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.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Arrival in Bolga

It is exactly 2 weeks since I left home, and here I am now in an internet cafe in Bolgatanga in the Upper East Region of Ghana! So far from home and in such a different culture
To summarise - we were a group of 30 volunteers all arriving at the same time. There are about 80 VSO volunteers total in Ghana. the others come from the UK, Canada, Ireland, Holland, Australia, Kenya and the Philipines. We spent 10 days together in a very comfortable hotel (swimming pool, air conditioning, conference rooms etc) in Accra, for in-country training which covered the history, culture, food, customs, VSO's role in development etc, and was a chance to form a support network for all us volnteers. I'm starting to learn the local language for the Bolga region, which is Gurene. I haven't got much further than basic greetings, but it will come.
Accra was hot, steamy, noisy, traffic fumes etc, but I am constantly impressed by the overwhelming friendliness of everyone I meet, and the fact that English is the common language makes all communication so easy - I wonder how the volunteers in Mongolia and Cambodia are getting on!
20 of the group left Accra together on Thursday morning, for a 17 hour drive to Tamale, then the next day on up to Bolga, arriving at midday. We were travelling in an American style school bus with child-size seats, and many of the roads in Ghana are still under construction, so needless we were really pleased to get to our destination!
Bolga is wonderful! It is the regional capital of the Upper East region, so it has all types of facilities and services (Earl grey tea, but marmite was only available in Accra), but it has a small-town feel, very relaxed, tranquil and a real contrast to Accra. VSO have a regional office here, so we will have lots of support. I am lving in a house about 3 miles out of Bolga, sharing with Hilary who I met on motorcylcle training, and 2 Australian women, Katie and Lyndal, and an assortment of visitors such as the mouse, toads, gheckos, and plenty of flying things. The house is new, and huge! We've got a new fridge freezer, gas burner, 3 showers anbd toilets, a veranda, a decent sized enclosed garden and our own night watchman. It is much nicer than I ever imagined. We've bought basic kitchen equipment so It's my turn to cook tonight, and we just need to get a bit more furniture.
I know that there has been alot in the UK media about the floods in the Upper East Region. It has been a real disaster for some people, but the Bolga area has not been affected too badly. There are muddy puddles (perfect for mosquito breeding) and the area is really green and fertile looking, at the moment. I think we are at the end of the rainy season, soon to be followed by the dry, windy season. It's pretty hot already, but will get hotter!
It's really hard to know at this stage how my work will be- I will be introduced to people next week, and will then be working from home. I think it will be quite hard at first, but all types of development work start slowly and then grow. Time will tell.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Count Down - 4 days to go

Departure date is approaching fast. I leave Bristol on Saturday, to have one last night with my family before going to Heathrow on Sunday where I expect to meet up with a whole group of other volunteers also going out to Ghana.
The last few weeks have been hectic. I left work last Friday, after handing over all my work to my replacement, Clair. A meal out with colleagues and a party at home with friends - I'm being given a really warm send off. All I have to do this week is pack, (and re-pack), sort out the garden and allotment, get my hair cut and coloured (purple or pink?), paint my toe nails and then I'm ready.
I heard last night that I will be in a large 4 bedroom house, sharing with 2 other VSO volunteers, in Bolga. No info about furniture ..... We start with 10 days in Accra, for in-country orientation, culture, language etc, before going to our placements.
All very exciting

Friday, 24 August 2007

Count Down - 3 weeks to go

After counting the months to my departure, I'm now counting the weeks, and getting really excited.
I've just returned from my final pre-departure VSO training session, held at Harborne Hall in Birmingham.
This is the training I've had so far-
4 days 0f 'Preparing to volunteer' + Introduction to Development, back in April
3 days of motor cycle training
5 days of 'Skills for Working in Development' (nicknamed SKWID)
2 days of 'Organisation Development'
The training sessions are really thorough and intensive, so I'm feeling pretty saturated with it all and looking forward to putting it all into practice. I am particularly pleased because I met 3 guys who are also going to Ghana as volunteers, Hugh, Richard and Marco, who I will next meet at Heathrow on Sept 16.

So what am I going for????
My post is called 'Community Advocacy Support Officer', with the aim of 'improving community involvement in education'. It means helping to set up Parent-Teacher Associations, and school management committees, and encouraging local organisations to become involved in the schools. I'm going to be based in Bolgatanga, the regional capital of the Upper East Region. I don't know where my office will be,or where I will be living.
More than this, I don't know, but will soon find out. Watch this space!!!!

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Learning new skills

Sharing Skills and Changing Lives, I'm getting ready for both.It's really important to be prepared before departure, so I've been on motorbike training, met Hilary, who is also going to Bolgatanga, and we've both bought the jackets!

New home

This is what my new home might look like

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Preparing to go

Still learning how to blog! And making mistakes as I keep losing bits

First blog attempt

WELCOME to 'Sarah in Ghana'.

Please join me on my adventures, and tell me what you think, so that I don't feel so far from home.
No. I know I haven't left yet, but it's all about being prepared, and I would rather fiddle about with blogging in the comfort of my own home than in a hot and sweaty cyber cafe where I feel completely confused.
Learning new skills is about learning to blog!