Monday, October 11, 2010


As I’m wrapping up the final month of my 1-year placement, and I look back on these past months, what stands out most to me are not necessarily the numbers or my concrete accomplishments, but rather the people I’ve met and worked with. I have built countless relationships with Ghanaians – who for the sake of it, I’ll generalize by calling them Dorothys – all over the Upper East Region of Ghana and beyond…Dorothys who span the entire spectrum of wealth, Dorothys who have made me feel everything from inspired to disheartened, they’ve pleasantly surprised me and unfortunately disappointed me, Dorothys who have made me laugh so hard my abs hurt the next day or who have made my cry a river, they are vulnerable and they are strong, they are individuals and they are families, they have touched my heart and soul, and they have helped me better understand and appreciate this multifaceted country we call Ghana –  they are people I’ll never forget.

Dare I ask “Who isn’t Dorothy”?!                           

Some examples of people who’ve I’ve gotten to know a bit more than others, people who inspire me, and who have really taught me about Ghana include Simon, an agriculture extension agent (AEA) and one of my counterparts in Bawku West district, who has provided me with more insight into the challenges of MoFA’s work environment and development (untimely release of funds, poor leadership and management, inappropriate indicators, etc.) but who maintains this kind of determination to make a positive and legendary contribution to the lives of as many people and farmers in his community as he can – if this means working to get a dam constructed to irrigate hundreds of acres for dry-season farming, or discussing record keeping as part of Agriculture as a Business with a group of 5 women who process shea-butter together in one of the most remote locations or the region.

Another example would be the Asaah family in Bongo district. A family who doesn’t get to benefit from MoFA services provided by AEAs for one reason or another (flooding during the farming season makes them inaccessible, AEA:farmer ratios are unfathomable, etc.), yet due to their hard work, they farm and rotate a variety of crops that sustain them throughout [most of] the year. The father travels down south during the dry season to the wetter part of the country to find work on farms while the mother and grandmom stay home sowing rice by the dam and weaving baskets to buy ingredients to cook and [barely] afford school fees for the 3 children who, despite the frailty, maintain dreams of becoming doctors, engineers, and politicians.

There are the Wiiga farmers who are so innovative, hard working, united and supportive of one another in celebration and sadness. And there’s Sadia in Tamale, the hardworking and entrepreneurial woman (who I don't have a picture of) who I’ve watched gradually expand upon her hut where she makes many of us APS fried eggs with bread and tea in the morning.

Oh I could go on…!

I’ve attached some pictures because I think these people deserve to shine. Of course they will impose one idea or another as do these blurbs, so please take them with consideration.

-- I didn’t come here to just work, I came here to live a dream. I didn’t necessarily come here to fit in, I came here to be who I am. I didn’t come here for the ‘stuff’, I came here to love one another. I didn’t come here by accident, I came here with a purpose that is uniquely my own. –

Each Dorothy is unique, and each one of us has a unique perception of Dorothy.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Purpose

We didn't come here to fit in.
We came here to be who we are.
We didn't come here to work.
We came here to live our dreams.
We didn't come here for the stuff.
We came here to love each other.
We didn't come here by accident.
We each came here with a purpose 
that is uniquely our own.




I think these words really ring true as African Program Staff working with Engineers Without Borders Canada ♥

(as seen on the birthday card my mom sent me CARLTON CARDS)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Ghana, I go and come!

Reposted from Facebook, written closer to when I had arrived in Ghana in November 2009:

Over 1 year ago I was in a very similar spot. Over 1 year ago, I was on my way to Ghana as a short term volunteer, for a 4-month placement with Engineers Without Borders and the Ghana Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) in Bongo District, as a full-time student at Concordia University - I was naïve, but I knew there was something ahead of me that for once in my life I wasn’t sure about. Now it’s slightly different, now I’ve graduated from civil engineering, now I’ve had a few more challenges, now I’ve had some experience with what it’s like to not entirely succeed at things, and now I’m on a path toward something I’ve dreamed about for that past year and a half. Now I’m living in and working around a town called Zebilla in the Bawku West District (close to Bongo…for those who like maps) to work with and scale up the Agriculture as a Business initiatives that have developed over this time.

I sometimes ride my moto.

I’ve dreamed about continuing to contribute to positive change with rural farmers in Ghana in West Africa. I’ve dreamed about working with Agriculture Extension Agents (AEAs) and with others at MoFA to become a more efficient, effective, and relevant organization that is facilitating the transformation of agriculture in northern Ghana from subsistence to semi-commercial.

This is exciting and important work. I’m talking about Sofo, for example, who makes long treks into the field to meet with the Afaapel farmer group, to discuss their challenges and to work with them and their ideas to work on expanding their oil processing, to motivate them, to groom them into winning Farmer Group of the Year at this Farmer’s Day, to share farming practices, and dream about what’s possible.

Sofo and the Afaapel Group sketching out their new processing building

 Afaapel Group with Sofo and their new donkey cart from Farmer's Day

I believe we can work to reduce global food insecurity and malnutrition, but I also think it demands a complex system of relationships and decisions that involve working to improve the way AEAs conduct their extension services, the role MoFA has to play in addressing market-access issues, and the process of developing MoFA’s learning systems; which means AEAs need skills in group dynamics, business, marketing, etc. “More than ever, he or she will need to be a skilled technician who also is a broker of sorts, being able to connect farmers in their areas to markets and other institutions that are demanded by farmers.” [-The Neuchatel Initiative]

I spent the month of November in pre-departure training in Toronto with 5 other awesome volunteers : Cat Denis and Romi Kahawita working in agriculture in Burkina Faso, Sarf Khan to Zambia with agriculture value chains, and Dan Beck going to Malawi to work on water point functionality. Robin Farnworth is currently the overseas director for EWB, she’s in charge of pre-departure training and for enabling this to be the most intense learning experience of our lives, for naming us Team Awkward, and for adding to the inspiration we thrive on that motivates us to contribute to improving the livelihoods of people in these developing countries. We’ve gone through workshops on analyzing the development sector, interventions and scaling up projects, organisational change, behavior change and influencing others, hierarchy, power, leadership with George Roter (the co-CEO of EWB), health and safety, and more!!!

Pre-dep team fun

I dove right into the first few weeks of work here: to attending a farmer group celebration (and showing off my Ghanaian dance moves), to attending Farmer’s Day and setting up a sign board celebrating the AEAs and farmers involved in Agriculture as a Business, getting a competition going (developed by the fabulous Meghan Dear, whose work I’m taking over) to reward the Best AAB AEA of the Year, attending a weekend Sector Meeting with the rest of the AMAZING EWB Agric Team discussing strategy, influence, and new volunteer placements…and playing ultimate frisbee.

Big men (including my Director) checking out the sign

I’ve had a bit of time to reconnect with the people I developed relationships last time I was in Bongo, and it’s about time I immerse myself once again into the culture and way of life here in the Upper East Region by spending this Christmas week in a village.

Frying yams with my friend Daniel's mom

Please consider donating to my holiday campaign toward a World of Opportunity that will go towards EWB and the amazing work we’re doing:

Check in every so often throughout this next year to read more about my life in Ghana, and a year in the life of Ghanaians :)

Wishing you a lovely holiday and prosperous New Year! Warm wishes from Ghana!

Big love,

It continues...

 I'm reviving this blog...

6 months into my [minimum] 1 year placement (November 2009-November 2010) as a long-term Africa Program Staff (APS) with Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Canada in partnership with the Ghana Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA); somewhat of a continuation of my life and work when I was a short-term Junior Fellow (JF) volunteer from May-August 2008, combined with new and exciting learnings and adventures!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Overseas Success Story

A partnership with EWB and the Ghana Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) began in the summer of 2004. Today it is one of the greatest ongoing success stories overseas. We’ve got proof!

It began with building trust with MoFA staff, identifying areas to work in to have greater impact on “Dorothy”, and strengthening extension and monitoring & evaluation systems primarily in the Northern Region offices. Then a new era dawned in 2007 as the partnership extended into the Upper East Region and the Agriculture as a Business strategy really started to grow. Now the Upper West Region is involved, and the strategy is undergoing further development.

The Agriculture as a Business vision: Farmers’ incomes are increased on a sustainable basis through the agriculture as a business program that strengthens farmers’ capacity and creates an environment that enables farmers to take a business approach to farming.

In other words: increasing household well-being by helping farmers put more money into their pockets; and when looking at the well being of Ghanaians in the northern zone[1] one immediately turns to agriculture which provides employment, either directly or indirectly, for some 70% of Ghanaians[2].

Through discussions with MoFA staff and understanding of rural livelihoods, it has been recognized that there is a need for farmers to become more integrated into agricultural markets. From a farmer perspective this requires additional skills and knowledge, as well as a shift in attitude from subsistence agriculture to agriculture as a business. It also requires an agricultural sector that provides an enabling environment for small scale rural farmers to develop their businesses.

Last year long-term volunteer Sarah Lewis developed a tool known as the Farmer Group Development Program. The program is a series of 3 meetings with topics focusing on the importance of good group meetings, the benefits of working together, and improving finances – the building blocks of a strong group. This summer, long-term volunteer Shea Loewen and Junior Fellows Bevan Harlton and I have been putting this tool to the test around the Upper East Region. We’ve been working with Agriculture Extension Agents (AEAs) from MoFA to deliver the program to farmer groups while also focusing on approach by training AEAs in facilitation techniques so they can get the farmer groups not just to participate, but to own their own group development, and take positive action for their own advancement. I’ve been working with 7 AEAs and 14 farmer groups, and by August a total of 17 AEAs and 33 farmer groups will have completed the program! Check out photos of the candidates so far…

Of course it is only the beginning, the groundwork laid before the real Agriculture as a Business fun starts. Meanwhile, other awesome long-term EWB volunteers Sarah Grant and Josephine Tsui are developing curriculum to promote profit analysis and record keeping and to change farmer’s behaviours in ways other than farmer group functioning, respectively. We’re still not sure what will happen after August, but it will likely involve working more intensely with the most motivated people, possibly on some kind of project, which might mean getting involved in loans – a huge minefield of good and bad development practices

The biggest problem with the loan business, as well as other NGO offers of support to farmer groups, is that pesky culture of dependency that can develop, until very few farmer groups believe that they can accomplish anything without outside help…which leads to many farmer groups lying dormant until the next NGO blows through town, escorted by their local extension agent.

So, while trying to avoid being “that next NGO”, how can we as outsiders help a farmer group learn that it can stand on its own, and then help it to do so?

What do you think? What would you ask a farmer group? How might you work with them and on what? How would you envision a dynamic farmer group moving forward?

…and try to imagine yourself in the midst of the rainy season with busy, hungry farmers all around.

[1] The northern zone is considered to be the three regions that make up the north of Ghana. This consists of the Northern, Upper East, and Upper West Regions.
[2] Source: DFID, Support to Agricultural Sector Harmonisation (SASH) Report, September 2005


Notice I've linked the blogs of other awesome volunteers on the right side. I regret I have not written more. But I would also encourage you to explore these blogs as we all have very different placements, living situations, and experiences.

Monday, June 23, 2008

I’m Not Just Another Solmia

As I wake up, I’m confused and disoriented, and I almost forget where I am. Lying in the yard, there’s a bustle around me: a rooster crows right beside me, someone is sweeping, and people are chatting. It’s 5am, the sun has risen, and my village stay in Vea has begun.

I've decided to come to try to better understand the realities of farming, how people live, and what it means to be part of a farmer group.

I lazily get up, but after a nice cold bucket shower and about 20 greetings to members of this household, I am wide awake. I’m staying with the Akampae family, which I’m told is the biggest extended family in the village; all the many wives, their children, and their childrens’ children actually form an entire community.

Some members of the farmer group I work with in this village come to welcome me, and I’m briefed on some of the farming activities that will be happening throughout the day. My first stop is rice thrashing. I’m pointed toward a cluster of houses with instructions to “follow that sound”. I arrive to find a bunch of people, two who I recognize from the farmer group. There are 3 or 4 guys on each side whacking stalks of rice with big sticks. I ask to join in. I want to show them I’m not just another solmia or white lady, I haven’t come just to watch, really I want to experience how beneficial it is to work in a group. So, I’m handed a smaller stick, and they make space for me. The rhythm is motivating, and with each raise of the sticks and combined “let’s go” I feel encouraged to keep it up; but the sun is blazing around 40 degrees, and after 5 minutes, my hands start to get sore, my arms grow weak, and I fall out of sync. They notice, tell me to stop, and reassure me “You have done well”. I am forced to sit down and watch, and oh how I feel I have let them and myself down – I wanted to prove I wasn’t just another solmia.

But, determined to take part in other activities, I make my way down to the rice fields. I can see Vea Dam in the distance and I think how fortunate they are to have access to this water to irrigate the land. There are 2 seasons here: the wet season from around May to August, and the dry season for the rest of the time. For farmers who do not have access to a source of water like Vea Dam during the dry season, they must rely on the wet season to grow enough to sustain them throughout the year. It’s now the end of June and it has rained only a few times. Some people haven’t sown yet, others have but lack of rain has hindered the seeds from germinating so they will have to re-plant, and some have planted on time.

I meet a man and a woman harvesting the rice with sickles. As I greet them, other people gather near. Now I have an audience. This activity looks easier than thrashing, I'm confident too - I’ve just got to grab a bunch of rice stalks and cut them off at the bottom. I want to prove I can endure this task, that I am not just another solmia who has come to watch, and I am determined to learn about this activity and to show them all the benefit of working in a group. I ask for a sickle, bend down, grab, and...Oh, but the stalks are tough, I’m not familiar with the technique, the bent-at-the-waste position is uncomfortable, and of course it’s hot! So after I complete one pile (and they complete 3) after 15 minutes, I decide to stop. I thank them for the opportunity, rest briefly under a tree, and snap their picture before heading back to the compound where I’m staying. Again, I’m discouraged, I would’ve liked to demonstrate my strength and endurance, how a bigger group could really make a difference in their production, and that I am not just another solmia.

As I arrive, I meet one of the women going to fetch water. I tell her I want to help, so she puts down her big aluminum bowl and returns with a smaller plastic container. But this is an activity I’ve had experience with over the past month that I’ve been living with Vanessa in Bongo. I’m confident, and I try to explain that I want a bowl like hers, but she laughs and pulls me along. I’m frustrated, I would’ve like to show her that I’m not just another solmia.

That evening, I am invited to another compound, and I sit down to help some girls pick off caniff leaves from the stems for bito soup. I tell them it’s my favorite and that I’ve been helping my host sister cook it. They get excited and curious, and I’m encouraged and happy to demonstrate my Ghanaian cooking skills. The result is a tasty success, and I start to think maybe this is one activity where I’m not such a solmia. But that night and the entire next day I am violently sick.

As I write this, I’m resting under a tree while the head of the household plows his field without my help. I’m still recuperating from being sick, I’m weak, I’m sunburned, and I’m aching all over. I realize the people in this village are so strong, they are so used to these strenuous activities and harsh environment. I suddenly feel proud of myself, I’m not just another solmia.