Killer Kenkey

By Ali

Challenge 3

Kenkey is a staple dish of West Africa served with a soup, stew, or sauce. Two days ago, brave souls of the RAINS office were given the challenge to be the first to finish two servings of Kenkey. Although I was no match to the Champion who ate it all in less than three minutes, I still managed to finish one serving in 10 minutes, and that was the second Kenkey I ever had!

Kenkey

What were the chances I’d live to tell the tale?
SAM_1149

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.

What happens if you give a Ghanaian child your camera

by Zoe

As team leader, one of the key skills that I need to use on a day to day basis is delegation. And frankly, I think I’m a pro.

Last week, for example, we were in a village in rural Northern Ghana doing our fieldwork. So I delegated the interviewing to the other team members. Then I delegated photography to a small Ghanaian child who had never used a camera before, and started a slapsies tournament.

Here’s what happens if you give a small Ghanaian child  your camera:

Why educate a girl?

The Comic Relief-funded project that we’re doing an impact assessment on here at RAINS has a huge emphasis on girl child education.

In Northern Ghana, where we live, poverty excludes many girls from education. There are a lot of organisations like RAINS and Camfed that focus on increasing school attendance by girls, and here’s an amazing infographic from US AID which shows why they bother:

US Aid Education Women girls Infographic statistics

3 fish that died

Kenkey with fish, Tamale, Ghana This fish died, dried and then hung around (for probably a bit too long to be hygienic) in a glass cabinet, before being served with our favourite lunchtime staple, kenkey (made of fermented cornmeal).
Groundnut soup banku and fish, Tamale, Ghana This fish unfortunately drowned in my groundnut soup. And was served with banku (which is made with a mixture of fermented corn dough and cassava dough).
Boiled rice, stew, fish, Tamale, Ghana I’m not sure how this fish died, but he wasn’t happy about it.
(Served with plain rice and stew).

Half time, free time

by Ben

The second half of a journey always seems to go faster than the first, doesn’t it? When you meet that milestone, you find the steady incline you were on turns quickly and dramatically into a slippery slope to the end, leaving you wondering where time went. Sometimes the halfway point on a long journey is a moment to celebrate. You can sit back and relax, safe in the knowledge that the milestone is behind you and you’re edging ever closer to your destination. In our case we are incredibly aware of the limited time we have left on our project and in the country, so we are now busy planning how best to maximise our remaining 6 weeks.

IMG_4926On the project front, we’ve nearly completed one set of field trips to the Savelugu district which is just north of Tamale. We’ve visited three communities and spoken to some amazing individuals who have been kind enough to give us their time and share their experiences. The open and friendly nature of these communities is in stark contrast to the introverted nature of city life that I am used to in the UK. It’s been fantastic to listen and learn from what they have to say, and what is most humbling is the gregarious nature of the people. They’re happy to give you their time and share what they have with you in the hope that it will allow our charity to come back and benefit not just them, but their community as a whole. 

Ben does his best Bear Grylls impression

Ben does his best Bear Grylls impression

As far as our personal adventures go, we are quite fortunate to be in a more central part of Ghana than some of the other volunteer groups, which gives us easier access to the country. Last weekend, we decided to travel some 200km south to the Brong Ahafo region to find the Kintampo waterfalls. Kintampo has 3 waterfalls and the largest is one of the highest in Ghana; a towering 25 metres. The area itself, although a tourist site, is secluded and hidden by deep forest and vegetation. Inspired by the Bear Grylls boxset I brought with me, we proceeded to climb over and around the smaller waterfalls like the intrepid explorers that we clearly were in another life. That was until Rhogan lost a flip-flop in the water; it disappeared down into the rocks and crevices and never resurfaced.After a quiet vigil we moved onto the main waterfall where you can go swimming in the pool at the bottom. You could really feel the power of the water as you sat underneath it, it was a fantastic experience and one we would definitely recommend – just be sure to arrive early because once the crowds turn up, the experience is very, very different.

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Next weekend all the volunteers will be meeting again in Tamale before we head to Mole National Park, one of the main tourist sites in Ghana. There we hope to see elephants, baboons, monkeys and all manner of creatures all the while sleeping under the stars (and mosquito nets) in a tree house that overlooks a watering hole frequented by elephants. Needless to say we’re very excited and hope to have many more experiences in our remaining 6 weeks with so much of Ghana yet to be seen.

Plastic fantastic?

by Zoe

It’s fair to say that some of my favourite things in life have been plastic, starting at the age of two with Baby Talk, a doll which did indeed talk, coming out with phrases such as “I like to be picked up,” “turn me over” and “more, more!” I don’t know what my parents were thinking, but I loved her. Then there was my Gameboy at the age of 8, the red plastic belt I adored as a teenager… the list goes on.

So I should feel at home here in Tamale, because if there’s one thing you can’t avoid here, it’s plastic.

Go to any restaurant. Take a seat. It’s probably plastic. Order your meal, and the plate it comes on will most likely be plastic. Want some water with that? It’ll be in a plastic sachet. A takeaway? Yep, you got it, you’ll be given the meal wrapped in two layers of plastic bag.

Don’t get me wrong, I can see the appeal (apart from having no clue where to start when handed a bag full of takeaway coffee or stew). Plastic is cheap and cheerful and difficult to break. But here’s where the problem lies: although there have been appeals to make biodegradable additives in plastics mandatory, many of the plastic items produced in Ghana are not recyclable.

But even if they were, there are no recycling facilities available. There aren’t even waste facilities. You can walk miles in Tamale without finding a single rubbish bin, which means that it’s pretty standard practice to chuck rubbish onto the street, into the gutter, or just into a nearby field. 1,980 tonnes of plastic waste are produced every day in Ghana, 70% of which ends up in drains or open spaces. Add the harmattan winds to the mix, and suddenly, rubbish is EVERYWHERE.

plastic waste chicken rubbish plastic bags Ghana Africa

Which came first, the chicken or the bag?

But there are signs that times are changing. In October, the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology launched a pilot recycling project that will be rolled out in the ministries and in time extended to schools, universities and households. The following month, the same ministry launched the Plastic Waste Management Awareness Creation and Public Education Programme (rolls off the tongue…), which sets out to educate the public and incentivise them to recycle and find alternatives for plastic use.  According to the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), GHS1,200,000 (around £400,000) per month, as well as thousands of jobs, could be generated in Ghana from the sale of plastics for recycling.

And in the meantime, on a smaller scale, schemes like RECNOWA’s Handmade Plastic Recycling Initiative are already turning plastic waste into fashion products like laptop bags and wallets.

Baby Talk would only have one response to initiatives like these: ‘more, more!’

Bingo!

To keep us entertained on our next journey, Ben has made us ‘bus bingo’ – including just a few of the sights that we have seen on our travels thus far.

bus bingo Ghana

Busy trotro bus Ghana

2:1 ratio of people to seats

Travel in Ghana baby

Baby exiting bus via window

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you think we’ve omitted anything, leave your suggestions in a comment!

Is global inequality inevitable?

by Ben

Ghanaian Cedis GHSOxfam recently claimed that the top 100 richest people in the world earned enough last year to end extreme poverty four times over – but is that really the case?

Philanthropy is on the rise, that’s for sure. In recent years a number of high profile US billionaires such as Mark Zuckerberg, George Lucas and Michael Bloomberg have publicly pledged to give away at least 50% of their wealth. Some individuals have gone even further: Warren Buffet has famously pledged to give away 99% of his wealth (est. $52 billion), mostly through the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. The Gates name is synonymous with wealth but it is now the leading name in philanthropy. Their foundation has an endowment of $31 billion, of which an estimated $25 billion has come from Bill and Melinda Gates’ own personal fortune. That’s more than double the size of the United Kingdom’s foreign aid budget which sits at a respectable £6 billion.

Speaking of foreign aid budgets, the United States gives away a whopping $52 billion per year to poorer countries. China alone has invested $6 billion in African infrastructure as it looks to develop access to the continent’s mineral reserves, which it hopes will power its own continued economic growth. There is also a huge volume of money spent on institutions such as United Nations, World Food Program and World Bank, as well as countless charities and NGOs around the world working to improve people’s quality of life.

So with all this money flowing around, why aren’t things getting better? The $52 billion foreign aid from the United States is more than the GDP of 173 countries – surely poverty, famine and drought should be a thing of the past? Surely this money should be able to help alleviate people’s misery and fund accountable governments who have the best interest of their people at heart?

Well, lets look at a recent example. Over the last 10 years the largest example of an ongoing reconstruction project has been that of Afghanistan. The United States has spent $100 billion on aid and reconstruction projects alone as part of the effort to stabilise the country. $100 billion on a country with a GDP of $18 billion. Now of course there are some unique problems in Afghanistan such as the ongoing Taliban insurgency – but the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction stated that 85% of the aid budget had been wasted on overheads, corruption or simply poorly managed.

The same situation can be found in Iraq which was described as ‘the wild west,’ with funds being kept as freshly printed $100 bills. During the CPA‘s control of Iraq it was estimated that $8.8 billion was lost due to the lack of oversight. One story tells of an American soldier being asked to help the Iraqi boxing team get itself back on its feet but he gambled the money away. No one knew how many thousands he’d lost because there was no record of what he’d received.

Now I suppose it’s easy enough to discount aspects of those two examples to the unpopular administration in the United States however in both situations even with the countries holding their own free (well…) elections the problems continued. People were quick to their new positions of power and to hand out favours to tribe or family members. Jobs were handed out on a basis of patronage and not qualifications. Entire sects within the population such as the Sunni’s in Iraq or non-pashtuns in Afghanistan were sidelined by more populous and thus more powerful in electoral terms. The Afghanistan’s President, Hamid Karzai’s, brother who continues to hold a position of power despite being consistently linked with the heroin trade.

You see, the one thing that can be only be guaranteed from access to the vast wealth of the world’s top 100 earners is that corruption would prevent the bulk of it reaching those who need it the most. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t try; as I pointed out at the start of this article, a lot is being done but the answer is not to simply flood poor regions with money without first developing their own internal structures. Without a strong and independent judiciary capable of taking action against corrupt individuals and a legitimate government in the eyes of the people, we will see no improvement in the situation in the poorer parts of the world; this isn’t something that money can necessarily buy. Circumstances dictate that. The Arab spring is the perfect example of changing circumstances forcing a region’s governments to adapt to the needs of the people.

The other thing we must remember is that humans are by our very nature devious creatures. Even if you could theoretically level the playing field there will always be those willing to work harder than others, those who are smarter, faster, stronger and there are those who are willing to cheat, steal or even kill to advance their own agenda. There are those of us who are apathetic to money and those of us who think that we should never have to work a day in our life and we should be given everything. Inequality is inevitable. The question we have to ask is: at what level are we prepared for it to start? And we need to acknowledge that money is not the only solution.