Sunday, 31 January 2010

Day 6 & 7: 16-17 January

On Day 6, Madam Gertrude insisted that we allow her seamstress to make a typically Ghanaian outfit for us. After selecting our preferred styles from numerous designs displayed on posters, measurements were taken. Our host even arranged for the finished articles to be delivered to the VSO office in Accra – photo to follow?

The rest of the day was spent travelling back to the villa in Accra.

On Day 7 our driver, Darlington, had suggested we might like to go to the beach. What he forgot to tell us was we were going via the Shai Hills Resource Reserve. I had forgotten my water and Janet had dressed for the beach!
The Reserve consists of a very striking range of rocky hills surrounded by coastal savannah. We saw many species of birds, including wild Guinea Fowl and Grey Hornbill, as well as bats, baboons and Kob antelopes.

This stick insect caused Janet to panic when it decided to hitch a ride – fortunately it was rescued by the guide before it came to any serious harm.

Our guide also took us to the caves once inhabited by the Dangme Shai people. This tribe was removed from the land to make way for the Reserve.

In discussion we asked our guide, Michael, about his role. He explained that their job was to stop poaching and to show visitors around. We asked how many female guides there were on this Reserves and similar sites around the country. To his knowledge there weren’t any. He thought this was entirely appropriate as he did not feel that women would be able to cope with the physical demands of hiking through the savannah and camping over night.

After a short hike that even we three women were able to manage, we entered one of the caves that were used in the past by the Chief of the Dangme Shai tribe and encountered hundreds of bats. The stench created by these mammals was very strong and the colony took flight as we approached.  It was amazing to see how so many of these creatures were able to fly around in such a confined space without colliding with each other.

At one of the dams used to create watering holes for animals, there was a rustling in the bushes followed by a quick glimpse of a large gold and black snake - a rock python! Pythons are non-venomous and completely harmless – that is unless you are a small antelope or rodent, in which case they might crush you to death before swallowing you whole!

In the Shai Hills ticket office I came across these exercise books – I don’t think this was the intended use of these resources!

At the end of our tour of Shai Hills Reserve we headed for the beach.

On the way back to Accra we listened to Arsenal defeat Bolton 2-0 on BBC World Service and were greeting by an amazing spectacle over the city’s night sky as literally hundreds of thousands of bats took to the night sky to head off to the surrounding countryside to feed overnight.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Day 5: Friday, 15 January

Kente cloth workshop
On the way to visit Walton High’s two partner schools, Jamasi Methodist Junior High School and Akrofonso District Assembly Junior High School, we stopped off at a Kente cloth workshop to see the fabric being woven by men in the traditional way.

Kente cloth is worn by the Akan tribes during important ceremonies, but is world famous patterns and bright colours are now used to make many other products as well, including bags, flip flops, tablecloths and blankets.

Outside the workshop there were a number of children playing and the five youngsters below kept asking for their photograph to be taken, so we obliged.

Jamasi Methodist Junior High School & Akrofonso District Assembly Junior High School

We received a typically warm Ghanaian welcome from the staff and students at both of Walton High’s partner schools. Two classes joined together for an interesting question and answer session. We were encouraged to practice our very limited Twi. Thanks to the coaching I received from Bismark, one of Walton High’s caretakers, my effort received a round of applause, whilst my colleagues’ attempts were received with much laughter!

Despite the temperature being easily well over 32C a couple of students were wearing their jackets because they thought it was a bit chilly!

One of the questions we asked the students was about the start of their school day. Children arrive at 7am to clean the school and then they parade. During the parade they sing the national anthem and recite their pledge to Ghana. I asked one of the students looking on outside the classroom to video this for us. Stephen soon got to grips with the camera. Unfortunately, I am unable to upload the video at the moment because of the limitations of accessing the internet over a mobile modem. However, once I am able to do so I will add it to the blog.

Students were also asked what changes they would make to their school if they were the headteacher.  We had some interesting responses to this.  One boy said he would not allow teachers to beat the students - many others in the class also thought that this was a good idea.  They also wanted more after school clubs.  It appears that some extra curricular activites have stopped due to a lack of funds to run them.

The students were just as keen as the children in the street to have their photograph taken – it was clear that their concept of personal space and mine were very different!

Before we left Jamasi School we asked one of the teachers whether there was a toilet we could use. He replied that he would arrange for there to be one – which we thought was rather an unusual reply. Then Stephen, the boy who had videoed the class, arrived to escort us. We thought we were being shown where the school’s toilet was, but instead we were taken to his house! As he walked into the courtyard his mother looked up in surprise when she saw three white women in tow! It turned out that we were taken there because they had a water closet, i.e. a western toilet. Again, typical of Ghanaian hospitality, the family welcomed us to their home and allowed us to use the toilet.

The pictures below show the well in the courtyard of Stephen’s home and his baby brother cooling down in a large bowl of water.

As we left Jamasi School, the younger children waved us off.

Due to time constraints, we were only able to make a flying visit to Akrofonso School. We were greeted by both children from Walton High’s partner school and those from the school next door (the younger children in blue uniforms).

Many of the children at both of Walton High’s partner schools come from families that are surviving at subsistence level. Whilst education is free in basic schools, i.e. up to the age of 15 or until they successfully complete JHS3, families still have to find the money for uniforms, stationery and exam fees. This is a significant financial burden for most.

The Ghanaian Government is rightly concerned about Ghana falling further behind the rest of the world with regard to information and communication technology and as a result it has made ICT compulsory in all schools. Akrofonso School did have a few old second hand computers which were donated by a Ghanaian now living in the USA, but unfortunately they were not working when we visited. Mr Alfred, the Partnership Co-ordinator at Jamasi School, explained that he would also like to see a computer room at his school. We had a useful discussion about the practicalities of this, but as his school has electricity it is better placed than many to achieve this.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Days 3 & 4: 13 - 14 January

On Day 3 we travelled to the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) at New Tafo in the Eastern Region as the guest of Dr Isaac Opoku, head of the Plant Pathology Department. His wife, Gertrude, is a former teacher and the proprietor of a private school in New Tafo.

The scenery was very different to that seen so far in Ghana as the region has many hills.

But there were still many things on the road to slow us down.

Cocoa is Ghana’s largest export and is vitally important to the country’s economy. The Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana ( ) was founded by the British in 1938 during its colonial rule of the Gold Coast as Ghana was called before it gained independence from the British in 1957. CRIG’s role is to research into all aspects of cocoa production and its possible uses.

As a result of the usual heavy traffic in Accra and the extensive road works, it took nearly all day to travel to CRIG in New Tafo.

Our visit to CRIG was typical of the generosity and hospitality of all the Ghanaians we have met. Dr Isaac had arranged for us to visit a number of places of interest during our very busy three day visit.

Day 4

Cocoa Research Institute

At the Cocoa Research Institute we found out about the organisation’s work and learnt about how cocoa is processed.

Stage 1 – Farmers harvest cocoa pods from the trees when they are ripe.

Stage 2 – The beans are removed from the pods. Nothing is wasted, as the pods are used for animal feed or composted to produce fertiliser.

Stage 3 – Four varieties of cocoa are grown in Ghana.

Stage 4 – Before they are dried, the cocoa beans are white on the outside and purple inside and have the familiar cocoa smell.

Stage 5 – The beans are left in the open to dry and gradually change to a chocolaty brown. Workers remove any bad beans and use these for animal feed.

Stage 6 – As well as using cocoa beans for chocolate, CRIG has developed numerous other products that can be made from the beans. Many of these products are at the prototype stage, but some well known companies have expressed an interest in them commercially.

CRIG are also researching into other uses for cashew nuts, coffee beans and shea nuts.

Royal Ascot Montessori School
After our visit to the Cocoa Research Institute, we visited Madam Gertrude’s school the Royal Ascot Montessori School. It is named after Royal Ascot because that is where Dr Isaac lived whilst studying for his PhD at Imperial College, London.

The school takes children from as young as two and the oldest students are about 14 years old.

The children were well behaved, but when the older students were given an opportunity to interact with us they found it difficult and could not think of any questions to ask.

No the picture below is not a mistake! In Ghana the variety of oranges grown are green and only turns orange when they are over ripe.

Akosombo Dam
The Akosombo Dam is an amazing structure and produces enough hydroelectric power to meet 65% of Ghana’s electricity needs. When it was completed in 1965 it created the largest manmade lake in the world – Lake Volta. Many villagers had to be relocated as a result and some controversy surrounds the way in which the people in the villages were treated. Changes to the country’s rainfall pattern and the construction of dams in neighbouring countries, especially Burkina Faso, has had some impact on power generation. However, Ghana has reached an agreement with its neighbours to secure the flow of water to the lake in return for supplying these countries with a quota of free electricity.

The day we visited the dam was so hot even the vultures were having to take it easy!

Bothi Falls, the three branched palm and the umbrella rock
On the way back from the Akosombo Dam we visited a tourist attraction that included a waterfall – except there was no water as this is the dry season! However, the management did offer some helpful advice.

A very rare palm tree that has three branches –most only have a single trunk.

And an umbrella rock that was apparently arranged in this way by God.  The ladders belongs to the man lying on the rock - he very enterprisingly charges people to use it.


On the way back to our accommodation on the CRIG site we stopped for some delicious mangos.  Our host did the negotiations for us and we asked him for three large ones and three small.  We han't realised that the mangos were sold by the bowl until the trader started filling the carrier bags - it was fortunate that we all liked mangos as we certainly had plenty for the next few days!