Monday, July 17, 2006

What I end up doing..

So you’ve heard about my project, my project challenges, and now you’ll get a glimpse of how I put it all together and make something worthwhile.

1) You make your own breaks
Since my office was not cooperative in taking me to the field or helping me get a glimpse of rural Ghanaian life, I kind of had to do it myself. I decided to take my bike, ride around town and make friends. Having spent 2 months exploring Salaga and the surroundings I’ve picked up small to moderate understanding of the Gonja language; I strike up conversations with strangers. Sometimes those strangers happen to be farmers, and when they hear I’m working for ‘agric’ they invite me to their farms. This is the way I’ve learned how to plant maize, how to make yam mounds, what farmers feel about bush burning and irrigation and what are their constraints to farming. What do they feel about marketing? Why do they grow what they do? Who is helping them, who is hindering them? The questions that I wanted answered from my office turned out far more interesting answers when I got them direct from the source. The bicycle, and my legs, and an open mind have proven invaluable in my survival here.
I spend a lot of time visiting the nearby villages – Bau, Kpembe, Kalande, and Ademupe. The things I learn about farmers, and indeed East Gonja’s people in general, help me phenomenally when I structure my workshops and just to have a background knowledge about food security issues in the region. Even in terms of providing EWB knowledge from on the ground regarding the challenges people face here, nothing is more effective than just asking people questions and observing their way of life.

2) Gender and development
I spend a lot of time exploring something that interests me – gender and development; the role that women can play in bringing about socio-economic change in their communities. Since our office is supposed to have a “Women in Agricultural Development” or WIAD officer, but we don’t – we don’t really have any women’s programs. But East Gonja is full of women’s groups – shea nut processing, sheep rearing, weaving cooperatives, dairy cooperatives, cassava processing – you name it and women are doing it. We have some “volunteer women’s extension agents” – mostly friends of Mme. Janet’s and members of her group East Gonja Women’s Empowerment Forum (EGOWEF). I sometimes just go with them and meet women’s groups and ask questions. I’m hoping to bring some of that knowledge I gain to my office, so that they can better help the women’s groups. More importantly, I’m hoping to bring the knowledge back to the food security network, and the NGOs I’ve made contact with in the district. Sometimes I meet a women’s group that is interested in growing soyabeans, and armed with the knowledge that one of my contacts, the Send Foundation of West Africa has soyabean farming initiatives, I connect the two. Meeting with women’s groups has already paid off – as one of the fledgling initiatives of the food security network is to have a dry season garden in the village of Kpembe; the women’s group that will be making the garden is one of my contacts.

3) Food Security Network..
One of my initiatives that HAS gone well is initiating the East Gonja District Food Security Network. While interviewing all the interested groups I gained a better understanding of who is addressing what needs in the district, and made a lot of motivated friends amongst NGOs that are trying to affect change in the region. While MoFA is a member of the network, they are not the sole participants. The network seeks to combine the “powers” of the different groups to make a big impact on food security issues in the region. Already they are planning a widespread education campaign in schools on nutrition, and amongst farmers on bush burning. They are starting some pilot dry season gardens for women’s groups and school children in 2 villages (Kpembe and Katanga) and the best part is that none of these were my ideas. It was all the network members! Since the goal is sustainability, I’m working hard to make sure that the network has all the strength and capabilities and funding strategies to function long after I’m gone. As for MoFA participation, I’ve chosen some of the most promising and hard working people from the field staff to be part of the network. While the director and co are formally “part of the network” they never come to meetings, but it doesn’t really matter – we have our effective representation from the awesome field staff members. I serve as a facilitator at the meetings. The first meeting was June 29th and the next meeting is upcoming on August 10th. Already the members are anxious to meet again and plan more for the dry season gardens!

4) Same old, same old…
In terms of my original project initiatives – the workshops on agricultural extension, the office capacity building and the district food security network establishment – I got about 2 out of 3 going. The workshop that failed craptacularly, we are going to try it again, this time with warning of dire consequences from the Regional office that if people don’t come… The DFSN as mentioned above is going well. The office capacity building? I’ve recognized that some problems are beyond my scope, and I can’t really effectively capacity build if nobody is at the office. I am working on an initiative to teach the agricultural extension staff to write more communicative reports that have a results focus..but other than that, I’m letting my random “ninja Apoorva activities” take the place of the office capacity building for now. I’m .. I suppose, building their capacity to effect communication and impact with women’s groups better. I suppose. While I’m disappointed about the developments in this area, I guess part of being a good development worker is having the patience and grace to accept the things you can’t really change.


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