The Wulugu Work Ethic – Part Two

A different type of typing teaching...

COCO has funded the purchase of six PC’s at Buipe and, during my recent visit, I was happy to see that at six are working and that the girls were using them. I talked to the class and they told me they were very happy to have computers because IT is so important to today’s job market in Ghana. Most of the girls want to be secretaries and are keen to learn to type so that they can ultimately find employment locally. 

I went on to see the girls in the next class, who were using typewriters, which despite advancements in technology are still an essential part of the secretarial course under the Ghanaian curriculum. The girls told me they much prefer using the computers but have to take turns because there are only six machines. We moved on to the weaving class where I was given a demonstration of how the wooden frames are used to spin the threads. It’s hard work, especially in the midday heat, but I was shown the end result – a beautifully woven sash which I am given as a gift!

Finally, I was taken to the dormitory to see where the girls sleep. I was met by neatly made bunk beds with all the girls’ belongings hanging from the bed frames; I was pleased to see that all of them have mosquito nets. I asked where they keep their food and the girls told me that each one of them has a box in their dormitory, locked up so that it is safe. Food shortages have resulted in heightened protection over supplies and it is clear that the unwillingness to share is more about survival than anything else. The catering teacher had prepared lunch and served up chicken, salad and rice, the amount is plentiful but I struggled to eat knowing that the girls have so little.

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The Wulugu Work Ethic – Part One

Learning skills that pay the bills at Buipe!!

I arrived at Buipe, one of the sites at which the Wulugu project operates in Ghana, to be met with a warm welcome. The head teacher is a very tall Ghanaian lady dressed in traditional clothing; she has an air of authority about her which I find intimidating but reassuring; this might be why the school is so quiet despite lessons going on in the next room! This centre teaches dressmaking, hairdressing, catering, weaving, batik tie-die and now secretarial skills with computer literacy thanks to the provision of 6 computers through COCO earlier in the year.

Girls of all different backgrounds are considered for enrolment; even those who have not completed primary school can study most subjects. Core subjects are taught alongside the practical skills to provide an all-round education and set the girls up for employment once they have sat their final exams. It’s not always as straightforward as that though – this year there has been a delay in the results of the girl’s exams which they took in June due to an administration error at the education authority!

Attending this centre costs 18 cedis per term and there are 3 terms in the year, 54 cedis in total (£24). Most of the courses take between 1 and a half to 2 years and this seems to be affordable for most of the girls although many have to pay in instalments. In addition to the fees, the girls must provide their own food; although many of them travel from far away so carrying sufficient yam or rice for a term is not always possible. The fees paid by the girls go towards the maintenance of the school, electricity, tables, chairs and repairs as well as the provision of resources required for practical lessons such as material, thread, hair products and fabric die. As the school is constantly under resourced, COCO also provided some funding for these materials.

I’ll talk a little about the sort of impact this assistance has had in my next post, watch this space…

A Ghanaian Journey

About the journey AND the destination!!

The difference between the North and South of this country is quite astonishing, Accra, the capital with its 5 star hotels, fine dining and huge expatriate community could not differ more from the capital of the North, Tamale.  Having completed the long journey to Tamale I am delighted to see that, for the trip to the even more remote Wulugu project, we will be travelling in the comfort of a very nice pickup truck (I have experienced the roads in Northern Ghana and know that they can be a little bumpy).

We drive out of Tamale and approach a toll booth just before the bridge over the White Volta (a huge river and the source of income for many fishermen in the area). As we pay our 1 cedi (50p) toll, women approach the car with an array of different smoked fish carried on large trays balanced neatly on their heads. The road is good and on either side, rice fields stretch out as far as the eye can see. Rice grows well in the North and provides the staple diet for the majority of the population. Yam and ground nuts also grow well here and every few meters another road side stall is heavy laden with huge yam’s.

It is quite early and children of 7 years plus are walking to school. The little ones are at home some of them bathing outside their small mud shacks whilst others get in the way of their mothers who are trying to sweep, set up their stalls and make breakfast on their small charcoal stoves. I spend most of the journey looking out of the window at the daily activities of Northern Ghanaians and it never gets boring!

A Shia Challenge

After the hustle and bustle of Accra, the peace and quiet of village life in Shia was a welcome change of scenery six days into my evaluation trip of COCO’s projects in Ghana.

My main objective was to see how the Information Technology Centre (ITC) that COCO funded was coming along, in addition to meeting with some of the cocoa farmers of the Shia Association who purchased farming equipment using COCO funds in February 2011.

A phenomenal storm greeted me on arrival in Shia interrupting a meal of rice, chicken and beer – perhaps a poor omen for my visit…

My first appointment the next morning was with the head teacher at the ITC where, unfortunately, I found the building was not yet sufficiently secure to unpack the 10 computers. It is for reasons such as this that it is so important that COCO follow up on funding. I spoke to the headmaster about this but he was preoccupied with the issue of outstanding school fees and seemed to think that COCO could foot the bill.

This problem seems to have its roots in the changeover at Shia Secondary School in September 2010 from a community school (where teachers’ salaries are paid for by the community and children attend for free) to a government school where fees had to be paid by all students. The first term’s fees are roughly £70, a figure impossible to achieve for parents who earn a living as a subsistence farmer – which is by and large the case.

The cocoa farmers meeting was more productive, 36 people turned up to speak to me; including 13 women, which was very encouraging. An interpreter chaired the meeting and translated from English to Ewe and back again. I was pleased to see that he had something of a challenge because so many members were so keen to have their voice heard!!

Cocoa Pod on the Tree

It became apparent that a major obstacle for these farmers was the costs of seedlings, fertilizers, pesticides and labour. These high input costs mean that often farmers have to leave some of their land uncultivated.

This year, at the request of the community, COCO funded the purchase of mist blowers (used to spray insecticides) and slashers (what you and I might call a strimmer) for clearing the land. However, there are stumbling blocks with both.

Most farmers cannot afford insecticides – when we agreed to this project the government had undertaken to supply free insecticides to all cocoa farmers – the rules have changed so only those with over 2 acres qualify: most of the cocoa farmers in Shia do not! Furthermore, uneven ground, lack of training as well as fuel costs presented problems for use of the strimmer.

Cocoa in the pod

Fortunately, the 2 mist blowers and one strimmer will all be used with a little more investment and discussions are underway to decide on the best way forward.

 

 

 

So today didn’t exactly go according to plan, but things rarely do in this line of work. Nevertheless I have high hopes for this community and I am privileged to represent an organisation that is listening to their needs and hopes for the future. My initial conversations show that this community is desperate to make a living for themselves to better the lives of their children and ensure that they receive the education they are entitled to so that they can break this cycle of poverty.

Lucy Philipson, Director, COCO

5.10.11