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!!