Thursday, October 04, 2007

Global Citizen Journey Alums return to Axim, Ghana and engage in various projects

In addition to the "BIG" events in Axim Ghana --- Kundum, Manye Science Day, and WHH Building Dedication --- we engaged in many other activities.

RICH and MARYANNE visited a UN Refugee Camp about 25 km from Axim Ghana and surrounding villages in the Nzema East District. We traveled there with Major Domino the Camp Manager and Clifford, his body guard. In the villages, there was no electricity, no sanitation to speak of, and no sure source of clean water. Yet, when asked what they liked about their village or what was special about it, people said they liked the people because they are not greedy. They liked their coconuts and fish and their beach. One woman said she liked the sunsets (Atlantic Ocean setting). The kids said they liked their school, which was one room with nothing in it at all except one blackboard. They also said they very much wanted water, sanitation, “lights” (i.e., electricity), better school, and closer medical facilities. They have to walk several miles to a clinic, esp. difficult for woman in labor. They welcomed us warmly in a dignified manner, setting up two plastic chairs for us under a small canopy of rattan and leaves. They gathered around their spokesman to welcome us and answer our questions. It was a very special and emotional experience for us.

BARBARA interviewed more than 30 people, men and women, about their life stories, including market women in Axim Ghana. She will publish this information in some form. The stories she heard are inspiring and moving. Barbara conducted AI sessions in several other venues as well. At the end of the journey, she traveled to Konongo School to help dedicate the books for which she raised major funding. While there, she conducted Appreciate Inquiry sessions for the teachers, and two sessions of 500 high-school students in each session. Who knows what these young Ghanaians might be inspired to do?

TOM visited the Ghana Telecom to learn more about plans for internet access.

SUZ conducted a numbe of HIV-AIDs sessions with the Methodist Youth Group, the kids at Manye Academy, and groups in Cape Coast. She made a big hit with her colored condoms!

TOM, RICH, and MARYANNE met with the District Head of Dept of Education, headquarters in the town of Axim, along with many circuit heads. We discussed science education. They asked if we could find a scientist who is highly creative and innovative to help them teach the concepts in their curriculum with all local materials that they don’t have to buy. They have so little money. One told of needing milk of magnesia to do an experiment, but couldn’t find the money for it. They told us HIV-AIDs education starts in every class, beginning with nursery school and up, every day, the first thing in the day, in an age-appropriate manner. They are well aware of the threat of HIV-AIDs and are determined to manage it. They cannot afford antiretroviral drugs, so if a person gets the disease, there is not much hope.

RICH met with Reverend Banson, Pastor, and Isaac Bentil, Lay Leader, of the local Methodist Church. They are interested in forming a sister-church relationship with an American Methodist Church. The church in Axim Ghana has a cluster of smaller village churches associated with it and served by Rev. Banson.

BARBARA and LOUISE conducted an Appreciative Inquiry session with the Western Heritage Home Board. WHH is very fortunate; the Board is composed of well-established, mature local leaders from Axim. As an active locally-based NGO, WHH, although relatively new, is beginning to enjoy wide respect in the community. During the workshop, they focused on what is positive and special about WHH, what their dream for the organization is, how to design their Board and staff to achieve the dream, and how they themselves can strengthen their commitment and skill to achieve those dreams and goals. It was a wonderful session. We especially enjoyed seeing Awulae, the King of Lower Axim, with probably several hundred years of tradition behind him, partnering with Anastasia, a young, computer-trained woman of 22, who wants Hillary to become our US President, so then maybe Ghana will elect a woman president someday, too! Somehow, together, they represent Ghana as it now is, during its Jubilee Year of 50 years of independence.

BRYCE got to know the Axim Beach Hotel staff well, and also the birds and other “wildlife” around the hotel—mostly birds and geckos. He interviewed each individual orphan, and got some really good shots of each of them. Bryce has a natural affinity for small children, and at 14, was a big brother to kids, esp. during the Kundum Festival. Bryce was also our “water treasurer”, making sure we had enough safe water on hand and collecting money for it. Some of the girls decided he needed an “African” hairdo, and braided his hair!

LOUISE joined in the Science Days, joined Barbara in the AI session with the WHH Board and staff, and did a lot of videography. She and Bryce showed us all how a Grandmother and Grandson can have a wonderful friendship and a lot of fun together! She made sure Bryce and she experienced everything, including church, exploring the beach, exploring the town and people, drumming, helping drag in the fishing nets, and engaging at Manye during Science Days.

MARYANNE worked with Anastasia and Esi (WHH Staff) on the WHH bookkeeping system and on financial matters generally. The staff has done a remarkable job of ensuring receipts and data entry for the hundreds of purchases needed to supply all the materials, labor, transport, etc. for the building project. This is not an easy task, given the fact that this is basically a cash-only economy. We also updated the WHH office computer's anti-virus software.

BARBARA and MARYANNE met with the King, Awulae Attiburukusu III, who welcomed us, and discussed the new fishing harbour being built, the new girls secondary school which he initiated, his efforts to enforce stopping inappropriate “easing” on the beach, thereby fouling the very area where the fish are brought in, the new compulsory education ruling and the government’s capitation grant to pay basic school fees, and the recent finding of a high grade of oil in the ocean not far from Axim. This relatively young King has studied business administration in California, and plans to continue next year. He hopes to do a few internships in American companies. He is known as a man of principle, who takes his duties seriously and does his best for this economically-challenged community. We are very fortunate to have his welcoming and suportive presence when we are in Axim.

BARBARA, RICH, and MARYANNE with James, attended a funeral in a small, very well-kept village about 1.5 hrs drive from Takoradi. It was in a beautiful tropical jungle, with banana and plantain trees, coops for chickens and rabbits, and a nearby forest where their hunters find food. Funerals are important to Ghanaians. Although many leaders are trying to convince people to have simpler, less costly funerals leaving more money for investment, school costs, etc., the people themselves use funerals to maintain family ties and to reconnect with their villages. Gifts of money are given to the bereaved family, to help defray expenses. We were honored by the chief pouring libations to bless us and the event. He poured a small amount of gin on the ground, offering up his prayers as he did so, and then each of us took a small sip of gin from a glass, spilling some on the ground, and offering up our own prayers and blessings as we wished. There were drummers, and we were told the dancing was the traditional funeral dances. The man who died was a 49 year-old school teacher, and we met some of his fellow teachers who genuinely were mourning his death and the loss to his students.

JEANIE, with our Ghanaian friend John, raised money and arranged to construct 34 veronica buckets, which we dedicated. "Veronica buckets" are used for hand sanitation. They will be distributed to five local schools, near the lunch facilities, and also in the WHH Children's Home. These are hand-washing stations to be used when piped water is unavailable.

And we all enjoyed the beach, visiting with our Ghanaian friends, and the care and concern of the Axim Beach Hotel staff. For the most part, and with care, we stayed healthy.

Ghana is a “third-world” country, so there are safety and health challenges, but by taking precautions we had a good time and kept safe. Perhaps our biggest fear and danger is the possibility of auto accidents. We insist on seat belts, and firmly tell drivers to slow down. One of our members actually saw a little boy killed when he ran into the street and was struck by a truck. This was traumatic, and highlighted how dangerous the roads are. We were careful about our malaria prevention, too, and about hand sanitation, and about not overdoing it in the warm and humid weather conditions.

In general though, Ghana is a warm and welcoming country, with interesting people, culture, and tourist sites. The “new” re-dominated money made it easier for us, because it’s more like the US dollar --- no more “millions” of cedis for ordinary purchases. The STC bus we rode from Accra to Takoradi was efficient, and handled our eight suitcases (the science stuff, remember?) with ease. The MTN cell service was having problems, but generally, the cell phone system works extremely well. The electrical power is off quite a lot---we used our headlamps! We saw the potential for photovoltaics, with the very dependable 12 hours of daylight and generally evenly warm temperatures of around 80-85F. The only internet connection in town, at the Beach Hotel, was down the entire time we were there, with the exception of about 15 minutes (just time to update the virus checker!). There is a Swiss man there who is trying assist the manager to get it working, coordinating with the provider in Takoradi. We did see fiber optic cable being laid along the roads. Ghana is hosting the Pan Africa Games in 2008, and is laying cable to improve communications for that event, so we hope ordinary folks will benefit from that in time.

Ghanaians are proud of Ghana in spite of some corruption, poverty, poor environmental quality, and other woes. They told us over and over that Ghana is peaceful and they are proud of that. They like their drumming and music, and beautiful cloth and traditional festivals and so do we! They are proud of their democracy and their new modern money, with its foolproof iridescent stripe against counterfeiting. We were told again and again that they are the “financial capital” of West Africa. A man in an extremely poor village said he was proud of the new President’s house, because Ghana’s President should have a beautiful house! (Others think it’s an extravaganza, but…). One man told me he was proud that the Americans have built “the biggest embassy in West Africa" right in Accra. W visited the central library on Legon Campus and enjoyed using the completely modern computerized catalog search system. We heard from a student that their University of Ghana is the “Harvard of West Africa” and that the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi is a leading West African university. They have what might seem to be very challenging problems, but hope appears to be alive and well. They are blessed with a rich traditional culture and a democratic spirit.

We Global Citizen Journey alums have an ongoing relationship with Axim and the Nzema East region. If you have ideas about how this area might develop economically, or how children can be given a boost, or how you may wish to support a project in the area, please contact us. We are in regular communication with leaders there, and may be able to find the right match for you.
---The GCJ alum group.