was only told the name of my host mother once, and in the flurry of new names, I seem to have forgotten it. I just know that to everyone else she is Ma. She goes from extremely quiet to extremely loud, depending on the obedience of her children, or the nosiness of one the goats. She mainly just smirks at the things I do and asks me questions through one of her children. She is probably unimpressed with my wimpy appetite, but is still quite pleasant with me. My host father Mohammed, known as the land-lord by guests and children when they speak of him to me, is very friendly and helpful with me. He always seems really impressed and happy with my sad attempts to speak in Dagbani.