Keeping mum

baby in the office Ghana

“What do you mean I’m a distraction?”

If there’s one thing that you can’t avoid in Ghana, it’s contact with babies. Mothers think nothing of putting their baby on your lap on the bus if they have a bag or box on their own, and on venturing out for breakfast or lunch it is not at all unusual to find that you are expected to hold the child of the person that you have asked to make it. Even the average person walking down the street may find that they are unexpectedly handed a baby out of the window of a trotro (local bus).

baby in the office Ghana

“I’m just minding my own business while mum works…”

But the place in Ghana where I found the presence of babies most surprising was indubitably the office. There are 15 full time employees and 3 full time babies at RAINS. We share our office with 8-month-old Wunnam, who is possibly the closest I have ever come to a Disney character in real life (my trip to EuroDisney excepted). He is a bundle of cuteness – big eyes, big smile, big personality.But for somebody who is used to working in a UK office, it can come as quite a surprise to be given a baby when his mother is going to a meeting, to have to go and pick him up when he wakes up when his mum is not around, or to find him charging up to your desk in his plastic car, which is all the while playing a high-pitched version of ‘Old MacDonald.’

baby in the office Ghana

“It’s not my fault if everyone wants to play with me…”

The phenomenon of babies in the office is an upshot of the fact that in Ghana, the minimum maternity leave to which employees are entitled is only 12 weeks (in addition to annual leave accrued). Given that at this stage of a child’s development, nearly all mothers will still be breastfeeding, it is in most cases necessary for them to bring the baby to the office with them. Nursing mothers are entitled to interrupt their work for an hour during working hours to breastfeed their babies. This time is treated as part of their working hours and paid accordingly.

baby in the office Ghana

“…although it is good fun…”

It would be interesting to assess the impact of Ghana’s maternity leave entitlements with those of the UK, where eligible employees can take up to 52 weeks of maternity leave, and receive statutory maternity pay for up to 39 weeks. Does a shorter period of maternity leave lead to greater productivity in the office because the mother is away from her desk for less time, or lower productivity because she and all the colleagues around her are distracted by the baby? Are mothers more likely to return from a longer period of maternity leave, by which point they may find it harder to readjust to life in the office, or a shorter period, when they may still be adjusting to life as a mother and embarrassed about breastfeeding in front of their colleagues?

Certainly, the evidence suggests that longer paid maternity leave is associated with a wide range of benefits for mothers and their babies. Returning to work within the first 12 weeks of a baby’s life is associated with lower cognitive development scores for the baby and a greater number of depressive symptoms for the mother, while the availability of one year’s paid maternity leave is associated with a 20% decline in post-neo-natal deaths and a 15% decrease in fatalities occuring before the child reaches five years old.

Given that infant mortality rates remain high in Ghana, perhaps there is a need to extend the length of statutory maternity leave in the country.

Lights, camera…

Lights, camera...

The team interviewing a past board member of RAINS

Well, it’s week 7 which means that we are now halfway through our International Citizen Service project in Ghana

We’re now in the fieldwork phase of our project, which involves:

  • Filming beneficiaries of past projects implemented by RAINS, our partner organisation, for a documentary to commemorate their 20th anniversary.
  • Holding focus groups on the subject of child labour, child trafficking, and child migration, in a variety of communities, with a view to writing a briefing note on some of the key trends and issues in the Northern and Upper East regions of Ghana.

There’s an awful lot still to do and only 6 weeks left… wish us luck!

Rains at RAINS

RAINS Tamale Ghana

Rains at RAINS

by Zoe

As someone who has spent most of my life in draich, damp, dour old Britain, one of the great attractions of Ghana was the weather. The sun! The heat! Bliss, I thought… But I’ll be honest, I’m not made to withstand daily temperatures of 40 degrees plus. So when it rained for the first time (and the temperatures dropped a little), I did a little dance of joy in the rain. Before sheltering inside when our security gate blew down.

When it rains here in Tamale, it POURS. It wasn’t just our security gate that blew down. Hundreds of houses were damaged or destroyed, and one man died the first time it rained.

But water is life in the local communities. And agriculture accounts for 90% of household incomes in Northern Ghana, so even though it only rains for around four months per year in this region, these rains are crucial to people’s livelihoods.

And what’s astonishing is how quickly the landscape changes with a little bit of rain. The first team would barely recognise the area around our house, which has transformed in just a few weeks from a dustbowl into lush green fields that our neighbours are now preparing for farming.

Dry season Tamale Ghana

Before the rain

Rainy season Tamale Ghana

After the rain

Our Visit To The Sang Community

By Iyanu

Women in Sang, Magazia, CFTC and RAINS in Sang, Ghana

CFTC and RAINS staff with the women of Sang

As part of our voluntary experience in Tamale we are fortunate enough to go out and observe firsthand the work that RAINS and its partner organisations are doing in different communities. So, a few days ago we were invited to accompany Regional Advisory Information Network Systems (RAINS) staff and a partner organisation, Canadian Feed The Children (CFTC), to the Sang community in the Mion district. It was a welcome treat to visit Sang on our second day in the office. During our journey we noted the countless green trees that lined the major roads and we also found that driving over certain large and unexpected potholes drew out amused, nervous and relieved laughter from us all, but not necessarily in that order.

Arriving at Sang we were greeted with song and dance which was really nice, and after speaking to one of the representatives of the Chief there were discussions into what work had been done in the past by RAINS and CTFC and if there were any pressing issues that needed to be discussed for the future.

Tamale, Sang community visit

Being shown recently harvested crop produce

The interventions carried out by RAINS and CFTC over the past 6 – 7 years have been with aims to enhance quality education for children, developing a food security resource programme and to improve livelihoods. The community also thanked RAINS & CFTC for all the work that had been done so far. The women were keen to show us some of the products yielded from their own farming such as okro and we were given a tour of the local primary school, the Sang Al-Zakaria Islamic School.

Sang Al-Zakaria Islamic School board, Sang community school, primary school in Ghana

Primary school classroom in the Al-Zakaria Islamic School in Sang

We found out during the trip that a major concern for the people of the Sang community was water availability, there’s not enough water in the existing bore holes that water is being pumped from. The alternative of using local dams may not be the best as there won’t be enough water available for everyone with the lack of rainfall, high humidity and sanitation concerns. The next steps for RAINS and CTFC will be to develop alternative methods of  access to clean water and possible partnership with water NGOs.

What we took away from the visit were the following,

  • A very warm reception and the people of Sang are very welcoming (children especially were excited to see new faces)
  • Visibility of results in agriculture and education which the work by RAINS and CFTC has produced
  •  Development work is a gradual process and there are always opportunities to do more
  • Access to enough clean water is important to the community
  • Speed bumps were everywhere – which was good as there are quite a lot of goats wandering around
  • Find out more about the work being done in Sang and what can be done to help

We are looking forward to learning more about the work RAINS is doing in Ghana, as well as visiting more places and meeting new people!

The musings of an African volunteering in Africa

by Tolu

Exercises in Africa

Tolu takes an impromptu lesson in Daboya no.2

Me: I’m going abroad to volunteer for a couple of months
Other: That sounds interesting, where are you going?
Me: Ghana
PAUSE
Other: Oh…..that’s cool

The conversation with a lot of people when I told them I was going to volunteer in Ghana usually went along those lines. Some would go on to question why I would choose to go to Ghana at all. Now this had nothing to do with the alleged rivalry that exists between Ghanaians and Nigerians (as I am Nigerian). For some it had to do with the preposterous idea that I would choose to volunteer in a country so close to home. If I got a paid job in Ghana, now that would be a different story – but volunteer?! If I wanted to volunteer, why not choose a more exciting option like Bolivia or Palestine? After all, Ghana is less than a day’s drive from home if I ever needed to visit.

This reaction is not unique to just me on the team I’m sure. Ghana being a safe, stable and relatively silent country in the media doesn’t make it a particularly exciting place to tell people you plan to volunteer. Take Burkina Faso for example; the very fact that a lot of people have no clue such a country exists makes it exciting.Couple this with the fact that it is facing instability due to problems unfolding in neighbouring Mali and to top it off, they speak French! I don’t know why, but the fact that their official language is the language of love makes it even more exciting than English which is the official language of Ghana. Is English even the language of anything?

However, it was not these reasons that made me seriously consider the choice to volunteer in Ghana; it was something entirely different.  It was the fact that I was an African going to volunteer in Africa. It was the fear that because I look and speak like Ghanaians, I would be overlooked at the expense of my white colleagues. I have justifications for this fear, as it will not come as a shock that people tend to look at others of a different colour and culture with a sort of curiosity and wonder. This not only translates to shouts of ‘white person’ as white people walk the streets but also large crowds flocking to them in the belief that they carry the answers and help they need. While this will not happen in every African country, I was haunted by the experience of my friend who volunteered in a Central African country. She told of her opinions being disregarded and those of her white colleagues celebrated despite them essentially repeating hers. The glorification of her white colleagues’ opinions over hers is not her colleagues’ fault but has to do with redefining the mentality of these Africans not only to see past colour but to not be essentially racist to their own race.  But that is a topic for another blog post.

It was stories like this that made me apprehensive about volunteering in Ghana. Being the only African on my team from the UK meant not being able to talk to anyone about it. Therefore I prepared myself that I would have to work harder to prove myself and show that I was competent of providing some valid and intelligent ideas. However, my time in Ghana has completely quenched my fear. It’s been the opposite experience as I feel that being African has allowed me to easily interact with the Ghanaians I meet both at work and outside it. I feel more confident in having conversations as I am familiar with some of their banter. Taking a keen interest in Ghanaian politics has also helped. Also, being mistaken for a Ghanaian works as an advantage, as it provides a conversation starter when I explain that I’m actually Nigerian. And while I still get disregarded in some situations, I am grateful that this has never happened at work. This has gone a long way to allay my insecurity issues and is a small testament to the development of Ghana as a great country.

So almost 3 months into my time in Ghana, my advice to any Africans looking to volunteer in Africa is to go for it! There may be various blows to the ego along the way but my experience has taught me that you see it as a life lesson and move on. While it is a positive thing that people from different continents are helping in the African development effort, there is the need for more Africans to tell and redefine the African story.

Time flies…

Validation meeting

Today we had a Validation Meeting at which we presented the results of our project report to 20 stakeholders including community members, RAINS and International Service staff.

Tomorrow, it’s our last day in the office before flying down to Accra next week.

This has been a VERY short 11 weeks… we seem to have lost track of time.

(Something that we must have caught from the Ghanaians we met, as most of them didn’t turn up until 1 1/2 hours after our meeting was supposed to start.)

Awesome Africa

Happy Red Nose Day!

I hope that all of you watching in the UK enjoy the entertainment and dig deep for those who most need help in the UK and in Africa.

But like I said in my previous post, there’s SO much more to Africa than you can see in charity appeals like Red Nose Day. So today, upload a picture of Africa onto facebook or twitter (#awesomeafrica) and show your friends what an amazing and diverse continent it really is. Here are a few of the pics we’ve received already: