First off, since this post will approximate the halfway mark of the internship season, a quick moment of acknowledgement is due to our fellow MDPers who have provided fantastic stories of their placements and time away from home. Their ability to convey how experiences, knowledge, and impacts have been synergistically and holistically transferred between themselves and the communities they are in is both inspiring and illuminating.
To be honest, this post has been written, then rewritten, and then rewritten again over the course of a month as our experiences have morphed while rumbling around in my head. Deciding what is worth discussing and what isn’t becomes such a blur when the details that surprised you at first are so embedded in the normal day-to-day that you can’t remember that only two months ago they were new.
Our placements have been based out of Ashesi University College in Berekuso, Eastern Region, Ghana. Being in this place is a new experience for both of us, so it cannot be said that this is the same old travelling adventure. However, the moment when it finally dawned on us that we were really starting our placements isn’t clearly visible any more. Maybe it was flying over the glowing beacon of Dakar, Senegal at night which first indicated we’d completed our crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. Or maybe it was the blast of hot air as we disembarked from the plane onto the tarmac of Kotoka International Airport, hot air that stood in stark contrast to the weather we had just left. If neither of those two moments confirmed it, it has to be the moment we ventured into the completely organized, utterly chaotic traffic that is synonymous with travelling in a developing nation as we moved from Accra to the rural community of Berekuso. These moments still float in our heads, but they don’t represent as large a deviation from the norm as they once did.
Becoming embedded in the Berekuso and Ashesi community has definitely contributed to our quick cultural adaptation. In the time from then to now, we have started to learn the local language Twi (pronounced like “tree” but with the “t” making a “ch” sound); explored the different local Ghanaian cuisine options; learned the standard Ghanaian handshake (which always elicits a smile and laugh); made friends who have helped us improve with all of the above; and come to an understanding about the following things (in no particular order):
- The 3 most important parts of a car are: breaks, horns, and headlights. Everything else is superfluous;
- A trotro (the local equivalent of a public transit bus) can always carry more passengers, no matter what weight restrictions may say;
- For footwear, all you really need is a pair of sandals;
- Cell plans in Canada are grossly overpriced; and
- Ice cream sold in 500ml bag form (i.e. Fanyogo, Fanice, Fanchoco) is amazing and should be brought to Canada.
Lastly, but most importantly, we’ve become deeply involved in the projects that initially brought us to Ghana. At Ashesi, we’re working as Project Coordinators for two projects: an agribusiness venture called Sesa Mu, and a summer WASH program in Berekuso. For both projects, our roles centre around supporting the students and staff to facilitate the progression of the projects, while finding ways to improve their capacity and skillsets.
The Sesa Mu project (which means “Change” in Twi) was started by Ashesi students, and as they graduate this year we are helping them in the transition from student project to full time business. The mission of the organization is to economically empower smallholder farmers through education, financial, and risk-reduction services while conserving local ecosystems. It is estimated that 70% of Ghanaians farm using traditional practices, and live at a subsistence-level. As such, being able to introduce conservationist practices that are both affordable and produce higher value crops would not only impact many Ghanaian families, but also improve the health of waterways and the environment as a whole. More information about Sesa Mu can be found here.
The student-led WASH project is looking to end open defecation in Berekuso by introducing affordable, sustainable toilets for households. Berekuso citizens acknowledge that open defecation is problematic, having dealt with a Cholera outbreak a few years ago, yet no reasonable alternative exists for the largely subsistence community. Using Berekuso residents as trained builders, the project would see a small infusion of money into the community in the form of loans to households that, when repaid, creates an economic cycle allowing for the builders to support themselves and for Ashesi to disengage itself from the process.
Both projects have similarities in that they were designed by Ashesi students to introduce improvements to local cultural practices with the end goal of positively impacting lives, health, and the environment. So we are both excited to be part of that process and hopefully that their hard work will prove fruitful. This excitement and hope comes during the small conversations of broken English and Twi we have around Berekuso when we experience the friendliness of Ghanaian people, but also see their struggles to support themselves and/or their families. Our program aims to create individuals that are capable of developing positive, impactful changes in the communities in which they work; and part of that requires the individual recognizing the ways that the same community is impacting and changing them as well. Along the rumbling roads to Ashesi, we believe we’re finding those impactful changes here.
Stephen Little is a Master’s Student of cohort 4 in the Master of Development Practice program. Stephen is the Class Representative for his cohort. His current research interests include sustainable urban futures, social-ecological development, economic development, and systems thinking.