I'm now back from visiting Ghana with Ashanti Development and what a truly inspirational visit it was. If you didn't read my last post, you can see here for an explanation of why I was in Ghana and a description of what Ashanti Development do.
Although we stayed in the main volunteer centre in Gyetiase (which was very comfortable all things considered), we were able to visit neighbouring villages that are taking part in the adopt a village scheme. This scheme allows an organisation or individual to sponsor a a village to buy latrines, clean water and whatever else is needed for that village, perhaps microcredit or health facilities. We went both to villages that had not yet been sponsored, and were being surveyed to see what was needed, and to villages that had already been helped. There was a huge difference.
The villages that were new to Ashanti Development were in a state of disrepair, people were poorly clothed and there was a general air of despondency. In Abutia village, their water supply dries up in the summer, meaning that they have to drink water from the main river in which, amongst other things, people wash their motorbikes. I hope they get sponsored.
In the villages who already have a donor, life is very different. In Old Damaang, one of the first villages to be adopted, the village is regenerating with new building as people who had previously left are returning. One lady told us that Ashanti Development had changed her life: now that latrines and clean water have been installed, her children no longer get sick (when previously they had been sick all the time) and microcredit has meant that she could start a business to support her family.
My husband and I went out to Gyetiase to try and help with whatever we could. When you go out, it takes a while to get your bearings. One of the first things that you realise is that although it's easy to say what needs doing in general: water, sanitation, health, education, technology, it's not so easy to see the actual concrete steps that you can take to get there. In development the skill is absolutely in the detailed on the ground management - there is very little that you can achieve by theorising.
After a day acclimatising, we found a couple of useful jobs to take on.
Firstly we took the children for extra reading lessons before school started. English teaching is taken very seriously in Ghana and when children reach the Junior High School all school lessons are taught in English. However most children have been taught to read by reciting aloud, and as a result there is sometimes a disappointing lack of comprehension even for children who seem to be able to read very well.
Secondly we helped out with computer (ICT) classes. Ashanti Development have just installed a new computer centre in Gyetiase. This was much needed as prior to this the compulsory ICT lessons were taught on a blackboard, with children simply reciting the steps that they would take on a real computer! Despite the new centre, there aren't enough computers for one each so it's really useful to have extra teaching assistants to go round and help each group to achieve the task that the teacher has set.
We saw some amazing things in Ghana. The all day church services with singing and dancing that you can pop in and out of as you please were a particular highlight. But most of all I learnt a lot about how to start if you want to help make a difference - either dedicate a substatial amount of time (maybe a year or so) to go out, learn about the local conditions and try to help, or find a charity that is achieving what you want and give your money directly to that charity. Having seen Ashanti Development in action, I'm proud to count myself amongst their supporters.
If I count, I've been volunteering with Ghanaian charity Ashanti Development for 4 years. I've organised sponsored walks, helped to promote their amazing annual Gala Ballet and taken minutes in Trustees and Doctors meetings. But I've never yet been to Gyetiase, the village in the remote Ashanti region that the charity was set up to help.
Ashanti Development was started when Ghanaian Martha Boadu moved to London to work and save money to install piped water into her home village of Gyetiase to prevent the local women having to walk for 4 hours/day to get collect water.
After getting a quote that was much higher than she had thought possible, Martha and her neighbour Penny contacted Water Aid and solicited donations. Because they set up the organisation as volunteer-only and spent their initial grants exclusively in Ghana with no money spent on administration or UK helper's salaries, one of the corporate donors extended their initial grant to an ongoing £10,000 annually. This meant that Ashanti Development could help the village in even more ways including water and sanitation, healthcare, education and income generating activities.
And finally, after 4 years, I'm off to Ghana tomorrow. Unlike the UK doctors who regularly volunteer I don't have any special skills, so we've agreed that I'll probably be teaching English or computers or helping out with simple jobs like hammering up mosquito nets. I don't know what to expect.
One thing that I'd really like to think about while I'm out there is how technology could be used to improve standard of living. This is a really difficult challenge when there is so little infrastructure - (unreliable) electricity has been brought to the village since Ashanti Development started in 2005 but high-speed internet is a long way off.
I'd like to thank Softwire Technology for supporting me with charity matching holiday for this endeavor and for all their support of Ashanti Development in the past via matching money raised and choosing them as charity of the year.
I met the lovely Miss Philbin at a Girl Geek Dinners event.
Carrie-Anne Philbin is an ICT teacher who supports her students with extra activties and coursework online - making full use of modern technology.
She's recently set up an initiative called Geek Gurl Diaries with which she aims to inspire women into technology jobs. She came along and interviewed the female developers at my company Softwire and we've had more female applicants as a result, with some citing the video as "inspirational".
Carrie-Anne has been nominated for a Digital Heroes award for her work - if you like the sound of what she's doing, please take a moment to vote for her at http://www.talktalk.co.uk/digitalheroes/region.php?region=london.
Managing Director of Softwire, technology and backgammon presenter. Plus a little bit of new music radio.