Thursday, 4 September 2008

Last but not least blog

Dear All,
I know I haven't updated my blog for months and months. This is for several reasons. Firstly, through May and June I didn't travel so much, focussing more on my work which isn't so exciting to write about. Secondly, in July and August I had visitors and travelled so I was pretty busy, and thirdly, I found the technology so frustratingly slow and temperamental (power cuts, pen drives not working, dusty keyboards) that I decided to wait till I was home in England. So now I am sitting in the comfort of my living room, with instant internet access, a responsive keyboard and the photos already on the computer. What decadence!

So this blog is going to be longer than the previous ones, with lots more photos.

After a quiet start while I settled in, my work really picked up during the last few months. Working closely with the District Education staff, we devised a training package for School Management committees and Parent Teacher Associations, which we delivered at individual schools. These sessions went really well. Because many of the participants were themselves uneducated and spoke little English, we used a combination of English and the local language, Fra Fra. One memorable session involved role play of how to deal with an angry parent. It was performed in Fra Fra, so althouh I didn't undertand the words, but the dramatic performances meant I could understand it all. It was hilarious!

Another aspect of my work, which snowballed was the mapping of what other NGOs (non-governmental organisations)were doing in the field of education. I started visiting other NGOs when I first arrived in Bolga, in order to see how my work fitted in, but this project grew until I was making a data base of all the NGOs in the 3 northern regions of Ghana, to be shared between the NGOs and the Education Service. There are plans to form regional networks of NGOs, in order to co-ordinate planning and filling gaps. (who remembers me working on Lifelong Learning Networks in Bristol?)

When I had time I did some teaching at the Women's Awareness dressmaking class, showing them some basic patchwork techniques. With their sewing skills and fantastic local batik fabrics they created some really dynamic patchwork designs, which no one else in the area is doing. Hopefully they can create a market for these products.

In July my older (senior!) sister came to Ghana. She is a teacher, so I took her to visit some of the schools I had worked with. One school in particular, Ataampurum Primary, made a deep impression on us both. In a remote community 10Km from Bolga, there are 250 children in the nursery class and Primary 1,2 and 3 classrooms, but no classrooms for Primary 4,5,and 6. The nearest alternative school is 5Km away, and already full. So the children sit out under the trees. We would really like to raise the money for the 3 extra classrooms. We aim to call the project the ROSE APPEAL. Rose is the chair of the SMC, she speaks no English and never went to school, but is totally determined that all the children in her community should have and education, she is an inspiration to us all. You will hear more about the project when we launch the appeal.

Photos - first Rose Appeal Meeting and P1,2,3 classrooms.

After my sister's visit, it was time to go travelling for the last big trip, to Timbuktu. I went with another VSO volunteer, Tim, who wanted to celebrate his 40th birthday somewhere memorable. When asked 'How is Timbuktu?', I answer 'Timbuktu is far!', far from anywhere except the desert. It was a fantastic trip, spending 4 days on a cargo boat going up (heading northwards, but going downstream) the River Niger from Mopti. We sat and slept on sacks of millet, which look soft but are actually as hard as concrete, with very few 'comfort' stops, and a limited menu of rice-sauce three times a day. But our travelling companions were so friendly, even though we didn't understand thier local language, and shared everything with us.

We only had one day in Timbuktu, time to look around the market, have tea served by a young Tuareg in his tent, and go on camel rides across the sand dunes at sunset. (For more details, see Tim's blog at and photos at

I returned through Mali, stopping for a day or two the Dogon Country, a strange escarpment where ancient villages are located along the cliff side, renouned for their unusual architecture of grain stores, ancient pygmy houses, mud and stick mosques and wooden carvings. Quite stunning. August was a really nice time to travel through Mali and Burkina Faso, being the wet season, so all the crops are growing the rivers are full, incontrast to the many months of dry season.

Back in Ghana, the rains had finally come, two months later than usual, celebrated all night by the mosquitoes and the toads outside my bedroom window. Millet grows incredibly quickly, and the first harvest of early millet has started. My last two weeks in Ghana were spent finishing off my work, packing and saying numerous farewells to all my friends. I have met some truly wonderful people, both Ghanaians and other volunteers, and I was so sad to leave, just hoping that some of them will make it to England one day.

Back home in England, it is wonderful to see my friends and family again, and I brought home as many souvenirs as I could carry, and more! Now I have the reverse cultural adjustments and have to get used to a slight drop in temperature. Brrr!

It has been a really great year in Ghana, challenging, stimulating, hot and sweaty, hotter and sweatier, fun, and made especially good by all the lovely people I have met. Thank you!!

Monday, 28 April 2008

April Showers

Sulemia zaare! Bulika! Na baa! La an wani? La an sung!
Welcome white lady! Good morning! How are you! I'm fine!
Every encounter has to start like this.

The internet connection for all of Bolga was down the whole of last week, and the power supply is sporadic today, but I am determined to update this blog today, however long it takes!

The schools are on vacation this week, a late Easter holidays, so my work is postponed til next week. Just before the break we had a wonderful SMC traing session, sitting in the shade under a tree where it is cooler.

There was also a really successful fund raising event to raise funds for a new nursery (see photo in previous post), with lots of local entertainment. I was given a guineafowl the next day - alive! as a thankyou for attending the event.

I have taken the opportunity of the schools being closed to travel in the Volta Region, a chain of hills running down the east side of the lake. It was a real treat to be in lush green vegetation, with plants actually growing, and a bit cooler, especially in the evenings. We have had a couple more torrential storms in the Upper East, but the ground is still too dry for planting to start yet. The goats and sheep and cattle which are just left raoming by day, are having a real struggle tyo find grass to eat. Many families in rural areas are also facing real hunger because of the failure of last year's harvest. Everyone is looking forward to the rainy season due to start soon. Plus all the mosquitoes and other insects!
Volta Region
Upper East
It was interesting to travel around Lake Volta, including cutting across the bottom of the lake by motorised canoe. This is a trip that depends on flexible timing - you have to be patient while you wait for a 38-seater bus to fill up before it leaves - I waited six and a half hours in Nkwanta.

I was also really pleased to see the famous colourful Kente cloth being woven,which is different from the striped woven cloths we get in the north.

But of course, nothing compares with the style and variety of the famous Bolga baskets!

A local millipede!

Hope the Spring is finally arriving for you all at home, some warm weather is coming, and plants can start growing again for us all!!!!

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Easter news

April so soon! the months go by so quickly!

Life has been much quieter since Jessie left at the end of February - she had such a brilliant visit here. I have really settled into my work, visiting a lot of schools and arranging training for the school management committees and PTAs, which is challenging but also good fun, going out to distant villages along dusty red roads, and meeting wonderful people and smiling children.

Aside from work, there are always a few other distractions, such as Independence Day on March 6, celebrated with a public holiday and parades of hundreds of proud school children and security services on the playing field. A wonderful, though dusty, display.

For Easter I travelled to the Upper West Region, visiting other volunteers, and visiting the Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary. The hippos stayed under the water, only a couple of nostrils visible, but sleeping out in the forest on a viewing platform halfway up a tree was fantastic, all the natural bird sounds and not a chicken or guinea fowl to be heard! I also visited the Wa Na's palce, sadly in a really bad state of repair, and lived in mostly by goats, and a very old (1516) mosque which is in a much better state. A long and bumpy journey to get there, but beautiful landscape.

We have recently had 2 amazing thunderstorms, so there are just the first signs of regrowth coming, exceptionally early this year. The rains won't start properly for another month or so. The landscape is still so dry, river beds dried up, and the days and nights are so hot. Sweaty, or what!!!

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Valentine's Day

Hi All
It's St Valentine's Day today, a big event on the Ghanaian social calender so we will all be partying tonight and buying red roses. It is hard to believe it is February already, and the temperature is 4o in Bristol. Here the days are getting hotter and hotter, the Harmatten wind, which was fresher but dusty, has mostly passed, and no rain expected till April at the earliest.

The good news is that we now have internet in the VSO office in Bolga, so I am much more relaxed than sitting in a busy internet cafe, although the electricity could go off at any moment and I'll lose all the photos etc.

The last few weeks have been really busy, mostly because of the visit of 2 close friends and my daughter, Jessie. We spent 2 weeks travelling around in the south, to the Akisombo Dam which supplies all the electricity for the whole country, to Anomabu near Cape Coast, on the coast, where the fishing boats are beautiful, surfing on palm tree lined beaches, and eating lots of fresh seafood, a visit to Kakum National Park with the canopy walkway, and a trip to Mole National Park to watch the elephants bathing. Then we travelled back up to the north, more aware than ever of the north/south divide as the ground gets browner and drier and the river beds are all dried up. The north has a special beauty, with the round mud huts, stumpy baobab trees, dusty red roads, and red rounded hills.

Jessie has been working doing some art work - painting a mural- at the school in Zuarungo where we are installing the borehole. She leaves next week, which will make me very sad to see her go.

On the subject of the borehole - this week the contractor, who has a lot of local knowlegde, has surveyed the site, and pegged out where the borehole will be situated. It is likely that it will be drilled in a couple of weeks, and the installation and cementing a couple of weeks later. The money raised was just enough to cover a borehole for this one school, plus 4 hand wash basins, so a HUGE THANKYOU to everyone who contributed. I am really pleased that it is all happening so soon. My only regret is that we can't all the other desperately needy schools I have visited. The first photo is of the nursery 'building' for 300 children at a village school.

I am now getting more stuck into my work, with lots of meetings trying to set up the school management committees and PTAs, and encouraging parents to support their children's learning. It is hard when the schools have no resources and the parents are so poor.

Friday, 4 January 2008

New Year

Hi Folks
The weeks fly by, and I feel very settled here in Bolga, it's home now! It is still very warm, although it's called the cold season, just a bit cooler at night thankfully. It hasn't rained since October, and isn't going to until April or May, so the ground is already very dry and dusty.
December was the month for festivals, celebrating the harvest and Farmers' Day etc. I went to several festivals, really enjoying the dancing, drumming and wonderful costumes - more so than the long, long speeches in a language I couldn't understand. The energy and exuberance of the performances was wonderful.

At Christmas I travelled half way down the country, to a more tropical climate, enjoying waterfalls and a refreshing swimming pool. For New Year I went northwards to Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, for a taste of French luxuries like cheese and patisseries and French bread, what a treat!

I'm desperately hoping I succeed in putting up some photos today, it's so unpreditable....

Despite all these distractions, my work is picking up. I have made contact with quite a few schools and identified the need for training for PTA and School Man Committee members, and am working on a clearly laid out handbook. I'm working closely with staff at Bolgatanga Municipal Assembly Education Service (the equivalent of the City Council) so hopefully my work will continue after I leave.
Although I have now got used to the hard conditions here, I was really shocked to visit a village primary school with 956 children, including 300 in the nursery, with absolutely no resources, water 5Km away, no toilets, but a very dynamic new Head and committed team of teachers, struggling to do their best. The schools get 2 pounds per child from Ghana Ed Service to provide teaching resources, building improvements, staff training etc. The parents and community are expected to find the rest, which is hard in such an impoverished part of the country.

I am pleased that we have raised quite a bit towards helping schools to get boreholes, I'm not sure exactly how many schools because Jessie is still collecting the money. It's not too late to contribute- please call her. She is coming out in mid January for a few weeks, I'm so looking forward to her visit.

I think I have been successful with some pics - work out for yourself which is which!
Dancers at Sekoti Festival
Mud Cloths in Burkina Faso
Baobab Tree
Loading Sheep onto a bus
Latest marriage Propsal
Mona monkey at the monkey sanctuary
All dressed up ready to dance

Happy New Year Greetings for 2008

Sunday, 25 November 2007

2 months in Bolga

Hi Folks
It's been ages since I last updated this blog - I've been very busy, plus the internet connection has been despairingly slow for weeks, plus electric power cuts, but today I'm going to be lucky.
Life here is wonderful, hot, much slower pace of life, everything just seems harder work, but compensated by the most friendly wonderful people you can imagine, and all sorts of unexpected quirky wonderful encounters with random people.
In the last month I have been to the NAtional Arts and Culture Festival in Kumasi, on the day that the Upper East Region were performing, lots of drumming and dancing. To Tamale for the 6 week meeting of all the volunteers who came out in September, really good to meet up again to exchange stories. Last week we had motorbike training, to get us used to the rather different road conditions here- dirt roads and clouds of dust, avoiding cows, donkeys, pigs, goats, sheep, hens and guinea fowl. All good fun, and the shower at the end of the day was the best bit.

my work has been a bit disrupted by these activities, but I am gradually iidentifying my role here, helping the schools to get effective PTAs and School Management Committees. There are 85 schools in the Bolga area, so I need to identify exactly which ones I will concentrate on.

On the subject of schools, my daughter Jessie, is coming out to visit in January and will be doing some craft sessions in our local primary school. The school, for 500 kids, does not have a running water supply, just a barrel which gets filled daily. The children go to the Head in tears because there is no water for them to drink - how on earth are they expected to concentrate on lessons???? I have found out that if I can raise 5% of the cost of a borehole i.e. 200 pounds, then Rural Aid, which gets its funding from the UK based charity Water Aid, will provide the 95%. So, for every 200 quid I can raise- with your help, then another school gets a water supply. If you can contribute, please get in touch with Jessie on 07969 256046. A little donation can have a big impact. Needless to say there's no electric supply either, but that's less urgent.

I've also been up to Sirigu, to the Sirigu Womens Pottery and Arts project, beautiful pottery, fabrics, painted houses and canvas paintings in the tradtionall house style, lovely, and inspiring. And to the Crocodile Pond at Paga where the tamest croc in the world posed for its photo.
I'll send this off now, I'm terrified of the internet cutting out before I publish it.
Love you all

Friday, 19 October 2007

One month away

I'm trying so so hard to put some photos up on this blog, but not having a whole lot of success, I've even tried e-mailing photos as an attachment put into a word document, also with no success! Very frustrating.
I'm settling in well to life here in Bolga, getting used to the constant sweat running off me, it's only uncomfortably hot around midday, but mornings and late afternoons are wonderful.

I bought a second-hand bicycle last week, so getting from home into town is much easier, it's a lot flatter than Bristol! We will be getting motorbikes soon, because I will have to visit some schools in remote villages, too far to cycle. But we haven't yet got our bikes. Everyone cycles here.

My work is having a slow start, I have been finding out what all the other organisations are doing - there are lots of initiatives around education, all slightly different, so talking to alot of people. Next week my VSO manager is coming to Bolga, and will set up a meeting with the key stakeholders for my job, so then I will get some guidance about where to go from here. There are a lot of possiblities and I'm finding everyone really co-operative and wanting to work with me.

In the mean time I am exploring a bit further afield.
Last weekend I went with another volunteer to the Mole National Park, a very long and dusty day's travelling in either direction, but worth it for an early morning walk observing kob, water buck (both kinds of antelope), warthogs and baboons, and then to our delight, 3 elephants bathing in the waterhole. We'd been warned that in this wet season the elephants find lots of other waterholes so we were really lucky to see them. There's a lovely swimming pool for humans too. I also visited the oldest mud and wood mosque in Ghana, at Larabanga. Much smaller than it appears in photos.

On our way to Mole I had half a day in Tamale where I visited the local chief's palace, to find that the mud house in the photo on this blog, is actually the house for the chief's white horse!!!!

On Monday was a public holiday, being Eid, so I went with some local Ghanaians to the Tonga Hills, to an amazing village of round houses with flat roofs, all part of the home of the chief and his 17 wives and children. Nearby is a famous shrine in a cave, where many people come to ask for good things to happen in their life (marriage, children, get visas to the USA, etc) you can only go into the cave if you go topless. Lucky I'm not shy! Fascinating.

While I am typing this, I have been trying again to put up some photos, by reducing the size of them. Hurray, success at last. The pictures are-
Greeting the chief in Tamale
Inside the chief's house in Tamale
Our new home
Bolga main high street
High street in Bongo

not necessarily in this order.
I've recently been to Bongo, Tongo, Kongo and Navrongo. Still have to get to Bingo and Ningo! I wonder if there is a Pingu near here.....

Thank you for all your messages, it means a lot to me to hear from home.