This blog is a record of the experiences of eight students from Michigan Technological University while working on projects in Ghana as part of the Pavlis Institute for Global Technological Leadership. The students are divided into three project groups (the laptop group, the library group, and the sanitation group), and may not always be in the same place at the same time. A brief summary of the projects can be found by clicking on the names of the groups.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
First Trip to Babianeha
(Written July eighth)
Yesterday Kurt and I went with Emmanuel to the village in which he was raised, Babianeha. The trip from our hostel in Sunyani to the village only took about an hour, which is, apparently, fairly typical. In the future, we will first have to take a taxi or tro-tro to Doorma, and then another taxi or a tro-tro to Babianeha. Today, though, we used one of the trucks owned by the school of forestry, which was somewhat more convenient, yet also more expensive.
It had rained last night, and so the recently graded dirt road into Babianeha had turned into a quagmire of mud from which a tro-tro in front of us barely escaped. Fortunately, the four wheel drive of our truck was more than adequate for the task, and we made it both into and out of the village with no trouble.
Once in the village, we went to the house of Emmanuel’s sister, where we waited for his brother, a teacher at one of the schools in the village. In the area there are both Christian and Muslim schools, one of the main difference between the two being that the latter teaches in Arabic as well as English. We passed by a kindergarten and a grade school on our way to the junior high, a building that bears more than a passing resemblance to the Ridge Experimental School. However, the differences inside quickly became apparent—this school only had a single XO laptop, and it was in one of the teacher’s rooms.
Emmanuel’s brother also led us to the junior high at which he taught in the neighboring village of Kofibadukrum. Here there were some old desktop computers, but these were nonfunctional, strewn across the computer lab in pieces. Regardless of the fact that the computers didn’t work, the door to the lab seemed to have come from a shipping crate, and was made of thick metal with a solid lock.
One of the teachers that we met with in Babianeha, upon learning that the laptop group had delivered twenty laptops to the Ridge Experimental School, argued that his school, being rural, needed the computers more. And indeed, Babianeha more closely fits the stereotypical idea of an African village that most Americans have than Sunyani, so it was a valid point. It’s not fair to call either school, which both desperately want laptops, greedy—the people only want what is best for their children, and they’re understandably skeptical of empty-handed Westerners. So they do what they can to get a promise for aid, showing the hard fact that, no matter how much we can accomplish while we are here, there will always be more people, just as deserving as those that we have helped.
Indeed, the children seemed little different than those at Ridge—there weren’t quite as many, but Kurt and I quickly drew a mass of children around us who either held onto our hands and arms or followed in our wake, giggling at our words and covertly attempting to touch our skin. They were also rather fond of having their pictures taken, and Kurt promised one of the classes that when we came back, it would be with a group photo.
And so, after exchanging greetings, and sitting on the porch of the school amongst our eager throng of followers, Emmanuel introduced us and explained our projects. The school is interested in having both the laptop group and library group to visit, as the school needs both.
As for our particular project group, Emmanuel promised us that his nephew would be able to translate our surveys, as not everyone in the village speaks English and our Twi is nowhere near as good as it would have to be. In addition to our work on sanitation, we also promised the villagers that we would look into any needs that they have and create projects for the cohort that comes after ours. Thus, in the coming days we will also be readying our surveys and preparing ways to work around the language barrier, in such ways as using pictures and simple diagrams instead of written scripture.
Much to our delight we found that many of the villagers had private latrines already in place. The upkeep could be something to look into, but that will be a decision of the community. The village had several water pumps to retrieve ground water allowing easy access to this essential element of life. Emmanuel’s sister even had one of the black reservoir that are used throughout much of Ghana. This allowed their house to have running water with sinks and toilets.
After our visit to the school, Kurt and I became the first members of the cohort to leave the country, which we did by walking to Cote d’Ivore. Kofibadukrum exists on both sides of the border between Ghana and Cote d’Ivore, and the two halves were distinguished by exactly two factors: each side uses the currency of the country it is in, and the lampposts in Ghana are made of wood, while the ones in Cote d’Ivore are of concrete. We were able to stand in both countries simultaneously, which made us appreciate just how arbitrary the national borders that the European powers made when they divided Africa among themselves are. Indeed, the village is sustained because of the tribal bonds the villagers share, not the national ones.
However, the clashes among tribes forced to share a country with opposing tribes have been an unfortunate aspect of post-colonial African history. Ghana is one of the most politically stable countries in Africa—just last year, an election in which the party opposing the incumbent party took the presidency went smoothly—which is due in no small part to the lack of tribal strife. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t happen; rather, it is a part of Ghanaian politics, but not a dominate one.
On the topic of politics, we were able to meet with the assistant chief of Kofibadukrum on the border. With Emmanuel’s help, we introduced ourselves and explained to him all three of the projects that our cohort is working on, and told him that we would be back. Like the teachers in Bebianeha, he seemed enthusiastic; computers for children are in high demand.
After we walked back to Babianeha, it was time for lunch, and Emmanuel’s sister generously fed us a spicy tomato stew over rice. In deference to our American tastes, it wasn’t as spicy as it is supposed to be, but it was still quite good, and gave us an opportunity to think about what we had just done.
Indeed, while our original plans were, in part, to price out wood and nails as the main construction supplies, all of the buildings that we saw were either of mud bricks, concrete, or corrugated metal, with wood used very sparingly, such as for roof frames or fences. Wood used for construction here needs expensive chemical treatment to prevent insect infestation, and is prone to warping in the heat and humidity. And while we will still do our sanitation surveys to develop a case study, it will be just as important to determine what else the villages need, not necessarily limited to sanitation.
However, we haven’t strictly focused on only our project in our time here. We went to Ridge Experimental School the first time the other groups went, and we went there today to help the laptop group with a science experiment to demonstrate the principles of electromagnetism to the students by having them build motors out of batteries, wire, tape, paperclips, and magnets. In the following weeks, it is possible that we may require the help of the other groups to make our surveys a manageable task. It is one of the benefits of there being eight of us—there’s always someone to help.