A Transition

Hi everyone!

One of the biggest lessons I learned over the past 6 months is that assigning arbitrary timelines to unpredictable experiences is unnecessary. It is human nature, I understand that. But when we left the States in September, we were under the impression that we would be in Ghana for several years. Half a year later, I find myself writing this blog post in snowy Wisconsin. And I’m overjoyed.

Less than a month ago, Beau and I realized that we were at a point in our Pilot Program where we could transition to a grassroots SEEDS Together staff leading all Ghanaian operations. We originally thought it would take much longer to arrive at this point in our program, but here we are, so what is stopping us from moving forward? What initiated this decision was our realization that the ideal place to properly analyze our past 6 months of work was not in Ghana, or in Africa at all. Nothing can substitute our time in Ghana; putting our program to the test and figuring out what works and what absolutely didn’t was an invaluable experience. For that I will always be grateful. However, in order for SEEDS Together to thrive in the future, we need to expand our network in the development community, tapping into the knowledge base of organizations and people who have made great strides towards achieving best practice in microfinance and development.

Beau and I will move to Washington DC to become a part of the development community that is so prominent in our country’s capitol. From DC we will be able to continue SEEDS Together: overseeing Ghanaian operations and laying the foundation for future expansion. We are extremely excited and eager to gain knowledge to complement our experience in Ghana to better the future of our organization.

SEEDS Together in Ghana is in the best possible hands. I trust Robert and am completely confident that he will apply his passion and perseverance to continue to expand and improve the work we are doing in Kpedze-Todze, Abutia-Agodeke, and beyond. SEEDS Together has the best chance to empower communities in Ghana under Robert’s care, and I cannot wait to see this relationship grow.

We cannot predict what the future holds, and I won’t even waste my time or yours with a guess, but we are moving forward with hope, resilience, and a commitment to make SEEDS Together better each and every day. Thank you a million times over for the support and love you have shown us over the past 6 months!

Love,

Lissy

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Observers are Worried

A montage of some typically bad and particularly awesome signs in Ghana…

It’s not a good sign if that is a true representation of the goat they sell….

A few weeks into our time in Ho, once my cheese cravings were really setting in, I convinced Beau to take me here with phrases like “but maybe it really is good!” and  “we should at least try it so we know!” Nope. Just awful.

We pass this little ditty on our drive in to Ho.

Quite the variety available in Cape Coast.

We have also witnessed pig chunks being tossed into taxi trunks.

This one particularly creeped out Sue. There is a similar sign with an even larger belly elsewhere in Ho.

But are observers worried because of the kenkey or the state of the tro-tros driving by?

I would shop there just for the gossip.

Please neither!

Ho branch.

There are buildings like this all over Ghana, particularly featuring telecom companies like Glo, Tigo, MTN, Vodafone, etc…but also instant noodles.

Classic Babes does have a certain ring to it.

Relatively unimpressive as far as sleep-ability in odd places goes.

Sir Beau and Madam Lissy

Now that we are teaching, we are no longer simply Beau and Lissy, or Bob and Lucy, if you’d rather. All of a sudden we’re adults with proper titles, being asked questions like “Madam Lissy, may I please go to the bathroom?” Each time this question is asked it takes me a few seconds to recover before granting the necessary permission.

The younger boys who I teach 5 times each week are so enthusiastic and fun to work with. If I allow them to ask as many questions as they want we would never get through a lesson. After reflecting back on my french classes I realized that I have the opportunity to center the class around what I found to be most helpful in learning a foreign language: games! The boys LOVE playing the flyswatter game, although there is no flyswatter available so they just slap the board with their hands.

Another personal favorite is asking a question to a classmate while throwing a ball to him, and then he has to answer the question and repeat the process to another classmate. They get to throw things in the classroom. Of course they love it. BUT, since I remembered this game 2 minutes before class started and couldn’t locate a ball, we play with a roll of toilet paper. The verdict? Equally as fun, if not more so.

There are 3 classes of older boys that I teach once a week, with the goal of the class purely conversational. Less grammar, more useful phrases and vocabulary. Today’s topic is “French on the Pitch,” and includes useful football vocabulary and commands. Hopefully they will be able to communicate better with newcomers from francophone countries! These boys are wonderful, and I leave each class with a gut ache from laughing too hard. Their personalities ensure that the class is inevitably interesting, no matter how drab the topic could be.

It has been so much fun over the past 4 weeks to get to know the boys and figure out how to teach a class. I’m the first french teacher, and with that responsibility comes the added bonus of making my own rules, as long as they don’t sacrifice learning. The experience has forced me to conjure up the french knowledge dwelling in the fuzzy parts of my brain, which isn’t a bad thing either!

“One day our society will be defined not by what we create, but by what we refuse to destroy.” -John Sawhill

Something has been bothering me since we arrived in Ghana nearly 5 months ago. It bothers me on our walks to the market, on our canoe ride commute to Right to Dream, on our trips to Todze, and everywhere in between. There is no easy solution for it, that’s for sure, but that doesn’t mean it won’t bother me.

The problem is TRASH. Everywhere. Relatively speaking, especially compared to countries like India or China, Ghana has a normal amount of garbage floating in its rivers and and fermenting in its farmland – this I understand. However, I can’t help from cringing every time someone finishes a sachet of water and promptly drops it in the river.

If Ghana is developing and gaining access to more resources, why aren’t proper measures being taken to ensure the long-term health of the land and its people?

I have several potential reasons why this is, but I can’t confirm or deny their validity with anything other than my opinions and observations. First of all, it seems like Ghanaians (as an entire country) are still somewhat short-sighted in their views of the future. They have not witnessed the effects of pollution on the environment and health to the extent other countries have, which could lead the masses not to believe environmentally-friendly propaganda.

Next, and most obviously, is the lack of trash and recycling options for Ghanaians. Over the course of our 4 months living in Ho, I think I counted 5 public trash bins. So where are people supposed to put their trash? With an emphasis on water sachets and items people consume on the go, it is entirely impractical to not have public trash containers in a regional capital like Ho.

Since Ghana is still developing, there are issues faced at the governmental and individual level which downplay the importance of the environment. If people don’t have access to safe water, it will be hard for them to find time to campaign about the lack of public waste facilities in their town. If a school with 5 classrooms only can hire 3 teachers, leaving children with an education that is lacking,why would they care about the long-term hazards of burning trash? Of course, there are exceptions to every generalization, and I have met several environmentally-conscious Ghanaians, but they are the minority compared to the concerns of the masses.

Companies have emerged that will pay a couple cents for a kilo of water sachets, or will be hired by communities or neighborhoods to clean up that area’s trash, but that is simply not enough. There needs to be a sense of responsibility for one’s own trash, and someone must take action about the “‘public trash,” so to speak.

The last point that completely infuriates me is that if trash is collected in any way, it is burned and then left to smolder. Not only are Ghanaians handling their trash this way, but according to few sources apparently other countries are shipping trash to Ghana to dispose of it in a similar manner. I would have to do some thorough research to potentially come up with data backing that rumor one way or another, but the fact that it’s a rumor means something may not be lining up.

So while trying to hash this out in the form of a blog post, I think my conclusion is no conclusion at all, but a series of questions.

What will it take for Ghanaians to take personal responsibility for their waste?

How long will it be before trash cans are available in regional capitals, let alone smaller cities?

Is trash the government’s responsibility? Each individual’s responsibility?

Does environmentally-conscious behavior only occur once a country reaches a certain stage of development?

 

(Thanks to my environmentally-savvy soulmate, miss Katie O, for the overwhelmingly truthful quote)

Right to Dream

Wait, it’s January 20th already?

2012 has flown by so far, especially since last Monday, when we began our internship at Right to Dream (www.righttodream.com). We committed to Right to Dream over a year ago, before we even came up with the idea for SEEDS Together, so now we are trying to effectively juggle both. Our internship allows us to participate in and become familiar with all aspects of the academy, namely education and development.

Our participation in education could be an internship in itself, since Beau and I are both teaching multiple classes every day. I am teaching French: every day I have one class of 10-11year olds and one class of 11-12 year olds, and then once a week I have one class of 13-14s, one class of 15-16s, and one class of 17-18s. Classes aren’t defined by age, since each boy arrived at the academy coming from a different educational background: some boys had little to no former schooling while some attended well-established primary schools in their hometowns, so the age categories I gave are approximate.

Beau is teaching Science and Math, or Maths, as the British call it. He teaches Math and Science to the 11-12 year olds every day and Math to the 13-14s every day. Since neither of us have taught before other than tutoring, this is proving to be quite a task. It is SO much fun and the boys are just awesome. They are eager to learn and enthusiastic about their education.

While teaching alone would keep us busy, we are also helping with development projects. They are less defined and more ongoing, so there’s less to elaborate on at the moment. Beau is helping with their website, I’m doing research for the future girls academy, and we’re doing other projects as they come up.

An added bonus is that we are tutoring two paralympians, Raphael and Anita, who are hoping to participate in the London 2012 games. Right to Dream supports aspiring paralympians from Ghana, helping them train as well as improve their literacy and English fluency. They are such an inspiration to the boys – they could be discriminated against in traditional communities, but here they are overcoming their disability by becoming powerful athletes. Their presence at the academy is so valuable.

The staff is young, mainly British, and incredibly welcoming. There wasn’t that awkward period of feeling like “the new guy,” and it is clear that everyone has the same determination to see each boy leave the academy equipped with the education, football skills, and strength of character that will enable him to succeed.

Time to go grade quizzes. Au revoir!

The Ocean

Perhaps my favorite memory from our time at Meet Me There was helping Sefa and Edem swim in the ocean. We started by swimming around in the lagoon that lies between MMT and the ocean itself, and the girls became comfortable and less squirmy about being in the water. At their request, I swam across the lagoon with them gripped onto my shoulders, the two of them floating alongside me and giggling the whole time (probably at how out of breath and silly I looked).

When we reached the sand they ran ahead, eager to take their first step in the ocean. Sepha’s comment: “it’s so big.” Once Robert’s canoe docked, he ran into the waves as the girls watched from the sand, anxious now that the ocean was actually theirs for the frolicking. All it took was some coaxing from Robert and “Aunty Lissy”  and they were in! Sepha’s comment: “it’s so salty.”

It was so much fun getting to be a part of their ocean experience! Hopefully pictures do a better job of capturing the moment than I have. Thanks to Beau for taking on the role of photographer to document the afternoon!

On the night before Christmas…..

We saw a 6′ leatherback turtle lay her eggs on the beach and then shimmy her way back out to sea. Unbelievable.

Alex, Lissy and I were hanging out at Meet Me There, having one of our many celebratory Castle Milk Stouts (Alex preferred Fanta – don’t worry mom), and at about 930pm one of the MMT staffers got an excited phone call and alerted the other staff, a few other VIP guests, and us – there was a mother leatherback turtle in the neighboring village that was mid-egg-laying. All 10? 11? 12? of us crammed into MMT’s pickup truck, drove to the next community, hopped out of the car and raced hurriedly down to the beach.

We made our way towards a group of about 30 Ghanaians huddled together and manuevered ourselves to be able to see this:

Amazing. She was enormous – at least 6′ long, at least 4′ wide and I can’t guess how much she weighed. Leatherback turtles are endangered, and there are several NGOs who work to protect them along the coast by MMT (MMT actually employs several local people to patrol the shoreline each night and look out for turtles laying eggs). Apparently, it’s not uncommon for a local person to find one of the turtles ashore and try to capture/kill it. While frustrating, it’s understandable – when you have to farm/fish every single day to just feed your family, 800lbs of turtle meat might be too tempting to resist.

So, we hung around the turtle for about an hour as she sent huge flipper-full after huge flipper-full of sand behind her to cover the eggs she just finished laying. To her dismay (but for her benefit) the MMT staffers feverishly dug up 35+ of her eggs to rebury at a hidden location elsewhere along the coast. If they left the eggs, local people would have waited for the MMT staff to leave before digging them up and eating them.

On the whole, it was an unbeleivable experience. It was surreal – she was so huge and powerful and looked so ancient. Like a dinosaur. It seemed like a really well done robotic turtle at Disney World or Universal. She took her time covering up the (previous home of the) eggs before crawling in a circle 3-4 times and then heading for the water.

 

Beau