Thursday, April 15, 2010

Reflections: Part Two

I have been working this week on two things in particular: 1) Preparing an article for the SEAC Newsletter regarding my research on resistance to water privatization in Ghana and 2) Networking in order to set up appointments/interviews with the "officials" working in the water sector in Ghana.

At first, I was off to a slow start on my research. It took quite some time to settle into this city, this country, this fundamentally different culture. I was also busy settling into my internship here at the Development Solutions Centre, which has also proven to be a time-consuming activity including orientation to office staff, organization, etc. and schedule building, project starting and field trips. But already we are working our way into Week #7 of 8. That means there is approximately 10 days left of my international internship. How did that happen, again? Luckily I've been keeping a very intense journal and have successfully filled an entire Moleskine journal regarding the entirety of my journeys abroad.

But alas, here I am in Week #8 of 10 for my time in Ghana and am just digging in to the real meat of the water management and services sector of Ghana: news articles, interviews and contacts abound. I have been working now for five months on my current research topic. And in Ghana, so far, I have struck only gold.

Last week, I had the opportunity to interview Goldman Prize Winner and #5 hero on my personal heroes list (Vandana Shiva is #1, F.Y.I), Mr. Rudolf Amenga-Etego, Executive Director of GrassRootsAfrica and single-most effective leader in initiating the movement to resist the privatization of water by forming the National Coalition Against the Privatization of Water (NCAP). It is activists like Rudolf this that inspire me to the core. Sitting down to a one on one meeting with Mr. Amenga-Etego was absolutely exhilarating: years of intimate, undocumented and constitutional knowledge; a tried and true environmental and social justice advocate. It is activists or advocates like him that make the world a more just, sustainable one.

After our meeting (after which my head was spinning from the vasts amounts of information my brain had just tried to register) he gave me a few "good" contacts to get in touch with including. I look forward to my next few interviews including one next week with Mr. Kwaku Sayki-Addo, National correspondent to the BBC. I hope that these interviews will provide me with the insight necessary to compose a well-informed, respectable research project on the full scope of "Water Privatization in Ghana."

Wish me luck? Or maybe just good fortune....

P.S. If you'd like to learn more about the Resistance to Water Privatization, check out the Documentary, "Thirst".

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Easter Sunday Service

Sunday was Easter Sunday and we celebrated by volunteering at the 2nd

annual Joy 99FM Easter Soup Kitchen in the Accra Children’s Park. The Easter Soup Kitchen provides an Easter meal for the homeless men and women living in the Great Accra Region. Additionally, the event donates clothes, counseling services, medical support and prescription. Last night, volunteers distributed coupons to the women sleeping on the streets and other homeless people. At 7:30AM this morning, there were already hundreds of people lined up to receive food and other services, before any of the event had even begun setting up. At around noon, the headcount was approximately five to six thousand participants.

When we arrived, I observed that the population consisted primarily of women and children (between the ages of zero to twelve years). There was music, tents, speakers, television station coverage and hundreds of volunteers. Immediately upon arrival, a cable television station interviewed our group in order to gain insight into our understanding of the event. We also were asked to make a “plug” for the stations (e.g. Hi! I’m Bethany from the United States and I love watching Multi-TV! Keep Watching Multi-TV; More TV for FREE!). Unfortunately, we can’t watch interviews because we don’t have cable at our hostel; it was still fun!

We met many new people, as well. We were able to volunteer (there were six of us) at many different positions including food packaging, cloth sorting, traffic directing and dispersing medicine. My mate Chelsea and I chose to work at the medical tables where we were able to engage with pharmacists and doctors from the Pharmaceutical Society of Ghana (pictured above). The Society provided doctors that were able to listen and diagnose each patient and provides a proper medical prescription. Then, the patients were able to go to any one of the twenty something tables to pick up his or her prescriptions. Most of the patients were diagnosed with diarrhea, malaria, dehydration or infections contracted whilst living on the streets. Medical treatments included: multivitamins (omega-3, cod liver oil, pedialyte, etc.) amoxicillin, antimalarials, ibuprofen, cough suppressants, expectorants, ciproflaxin, de-wormers and many more. Ultimately, it was a makeshift health clinic that served an extremely diverse demographic.

It also provided a very unique perspective into the homeless situation in Accra. It became very clear that it is largely women with children that were in dire need for medications and other basic essentials. I was able to see both the symptoms and prescriptions to treat the illness. One woman had an infant that was two years old and still had not learned how to walk. I later found out that many of children never receive vaccines for preventable diseases and illnesses such as the tetanus, polio, hepatitis, etc. In addition, it was very interesting to see the level of education among the women. Many were primary school dropouts who were without the necessary financial resources needed to attend school (uniforms, haircuts, etc.) Thus many were forced to take to selling goods on the streets. Most women in attendance today were street hawkers that I see everyday on my way to work. They sell a vast variety of produce and ready to eat foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner including fruits (pineapple, mango, guava, papaya, bananas, etc.), egg sandwiches, muffins, groundnuts (peanuts), cashews, fried rice, jollof rice, and just about anything you can imagine eating. Because of their low-income jobs and lack of education, they do not have the money to obtain the necessary and essential resources in life such as housing, food, clothing and medical treatment. So the event sponsored by the radio station is very appropriate and provides an excellent outlet for this under deserved and struggling demographic.

Because the intensity and sheer neediness of this population was so extreme, I had to question the sustainability of this program. Since the event only hosts this for one day, what does this mean for the women and children tomorrow? Where will their food come from tomorrow? When their prescriptions are finished, who or where will they find the money to buy more medication? And how will women continue to be educated about sexual behaviors and avoiding deadly diseases? How will the women obtain more clothing when their t-shirts, skirts and underwear become stained, ripped and tattered? Will they have to wait another year to receive a multivitamin and a new shirt? These are the critical questions we must consider in trying to address the needs of the most needy. What would be a truly useful program for them?

Clearly, I have concluded, while these events are great for raising awareness and providing a nice meal and exciting day for Easter, this event does not address nor provide a solution for the long-term. I have not yet really tried to draw up a solution, because I understand the complexity of addressing and empowering this demographic. I understand that the time and financial resources are very great and so, the large question is, who will help to fund and provide resources for their empowerment? Is empowerment what they need? Or do they need other things in order to obtain and meet a certain standard of living? These are essential questions to ask if one were to think critically about the practical solutions for addressing the complex problems of homelessness in Accra.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Field Trips

Last night I arrived back from a three day trip to the Volta Region. I was sent out to observe the Heifer Project International (HPI), an organization that seeks to provide communities with "living loans" in order to create economic community development in under-deserved areas. The organization that I am interning with, the Development Solutions Centre, is contracted out by HPI and is responsible for the implementation and on-the-ground success of the HPI projects in Ghana. My assignment consisted of performing a needs assessment on the sanitation and hygiene of schools surrounding the community of Dorveme.

On Tuesday, I visited three schools in Dorveme and Tsiame (pronounced "chee-ya-may"). Of the three schools, one was a community kindergarten, and the two other were "publicly" funded Catholic and Evangelical Presbyterian Primary schools (Grades one to six). I conducted interviews with the headmasters and teachers to gain information regarding the sanitation programs being taught throughout the school year. Though I was originally sent to "create" a sanitation program, upon arriving I found that all schools have addressed sanitation quite adequately. It is not that the school teachers and students were unaware of the importance of sanitation, but rather that the sanitation facilities were lacking or else unavailable.

For example, the community kindergarten in Dorveme taught children to was their hands after using the toilet but there weren't sinks, running water and soap available for the children to accomplish such tasks. Alas, the latrine the student had been using broke and the teacher did not have the funds available to purchase a new one.

Similarly at another school, Tsiame E.P. Primary, there was an extensive sanitation program in place with a sanitation teacher that was scheduled to teach three sanitation classes per week for every grade. The sanitation teacher stresses the need to clean up the toilets after use BUT as I found out, there are 10 toilets available for approximately 400 school children. In addition, these toilets were installed and have been used for ten years. Now, it doesn't take a PH.D. candidate to understand that the sanitation of the toilets is not going to be on par.

So, my task is now to perform a needs assessment for the Dorveme-Tsiame school district to try and figure out what they need, how much the costs will be and possible funding bodies. In addition, I must take into account the sustainability of the sanitation program and how funds will be made available in the future should another latrine break and is unable to be fixed or replaced. Resources. People require resources.

I find that it's continually interesting to ask questions such as why isn't Ghana able to afford to subsidize its public school system? These questions are related to my research project regarding the debate over water privatization. Why isn't Ghana able to be financially independent? What does "independence" mean if Ghana formally "achieved" its independence 53 years ago yet it still cannot afford basic social services? These are some of the larger questions that I think about in regards to my experience as an intern and student.

During our time out in the Volta Region, we (my colleague and I) explored the grasscutter, goat, sheep and crop farms. We were also able to see the "passing of the gift" in which one farmer will give another farmer the offspring of his or her animals. The HPI seeks to ensure long-term economic sustainability through its living loans program, so it was interesting to see exactly how it is able to ensure such measures.

In addition to our time, we were once again introduced to new sights, smells, tastes and sounds. The Volta Region is distinctly different from the Greater Accra Region. In Accra, the Akans speak Twi while in the Volta, the Ewe people (pronounced eh-whey) speak several different dialects of Ewe. The Ewe also have a very different variety of dishes-- Abolo, jooey (pronounced joe-whey), yakey yake (a.k.a yackson), akble, and stews containing anchovies (a.k.a. "Keta" School boys), herring, tilapia, crab, sole, tuna, and other fresh fishes from the surrounding lagoon and ocean. It's a very aesthetically beautiful area, surrounded by beaches and a nice ocean sea breeze which really feels great in the mid-afternoon 100 degree weather :)

Monday, March 22, 2010

World Water Day 2010

Before I begin this blog post, I would like to begin by acknowledging the US House and Senate Democrats for passing one of the most monumental pieces of legislation my generation will ever see (well, that is until Gay Marriage becomes federally recognized by law): the passage of the US Healthcare Bill.

“We pushed back on the undue influence of special interests. We didn’t give in to mistrust or to cynicism or to fear. Instead, we proved that we are still a people capable of doing big things.” - President Obama

Hoorah! Hoorah!

In my life though, today I am celebrating World Water Day! Per the occasion, the End Poverty Ghana Coalition organized a basic sanitation and clean water now program for the entire Ashaiman school district (approx. 2000 schoolchildren and about 8 local schools). The main activities involved raising awareness of water and sanitation and forming the world's longest toilet queue. That's right...THE WORLD'S LONGEST TOILET QUEUE!

So you can imagine...I pulled up to the schoolyard to find nearly 2,000 schoolchildren lining up to use the toilet, shouting and chanting "We want water!" and "We want toilets!" and "Wash your hands!"

The program raised awareness of the scarcity of water and its significant and inherent importance to the existence of life. Though water has been characterized as a "universal human right," thousands upon thousands of people on our planet do not have access to clean, potable drinking water.

Today I learned that in Sub-Saharan Africa, 7 out of 10 people lack access to safe sanitation; 40% are forced to drink contaminated water; and finally, that preventable diarrhoea kill 2,000 African children everyday (

Attending the "Basic Sanitation and Clean Water Now" program was a great opportunity to witness the work of NGOs being organized in the field. It was also a great opportunity to understand how Ghanaians are tackling water and sanitation issues in their own communities. Following the world's longest queue, the Ashaiman municipal director was able to announce projects that are laid ahead within each school in the Ashaiman region to institute more sanitary toilets.

I will take time to post more pictures and the speeches later. But for now, Happy World Water Day!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Few Reflections

Ghana has seriously forced me to breach all of my personal and professional comfort levels. Since I’ve arrived, I have been confronting my irrational fear of insects such as spiders and roaches. I’ve learned that I can withstand temperatures greater than my internal body temperature for hours at a time. I’ve begun to learn how to live communally and cooperatively. And I’ve begun to learn how to communicate cross-culturally on the professional, personal and academic level. Each experience is uniquely challenging to me. Since I have spent a very considerable amount of time planning and academically, socially and personally preparing for this experience, I feel confident that the challenges I face will further my personal and professional growth.

This mainstream culture and society is not one full of luxuries, nor is it a culture of consumerism. For the most, people do not take the “every day” things for granted such as: flushing toilets, potable water, roads, the internet, television, natural and healthy food, and other technologies. It is not that Ghana is lacking but that Ghana is different. I have consciously chosen not to compare or make the connection that one world is developed while the other developing. There is no such connection; such a connection is a myth, a fable, a social and cultural construction. Ghanaians have their own culture, their own professionalism, and their own lifestyles, just as in America, though we may not even understand that we are, indeed, not “normal.”

Perhaps the only effective way to understand culture is to live within another culture. Only then will you be able to step back to see that you are part of a culture like everyone else. Concepts of culture in America are often tainted and misrepresented. I am not referring to Culture, with a capital “C” but culture, something naturalized, indiscernible and often times invisible. In fact, there is such regional culture within the US as well. In particular, it is the regional cultures that I miss the most.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Cape Coast

Today we arrived back from a three day trip to Cape Coast, just west of Accra. We left on Friday following a presentation from the USAID at the U.S. Embassy here in Accra. The presentation was an informational presentation of the health and sanitation issues that USAID and other charitable organizations are working on around the country. USAID tries to tackle a broad range of issues including maternal and infant mortality rates, access to potable water, preventing and treating HIV/AIDS and providing protection from malaria to Ghanaians around the country. They have quite a few hefty goals to say the least. But at least it was a great presentation of some of the gender and health problems trying to be confronted through policy.
We spent the weekend at an extremely upscale hotel in Cape Coast called Coconut Groves. A lot of celebrities have spent time there such as Will Smith, yessss the Fresh Prince of Belair!,Denzel Washington and the Williams sisters to name a few. Although this time there was a bunch of women missionaries from the States, so we had to bear with that for three days. However, it was so beautiful and located directly on the Atlantic coast. There is so much fresh fish and seafood being caught on a daily basis; it’s Ghana’s largest fishing town. That being said, I ate 9 small lobsters in one day.
During our time in the Coast, we visited both Cape Coast castle and Elmina castle. These castles were the castles used to store slaves before they were exported to South America, North America and the Caribbean between starting in the 15th century. The slave trade continued for nearly 300 years, only ending in the mid-1800s, around 1853. It is estimated that nearly 10 million African slaves were exported through these castles: one of the largest human migration in history. That being said, we took two extensive tours of the castles; more specifically, we toured the dungeons and cells where the humans were contained: beaten, raped, starved and tortured for months to years at a time. I can’t describe in words what if felt like to be there, the dungeons were rancid. They reeked of 300 years worth of decaying flesh, bones, feces, vomit, menstrual blood and urine. In fact, samples of the dirt in the cells have been taken and have shown to contain traces of such. Most dungeons had no windows; a few had some peepholes. However, the colonizers were Christians. In one castle, there was a church that was set directly above a torture chamber. After the tours, it was hard to understand how the British, Dutch, Portuguese and even Africans legitimized the slave trade. But the slave trade was part of the broader economy; utilized human labor in order to increase crop production so that the economy was able to produce more goods and more wealth. But I cannot help but to ask myself: what is the price of a human life? There is a Ghanaian proverb that states: the human body is more beautiful than gold.
Yesterday, we packed and drove out to the Kakum National Forest, the newest and the most popular national rainforest in Ghana. Clearly, this is because they have a famous canopy walk that contains seven bridges that are 60 meters from the ground, nearly half a mile off the ground. You can see photos of our experience of the walk above. It was beautiful.
Today is the Independence Day. Ghana is celebrating 53 years of independence since Kwame Nkrumah declared indepdendence from the British colony, making Ghana the very first free and independent nation in Africa. Ghana is founded on two principles: freedom and justice. They use the black star to represent justice, freedom and the unity of black Africa. In addition, Ghana’s flag, three stripes of yellow, green and red signifies yellow for gold, green for agriculture and red for blood shed in the name of social justice. Because of the holiday, we’ll be starting out first day of work on Tuesday. Tomorrow we’ll be exploring our office location within the city. I am excited to get started on projects and to be furthering my research on grassroots resistance to water privatization.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Journeys in Ghana: Week 2

Since my last post I have done a bit of extensive traveling and exploring. Last week, we took a trip to the Volta Region in Northeastern Ghana to visit the Wli Falls. It’s a large waterfall located in the middle of a mountain. It is water that is sourced from a natural spring on the top of the mountain and falls down into this very small pool of water.
We stayed at a lodge at the foot of the falls. A German couple, Sabina and Bernard, had been hiking up the falls owned it; they loved it so much they decided to retire there. They have opened a lodge that supports the local economy by attracting tourist from around West Africa and Western Europe. In addition, they employ locals from the Volta Region and buy fruit, vegetables and other foodstuffs from the local community farmers and producers. Sabina and Bernard also have a garden of their own on the property. There are also locally made products such as wood carvings, jewelry, skirts, shirts, quilts, hats, etc. It was very clean and felt like home.
The next day we hiked through the forest to the lower falls; we saw pineapples, experienced palm wine from the palm tree, and crossed nine bridges before we arrived at the falls. There, we were able to swim in the pool below the falls and then swim IN the waterfall! It was great. It was a nice break from the noisy, polluted and smelly city center.
We had a day off and spent the day next to the pool, drinking lagers and writing e-mails to friends. The sun was so hot; I burned in about twenty minutes. But it was nice to spend time next to the water. That night, we had a welcoming ceremony. A dance group
Then, we headed out for Kumasi, north of Accra. It takes about four hours buy bus. We visited the Kente weaving village and bargained for Kente cloths. We also toured the King’s palace and the history of the Asante tribe, hit up the cultural center and then tackled the great Kumasi Central Market, the largest and most complex market in all of West Africa. It is a very complex market to properly describe because the market is on such a massive scale. There are frequent fires because the mix of goods, electricity and sheet temperatures are so humongous. There is a picture above.

Please let me know if you want me to expand more. I am working to secure an internet connection at the hostel.

Miss and love y'all so very much!