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.

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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!

Clap-clap!

by Zoe

Walk through any residential street in Tamale (or indeed any other settlement in Ghana) and you are bound to hear a clap-clap! clap-clap! sound, from girls playing what must be the most popular playground game in Ghana…

It’s always played by two girls; as far as we can understand, one girl wins if you both kick out the same foot as each other, while the other one wins if you kick out opposite feet.

The game is exceptional training in co-ordination and timing. Forget patting your head and rubbing your belly; try clapping, jumping and kicking in time with these girls…. it’s nigh-on impossible.

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

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…

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.