Ghana Trip Account

Introduction

We travelled to Accra via Amsterdam on Monday 19th May 2008 together with members of the Yewlands family of schools in Sheffield. Participants included Dr Julia Piper and Mike Piper, trustees of the Foundation for Community Inspiration (FCI), David Piper, volunteer for FCI, and Moorag (Business Manager), Toby (Phothgrapher and IT specialist) and Derek (Assistant Head) of the Yewlands Family of Schools. Also attending was Padma Moorjani, fundraiser for the Princes Trust in Nottingham.

The purpose of the trip was to review and further investigate the opportunities for sustainable development aid for projects identified by FCI in conjunction with Blue Skies. This was a follow up to our initial trip to Ghana in January 2007. We had invited the Yewlands Family of Schools to accompany us following interest in our work from the headmaster of Yewlands schools, Angela Armitage, Dr Piper’s sister.  The Yewlands family of schools were looking to see what they could receive from the project and how they could forge links with the communities.

Itinerary

·         Monday

o   We arrived at 6.30pm in Accra, met and had dinner with Anthony Pile at a restaurant at the airport. Anthony had been called to a meeting with Waitrose in England. This was our only opportunity to meet with Antony.  The journey from Accra to Anthony Pile’s house, where we were staying, was mostly along roads filled with potholes. Cars were coming and going along both sides of the road to avoid the potholes! Despite the chaos we arrived safely after c 1 hr journey and were met by Lisbet, Mr Pile’s housekeeper. We retired for a well earned rest after a drink at the guest house.

·         Tuesday

o   Had breakfast of pineapple, papaya, mango, and juice, with weetabix and tea. Delicious!

o   We were then taken to the Blue Skies factory outside Nsawam by our 2 drivers, Sonni and David.

o   We were welcomed by Gloria, Mr Pile’s PA and by Myunyo, the general manager of the Ghana site. We were then given a tour of the factory starting with goods-in. Shown how they test for sweetness of the pineapple.  The factory was rather like a James Bond set with the workers in Blue Suits and white headnets!

o   Meeting in morning to decide upon weeks itinerary plus presentation from Denzil.

o   Had lunch in the staff canteen with rice and spicy meat stew. We were offered fresh pineapple juice and coke! The facilities provided for the staff by Blue Skies were very good.

o   Saw IT center, with library.

o   Saw young children weaving fabric for traditional costumes using their feet to control the tension of the yarn.

o   Saw compost farm for recycling of factory waste

§  Earthworms change waste to soil in 5 week under tarpaulins. The soil is sold to farmers which helps grow the pineapples and improve quality. This was a very clever concept to put waste to good use while being environmentally friendly.

o   Met Michael who is disabled and colourful character selling traditional cloth

o   Michael wanted to buy a container for £750 to sell fabrics and other products made by disabled people as a business enterprise. Michael has formed an association of 50 disabled people. Padma Mourjani , Dr Julia Piper and The Family of schools all bought some of the highly colourful tie and dye materials for a cost of 5 cedi (£2.50) for 4 yards of material. We later learned that we should have bargained them down to 3 cedi!

o   In the evening Toby started a blog along with Derek and Moorag which was updated each day of the trip. The blog website address is yewfosglobal.edublogs.org

·         Wednesday

o   At 9 am Dr Piper was invited to open the new clinic at the factory which was to be named  ‘The Julia Piper Clinic’! Speeches were made by Josephine the personnel manager, Dr Bannernam, the local GP, and thanks were given by Gloria, Anthony Piles PA. Aunt Lizzie who was the first nurse at the old clinic and who is now disabled accompanied Dr Bannernan at this highly emotionally charged ceremony. 

o   We viewed the new clinic, which had 5 rooms including a waiting room, consulting room, treatment, a recovery room, and child area and storage room. Dr Piper had provided the clinic with a new blood pressure monitor and with the aid of the nursing staff identified a number of additional basic needs for the clinic including:

§  Weighing scales

§  2 beds and mattresses

§  Medical books for reference

§  Bed sheets and pillow cases

§  Software for clinic

§  Crèche decorations, accessories and toys

§  Baby cots

§  Wheelchair

§  Stretchers

§  Drip stand

§  Tabletop fridge

§  2 swivel chairs

§  Containers for used towels

§  Hand blower

o   The clinic also asked if it would be possible to build a creche and gym.

o   Visited local education authority and met Elsie the director accompanied by Eric, a former teacher,  from the personnel department of Blue Skies.

§  Primary needs were education books and things like exercise books, children’s books, pens and pencils.

§  Some schools had government feeding programs and others did not.

§  Adult education was conducted by a different authority. It worked by people moving around to various villages and accessing the locals.

§  Some of the schools had to provide accommodation for teachers because otherwise the schools were too far way away from where teachers lived, and they might not come to school.

§  We were provided with two guides , Agnus and ? to take us to local schools

§  IT was on the government agenda but practically it was not taking place.

o   Visited two schools in the morning

§  One school was more rural (Fotobi). It did not have a school feeding program. It had basic toilets, and water on the outside. The school had a kindergarten for ages 4-6, primary for age 6-12 and junior high school for 12-15 year olds. Many children enjoyed having their pictures taken. Some children were older as they had starts school late. We saw children who were using machetes to cut down grass as a punishment. The children all loved having their photos taken, particularly with Padma, who seemed to blend in with the children – could be something to do with her height! The headmaster said he needed more basic exercise books and writing equipment. He also needed more accommodation for teaching staff to encourage them to come and work at the school. Without accommodation teachers could not be relied on to turn up to the school and absence was high.

§  Another school (Nana Osae Djan) was managed much better and had access to a school feeding program. Their teacher was going on a UK exchange program to Liverpool as a result of a British Council funded scheme. The school had cooking facilities, and a room for possible IT. Needed exercise books, educational books, science equipment and computers. They have power supply, but only one computer in the school. They had no access to the internet. Toby was concerned that the needs of the schools are for basic equipment rather than computers, which could be difficult to maintain.  The power surges and heat damage the computers. The headmistress was dynamic and forward thinking and the children were well disciplined, far more so than at Fotobi.  You could see the difference her leadership was making. The family of schools were impressed!

·         Thursday

o   Dr Piper undertook a surgery at the new clinic whilst the rest of us went on a tour inside the factory. We were asked to shower and put on all blue overalls and white wellington boots for hygiene purposes. We were shown round the factory by head of production, Elsie. The factory has the following process; raw fruit arrives on conveyor belt into the contamination free zone where it is peeled and chopped. There was also a small amount of equipment for producing liquid products, such as pineapple juice and blended juice products. The products were packaged manually in this zone following cutting by adding the fruits to imported plastic containers, and conveyed to the labelling area. Then they are conveyed to the chilling area. They are then packed and dispatched on crates to the lorries. There are several hundred different product lines each tailored to suit different customers. The main product lines are pineapple rings, chunks and slices, followed by mango, papaya, and coconut. There are also mixed product lines. The whole processing occurs within a day and is geared toward meeting flights going to UK and Europe. The journey to Accra is at best hariraising in order to get the food to the plane in time and crises happen when lorries break down or are involved in delays due to accidents, which appear to happen rather frequently! However the Blue Skies team always seem to be able find a solution! During the factor visit Mike Piper was temporarily locked in the chilling room when he became over absorbed by taking photos. Fortunately he was promptly rescued by aware staff!

o   We then returned to the conference room to help Dr Piper manage a stress management seminar with the senior managers and we were asked to state what caused us most stress in our lives and how we managed that stress. 25 people attended the seminar which was very well received. Most of the stresses were similar to those in the UK including meeting targets, meeting deadlines, family pressures etc. Interestingly Ghanaian culture requires members of the family to support each other, which meant those in work were often asked to provide for the whole extended family and not just themselves! Dr Piper highlighted a number of ways of helping individuals to reduce their stress including breathing exercises. The management team wanted to adopt the format for bi monthly meetings in future.  Dr Piper said she would  prepare a report and email it from England with a copy of the practice stress management questionnaire.

o   In the afternoon, we travelled into the hills and went to a hearing and speech impaired boarding school near Aburi, called, ‘The Demonstration School for the Deaf’ based about an hour from Blue Skies in Mampong-Akwapim. At the moment they are helped by ‘Sign of Hope’ and ‘Perkins school for the Bind’ in the US and ‘Christopher Brinden Mission’ in Germany. The headteacher was Agnes Akakpo. The accountant was Paul Nyame. There were around 300 students with about 20 visually impaired and about 5 also hearing and speech impaired. The school lacked textbooks, clothes for children and computers  but had a school feeding programs, toilets and a water pump.  The curriculum taught was like the mainstream curriculum but taught in sign language. There were around 3 hearing impaired schools in the region, and one in each other region in the country.  The cost of food was around 0.6 cedi per day per pupil and they received only 0.7 cedi per day from the government for everything! Parents were required to pay for extras. The high cost of food was due to the fact that the price of rice had recently raised 3 fold. We were amazed how the headmistress communicated with the impaired (mainly by touch).  There were some very young children who were not collected by their parents in the holidays and had to be looked after by the teachers. Blue Skies employ 30 hearing and speech impaired people at the Nsawam factory.

o   We were then taken to an arts and crafts market in Nyame where we bartered with the local storeholders and bought some wooden carvings.

o   We then visited the local botanic gardens where we visited a mahogany tree planted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1961.

·         Friday

o   We spent the day in the Central Regions, a long, bumpy 2 hour trip from Blue Skies viewing the villages we had briefly encountered the year before.  We were accompanied by Issac a Blue Skies agronomist who had taken us to see the villages in our first trip to Ghana last year.  We visited four communities and met the chiefs and had a formal meeting. Protocol dictated that communication occurred through an interpreter (Isaac). There was also a handshaking ceremony before each meeting. Bore holes were to be built by the Albert Heinz foundation, so we didn’t focus on those;

§  Agor – Pop 2000, needed a clinic, KVIP latrines and drainage systems, had some toilets. We were given plans but no costings for the clinic and latrines. We were slightly uneasy because there seemed to be an air of expectation that we were going to solve all their problems when in fact we were on a fact finding mission and we are only a small charity.

§  Techiman – Pop 700, wanted a primary school, had toilets and a community center. We were surprised to learn that this was a 90% Muslim community.

§  Budukwaa – Pop 300 including 100 children, wanted a kinder garden school, primary school, community centre, drainage systems and KVIP latrines. Here, we saw a bore hole constructed by the Albert Hein foundation, but unfortunately the  water was undrinkable. They are looking to resolve this problem. Walking up to the village we could see the massive effect of soil erosion caused by water coming off the hills and eroding roads making it very difficult for vehicles to pass. They also dug away at the foundations of houses. One can see from this how much global warming might affect the poor from increased rains. We were impressed that the chiefs had already produced plans and costings for each of the projects, c 10,000 cedi for the drainage project, 9,000 cedi for the latrines, 7,000 cedi for the community centre, and 6,000 cedi for the kindergarten. We were also interested to hear that they had raised 1000 cedi for the purchase of a radio mast, and had erected electricity poles ready for the government to provide equipment. The income of the farmers was clearly modest. None of them seemed to know exactly how much they earned!

§  Nanabin – Pop 4000, wanted library attached to the school, had clinic, drainage systems and school. When visiting the clinic, we visited the maternity ward where there was a chicken laying an egg obviously aware that this was the right place to come to give birth! We were impressed that there was a 24/7 nurse, which was made possible as a nurse’s quarters next to the clinic.

o   We finished off Friday with a visit to a local beach. We drove through a coconut plantation supported by World Vision where sadly the majority of crop was diseased. At the beach local fisherman brought in a gone off catch which occurred because the boats motor had failed, a fairly common event. It had taken them 3 days to paddle / float back to shore! We also saw some little black pigs together with chickens, goats and dogs happily coexisting with the locals in this chaotic, organic environment. 

·         Saturday

o   Dr Piper, Padma and Gloria went to visit Aunt Lizzie to provide medical support, vitamin tablets and administer some acupuncture. Dr Piper also met with Francesca, Aunt Lizzie’s daughter, a potential scholarship candidate. Meanwhile Mike and David wrote up the notes of the trip. 

o   In the Afternoon, we had lunch at the Tulip Hotel, followed by a trip to Lombadi beach where we were met by sellers of a whole range of merchandise. Dr Piper acquired bartered and purchased some acrylic paintings whilst Mike, Padma and Moorag braved the turbulent waters for a swim. Later on we went shopping at a local mall.

o   We returned to another wonderful meal prepared by Elizabeth, Anthony’s housekeeper.

·         Sunday   Sunday was spent discussing and evaluating the options regarding what we could do to help, what to donate to and the Foundation and Yewlands ‘Family of schools’ arrived at the following in principle interventions;

o   Yewlands ‘Family of Schools’ plan to recommend the following to their board of governors:

§  Working with Blue Skies  - ICT and books for Blue Skies library. Yewlands FOS are building a new school in Sheffield and will have some computers which could be put to good use at Blue Skies and those schools with adequate power supply. Education books can be provided at relatively low cost.

§  Nsawam school – links with pupils and possible ICT. The Nsawam school was the most forward thinking and well organised school we saw. The aim would be for the children in Sheffield to be able to communicate with the children in Nsawam, possibly via Blue Skies.  In future it may be possible for some children to go to Sheffield to experience life in England.

§  Fundraising for Budakwa kindergarden school. Budakwa was the poorest of the villages visited and supporting fundraising for the school linked well with the FOS.

§  Business Enterprise – Working with Michael and his Association for the disabled.  The FOS has links with business enterprise programmes in Sheffield.

o   F4CI

§  Working with Blue Skies –equipment for the clinic. This links well with our General Practice in the UK. Dr Piper is able to advise on the equipment needed to provide a high quality of patient care for the 2000 or so Blue Skies workers.

§  Books –childrens reading and exercise books, adult education books and novels. Exercise books, Pens, Paper and Pencils. Again this is fairly easy to provide and the cost is reasonably modest. We need to investigate costs of shipping to Accra.

§  Scholarship for Francisca, daughter of Lizzie the first Nurse at Blue Skies clinic. Providing the scholarship fits well with the Foundation aims of encouraging links with Ghana. Francisca will gain much from visiting the UK, and possibly working in the Practice and raising money for her Masters degree in Media and Communication Studies, so she can give back to life in Ghana.

§  Community Centre in Budukwaa. Budakwa was the poorest of the villages visited. We felt that the community centre was likely to be a centre for community inspiration and was the project which most fully met the objectives of the Foundation. It could be used for educating both children and adults and be a focus for village activities.