When preparing to leave for Ghana, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had spoken to others who had spent time in this beautiful country, but no one had ever visited Kumasi, where my placement was to be based. Adding to the mystery, there was very little information on what I would actually be doing during my placement, which was sometimes a bit frustrating when family and friends would ask questions – who in their right mind would move halfway across the globe for 4 months with no idea what they would be doing when they got there?!?!
Luckily, everything worked out just fine. I have been working with A Rocha Ghana at their Kumasi office on various environmental conservation and economic development projects. I feel very fortunate to have been involved in a wide variety of projects here, at various stages of implementation. As an environmental organization, A Rocha Ghana projects always have an environmental component, which I have found interesting and exciting!
A Rocha Ghana’s Community Resource Management Area (CREMA) model facilitates local governance structures to manage their resources more sustainably, while also developing alternative livelihood options for community members. We have been working on evaluating the successes and challenges of the CREMA at Lake Bosomtwe, one of only 6 meteoritic lakes in the world and recently declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. We also recently completed a baseline assessment for a new project to be implemented just outside the Muni Pomadze Ramsar Site at Winneba, in several coastal communities. This particular project will likely involve mangrove conservation and reforestation, and alternative livelihood programming.
The education and community outreach part of my placement has been really fun. We have been working on outreach materials highlighting agricultural techniques for CREMA members, and more recently I have begun working on a grant proposal for a new school program focused on improving food security. I have also been involved in the development of a manual on water security issues for A Rocha’s schools program. Helping to organize and execute student engagement events, I have realized that teenage attitude is the same, no matter which continent you are on!
My office is based in Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city and home to the Ashanti people – the cultural capital of Ghana so to speak. Some days I love Kumasi, and some days I hate it. There is such rich culture here, and you can see it everywhere you look. Most people here are welcoming, and the elders seem to be pleased that I have learned to make (very) basic conversations in Twi, the local language.
There are many challenges to being a single woman alone in a strange country, but there are a few things I really like about Ghana that I will miss when I return to Canada:
- Buying fresh fruits and vegetables at the market.
- Conversations with every household on the long walk to work – ok, maybe sometimes I wish that I was invisible, but for the most part I enjoy talking to my new friends!
- My landlady (not to mention the fresh cheese and yogurt she makes), who is one of the most wonderful people I have ever met.
- Ghana is the most colourful country I have ever been to – everything from the buildings to the African print cloth is vibrant and full of life!
- Buying snacks, water, and packs of gum from car windows. Seriously though, who wouldn’t miss doing their shopping from the car?
- The ease and cost of traveling here – I have travelled all over the country and seen so many beautiful places, all while managing to stay on a student-friendly budget!
- The puppies, kittens, and other baby animals that roam the streets of the community where I live.
- Hearing my friends at the office laugh at all the ridiculous things I say and do as a Canadian living abroad.
- People here can really dance and don’t judge me too harshly when I try to join in!
- The peaceful white noise of the rainforest at night (when the churches aren’t blasting music for all night service, that is).
Living alone in Ghana has challenged and pushed me, and at the very least it has made me a more assertive individual. I am looking forward to returning home, equipped with new perspectives on development and global issues for my last semester of classes.
Laura Maxwell is a student in Cohort 4 of the Master of Development Practice program. Laura’s background is in biology and political science, and her interests include climate change, water security, environmental health, and economic development.