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 :)