Sunday, 18 April 2010

Week 8 and 9: 14 – 28 March

The highlights of this fortnight were visiting the schools that are going to participate in the Global School Partnerships programme and going to Mole National Park.
Global School Partnerships (GSP)
The GSP schools are a representative group from across the Talensi-Nabdam district. Eighteen schools are looking to partner schools in Milton Keynes and four will be partnering schools in Haverhill, Suffolk. The schools in Haverhill have already been identified and include Walton High’s Leading Edge partner school Castle Manor Business and Enterprise College. I will be working with colleagues on my return to identify another eight schools in Milton Keynes.

Both primary and Junior High Schools are involved in the programme. If successful, the initiative will provide excellent learning opportunities for the children and in staff in both countries.

Below are some of the children and schools in Talensi-Nabdam that will be taking part in the programme.

Takano Junior High School and Pwalugu Primary School
These schools are just off the Tamale Road to the south of Bolgatanga. Just over a thousand children attend the two schools that share the same site.

Students in both the Junior High School and Primary School sit in rows at dual desks. This, and large class sizes, encourages teaching to be very didactic and students’ are usually very passive in their learning.
The students in all the schools visited were exceptionally well behaved and incredibly patient. It is not unusual for students to sit in their classrooms waiting for their teacher to turn up. I came across one class without a teacher and asked where their teacher was - they pointed outside at a teacher asleep under a tree! Teacher absenteeism is a major problem, but due to the centralised system headteachers are powerless to do anything about it. It appears that regardless of how unprofessional or incompetent a teacher is, they cannot be dismissed. The worst that can happen is a transfer to another school.

The headteacher of Takano JHS had a good sense of humour and insisted upon showing me his school’s computer lab. As you can see from the photos below, the name above the door is as far as it goes!

A problem across the district is the recent delivery of new desks – you can see them piled up at the back of this classroom.

Unfortunately the contractor the government commissioned to provide the desks used green wood and as it dried the furniture fell apart. Schools can’t get rid of the broken furniture until the District Auditor has visited to write the desks off!

The building stock in the District is inadequate to meet the growing demand for education. As mentioned earlier in my blog, as a result many children are taught outside under trees. A number of schools in the GSP programme have problems with their buildings. Pwalugu Primary School has to teach a number of its classes in buildings that are called pavilions.

This is especially unfortunate because the Headteacher has made a real effort to ensure that the proper classrooms provide a good learning environment for the children as seen by the displays on the wall below. Displays on the walls of classrooms are very unusual in Ghanaian schools, but they can make an enormous difference to the room.

Tengzuk Primary School
Tengzuk is a village not far from the GES office in the Tongo Hills. It is famous for its shrine and the whistling noise in the made by the wind in the surrounding hills. All visitors must remove all the clothes on the upper part of their body and leave them as an offering to the ancestors. Needless to say, I was not going to visit any shrine that required me to go bare all!

Tengzuk Primary School has some major issues with its buildings. During the storms of 2007 the roof was ripped off and despite assurances from the District Assembly they are still waiting for it to be repaired. However, notwithstanding the lack of roof, lessons still go on in the classrooms.

The success of the campaign that encouraged parents to send their children to school has been very successful across the District. However, this has put a lot of pressure on school accommodation and led to increased class sizes. This is especially the case in kindergarten and primary schools.

The problem with accommodation was only one of the challenges facing the Headteachers of the schools in the GSP programme. Other issues included the lack of trained teachers and insufficient teaching and learning materials. Hopefully, the partnership will be able to help with some of these issues.

Mole National Park
Over the weekend I met up with Janet and Karen, the other Headteachers who went to Ghana with me, for a very pleasant long weekend at Mole National Park. Mole is Ghana’s largest national park and is located in the Northern Region which s to the south of the Upper East Region. Due to the problems with the car hire company and the condition of the roads it took all day to travel to the Park. However, the journey was worth it for the opportunity to view the animals in their natural environment and for the air conditioning in my hotel room!

Some of the wildlife we encountered on our safaris is shown below.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Week 7: 7 – 13 March

This week was spent planning for the Global School Partnerships (GSP) workshop held on Thursday.

The British Council’s Global School Partnerships programme links schools in the UK with schools in other parts of the world. The aim is to promote the awareness of global issues across the curriculum. Partner schools work together on developing joint projects based on five conceptual areas: social justice and equality; diversity; globalisation and interdependence; sustainability; peace and conflict.

The Talensi-Nabdam GES Director, Francis Ayaaba, and the Director of Children’s and Young People’s Services in Milton Keynes, Gail Tolley, have agreed to develop a Local Authority wide partnership. In addition to the four MK-TN GSP clusters, there will also be a link to Walton High’s Leading Edge Partner School in Haverhill, Suffolk, with four of the Ghanaian schools being partnered with schools there.

Feedback on the workshop was very positive, with a lot of excitement about the possibilities the partnership offers for the children and staff in both countries.

Sirigu Art & Pottery Centre

At the weekend I visited the Art and Pottery Centre at a village called Sirigu close to the Burkina Faso border. The centre was set up a few years ago to create opportunities for local women to sell their art and craft work. Since then it has diversified and also offers good quality guesthouse accommodation and tours of local compound houses.

This area of Ghana is famous for its beautifully painted houses. On the walls inside the Art Centre’s restaurant are some examples of the different designs used by local people to decorate their homes.

All the materials used to create the patterns and images are natural and found locally.

On the short walk to the compound home we were visiting, we came across women involved in activities that have not changed over the years. The girl below is pounding millet to separate out the seed from the husk. This is hard work in temperatures of well over 40 degrees. The millet us used to make T-Z, one of the staple local dishes.

The woman below is stirring a large bowl of pounded ground nuts to extract the oil. The ground nuts are grown on the farm to make ground nut oil and paste for the family. Any surplus will be sold at the local market.
In the north of Ghana you will pass many traditionally built compound homes. Visiting one of them gave a fascinating insight into many people’s lives in this part of Ghana.
The different areas of the home are arranged around a courtyard. This is where the family cook and eat and where the laundry is done and hung out to dry. The large pot below is brewing the local alcoholic drink called Pito.

There is also a manger area to keep the farm animals safe at night and a separate grain store which is accessed by a ladder made from the branch of a tree.
We were invited into one of the rooms that surrounded the courtyard. It was beautifully decorated on the outside and was entered via a small opening. Our guide explained that in the past this was for defensive purposes as this area was regularly raided by slave traders. Any attackers entering the room would have to enter head first, making them very vulnerable to attack by the people taking refuge inside. In addition, entering a very dark room from the bright sunlight would also make them temporarily blinded as their eyes adjusted to the darkness. The entrance to this room is now larger than in the past, but you can still see how it would have been a useful defensive measure.

Inside the room an old lady was busy grinding millet (and a few ants). Despite the temperature outside being well over 40 degrees the room was surprisingly cool.

This room was also where the women of the family stored the special stacking pots that are given to them when they marry. Only the woman who owns the pot is allowed to look inside or remove any of its contents. Local people believe that something very unpleasant will happen to anyone who dares to look inside.

Just opposite the Sirigu Art Centre is the best decorated public toilet block I have ever encountered.

Unfortunately when we visited Sirigu Art Centre many people were not around as an important local supporter of the project had recently died and her funeral was that day. Attending funerals at the weekend appears to be almost a national pastime. I have heard more than one news report commenting on the negative impact funerals are having on the country (especially education) due to the number of working days that are lost. In this part if Ghana, and possibly elsewhere, burials and funerals are separate events with funerals taking place months or even years after a person has died and been buried. The delay allows the family to save for the funeral as they can be very expensive affairs that last several days. My taxi driver, Adams, is very critical of this practice and has often said that the same people who spend lavishly on funerals often say they cannot afford school uniforms or pens and pencils for their children to go to school.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

6 March - Independence Day

On 6 March 1957, the Gold Coast was the first African colony to gain independence from the British resulting in the creation of the Republic of Ghana.

Like most flags, the Republic of Ghana’s flag is very symbolic. The red stripe is a reminder of the blood of those who died in the struggle for independence; the gold represents the country’s mineral wealth, whilst the green reflects the fertility of the land and the lush vegetation in the south of the country. The single black five pointed star symbolises African unity.

Ghanaians have an intriguing attitude towards their colonial past. I have yet to meet anyone with an outwardly hostile view of their colonial past. When people they find out I am British they often comment “our colonial masters” without a hint of irony. Ghanaians are, however, very proud of their independence and national identity and frequently refer to the positive way their country is portrayed internationally.

6th March is celebrated by people all over the country with cultural celebrations and marches by school children. Talensi-Nabdam is no exception and in the weeks leading up to the big day children practice their marching and finalise their displays.

The celebrations for the district of Talensi-Nabdam were to take place at the Mission Field in Tongo. The programme for the day indicated an early start, but proceedings eventually got underway at 10 a.m. with the arrival of the local Chiefs and dignitaries. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but found the day to be most enjoyable.

After the national anthem and speeches there was a cultural display performed by the children.

The students representing schools from across the District began their march past at about midday – this means they had been sitting in the heat of the sun, without any shade or water, for four hours! Despite this, the students marched with great pride and a surprising amount of energy!

Some adults also marched, including teachers, hairdressers, refuse collectors and tailors and seamstresses.

The Independence Day Parade is organised by the Ghana Education Service and it uses this event to publically acknowledge the work of individuals and groups that have contributed in some way to improving educational opportunities for young people in the District. You can imagine my surprise when I heard the Director announce that I was one of those to be honoured for the work I was doing in relation to establishing links between schools in Talensi-Nabdam and Milton Keynes and the setting up of an ICT Centre.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Week 5 & 6: 22 February - 5 March

Many thanks for the feedback on the Blog, it is much appreciated. In response to some of the questions I have received from students about what life is like for young people living in northern Ghana, I have enlisted the help of the two students below. They borrowed my camera and have taken some photographs to illustrate aspects of their lives.  The first part of their entry is below, but more will be added to this posting by the end of next week.

Peter and Jessica

Hello - my English name is Jessica, but I also have an African name which is Badipeth which means “do not stumble and fall”.

My name is Peter. My African name is Tindanzor which means “friend to the owner of the land”.

Jessica: I am 13 years old. I have two sisters. One sister is older than me and the other younger. I also have three older brothers. I live with my Mother and Father. My Father is a Police Inspector in Tongo and my Mother sells chilled Pure Water. I am in JHS1 at St Martin’s Catholic School in Tongo. This is me in class.

Peter: I am 15 years old. I don’t have any sisters, just three brothers – two are older than me and one is younger.

My Father is a farmer and he grows millet, maize and okra on the farm. We also have five cows, three ducks, pigs and six donkeys. The donkeys are used to carry firewood and to plough the land.

Jessica: We have two puppies at home that will be used as guard dogs. We also have five cats, hens, turkeys and pigs. The dogs are my favourite as I don’t like cats very much.

Jessica: My house is called Yindanyir which means “the landlord’s house”.

Peter: My house’s name is Yinbilyir which means “the house belonging to the twin that was born second”. Both my house and Jessica’s house have a similar traditional design. It is a circular compound house with a courtyard in the middle – this is where the family eats and spends most of its time. I took the snap below from the Tongo Hills. It shows the type of homes that are typical in this part of Ghana.

Peter: There are rooms surrounding the courtyard and a manger for the animals. The different rooms include a barn for storing food and bedrooms for parents, grandparents and the children. There is also a cooking room called a danboog. Cooking is done on an open fire using wood for fuel. Three stones are used at the edge of the fire and the wood is arranged in a triangular pattern. The cooking pot hangs above the fire. My home does not have lights and everyone in the village has to fetch their water from a bore hole.

Jessica: Below are some snaps of my home. From left to right they show: the house from the outside; the courtyard and the kitchen. Most homes don’t have lights, but we do which means we can have a fridge and television.

Peter: We live in Tongo, at the foot of the Tongo Hills. This area is famous for its shrines and festivals. Below is a snap of me and a friend at Boare during the recent Golbo Festival.

During the festival people are not allowed to wear shirts. Traditionally people wear skins instead to cover them, but now most people wear towels. During the festival animals are sacrificed at Wakii Shrine. This is in the hope that there will be peace during the festival. The festival is a time when people can make new friends and meet a partner, but marriage is not allowed at this time. There is a lot of dancing and music. If someone has done something bad, then their name is used in a song. They have to be there and dance to the song because if they refuse they will die or won’t be able to have children.

All the local landowners also gather during the festival at the Tenzuk Shrine. Sacrifices take place and they pray to the gods that next year the farms will be productive, babies are healthy, the rains will come and there will be plenty of jobs for people to do.

Jessica: We have two shrines in our home. The shrine below gives the name to a new born baby.

The other shrine is for the blood of Guinea Fowl that have been sacrificed. If the meat of the sacrificed animal is eaten with the blood it brings bad luck on the person.

The men below are my Grandfather and Uncle. My Grandfather is the priest and he and my Uncle are at the Musori Shrine.

The animals sacrificed at this shrine include fowls, cattle and goats. It is a shrine to our forefathers who settled here many years ago. The founder had run away from his older brother who was going to kill him. The place where he built his house is called Puhig and is shown in the pictures below.

The Gingang Festival is held at this place every September to honour our ancestors.  The place is the land on which our Great Grandfather was buried.  Grass does not grow here there even during the rainy season.

Only my Father still follows traditional beliefs. Me, my Mum, brothers and sisters are all Catholic and go to Church on Sunday.

Peter: All my family still follow the traditional beliefs.

A typical school day

Jessica: I get up at about 5am and usually have left over TZ for breakfast. All children have to do jobs before going to school. I sweep the courtyard, wash the bowls and fetch the water from the bore hole. After this, I take a bath and dress for school.

Peter: My morning is very similar to Jessica’s, except boys are also responsible for opening the mangers and tending to the animals. Quite often the bore hole we usually use is not working - when this happens we have to walk a long way to the next one fetch water.

Jessica: Pupils arrive at school at 6 a.m. and school finishes at 2p.m.. Before lessons, everyone has to help sweep the compound, clean the desks, water the flowers and fetch water. The girls also have to wash the teachers’ cups and bowls.

Peter: Morning assembly starts at 7.30 a.m.. We sing the national anthem and say the pledge. Assembly finishes with prayers. If you are late for school you have to stay behind at the end of the day and pick stones. The stones are put in large piles and the school sells them to raise money. If you are often late you are sometimes given 3 canes – this is with a ruler across the back of your hand.

Jessica: There are three classes at my Junior High School. I am in JHS1 and there are 62 students in my class. My favourite subject is English. I really like reading story books and writing and want to be a journalist. My least favourite subject is Basic Design. I don’t like the slowness involved and having to do things very accurately with the ruler.

Peter: We study Mathematics; Integrated Science; English; Basic Design; ICT; Art; Social Studies and Religious and Moral Education at my school. Girls also do Home Economics. My favourite subject is Maths. I like working with numbers, but I don’t like writing. I want to be an accountant when I leave school.

Jessica: We get homework regularly. The piece of homework we were given today was a comprehension exercise. We have been given a passage from the story of Ananse spider and have to answer five questions about the extract to show we understand it. We get given a piece of homework one day and have to hand it in the next.

Peter: If a student misbehaves in class they have to kneel down at the front of the class facing the wall or they might be sent out. In the cold season we might also be caned.

Jessica: We don’t have any after school clubs, but some students have to stay behind for extra lessons. After school I have to fetch more water. The number of times I have to go to the bore hole depends on how much water we need. I also study and do my homework and because I am a girl I have to help my mother cook the meal. When I have spare time I really like playing Ampe – only girls play this. It involves clapping and jumping to make up different dances.

Peter: After school I also have to fetch water and do my homework, but because I am a boy I don’t have to help in the house. This means I have time to play football and Oware with my friends. Oware is a game for two players and involves getting seeds into holes – it is great fun.

The above account was written with input from two of Jessica’s and Peter’s classmates. They also gave generously of their time and made some excellent contributions to the discussion about the issues covered above.

On the Domestic Front

I do hope you have enjoyed the insight Jessica and Peter have given into aspects of their lives – I certainly found it a pleasure working with them on putting this post together.

On 28 February my housemate, Christina, took delivery of a 7 week old puppy – his name for now is Puppy.

As you can see from the photo, he has beautiful blue eyes and in true puppy style started off very timid but is getting more adventurous by the day. At times he already forgets the fact that he is not alpha dog in this pack!

The acquisition of the puppy has also revealed some interesting cultural differences. Local Muslims do not have dogs as pets, they only keep them for security and hunting and Ghanaians who have seen the photo of Puppy having his first bath thought it a very strange thing to do to a dog. I have also discovered that dog meat is a delicacy in this part of Ghana, with a special area of the market trading both cooked and raw dog meat. Hopefully this is not a fate that awaits Puppy when Christina returns to the Republic of Ireland later this year.