The Ghana Tree

My journey to Ghana. An account of what I see, learn, feel, and experience. My Story and the Stories I come across.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Selminga Goodbye: Changes

As I prepare to change my focus here in Ghana I am starting to reflect on some of the changes that I have (hopefully) made. I have been hired by an agriculture firm to set up and run a soybean out growers program.  I will be moving four hours south to Techiman and will be working closely with over 600 small farmers. I am very excited about this opportunity and am looking forward to exploring another angle of international development.

I will still be visiting Tamale and checking up on the projects that I have worked on. Of all the experiences that I have had here the ones that I am most proud of are the ones that are focused on the young girls who are often last in line to receive help.

The first one is Zenab, the young girl who I took to the hospital for a snake bite. Every time I am in her village her family comes and thanks me and last time I was there they gave me a big bag of rice and told me that she was about to be married—I hope he is a nice guy.

Senatu  is the young girl that I provided a scholarship for senior high school to. She just finished up her orientation and when I dropped off her new textbooks she was once again all smiles and reported that she was enjoying her time at school. I am especially excited about providing Senatu with this opportunity because she is from the village where the argument over the land/school took place. The root of this problem was Dawuda who is currently the only educated person in the community and seemed to abuse that responsibility and relish in being “better” than everyone else.  So hopefully she will become a strong leader in her community.

The group of girls that I will be checking in on the most is the girls who are going to vocational school. We are still trying to get everything organized. Currently the biggest obstacle with this project is finding places for the girls to stay and raising funds to cover living expenses while they are living with relatives or in the case of one girl covering her expenses at GIGDEV. Most of the girls have relatives close to the school but the parents are worried about the tension that might be created within the family—the solution to this problem is providing the girls with food money each month so she isn’t a burden on the relative. It is a two year program so hopefully I can be here when they graduate.

I will also miss Tamale itself. From its laid back and frustrating provincial feel and attitude to its colorful but annoying Mosques it has become a sort of home for me. It’s over abundance of bicycles and school children on them remain one of my favorite sights around town. I also no longer look on these images with the simple amazement of a passing traveler but feel like I am now a resident and can understand the deeper meanings and beauty behind them, also on the flip side I now have a clearer picture of the tragedy behind much of what I see. I feel like I am better able to guess at what lays beneath the surface. Even though I am only moving four hours south, Techiman is significantly different from Tamale. It is in a different environmental zone, it has a much smaller Muslim population, and continues to be a busy market and crossroads town for all of West Africa which it has been for centuries.  

As I once again experience new things I will try and share them with you. I am looking forward to spending time in new villages, exploring a new market—largest food market in Ghana—and finding new places to eat and hang out—I will miss my bread and eggs lady, my regular rice and chicken “fast food” restaurant, my fried plantain lady, and the lady I buy eggplants from where I think I am the only one that buys eggplants and she always tries to get me to buy more and in the end just gives me a few extra anyways.

I will also no longer be called a Selminga but will instead have Ubruni shouted at me by children.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Dressmakers Part Two

My current project with RUSODEF is identifying girls who are interested in vocational training and then providing them with the necessary supplies. So far 5 girls have been found and the registration process has started at GIGDEV—the vocational school that they will be attending. This is a very strong program that focuses on giving the girls a well rounded education with the end goal, after two years of study, of the girls being able to open up a sewing shop and be a strong community and women’s leader.  Each girl will be provided with a sewing machine, bicycle, and all the basic materials they will need. A fund will also be set up to cover room and board type costs, the girls will either be staying at GIGDEV or with a relative in Tamale.

The girls are all between the ages of 18 and 20. They have either never attended school or dropped out after Primary 1 or 2. Several of them have travelled down to Accra to find work in the markets and returned after running out of food and money or after being injured. Being given an opportunity like this will truly change these girls’ lives. There are lots of small sewing shops set up by groups of girls around Tamale and they always appear to be the happiest places in town, and I love walking by them and seeing the girls using their old fashioned sewing machines. If the girls were not given this opportunity they would probably remain in their village and continue the very hard life they are currently living. A daily repeat of fetching water, cleaning, taking care of children, cooking, and doing farm work all in an extremely tough environment with very few items we would view as necessities.

The cost for these girls to attend is approximately $250 for two years. This covers fees and uniforms at GIGDEV, sewing machine and supplies, a bicycle, and some of the room and board costs. If you are interested in helping these girls out any donation is appreciated and will truly make a different in a young and deserving life. Many of you who read this blog have already offered donations and support and that has been greatly appreciated and most of that money will be going towards this project. So if you have read and enjoyed this blog please think about donating. You can contact me for more details at

Girls sewing at GIGDEV 

Monday, January 31, 2011

At Home

The other day driving out to the villages I had an overwhelming sense of being at home. As I drove along I saw sights that had been familiar for some time but were now something more, almost comforting.  Another regular occurrence that seemed to take on more significance was the waving. This is a more than regular occurrence with children and even some adults but as I drove along I received waves from people that actually knew me, and were not just waving because I was white. Reflecting on this I realized that this had been happening more and more often.

When I arrived in the village I did the traditional greetings with everyone but once again I got the feeling that this was more than just simple courtesy, but rather that the groups of women were really happy that I was there and would often say my name as well—in one community someone had told the children my name and now when I arrive in the village I am meet with dozens of children say “Jeremy Jeremy Jeremy.”
I am also rarely returning home from a day in the villages without some sort of gift, yams, rice, eggs, or ground nuts. This took me a very long time to get use to—taking food from a subsistence farmer—but it is fruitless to resist and while they don’t actually become upset it is offensive to refuse a gift.

While I am very comfortable living here throughout the day I also have to remind myself not to lose sight of some of my western ideas or standards. This usually takes place after witnessing one of the many sights that make you go “no, that’s not normal,” such as seeing a child riding on a motorcycle, or seeing four children riding on a motorcycle—I routinely see kids that don’t even look old enough to walk perched on the gas tank of a motorcycle. Or kids playing in the dirt, now I know that kids everywhere play in the dirt but children here exclusively play with and in dirt—also due to the ever present goats this also means they are playing in goat poop. Also I have to remind myself that goats roaming around everywhere are not normal either. You see goats in taxis, on top of TroTros and trucks, on motorcycles, at school, crossing the main streets, in the market—including the meat section where they walk past their dead brethren—and sleeping outside my door when I return home at night. I don’t really have to remind myself that this next one isn’t normal because it’s too weird, but there is a Tamale Government Meat Van. It is an old white Ford Transit van that drives around with skinned cow carcasses cut in half and piled high dropping them off at the various small butcher stands. I’ve cooked beef here a few times but generally avoid it instead sticking to the chickens that are frozen rock hard.

Tamale often gets the reputation of a dusty provincial city that is more big village than city but along with many other volunteers it has fast become my home away from home—when we can avoid the robbers!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


I have spent the last two days meeting with the young girls who have expressed interests in vocational training. This has been an enjoyable experience and it’s always fun to watch the girls’ faces as we talk to them about the different options open to them—since they are all illiterate their expressions are my only clue to their feelings. The girls are all around 18 years old and have never attended school. One went to Accra in an attempt to earn money to pay for vocational training herself but returned home after living on the streets without enough money to buy food, while another is an orphan whose adopted parents are strongly supporting her choice to go to school. They will be provided at place at GIGDEV which a very well is run women’s center where they will learn how to sew, receive a basic education including women’s rights and empowerment, and basic business training so they can open up their own small sewing business. They will also be provided with all the necessary supplies along a bicycle so they can return to the village and visit their families—I often see groups of young girls pedaling along the dusty roads on their way to visit their families on the weekends or on holidays.

One of the girls we were to meet was visiting family in another village and was due to return soon but we decided to meet her on the way. We drove down one of the foot paths that lead to the farms. This was a nice break from the dusty and rutted main road. We met her just outside the village that she was visiting and asked her some basic questions about her goals and wants. This was one of those moments that struck me as incredibly beautiful. We were standing on a dry and windy plateau under a cloudless blue sky while groups of preschoolers straggled back into the nearby classroom after break.

After the difficulties of last week it’s refreshing to be able to provide something so basic to such grateful and deserving girls, and I know that this opportunity will be life changing for them to a point that I can’t even imagine. Thanks for the continued support.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Land Demarcation

Last week my time was occupied with the first steps of building the new RUSODEF School, and the first requirement was getting the land surveyed and its boundaries marked. The community donated the land that the first school was built upon last year but it was not specifically marked out and Walisu wanted this to happen before the second classroom was built. The first step in this process was to approach the community Chairperson about this and he agreed that yes this should happen so that everybody knew what was for the school. He then called the community member that was in charge of the community lands, all of which are owned by the Chief. This man had the government surveying maps—which are really funny to look at because they look exactly like a western suburb with nice plots, roads, parks, and col de sacs-- and using them we picked a large plot surrounding the existing school. The next step—a lot of steps whenever you are working in a community—was to visit the government surveyor that is in charge of this community. We scheduled a meeting with him for Saturday “around noon” which was rescheduled for “around 5:30” after he did not show up. Ultimately the meeting took place on Monday at 10:00am following a couple more missed appointments—while waiting for one of these appointments I was approached by a very large Muslim man who demanded that I wash and then join him at the Mosque. The surveyor turned out to be a nice guy and significantly lowered the price for us. On Monday afternoon they began the surveying which in true Ghanaian fashion involved few of the necessary tools and the majority of the tools that were used were machetes—used for chopping off in the way tree branches or bushes, digging holes, and staking down the measuring tape. They marked off all the plots and would then return the following day to place marking stones.

The next morning we returned as the surveyors were finishing up. And while we were there one of the community members began to make trouble; telling the surveyors to leave and stop working because we—myself and Walisu—had done this process wrong. The man causing this trouble is named Dawuda and is actually associated with RUSODEF and usually helps Walisu implement programs because he is one of the few older community members in any of the villages that has a high school education. All of this resulted in lots of yelling and at one point the surveyors did leave but did return to finish the job. After all of this took place Walisu and I went out to visit the Chairperson at his farm—he is also currently the acting Chief because he is the oldest son of the recently deceased Chief. We asked him if we had done anything wrong or overstepped in community norms in demarking the land and he said no. This made me feel pretty good. However, there would still be a community meeting to discuss this.

The next morning we were told to come to the village for a meeting, since this first began I was a little nervous but Walisu was sure that the problem would be easily and quickly resolved. We met for a meeting at the school which was attended by mostly the younger men in the community along with some older ones as well—probably fifteen in all. This quickly broke down into a Ghanaian argument which just consists of trying to yell the loudest—logic in disagreements is unheard of. This was all taking place in Dagbani but I could still tell it wasn’t looking good for Walisu and eventually he said that we should just go. It appears that Dawuda had spent his time informing people that we had bought the land and saying that we were trying to take over the community—this was where most of the anger was coming from. During the meeting Dawuda had also said the RUSODEF was not needed and that he could handle and finance all development projects—he operates the orphanage which is connected to a volunteer organization which places volunteers there and it appears that his financing would come from this. During this argument some people had also said some very mean things to and about Walisu. This was especially hard for Walisu because he has completely dedicated his life to this work.

Since this happened Walisu has been back to the village and did receive some apologies and while it appears that most people don’t like Dawuda they still believe what he said, so for now the school project is on hold.
Since then we have been focusing on some of the other education projects and have finished enrolling the girl from the previous post in high school as well as set up a partnership with GIGDEV—the organization I mentioned in a previous post—where they will enroll any of the girls we find that are interested in vocational training.

This weekend I also went and visited Walisu’s Grandfather and Grandmother. These visits are always enjoyable. I especially like visiting his Grandmother who extrudes all the warmth and affection of Grandmothers everywhere.

I have included some pictures of the women who received the micro-loans in December.