Community Developments


Recycle 2RECYCLING GARBAGE

One result from the onslaught of consumerism in modern society has been an increase in the amount of GARBAGE that is produced. The cost of operating and maintaining landfill sites has become prohibitive. Many Canadian communities have attacked this problem by reducing the amount of materials which are sent to the municipal landfills by sorting those materials which are can be recycled. The list of these materials has grown to include glass, aluminum, certain plastics, newspaper and cardboard. Community residents are also encouraged to separate biodegradable items and these are then composted. The recycled materials provide an economic opportunity, the reduced “garbage” at the landfill sites has created savings to municipal authorities, and the compost is a profitable commodity.

WHAT CAN WE DO

The garbage problem has become more and more evident in Ghana as consumer patterns change. Towns and villages which were at one time very clean are now filled with litter. The most obvious examples are the use of plastic bags in the sale of water (sachet bags) and other products (black poly bags). In addition, more and more plastic bottles and jugs and more recently aluminum cans are found in the marketplace and once their uses are exhausted, they are discarded.

Recycle 1

We can adapt recycling programs which are suitable to the Ghanaian situation. Plastic sachet bags can be gathered in point-of-sale containers and returned on the trucks that transport the water. Other plastic containers can also be sorted and gathered. Black plastic poly bags can be made with biodegradable components so that they breakdown in a reasonable length of time.

Compost-able matter can be collected separately from that which is not compostable, and once it has broken down, the results can be used for fertilizer for food crops. In larger centres where there is a large amount of biodegradable matter, methane gas can be collected off of these landfills and be used to generate electricity. (The city of Kumasi has already embarked upon such a program, although there has been no effort to separate biodegradable material from solid waste).

Road Repairs 3STREET AND ROAD MAINTENANCE

Street and sidewalk repairs are a very costly item for municipal authorities anywhere in the world. Frost in the winter causes damage every winter in Canada and cannot be prevented. However the town council in Maidstone sets aside funds each year to repair the damages done by this natural phenomenon, keeping the streets maintained and passable.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

The concept of a “MAINTENANCE CULTURE” is more frequently discussed in Ghana but it is still rarely practised. It is time for that to change. We all like new things, whether it be houses or automobiles or roads or schools, and we know that keeping those things in good condition requires maintenance. We must insist that our authorities set aside funds out of their annual budgets to ensure that the infrastructure that we have is maintained.

Road Repairs 1

It is very unfortunate that my Traditional Area with its seat in New Edubiase has become well known by travellers who ply the route between Kumasi and Cape Coast because of the very bad condition of the highway, with crater-like potholes which cause damage to vehicles and death to drivers and passengers when vehicles try to avoid them. At one time the Highways Department regularly patrolled and repaired such holes before they became a dangerous threat to travellers. When will we see that policy put in place again?

Maidstone 2

Here is a quiz for MCE’s and DCE’s, Town and Planning Officers, Assemblymen and Assemblywomen, and all of Nananom.

Study these photos carefully to find the things which are CORRECT with them. I am currently in Canada visiting my home town, and I recently walked around, taking pictures of features which have captured my attention.

The quiet town of Maidstone, located in the province of Saskatchewan in Canada, is home to 1200 residents. Agriculture provided the impetus for the establishment of the town just over 100 years ago. It remained the mainstay until oil was discovered in the area about 40 years ago. The community has benefited from the influx of jobs that accompanied the exploitation of the oil deposits, and through the active participation of citizens, the town has remained viable at a time when most other small towns and villages on the Canadian prairies have disappeared. As a result, the population of the town includes a healthy mix of young and old, of children and seniors, supported by the generation who are in their prime productive years providing the economic drive to keep the community vital.

So, what can we learn from this example? What lessons could we apply to the Ghanaian situation? Agriculture still provides the backbone for the economy of the towns and villages in Ghana, and the recent development of offshore oil reserves can potentially provide the additional revenue to enable communities to be attractive places in which our youth can live and work. In turn, this can stem the urban drift that has put our major cities under so much pressure.

Keep these ideas in your mind as you look at the photos to see if you can see “what is right with these pictures”. Posts to this blog will follow to point out some of the aspects of this small town which I believe could be implemented in our towns and villages in Ghana to make them better places in which to live.

Nana Pra upstream

Nana Pra upstream

Crossing the River Pra

Part 2

As you now know if you have been reading this blog, the bridge at Praso has been closed for repairs. Ten days ago, my wife and I decided to detour around it via Oda. With the wisdom of hindsight and past experience, we set off early from New Edubiase at 11:15 a.m. Branching off the highway several kilometres south of town, we were pleasantly surprised to be driving on a recently tarred road, travelling by oil palm and cocoa farms and then into the forest reserve. It was a lovely drive, with only a few short stretches as yet incomplete, and we made a note to remember this drive to take visitors who wish to see the countryside.

It was not long before we reached the Pra River. We crossed on a short bridge, stopping at the other side for me to snap some quick photos before a truck and passenger lorry approached from the opposite direction. The tarred road ended at the bridge to be replaced by a narrow and rutted path. We soon caught up to a timber truck that lumbered along at a snail’s pace until he reached a knoll and pulled over. Thinking he had done so for my benefit, I quickly slipped on by him, just in time to see the orange Mass Metro bus bearing down on us. I squeezed to the right and the bus passed by.

The road began to improve slightly, and then returned to a tarred surface like the one which we had first encountered. We smiled with assurance and debated where we might begin turning back towards Assin Fosu. Would we have to go all the way to Oda or would there be a turn off somewhere that would shorten the trip? Once again I remembered my excellent road maps, still stored safely in the glove compartment of the car back in Busua!!

The tarred road ended, and turned onto the paved highway which leads into Oda, thus ending the debate. Soon we could see the old single lane bridge over the Birim River on the outskirts of Oda. We passed over, stopping briefly at the Police barricade to inquire about directions to Assin Fosu. The Inspector puzzled over the question for a few moments and then advised us that we ask at the lorry station in town. We were grateful that he was not related to a certain taxi driver – the memory of our wrong turn a few weeks earlier was still with us. If the Inspector did not know, at least he was not giving us an incorrect answer.

Nana Pra downstream

Nana Pra downstream

It took several more inquiries to get on the proper road but soon we were heading towards Akim Swedru, cruising along on a tarred surface, passing through that town until we reached Akim Achiase. The good road promptly ended, and from there until we reached the junction at Assin Brofeyedru, it was slow going. We were not alone on the road, meeting passenger lorries from time to time, often carrying funeral goers.

At one village we drove up to a makeshift blockade, manned by young men dressing in red and black. A timber truck had been stopped on the other side of the blockade and some of the young men were in a discussion with the driver. Several young men came up to our vehicle, asking for one Ghana cedi from us before they would allow us to pass. They explained that the chief of the village had just died and the funds were required in order to celebrate the funeral. We readily made our contribution and were once again on our way.

Finally we passed an intersection which we recognized, even though we had only seen it once before and then in the dark. It was the place where a certain taxi driver could not bring himself to tell us that he did not know the correct way, the junction which set us off on a wrong turn several weeks earlier. Of course, the driver meant no harm – he was only trying to please us by supplying an answer to our question. Chances are that he really did not know where that road passed.

Another few kilometres and we pulled onto the Cape Coast/Kumasi highway at Assin Brofoyedru. It was almost 2:30 and had taken slightly more than three hours to drive a distance that would have been done in less than thirty minutes if we had been able to cross the bridge at Praso. Is it any wonder that so many people are so unhappy with the contractor who was supposed to complete bridge repairs two weeks earlier!!!

The remainder of our return was on familiar turf and by the time we were safely back in Busua, we had visited four of the country’s Regions, beginning in the Ashanti Region, crossing south and east into the Eastern Region, then returning west and further south into the Central Region, and then along the coastal highway to the Western Region. Our trip had begun an hour and half south of Kumasi, taken us through Oda, then skirted around Cape Coast, and bypassed Takoradi.

Four Regions and four Regional capitals in one day and on road surfaces of all types – not bad, I would say.  We could only hope that urban dwellers, particularly those in Accra, would consider making such a trip from time to time. Perhaps the awareness which the trip would generated might influence better decisions by taking into account the majority of the nation’s citizens who still live in rural areas. The road less traveled for some is the only road for them.

The bridge that does work

The bridge that does work

The Bridge at Praso

The Bridge at Praso

Crossing the River Pra

Part 1

…. I can tell you that there is one sign my wife and I should have believed when we read it several weeks ago – a sign which can no longer been given much credibility for reasons explained in an earlier blog post.

The sign in question was one advising of the closure for repairs of the bridge over the Pra River on the Kumasi/Cape Coast highway. Four weeks ago, we took a chance that the sign would not apply to us. We were on our way to New Edubiase and it was late in the afternoon when we saw the sign at the junction at Assin Brofoyedru. We knew that if we were allowed to cross the bridge at Praso it was only a short 15 minute drive to our home at New Edubiase. The alternative was a difficult 2 or 3 hour detour on dirt roads and so we proceeded to Praso.

It was 5:45 as we pulled into Praso and parked in front of the accumulated lorries and buses. It did not look good but we walked the next few hundred yards to see what we could learn. The contractor was on the site although there was no work being done and therefore no reason why passenger vehicles could not pass. We asked the contractor, a short stocky very serious looking man, if we could pass over to the other side. He assured us that such a request was out of the question. He told us how the public had been informed of the bridge closure with notices in the “Graphic” and announcements on the radio, as if that was a good enough reason for his decision. We had not heard the news – the Graphic does not come to our village and we seldom listen to radio. Apparently we were being chastened for our lack of awareness.

Nana Pra - upstream

Nana Pra - upstream

The man clearly was enjoying the position of power which he held. We decided to save our energy from further argument and turned around and headed back to the junction where we had first seen the sign. The sun was disappearing as we turned onto the dirt road to which leads to Oda. Several kilometres down the road we came to another junction. We asked a taxi driver which branch led to Oda and were directed to turn left, which we did. The road started well but soon began to deteriorate. From time to time we encountered junctions and whenever able we asked for directions. Two hours later we pulled up to an intersection – one with a paved road that looked rather familiar. It was as I feared – the very highway which we had been on just over two hours earlier… yes, we had looped back to Assin Akonfode – only a few kilometres from our starting point at Assin Praso!!

New advisors, well meaning all (perhaps related to the taxi driver who gave us the incorrect directions?) suggested that we return to Assin Fosu and head west to Twifo Praso and then north to Dunkwa and on through Obuasi to finally reach our destination, New Edubiase. I have some very good road maps that would have shown this route in excellent detail – of course they were safely stored in the glove compartment of the car which we had left behind in Busua – not much help to us now. It was shortly after 8:00 and seemed too early to give up. I was not tired and so the decision was made and off we set, clambering around and through the huge craters that cover the streets of Assin Fosu. Apparently the Fosu Municipal Authority do not hold street maintenance high on their list of priorities – one can only hope that they are putting their funds into other worthwhile projects that will benefit the citizens of that town. After manoeuvring though the Fosu minefield, we reached a lovely paved road beginning on the outskirts of town. We had nicely gained some speed and were enjoying the road when it suddenly ended and turned into the road from hell, one which was even worse than the worst that we had encountered in the previous two hours.

I lost track of the time and had not had the presence of mind to set the trip meter when we began this sojourn. Suffice it to say that considerable time had passed until we finally reached Twifo Praso. We crossed over the mighty Pra River on an old railroad bridge that is no longer used for trains, although that did not prevent me from imagining a locomotive bearing down on us just as we were half way across. The bridge was questionable, to say the least. It has been crudely modified to accommodate road vehicles, with weathered planking placed between and beside the rails to allow vehicles to straddle them. We were greatly relieved when we made it to the other side of Nana Pra.

Nana Pra - downstream

Nana Pra - downstream

Another lovely paved road took us northward but, like the previous one, it abruptly ended and then turned into a narrow lane, no doubt following some ancient route through the bush. Villages were few and far between and were not served by the electrical grid and solar powered street lamps were visible in a few of these communities. We commented to each other that even though our electrical service is not consistently reliable, at least it is much more than these villages enjoyed.

Somewhere along the way, with the road only wide enough for one vehicle to pass and with water filled potholes providing clear evidence of a recent rainfall, we could see that a lorry was travelling a short distance ahead us. We drove for several kilometres and from time to time caught glimpses of his headlights. Suddenly we turned a corner, and there it was – a Nissan van, upside down, roof caved in, wheels still turning, and passengers on the road screaming and crying for assistance.

We stopped. A young man ran up, begging us to help. A woman, clutching a small child to her breast, wailed loudly, telling us that someone was under the lorry. Another man staggered around, clutching his arm and crying out his pain. I backed up, shone the lights on the lorry and got out. My wife tried to calm the distraught woman while I went to the front of the lorry. The driver had gone through the windshield and was lying on the ground. At first he was motionless and I feared the worst. Just at that moment, a Kia truck arrived from the opposite direction. The driver and his mate got down to assess the situation. Just then the lorry driver came back to life and held out his arms. The truck’s mate helped me to pull him clear of the lorry to the edge of the road. Within moments he was standing, still dazed, oblivious of his passengers, and contemplating how he was going to upright his overturned lorry.

Our Land Cruiser was already full with items which we were moving to our house at the village, but we squeezed and made room for the man with the injured arm and set off to the hospital which we were told was up the road at Kyekyewere. All was quiet when we arrived at the hospital, but a watchman assured us that the man would be taken care of. We discharged him, and continued on our way until we finally reached Dunkwa and a paved road. From there the road was familiar to us and we drove on to Obuasi and then on towards New Edubiase, arriving at our house at 1:00 in the morning, thirteen hours after we had set off from Busua.

It had taken us seven hours to drive from Assin  Praso in the Central Region to New Edubiase in the Ashanti Region – a drive that would normally have taken fifteen minutes!! We had passed through countryside which we would not likely have ever had any other reason to travel through. It was unfortunate that we could not see the scenery because of the darkness but we were grateful to have arrived finally and safely at our destination. We agreed that a purpose had been served – we had been able to assist some folks along the way and that made the ordeal worthwhile.

In January, the South African based multi-national communications giant, MTN, offered to provide me with internet service through their mobile phone system for a flat monthly fee of 20 Ghana Cedis. The flat fee would allow me to transmit any amount of data, and would enable me to be online 24/7. It was a very good offer, better than the one which I had previously had with one of their competitors. I was informed that the modem which I had been using would not work with MTN, but since the offer was such a good one, I agreed to purchase the MTN modem for an amount of 210 Ghana Cedis, and began accessing the internet.

I was particularly pleased because this affordable service would enable me to carry out my plans to mount an international initiative to raise money for a major community development project in the traditional area where I am Nkosuohene (development chief). My strategy required that I establish a presence on the internet by creating a new blog, and by expanding a Facebook account. It included the sale of a new book which I published so that the proceeds could be contributed to support the cause.

The success of this effort hinged on affordable access to the internet when I am in either of my two homes – Busua on the coast where our hotel is located; and New Edubiase where my stool is located. Neither of these rural locations is served by an internet cafe, and affordable access to the internet via mobile phone provided a great alternative. Affordability was a prime concern – I do not get paid for my efforts as Nkosuohene and my income is rather modest, even by Ghanaian standards.

In March I received my first invoice and was surprised to see an amount of 225.48 Ghana Cedis for GPRS service. I inquired at the MTN office in Takoradi where I had signed up for the service. I paid the amount which had originally been agreed upon (20 Ghana Cedis plus 2.50), and was told that the matter would be investigated to see why there was such a discrepancy.

Included with the invoice was a letter from the MTN Chief Marketing Manager dated January 29th with the opening line “We invite you to explore the world of MTN GPRS. Tariffs for this service have been revised for your convenience and cost effectiveness.” At the bottom of the page there was an additional note “Kindly note that you would be automatically migrated to data package 2 (i.e. GHC20/month with 250 MB) on March 1, 2009 if we do not hear from you as we will assume you prefer to continue paying your current fee of GHC 20 per month.”

The rest of the letter talked about monthly packages and buckets and since I had already been offered a flat monthly fee of GHC 20 with no discussion about “buckets”, I did not think that it applied to me. I left the office confident that the matter would be resolved and a correction to my invoice would be made accordingly. After all, MTN is a big company and I had the expectation that it would treat its customers with the same respect and level of service as the very competent staff who looked after me in their Takoradi office.

In April, the March invoice arrived. It showed an outstanding balance carried forward of GHC 241.90, plus an additional amount for GPRS service of GHC 155.26. Once again, I went to the MTN office to question the invoice, and again was told that inquiries were being made on my behalf. I paid the GHC 20 + 2.50 which I felt that I owed, and left the office. Several days later the service was disconnected.

Numerous phone calls and repeat trips to the MTN office ensued, all without avail. The Supervisor of the Postpaid Section of the Accra office attempted to explain that as far back as October, this offer had been terminated. He claimed that therefore there was nothing that could be done except that a payment plan could be negotiated to pay the outstanding balance. I subsequently called the Kumasi office to find out what offer they were making for GPRS service and was told the same thing that I had been told in Takoradi. Something did not add up.

The April invoice arrived in May. Once again I paid the GHC 20 + 2.50, leaving the balance the MTN claims is owed at GHC 438.00!!! Not bad, since I signed up the last half of January and was cut off mid-April, and had paid each month the amount which MTN had asked for. Instead of GHC 20 per month, the GPRS service works out to be closer to GHC 160 per month.

The MTN Regional Manager for the Western and Central Region was brought into the discussion. In the beginning, it seemed that there was some understanding and agreement, but before the matter could be resolved, we were back to the same position put forward by the Postpaid Supervisor, with no acknowledgment of the deceptive fashion in which MTN hooked me into buying their modem.

So here we are now – almost the middle of June. An apparent stand-off. Does the mighty MounTaiN have any intention of honouring the offer which it made? Who is most important to them? Their customers, who provide them the revenue they need to make a profit? Their shareholders, most of whom are back in South Africa, sitting around their board room tables and scanning the map of Africa in search of another pawn in the communication game? We wait to see the answer to these and other questions…

Good afternoon, Mr. xxxx,
It is good that you have understood my point, and I do hope that you will make it abundantly clear to your superiors in Accra.
This story is going to play out in the media, and now with public access to the internet, be sure that it will play in such a way that the Ghanaian public (and particularly those Ghanaians with more income and who access communication networks like MTN) will know about it. I am currently writing two stories and the one that goes public will be decided by the way in which I am treated. Let me give you the two headlines, along with a brief summary:
Choice 1
Development Chief applauds the MTN Group for bringing access to the internet to rural communities. At a time when communications with the outside world and access to the information available on the internet are becoming so important to the future development of rural Ghana, Nana congratulates this multi-national company for showing the way forward. “It shows how far this country has been able to advance. Through the services of MTN, I have been able to launch a major initiative to raise funding for a major project here in New Edubiase. This new school for performing arts will create more than 100 jobs and will generate a major economic spin-off in the community. At a time when the communication field is becoming so competitive, it is reassuring to know that companies like MTN are concerned about the welfare of rural communities, and are actively playing a role in improving the lives of people who live there.”…..
Choice 2
Non-caring South African based multinational company, MTN Group, after capturing one of the most prized markets in Africa, turns its back on development in rural Ghana. The Nkosuohene (development chief) for the Edubiase Traditional Area has been denied the access to the internet which had been promised, at a critical point where he was about to launch a major international fund raising initiative for the construction of a school for performing arts in New Edubiase. “This is particularly disappointing. A large company such as MTN has created the image in Ghana that they care about this country. Their actions show clearly that they are really only concerned about profits which will be taken out of the country. It is companies such as this which prevent this country from moving forward. Ghanaians deserve much better than that.” says Nana Amoako Agyeman…..
These brief outlines should give you some idea of the ways in which my posts can go. I await your response.
Regards,
Nana

New beginnings often hide their promise and that appears to be what has happened with the newly formed Dance and Drum Troupe in Amudurasi. Folks began to assemble shortly after six one evening, just as darkness descended. The first drumming lessons and the first tentative dance steps were delivered with the aid of a dim flashlight. The new moon was of little help that night because it remained hidden most of the time behind clouds which threatened to dampen the evening.

In spite of the darkness which hid the participants, it was an auspicious beginning. An executive of eager volunteers has offered to guide the group. Future practises will continue after dark in order to enable adults to prepare and eat evening meals after they have closed from their work at the market and on their farms. They have already decided to move to the day care building and arrange to have electricity brought from the nearby classroom blocks. Until that is completed they will bring kerosene lanterns from home.

My good friend, Adamfo Amoako is confident that we will soon have a troupe performing at a very high level. Stay tuned on this blog for more updates on this exciting community development.

Monday morning, April 27,  saw young children enthusiastically singing songs and reciting sayings at the Community Day care Centre in Amudurasi in the Ashanti Region of Ghana. Comfort and I introduced our guest, Ietje Rijnsburger, to the children and their two care providers during a brief visit to Comfort’s home village.

Ietje is the artist and illustrator who produced such great portraits of our family while she was staying at the African Rainbow the previous week. She travelled on Sunday with our son and his friend to Kumasi to witness the tenth anniversary of the enstoolment of the Ashanti King, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II.

Not only is Ietje an artist, she is also a teacher in her native Holland. She interacted with the children with humour and enthusiasm, and it was clear that she has a love of children matched equally with a love of learning.

The Day Care Centre opened in October and currently has 86 children registered to attend. The project was first conceived by my wife, Comfort, when we approached the Government of Canada for funding to enable us to construct the Centre. We did not receive the amount which had been requested but were able, through community labour and the provision of land for the building by the chief to begin construction. When the initial funds were exhausted, we set up the Africa Sankofa Fund (http://africasankofafund.blogspot.com) as a registered charity in Canada. Family and friends offered their assistance and collected and donated money, enabling us to complete the first two rooms.

Ietja’s visit to the Centre was short but it is my hope that we will be able to attract people like her to come and spend more time with our caregivers to share ideas and experiences. Early childcare offers the opportunity for children to interact and learn social skills; to develop their innate creative abilities; to improve motor skills and body awareness. It will never take the place of a mother’s natural nurturing – rather it enhances that which mothers already provide their children. For any readers of this blog who might be interested in such a holiday experience, contact me to find out what might be possible.

Adowa Drum Orchestra

Adowa Drum Orchestra

Kete Drum Orchestra

Kete Drum Orchestra

Drums and dance – an assumed integral part of Ashanti society, right? Well, not so many years ago, such an assumption would have been valid. Today, in 2009, in a society which is bombarded with the culture of the west and at a time when the youth throughout the country have embraced modern communication technology, that is no longer the case. In most rural communities in southern Ghana, one will be hard pressed to find young people who are well versed in traditional drumming and dances.

Several months ago, I asked my friend, the Cultural Officer, in New Edubiase for some advice on acquiring drums and setting up a cultural troupe in Amudurasi, my wife’s home village. He has been tutoring and supporting a troupe in New Edubiase for a number of years, and he was very excited at the prospect of another troupe nearby.

My friend accompanied my wife and I one day and we drove to Kumasi. At the Ashanti Cultural Centre, my friend introduced us to the Master Drum Carver who has supplied him with all of his drums in the past. After some discussion and negotiation, he agreed to make two sets of drums for us – a Kete Drum Orchestra and an Adowa Drum Orchestra. Two weeks later we collected the drums and returned to Amudurasi.

A community meeting was called to let people know that drums were coming to the community. The initial response was very positive and included several unexpected developments. Whereas in New Edubiase, the troupe consists of young students from the community, we discovered that there were as many adults as their were youngsters who were very interested in becoming involved. Some of these adults were proficient dancers and drummers who had learned from childhood. They told us that previously Amudurasi was very well known in the area for the skills of its drummers and dancers, and that the drummers were very much in demand in years gone by. These individuals assured us that they were committed to ensuring that we have a very good troupe as a result.

Other community members commented on the drums and related them to the new community day care centre which began operation in October. They spoke with great eloquence in expressing renewed enthusiasm and optimism that their village could experience a revival, a renewed vigour that could propel it forward for the economic benefit of all. This was an unexpected response and presents an opportunity for future developments in the community.

A few weeks later on the occasion of the closing of the funeral celebration for the Edubiase Okyeamehene, we brought the drums to the funeral grounds and announced that they were now in the community. Within moments and impromptu dance had begun as drummers began drumming enthusiastically, and dancers followed suit, anxious to enjoy the music and strut their best moves. What an exciting and unplanned beginning for a project that will have far reaching ramifications.

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