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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Photos: Meet Yenongya and Yenintombi

I have placed four final separate posts online today. They cover a variety of things; they introduce our team who I think you would like to meet; they provide pictures of the Enskinment ceremony, and they show you a bit about Vida's life as a lecturer at the University of Developmental Studies in Tamale. . Yes, Vida does have a life outside UBC Okanagan and I wanted to share a bit of that. We fly out this evening and I wanted to have all posts completed so that I could leave this modem with Cynthia. I know when Vida returns to Ghana, she will need to stay in contact with UBC so will be handing the modem off to her. Meanwhile, Cynthia and Josbert can make good use of it. The fourth blog also offers a final story of our journey back to the coast...yet another bus ride with its challenges although no flat tires I am happy to say. We have been told that it is finally raining in the villages which is good; the rains were late and we worried for the farmers.

A personal thank you to everyone who followed the blog. Knowing you were with us and reading of our journey made a big difference and allowed us to feel connected. We look forward to sharing stories with you when we get home, but having you all with us for the journey was wonderful; it was great to share and being a bit of an insomniac here, it gave me something to do during sleepless hours.

Thanks for joining us on our journey and enjoy the blogs below.

Enskinment ceremony; Here the Chief is inducting me into the community. It was a very moving and unforgettable moment.

Once the chief has placed the robe over me, he then kneels and places shoes on my feet. For the chief to kneel in front of me, a woman and a stranger was a very powerful gesture. Needless to say, that gesture was not lost on me.

Jan's turn; the man who is performing the ceremony is second chief, and chief of the Nangodi people nearby. He is also an adult education supervisor so I though his induction of Jan was fitting since it was adult education that inspired Jan to come with me in the first place.

Traditional gifts are presented in the form of eggs, live guinea hens and a case of coca cola. We both wondered what customs officials might have thought if we brought the guinea hens on as carry on baggage.

Once the ceremony was completed, we were danced back to our chairs. The Chief's normally very stoic expression was a delighted smile all the way back and he is very happy to have this project in his village. I am encouraged by this young man; his daughters are in school, he is very progressive and welcoming and he wants the very best for his community. He is young, not even 30, but has a presence and dignity far beyond his years. The Enskinment ceremony was indeed the highlight of this whole trip and I knew in that moment, that I would come back. Connection is everything.

Vida's Other Life

Most of us at UBC Okanagan know Vida as a student, first as a master's candidate and now completing her Phd. However, Vida has another life in Ghana and I wanted to share a little about that with all of you. We know that she is far more than a student, and that she has contributed to her wider community in many ways, not the least of which is Project GROW.

When we were in Tamale, Jan and I visited the campus where Vida holds a position as a Lecturer with the School of Medicine and Health Sciences in the Faculty of Nursing. So, she teaches nursing, but she does more too. She also runs the University Health services, much like our own Health Services here at UBC Okanagan, and is the Nurse Manager. It was exciting to wander around her campus and picture her in one of the offices or teaching. She will return, armed and dangerous to those who do not promote women's health I might add, and resume her teaching role at UDS once her Phd is completed. So, next time you come across Vida on our campus, you might want to think beyond her studies in Canada, and picture her in place at UDS, continuing to influence and inspire, and to change lives in her own community.

I have popped a couple of pictures in below so you get an idea as to what the campus looks like. It is south of Tamale, and has a lot of land because they are, like UBC Okanagan, in a building and expanding phase. UDS has 4 campuses and according to Cynthia, the plan is to bring the campuses together at one location, or at least to centralize much of the learning there.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Meet our team in Ghana

Today is Friday, June 3rd, and as we work our way back to Accra we leave many new friends behind to carry on with the activities of Project GROW. Most of the work is follow-up, however; the most intensive efforts are over and all of those who made this such a successful two weeks are breathing a big sigh of relief. Getting the money to Ghana, and then getting that money distributed to the various suppliers was particularly tight this year and the pressure was on to get everything in place for the two presentations.
It is fitting then, to use one of the final blogs to introduce the team to all of you who have been following our travels. They are all wonderful, dedicated people and I’ll do my best to introduce them and fill you in on their backgrounds.

Cynthia is a Health Services Administrator and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Administration and is Vida's niece. It would take an entire, separate blog to really do justice to Cynthia's contributions, both to GROW and as our travelling companion. She met us at the airport, arranged all of our transportation, devised great places to see, showed us a side to Ghana that we would never have experienced on our own. She listened attentively to every single observation and often acted on something as a result of a comment or having overheard something Jan and I might have said. In the villages, Cynthia, like Vida, is an inspiration to the girls, and a fine example of why Girl Child Education is so important. She is also a fierce negotiator who either won the match, or in the rare moment when she didn't, gave a dismissive wave of the hand and found an alternative. Every single Ghanian man who dealt with us seemed to prefer to talk to her and Jan and I got very used to seeing this happen on a daily basis. Using her great charm and dignity, she could smooth the way and get us out of whatever predicament we found ourselves in. By the way, the Ghanian men were also dismissed, but in the nicest possible manner. As you can see by the photo, she has a great smile and that, I think, is a big part of her success. Many thanks to Cynthia; you have been a great friend and fellow traveller and we will miss you very much.


Josbert holds a diploma in Community Nursing and works northeast of Bolga as a Community Nurse, working primarily with family planning. Josbert took a leave from work and has spent much of that time doing the pre-organizational work to get the delivery items in place, the celebrations organized and overseeing just about any other task that needed doing. As our man on the ground, his work began long before we got there. Josbert is key to virtually every step of the process from start to finish: MC's each event, and divided the shopping list, following each purchase as it happened. His phone never, ever, stopped ringing the whole time he was with us. He also contributed to the adult education sessions because of his desire to see his people achieve their goal of literacy. He is passionate about the community centre and his presentation to the local Rotary inspired them to the point where they attended the second presentation of gifts at Sakote. Josbert also provided me with my first ever ride on a motorbike, just one of many memories I will cherish from this trip.

Jonas Jonas has a diploma in Accounting and works for the National Service as an accountant, although watching him working with our adult learners, he was equally comfortable with education. Jonas organized much of the entertainment for the two events, the children’s programming and performances, volunteered during our adult education sessions, and organized much of the financial activity (distributing money for the various items, keeping track of who was buying what, and providing receipts at the end of it all). Jonas also did much of the translating for the English versions of both my speech and Vida’s. He is wearing a UBC Okanagan T-shirt in this photo ~ a subtle welcome to us both perhaps.


Langumori, Vida's younger brother, is the local GROW coordinator for the villages and manages much of our work throughout the year. He lives in the village so his connection was crucial for having the village participation for the celebration. He also did much of the buying and stored most of the purchases until the big day. Langumori is married with 3 daughters.


Vida’s sister is one of the women leaders, originally from the village and now lives in Bolgatanga. Pogbil, along with two of the other women leaders, organized the buying of the food for the school lunch program, and was also responsible for getting participants involved in both presentations. Over the coming months, she will be one of the mentors for the Sakote group as they learn the ropes of being part of this NGO. While all of the women of Nyobok-Nkunzesi will be there to support the group, it is women like Pogbil, involved from the beginning, who can contribute advice and guidance. The donations look like a simple thing that will benefit the women, but there are many challenges as they manage their livestock, drive the donkey carts or rent them out, use the ploughs, and hold regular meetings. Pogbil’s experience with the first group will be invaluable in mentoring the new one.


Kennedy is currently studying for a degree in Community Development at the University of Developmental Studies (UDS). Kennedy’s role was getting the logistics such as canopies (which Jan and I would have melted without), chair rentals, sound systems, video recording He also organized the letters of invitation to the dignitaries . He also worked closely with Josbert to organize the transport of all of the goods and livestock to the village which was no small task as I mentioned in an earlier blog.

Clifford   Clifford has just graduated from high school and is now attending the University for Development Studies in Tamale. He picked up the slack on many of the small, tedious tasks such as printing off programs and other administrative tasks. And of course, once we were able to get going on the buying, Clifford, like everyone else, was involved in that process.


A close friend of Josbert’s, Samuel has been to every Project GROW delivery and has been involved in transport, distribution and just the general grunt work of the project(last time round, he worked with the protocol team) Samuel is also a teacher and very interested in the Laptop program.


Hannah is currently enrolled in a vocational program to become a seamstress and lives in the twin villages of Nyobok-Nkunzesi. She is the mother of 2 daughters, and serves as the secretary for Project GROW. Because Hannah has secondary education, she will also work as one of our two adult education facilitators to carry on the program. The adult education program was perhaps the most exciting moment for the first villages involved in the program, and having Hannah as a facilitator will ensure that the opportunity to learn continues. Hannah was everywhere during the two presentations to make sure all of the women got to the events and assisting in the details. Hannah’s husband also puts in a great deal of time with the project, especially this year when there were two major events and lots of livestock to manage.
Sampson  Sampson is the other adult educator for the program and has taught primary school so is comfortable in his role. He lives in Sakote but since the two locations are close together, facilitating the program not only be possible, but he is also ideally placed to encourage participants from the new village as well. During the presentations, and leading up to the big days Sampson made countless trips between the villages to set up the canopies, assist with transporting animals and keep the two main presentation events running smoothly. He was also involved with handing out the goats and other goods

Philomena YakongAlthough she was not here for the deliveries this year, Vida’s sister Philomena must be mentioned as well. She is currently in Canada with Vida, enjoying the arrival of her new niece, Claire, and will travel back with them both as soon as Claire’s paperwork (passport and visa) is all in order. Philomena is a Public Health Nurse , but currently is employed as a Health Care Administrator and lives in the western region of Ghana; she has a long way to travel home for Project GROW events. She is a signing officer for our NGO, and has, in the past, been involved in every GROW delivery which means taking a few buses (always a challenge here in Ghana) in order to get to the villages. Philomena has always delivered the speeches on our behalf as well as for Vida in her absence. I know both she and Vida have followed our travels every step of the way and were wishing that they could have been on location to celebrate with us. There are a lot of people waiting for their arrival, and I have no doubt that when all three get here, there will a second celebration in each village and the fun will begin again.

Naya is one of Vida's brothers who lives in the village and was involved with organization from that end. Naya took care of the livestock as it arrived, caring, feeding and then on the big day, was part of the distribution. At the moment, I have no picture of Naya, but will post that as soon as possible.

And that, my friends, is an introduction to the people who make things happen and without them, all the donations in the world would not matter. Having the opportunity to see them in action made me aware that many of our team suspend their own income to make Vida’s dream a reality. In future years, we will need to consider this aspect because GROW is getting bigger and we will need to support and place some kind of value on the time they spend getting everything together.

Reflections in Ghana

Jan's Final Thoughts
My farewells to Ghana. As I sit on a breezy veranda seaside in Accra, I want to thank the people of Ghana for their sincere welcome. I met with outstanding courtesy everywhere I went. I want to celebrate their vibrant culture that is is full of music and colour. I think back on the red soil of the countryside that gives Prince Edward Island a run for its money. It supports the agriculture that is the backbone of the country. I marvel at the entrepeneurial spirit of the traders. There is no WalMart in this country. Goods are sold in small stalls that are open early and stay open late into the dark night. I am impressed with the emphasis on education that is widespread in the country. I am very grateful for the companionship of Vida's entended family, and I thank them for their hard work on behalf of Project Grow. I feel I have made many new friends in this hospitable country. And lastly, I thank our beloved Cynthia who was beside us every step of they way on this amazing journey. Ghana, I salute you.

Cindy's Final Thoughts
This morning (early morning I might add; I seem to be awake at 5:30 every morning) I am back in the Afia African Resort in Accra, back to a place where we began our trip 3 short weeks ago. I can hear the ocean and am in a comfortable room and knowing that a good resturant is just steps away.

We are finished with long gruelling bus rides and after yesterday's journey from Tamale, the positive attitude to bus travel in Ghana dried up. The bus itself was a good one; air conditioned and roomy seats. All luggage was underneath the bus which means no yams or suitcases in the aisles. As well, no flat tires, no breakdowns, no torrential rains, so those were all bonuses. Yet bus travel is always a challenge and no matter what the estimate, add at LEAST 2 hours.

We were told to be at the Tamale depot at 5:30 and so we were. First clue that this was not the time was the fact that we were the only people there. Bus stations are always busy here, and when it was so quiet, we began to wonder. An hour later people started to trickle in and finally, at 7:40, our bus left the depot. We knew the trip would be about 12 hours and although daunting, prepared ourselves for a long ride. Cynthia is used to this and has done it twice in the last 3 weeks, but Jan and I are another story. I envy Jan, she can sleep on the bus whereas I can be exhausted and yet won't fall asleep for fear of missing something.

The better buses in Ghana have TVs on them, so for the entire daylight journey, we are forced to watch soap operas that all have a moral message under every plot line. This in itself is perhaps doable, and you might think, just tune it out. Unlike an airline, this TV service does not come equipped with headphones and instead the speakers are on full blast because noise is part of the culture. So, for 8 hours we watched these soap operas, trying to tune them out was impossible. Finally, when they ran out, a live soccer match came on, again at full blast but Ghanian commentators. By this time I had my fingers in my ears which helped a bit. Ghana is soccer (or football) crazy by the way. There are games on every field, even games being played on the beach in front of our hotel, with teams in their full uniforms and the surf as a backdrop...pretty cool atually.

We had a smooth, if noisy ride to Kumasi, the big city that really seems to divide north and south. When we stopped in Kumasi on the way up we were impressed with how busy it was, coming back, that busyness translated into gridlock traffic and of course all bus depots are in the centre of the city. We arrived at 1:25 and we finally got back on the road and moving at a reasonable clip at 3:45. Since there is only one main highway and it is single lane traffic through this, the second largest city in Ghana, I did not envy the driver at all. Even on the highway, we tend to average 50 km per hour because of big trucks, single lane traffic, and speed bumps at every small town the road passes through (and there are zillions of small towns) The delay in Kumasi, plus the need to pick our way through a very long stretch of road construction as we neared Accra, and further gridlock in Accra with yet more construction, meant that our bus trip was now over 15 hours. We had hoped to arrive at 8 pm, did not get here until 10:30. We knew the dining room closed at 11 and began to worry that we would go to bed hungry so phoned ahead to see if they would have dinner prepared for us. Bless their hearts, they had a wonderful meal for us, we checked in to our clean suites and all was well.

So, that is the last bus ride and although we have lots of airline travel in front of us, it will seem a luxury to know that the person next to me who is watching a movie can do so without my hearing it. I also know that there will be food, a washroom, and perhaps a glass of wine or two on my KLM flights, bliss indeed.

I will miss many things when I leave. Bolgatanga, for all of its challenges, is a place full of fond memories. I enjoyed the markets, watching the people conduct small businesses out of ramshackle kiosks. I will miss hearing the Muslim call to prayer in the quiet of the early mornings because I always seemed to wake up about that time. As Jan pointed out, one of the benefits of the air conditioning failing was how clearly we heard it without the whirr of the fans. Watching the goats meander through everyday life was also kind of peaceful, they were everywhere, nibbling on any grass and leaves they could reach. Cattle also wandered through our hotel grounds, although it was a bit of a shock to open my curtain one morning and see a bull looking right into my window!

Most of all I will miss the people; their warmth, their openness, and desire to talk and share stories was wonderful. I think in our heads-down, busy culture, we have lost that special link that can only be made through sharing stories with strangers. I especially loved how everyone would get to know you, ask questions, and then, this would translate into asking you for your cell phone number so they could put it into their cell phone. Ghanians must have a huge contact list built into their phones because it was always the final question of any conversation. I know I will be back because of Project GROW, and I will look forward to reconnecting with many people.

I will appreciate the predictable plumbing, smooth roads, good food (bring on a salad) and my comfortable life in Canada. Decent rest areas and public washroom facilities are something we take for granted, but on a bus, on a long journey in northern Ghana, such things don't exist and it was always necessary to strike a balance between enough water to avoid dehydration, but not so much that we would need a bathroom.

However, challenges aside, Ghana offered connections and simplicity on a grand scale...things slow down here and you soon give up your demand for punctuality and organization; it simply doesn't matter and in Bolgatanga it is just too darn hot to make an issue of such things. So, a fond farewell to a place that, for all of its challenges, taught us much about ourselves and about the world we share. And farewell to the very special friends we made along the way.

As the speakers in our presentations liked to say in closing...Long Live Ghana!

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Lots of posts and pictures below as well; we were so busy for the last couple of days that it was impossible to get to all of the information and recognitions. so I have spent some time catching up.

After celebrating with Vida's family over a final dinner, we returned to the hotel and the power went out. This made the final packing rather exciting and I am still wondering if I have left anything important behind. Without air conditioning, the room was steaming hot, and of course, now that I know how much spiders prefer the warm temperatures, I couldn't help but wonder if there were any lurking nearby. We were planning to leave early this morning, 5:30, to catch another one of what I choose to call a 'yam' bus much like the one we took from Kumasi. Resigned to sweating all night, and again for a minimum of 2 and a half hours on a crowded bus, it was a wonderful surprise when Josbert and Cynthia pulled up with a man who was heading to Tamale in his very new, airconditioned security truck. For a fee of 30 cedi, we rode in style, had a chance to see the landscape up close and listen to local music on the radio. The driver was a bit fast, and a bit ruthless and one dead dog later we arrived in Tamale. (Jan, our dog lover, was asleep at the time, and I was glad she missed it as it was a pretty callous moment and she had a hard time watching the goats get vaccinated, the dog's demise would have been much worse!)

We arrived in Tamale at 8, and are currently in a pretty basic hotel, not nearly as comfortable as the Comme si Comme sa., but it is for 1 night, and then we are up early and at the bus again at 5:30. This will be a higher end bus, air conditioned so should be at least a little easier than the trip up. It will be long though, minimum 10 hours and I am learning that Ghanians like to tell you what you want to hear so if you ask how long the bus ride is, you will hear a positive response; they want you to be happy after all. It has taken me all this time to learn, don't ask:)

So, sadly, our Ghana experience is winding down. We'll be in Accra tomorrow night, spend Saturday getting ready for the flight home and then on the plane on Sunday evening. However, we do have Tamale to explore this afternoon. Apparently the food is much better here with more variety and the town is definitely attractive, lots of trees and quite green as more rain falls here than in Bolga. We will be going to visit the University of Developmental Studies and looking at some of their adult education programming as well as community development programs. Then dinner, bed, and a long journey tomorrow.

Off to explore the Tamale market too as once UDS is done, we are finished the obligatory visits. It is great to have all the speeches and presentations behind me and I will get to be a tourist for these last few days. I have led more discussions and made more presentations and speeches on this trip than I have in my entire life, so time to do a bit of travel and shopping...always a great way to come down from an intensive stretch of work.

Bye for now

Partnerships with GROW; it is not just UBC

I can't let this blog go by without recognizing some of the people who have supported this project and are not part of the UBC community. St. Charles Catholic church heard Vida speak, and over $6,000 was donated to GROW. Most of those donations are part of the Sakote village event, although some went to Nyobok too. There was a special donation from one of the families connected to St. Charles in the form of a donkey named Turbo II. Turbo II was donated in memory of Larry Chisholm who recently passed away. His family decided to donate a donkey in his name. Since Larry had a donkey named Turbo, who is still alive, they decided to contribute funds and purchase Turbo II in his memory. Turbo was delivered in Sakote today, and Cynthia told the story.

As well, long before we got involved with Vida's village, the Salmon Arm First United Church has been busy supporting education in the villages. Through the support of the First United Church of Salmon Arm in Canada, we have also been able to provide numerous items; Furniture for the Nkunzesi Primary school, a water tank for the school, school supplies and the sponsorship of 64 girls and 4 boys with special needs. There are many initiatives in Ghana that are sponsored by churches from overseas; it is great to see Okanagan churches part of this involvement and having seen their impact first hand, this is a good opportunity to salute the contributions of both churches. Your generosity is making a big difference.

Local Dancers; could have watched them all day

Local landscape. The day was ending here but the villagers showed no signs of slowing down!

Goats, there were 31 of them.

Being escorted into the village in a sea of people. Always touching always a bit overwhelming.

Okay, yes, this does look slightly biblical!

This was a wonderful sight. They had the Canadian flag up, and as we walked into the village, there was something moving about seeing the maple leaf against the African landscape. I felt a certain pride that this project was associated with that flag, but as a country with our incredible wealth, we could do much more.

The dancers are presenting to us and are dancing to tin clackers, and a big lug nut around their thumb that is tapping the metal. I am astounded at the rythym of these people. I have seen children drumming on an empty cardboard box, and it sounds great. And when the drummers get going, it gets even better.

People are jammed in, watching the presentation...needless to say it got very very hot standing in the crowd.