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!

Where do we go…?

By Fatawu

Doctors strike Ghana

Members of the Ghana Medical Association have been on strike since 8 April.

I never imagined that the current strike in Ghana by medical doctors could have had dire consequences like this until I became a victim to this power play between the Ghanaian Government on one hand and the medical professionals on the other hand. I believe that those who wrote our labour laws did not make any mistake when they categorised certain services, including medical services, as being essential.

According the labour laws of Ghana, those who are categorised as essential are not supposed to go on strike – but should they continue to work to detriment of their conditions when all supposed avenues to addressing their grievances have proved futile and unhelpful? Your guess is as good as mine.

Personally, I am not so much concerned about who is right or wrong; I am more interested in what the innocent poor villager would have to go through under this difficult condition. As a subscriber to the National Health Insurance Scheme, a social policy meant to cushion people when they fall ill, I majestically walked into the hospital to be treated for the malaria that I have been battling for some time now. The moment I got to the hospital, I could see hundreds of destitute parents and their children lying on the ground waiting to access health care services.

I made an enquiry at the front desk as to why these helpless souls were lying unattended, only to be told that there was nobody around to attend to them. I pushed for more answers as I ran out of patience. All the front desk officer could do was to direct me to the administrator of the hospital. The administrator told me that the hospital was in that state because there wasn’t any doctor to attend to these patients – including myself – because the doctors are on strike.

At this point, I wasn’t looking at myself as a patient, because I could still go to the private hospital and access good health care services. I was so much touched by the condition of the innocent and helpless children and their parents who have no option at all. So I ask myself, so why do we have this situation in modern Ghana? Why should it get to this extent? Is there any end in sight? I don’t know…

Drumming and Dancing at the Youth Home Culture Group

By Molly

The brand new batch of volunteers for the International Service Ghana team had the delight of spending the final night of an icebreaker-filled induction week indulging in some traditional Ghanaian food, music and dance.

The evening started with some of the local cuisine. Around the table we saw numerous plates of Jollof Rice (a new personal favourite of mine), Banku (fermented corn dough) and not forgetting a variety of different local meats including goat, guinea fowl and chicken. The meal would not have been complete without, of course, an obligatory ‘lights out’ (more commonly known as a ‘blackout’)… something we have adapted to very well upon arriving in Tamale. Various torches/other light bearing concoctions were put into place and the meal carried on as normal… (as you do).

Following on from this was something we had all been very excited about – our evening of watching and participating in some local drumming and dancing.

The whole team headed over to the Youth Home Cultural group which is situated in the centre of Tamale where, just like everywhere else we have been so far, the atmosphere and the people we had the pleasure of meeting was so warm, friendly and welcoming.

Drumming and Dancing

The Youth Home Culture group

We sat and soaked in the overwhelming cultural experience we were being given, learning about the traditions and stories behind each song and dance and seeing the spectrum of different colours each persons costume entailed. It was so liberating to see the passion and feel the energy behind each routine.

DSCN1544

And then …it was time. Each and every member of the IS Ghana team took to the stage to learn a small dance routine from the group’s leader. Let’s just say that some of the team have been blessed with slightly more rhythm than others…

Shazia and Natalie of the Sandema team showing off their dancing skills

Shazia and Natalie of the Sandema team showing off their dancing skills

So, if this was our introduction to our time here in the northern region of Ghana, I think I can speak on behalf of the whole IS Ghana team when I say I am thoroughly looking forward to experiencing and learning about an incredibly traditional culture as well as being able to work closely with our project partners and to ultimately embrace every moment of the next 3 months of our Ghanaian journey. Dasiba Tamale!!

Introducing…

…Team Tamale #2!

team 2

Fatawu and Zoe have been joined by 3 new volunteers – Iyanu (who has been given the local name Chentiwuni by our colleagues), Molly (Timtooni) and Ali (Nasara).

Over the next ten weeks you’ll be hearing from all 5 of us about our project at RAINS and our experience of life in Ghana.

Meet the team.

So long, farewell… and now there’s plenty of work to do…


IMG
With the end of March came the end of Phase 1 of International Service‘s project with RAINS, and the end of Tolu, Ben and Rhogan’s time in Ghana.

The three of them have been amazing volunteers and they’ll be missed by everyone in the office.

The placement ended with a validation meeting at which we presented the results of our Impact Assessment of RAINS’s Next Generation Project, which set out to tackle child trafficking and child labour, and to address the downsides relating to kayaye (headportering) and fostering, in the Northern Region of Ghana.

IMG_5729Our report included suggestions for how projects like the Next Generation Project could be improved. It also highlighted a number of opportunities for further work in the Northern Region of Ghana. The next groups of volunteers coming to RAINS will use this analysis to build on some of the opportunities identified.

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:

 

Comic Relief relief

by Zoe

I’ve always loved Red Nose Day. When I was younger, I would stay up until the early hours watching all the amusing shows and the seeing the fundraising total reach ever more incredible heights.

But there’s a dangerous side to Red Nose Day – and this is it: for many people in the UK, the stories about a wee girl in the slums who was born with no legs, and her brother who spends every day picking through broken glass to find grains of rice that he can sell (cue heart-wrenching music) are all that they have seen of Africa.

I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m going to bang on about it again. Africa is not a country. There are 54 African states, in which over 2000 languages are spoken. There is, of course, incredible poverty in Africa. There are also gold mines. There are mud huts. There are also five star hotels.

If you choose to visit ‘Africa’, you can: climb mountains; visit the beach; see the Pyramids; taste locally made wine; go white water rafting; see elephants and giraffes; visit ancient ruins; see a soothsayer; go to the largest waterfall in the world; ride a camel in the desert; go wind-surfing; sit on a crocodile or visit the rainforest.

It’s true that every picture tells a story. But it’s also true that every picture omits to tell a different story. For example…

…these are both photographs of African children:

Ghanaian lady and childCrying Ghanaian baby

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…these are both photographs taken in African cities:

Rubbish heap GhanaCairo

 

 

 

 

 

…these are both photographs of African wildlife:

giraffe kenyaboat goat pelican Gambia

 

 

 

 

 

…and these are both African businesses:

nandosMabiley Pork Show Ghana

 

 

 

 

This Red Nose Day (Friday 15 March), please give generously. Comic Relief does amazing work, and we’ve been lucky enough to meet some of the beneficiaries during our time here.

But once you’ve given generously, try to do just one small thing to spread the word that there’s more to Africa than slums and starving children. Tell your friends about something or someone African that has inspired you. Put a positive photograph depicting somewhere or someone in Africa on Facebook or Twitter (#awesomeafrica). Help to spread the word that this continent, which accounts for 20.3% of the world’s landmass, is far more beautiful, diverse and inspirational than you might ever realise if you only watch the sob stories between Rowan Atkinson and Peter Kay’s Red Nose Day appearances.

Into the woods

by Ben

Throughout our time in Ghana we had heard people talking about and recommending we visit Mole National Park and so last week the whole of the ICS Ghana team got together to see just what all the fuss was about. Cramming into our little bus, kindly lent to us (driver included) by our host charity, we set off on a 200km journey down ‘Death Road’ to see Ghana’s premier tourist attraction: elephants.

The Mole Motel and its swimming pool and restaurant are pretty nice, all the rooms have air-conditioning and there’s western food on the menu. The restaurant and swimming pool overlook a watering hole used regularly by the elephants and you often see baboons and warthogs poking their noses around. You can sit and enjoy your breakfast,watch the elephants bathing in the water and have a cheeky dip in the pool yourself before nipping back to your air-conditioned room and heading out on your safari. Sounds great doesn’t it? Not to us. Being the first ICS team in Ghana has empowered us with feeling of being intrepid explorers – we’re path finders, we’re trend setters, we’re reckless and we’re out of control . Letting our guinea pig instincts take over, we turned our nose up at the luxury on offer and we opted to stay in Mole’s treehouse. Air-conditioning is for the weak. Real adventurers sleep under the stars.

Mole treehouse Mole National Park treehouse

Real adventurers sleep under the stars…

To be honest we had no idea what we were signing up for. We’d found out about the treehouse through word of mouth. There’s no website for Mole and our attempts to find out about the treehouse online resulted in some nondescript blogs and a picture of a staircase. When phoning Mole, the whole arrangement for booking it seemed so casual that we weren’t even entirely confident that we wouldn’t turn up and find another group claiming they’d also booked it. Like Robert Scott and Sir Ranulph Fiennes before us, we pushed on in the face of doubt and uncertainty.

Mole treehouse maximum 10 people

10, 12… what’s the difference?

What we found out in the jungle was a treehouse befitting my childish aspirations, although it explicitly said it held only 10 people. According to the person on the phone, though, they’ve had up to 19 in it before, so we persevered; surely our band of 12 (including the guide who stayed overnight with us) would not be the straw that breaks the camel’s back? Being the organised group that we are, we had brought foam to sleep on, so we didn’t need to take up the offer of ground mats – and we threw caution to the wind and opted against putting up mosquito nets, which we’d brought with us but were also available to hire.

Mole treehouse sleeping platform

Plenty of room for everyone!

The guide told us that if we were quiet would be able to hear baboons, hyenas and all manner of creatures in the night; All I could hear was one of our team leaders snoring and incessant laughter, which no doubt scared away anything in ear shot. The treehouse itself has a raised central ‘table’ which can double up as a sleeping platform, and benches around the outside that you can sit or sleep on whilst watching the animals go about their business. The whole experience is certainly one none of us will forget. At points it was about as uncomfortable as you can imagine, even if some of our group were adamant the wooden bench they slept on was the African equivalent of memory foam. However, that didn’t take anything away from the experience – in fact it’s hard to suggest it didn’t heighten it. The shared experience of sleeping under the stars and waking up in the jungle is one none of us is likely to repeat again and while some of our friends stayed in the hotel and enjoyed it, they won’t be writing a blog post about it any time soon!

Mole National Park treehouse

Fresh-faced after a night in the treehouse

Despite it all we’d thoroughly recommend it. You can’t put a price on the experience or the laughter that we shared; there are too many private jokes to even list from that night and its antics. In the morning we set off from the treehouse on a walking safari where we stared death in the face as an elephant confronted us and then attacked our guide – but that’s another story for another time…

PS. The treehouse costs 30 cedi per person per night, and sleeping mats or mosquito nets can be hired for 3 cedi each. It took us a while to track down the telephone number for the Mole treehouse… send us a message if you would like it!