Me chiamo mo pa
Friends and Family,
I apologize for the lengthiness of this message, but I think it will be a worthwhile one to read. If not for my sake, then at least for the sake of the people I am working with. Oh yes, and the website is updated and looking beautiful, so be sure to see it: (http://www.wofabeng.org).
Now that I'm well past the seven-month mark of my service, I think I can justly contrast my pre-service anticipations of Peace Corps with what I have experienced so far as a volunteer. I think other volunteers or returned volunteers who read this will agree with me - and I do realize it is rather cliché, yet justifiably so - that the Peace Corps experience is entirely what you make of it. In my conversations with other volunteers in Ghana I hear everything from horror stories ending in the check-in at the Accra airport to stories about volunteers becoming sub-chiefs of villages for their remarkable efforts. In light of this, I have to say, in all honesty, that I feel very good about the work I am doing here. In fact, never in my life have I felt I was doing more important and meaningful work than this. There are both short term and long term ways of measuring my effectiveness. Short term results like hosting JSS (what we know as Middle School) spelling bees and seeing the winner successfully spell and define the word "paleolithic" and long term results such as seeing the nursery slowly grow towards regular productivity. That being said, there are certain obstacles that I realize I can't overcome myself, the primary of them being a simple lack of money in the area. Unfortunately, what little money there is seems to always be squandered by big men, at least that which is filtered through the local government. It is the independent, community based organizations like Wofabeng and the Women's Association for Children's Welfare that do good honest work in the area. I would urge any international donor (and I will follow this advice myself in the future) to give to NGOs rather than government bodies.
After my inter-service training, I decided to sit down with my NGO(s) and draw up clear goals for the different quarters of the year. Those of you who know me well are probably in disbelief that I could ever grasp organization this way. But sure enough, I took flip chart paper and plastered the wall of the office with hand-drawn calendars containing deadlines, dates of meetings, and dates of group work. So far (since the first week of this month) we have probably accomplished more than we did in the first four months I was here. The nursery is rapidly growing; we are quickly approaching 10,000 seedlings! I have met with the elders and planned on turning a run-down old cocoa warehouse into a community library. We are currently working with book donors in the U.S to get about 15,000 books. The elders plan on naming the library after me, something I am simultaneously proud and embarrassed about. If you ever visit Ghana, don't miss the "Kwadjo Aseda Douglas La Rose People's Library of Guaman." I'll make sure to establish a world-class section for archaeology and anthropology. In all seriousness, I hope that project can be finished in the early months of 2007. Education along with gender and youth empowerment are the things I feel most passionately about in my work.
Speaking of gender and youth empowerment, I want to share with you a poignantly illustrative example of a case which I have become both emotionally and professionally committed to. There is a small community which sits in the hills overlooking Guaman by the name of Bethel. Bethel is a "healing" community comprised of people who believe in the healing power of evangelical Christianity, and who have moved there in hope of getting rid of various ailments. A certain girl by the name of Gifty, who is 14-years old, comes from this community and is one of the best students at the local JSS. Since I began teaching there, she has become a dear friend and pupil of mine. Indeed, she is known by the rest of the community as my "daughter" (in the terminology of fictive kinship) because she lives with her aunt and her parents reside in Northern villages. I have, on an almost daily basis, been teaching her how to read and write. I would put my month's salary on a bet that she is the only 14-year old girl in the Volta Region to have read The Hobbit. She has just completed forum three JSS, but doesn't have money to continue to SS. In Ghana, the government pays for school up to JSS, but then leaves the student either with the option of finding money or learning a trade. Most young girls who can't find money end up getting married and becoming street vendors, seamstresses, or if they are lucky, owners of small stores.
The situation gets even more complicated. Gifty, of course, does have a real father, and one who isn't exactly what one could consider a good father (from an American or a Ghanaian cultural perspective). He lives in a village about one hour north of Guaman, and has demanded that she become a laborer on his farm after she finishes JSS. The reason, he tells her, is that he doesn't have money to pay her secondary school fees. SS fees in Ghana are about three or three and a half million cedis per year (roughly $300-$350). Since I am the official residing executive secretary for the Women's Association for Children's Welfare (WACWEL) here in Guaman, I have proposed that we help this girl - since it is exactly the type of project our mission statement supports. The problem is, of course, that we don't have money either.
If you want to help, we (and especially Safowa Gifty)would be very grateful. Even if each person who read this sent $10 we could get a start on raising money for this very intellectually gifted girl who is at an important crossroads in her life. Writing proposals like this to family and friends as an appeal for money isn't something I particularly want to be doing, but international NGOs tend not to support students on an individual basis like this. Gifty, I promise you, is an extraordinary girl who, given a good education, will go on to do great things in her life and in Ghana. The Women's Association for Children's Welfare is a registered NGO with an account at Ghana Commercial Bank. Our address (for this specific fund) is:
Safowa Gifty Scholarship Fund
Women's Association for Children's Welfare
PO Box 129
Ghana, West Africa.
Make out the check to the title of the NGO: "Women's Association for Children's Welfare." I promise I will post pictures of her smiling face the next time I find myself in Accra.
Until next time, I hope all my friends and family are doing great back home in the States. I can't wait to get home for Christmas and see my nephews, who I imagine are huge by now! And, of course, I send my greetings to Ingrid in Sweden (or is it Portugal now?), and Amy in Japan. Professor Glassow, Professor Jennings, and Mary, I hope you had a splendid time at the SAAs in Puerto Rico. And to my comrades in Ghana, I hope your projects are going well. And to all those who read my blog, thank you for your intriguing (and sometimes challenging) comments and questions. I agree that there are both positive and negative aspects to educated Ghanaians moving abroad - but why would you ever want to leave such a friendly place? ;)