Background

My name is Adam Ernst. I am 33 years old and was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, one of the biggest and heavily populated cities in Canada. For the past four years I have been an elementary and high school teacher and have been involved working with children in an educational environment for over 10 years. Not entirely satisfied in my teaching position and looking for some new perspective before taking a break and trying a career change, I decided to go to Africa to experience something completely different from my everyday life. 2018 has been a year dedicated to making changes, pushing myself outside my comfort zone, and growing as a person. I decided to leave behind everything familiar and invest the time and money towards an adventure as a volunteer in Ghana and tour other parts of the African continent. In retrospect, I would argue that this new chapter has already started.

Location & Hosting

I flew into Accra, Ghana towards the end of June and spent a few days there adjusting to the time change and gathering necessary items for my one-month adventure in the small, rural village of Anum, which was approximately 3 hours’ drive north of Accra (in the Volta Region of Ghana). My mission in Anum was to global warming, climate change, its effect on the environment, and ways to improve some of their practices to be more mindful of the environment in the school I will be placed. I had a foundational knowledge about the subject from teachings in previous courses. PACC Policy offered some basic skeletal lessons and information to help guide my program.

I was lodged on the 2nd floor of an apartment complex above 10 other locals; all of whom have become good friends during my stay with them. Especially, one of the most beautiful, genuine, kind hearted, giving, caring, and hardworking women I have ever met was in the Boateng family. The Boetang family lived directly below my apartment. They were a family of four. Vida who works at Wesleyan Academy school, where I was placed to volunteer was the mother of two daughters in the Boateng family. The husband is called Emmanuel and the two daughters were Mildred and Casiah. She has been working in the school for the past 10 years. The difference between having living arrangements during my time in Anum and having a place to call home is completely because of the generosity and kindness of the Boetang family. I have explored many places and have met many people here and could not have landed in a better spot or with a better bunch of people. Other people who became friends in my short stay were; Adwoa Papabi, a teacher at St. Andrew’s Anglican and friend to the Boateng family; Selena, Fred, Francis and Dennis. Adwoa is fun to tease, knows how to take good photos and pleasant person to spend time and chat with. About 95% of the village people were always friendly and social. Everyone sees each other daily and talk.

Activities

I met with the headmaster of Wesleyan Academy and the staff on reporting to the school. We created a schedule for me to teach the Grade 4s, 5s, 6s, JHS1s (7s), and JHS2s (8s) twice per week. I was to introduce them to environmental studies program and how human actions are actively contributing to the disruption of earth’s natural balance of greenhouse gases and the negative consequences this has across the globe (natural disasters) and eventually to them as a predominantly agricultural village. I discovered very quickly that most students had very minimal knowledge on this subject. I drew many pictures on the chalkboard and created several engaging lesson plans to teach basic fundamental concepts. After realistically reflecting on the community, I started an after school program to work on an experimental project that involved reusing 500ml water bags that most Ghanaians drink from to create handbags/purses.

The goal of the after school program was fourfold:

  1. To demonstrate the importance of applying our new knowledge and taking steps at improvement.
  2. To show young students that they have the power to create positive change.
  3. To designate a couple of the JHS2 female students as the project managers/supervisors in an attempt to empower them and expose the younger boys to following directions given by females.
  4. To create a job opportunity and income for the village that required no startup fees and/or overhead costs.

Outcome

The 5 weeks I spent in Anum were some of the most valuable and important weeks in my life. I have learned so much about a place of the world I knew nothing about, and more importantly, about myself. My brain has exploded with thoughts and I have already started missing the place and a number of people that I haven’t even officially left yet. I have gained an appreciation for the simpler, peaceful, individual/community established way of living here as compared to the complex, overly regulated and governmentally involved lifestyle I experience back home. They both come with their own very different set of advantages, disadvantages, beauty, and ugliness. The inspire rural dwellers initiative of PACC Policy was successful with few limitations. The success story follows;

  1. I called the after school program the “Starfish Program” and shared the story with the students, teachers, and parents at the PTA. They were very inspired by the story and I know many of the students internalized the moral of their capability of making a positive difference, big or small. The program will be continued by PACC Policy from where I left off.
  2. Wesleyan Academy collected, washed, cut, fastened and bundled between 1000 and 1500 water bags in a little over two weeks. I have been in close contact and received a few visits from other members of PACC Policy. We are going to reassess our next steps for the project and experiment with one of the bundles I have given to him. I am optimistic that crochet style needles will make the task much more efficient and manageable.
  3. My last day at Wesleyan Academy was celebrated by both the villagers and inspired young fellows from Accra who came with PACC Policy staff to honour the occasion. Few items like soccer balls, pencils and entire trunk full of treats and snacks were brought to spend a lovely last moment in Anum community. My stay attracted many to the students and situation in the school and some of the inspired people including a Pastor have promised to become more regularly involved with the school and community and pay school fees for some of the students who cannot afford.

Limitations

  1. By the time I was leaving, no product had been completed using the water bags. I was hoping to celebrate a complete product with Wesleyan Academy in hopes that it would concretely inspire and motivate them to continue on the project after my departure. The timing of my placement was not ideal. My teachings and program were put on hold for one week because of final exams. The attention of students was divided between the program and preparing for the end of year examination.
  2. The sewing needles that the community used are thin and small as compared to crochet needles, making the task a much slower and time consuming. I have trained a couple of the teachers on how to run and complete the program and it is my sincere hope that it continues in September of next school year. Upon returning home, I will arrange better needles to be sent to the school to make the task a little easier.
  3. Recycling and/or reusing water bags was just one way of reducing the community’s ecological footprint. The Anum community practice many things that might be harmful to the environment. They use chemical fertilizers for their crops, they often cook with coal, and burn most of their garbage. Many of these actions are unavoidable. Anum is a small, more or less, self-running village that contains and requires minimal intervention and supervision from larger cities or the government. Anum has one tower at the top of mountain that supplies electricity to the village and a tower at the bottom of the mountain that provides internet capabilities to those who purchase credits. The electricity often goes out 2-3x/wk for a short time and up to 6 hours. They are a community that might utilize renewable resources such as solar and wind energy if it were provided to them, but are not in a position to acquire or develop these resources amongst themselves. There is no organized garbage or recycling program throughout Ghana, leaving the community with no other option but to burn their garbage (and potentially recyclable items). Garbage storage could be harmful practice. Waste segregation is not adequately adopted in Ghana. Anum is a farming community, mostly subsistence with minimal sales of crops to raise physical cash for other activities. It unrealistic for Anum to change their position that has proven to be effective and successful in meeting their needs over the years.
  4. Empowering the women through the project was ultimately unsuccessful due to the short amount of time spent with them and the timing towards the end of the school year with exams, celebrations, and general “burn out”. Women empowerment is a very complicated topic in Anum. I cannot speak to the rest of Ghana but assume that this extends to the large majority of Africa. Anum is a majorly, if not entirely, Christian run village. They all coincide peacefully and bond over their shared commonality of their beliefs. Gender roles are taught from a young age and rationalized through biblical interpretations of text. The phenomenon of male superiority is very complex within Anum (and probably most of the small rural villages). Through personal discussions, I realized that we had varied views of this complex phenomenon of gender equality. I feel that gender issues are run by both Christians beliefs and culture in Anum. Women empowerment was one of the elements I was most excited to implement during this project, but realized midway through that it was a more complex issue indoctrinated amongst the community through religious teachings. I think the best investment of time and energy would be by starting from elementary and exposing the males to taking orders from older and colleague female students.

Recommendations on the after school program

The starfish program might have greater potential in Accra where more resources are available. I would follow the same structure as the one I attempted to implement here for the same reasons/goals that were addressed earlier. However, instead of creating bags, I would cut the mailbags into thicker strips and try to weave mattresses instead and give them away to people in need out of compassion. Please see the link below for where most of my idea for the water bag project came from as well as the instructions on how to complete the project. http://milkbagsunlimited.ca

Recommendations on the after school program

The starfish program might have greater potential in Accra where more resources are available. I would follow the same structure as the one I attempted to implement here for the same reasons/goals that were addressed earlier. However, instead of creating bags, I would cut the mailbags into thicker strips and try to weave mattresses instead and give them away to people in need out of compassion. Please see the link below for where most of my idea for the water bag project came from as well as the instructions on how to complete the project. http://milkbagsunlimited.ca

Other Observations

The Boetang family made seemingly made it their mission to ensure that I had a safe and wonderful experience as a guest to their town. Their generosity has no limit. In the nearly 5 weeks that I was there, I don’t think of spending more than 50.00 cedis ($12.00) because of the responsibility the Boateng family took to care for me especially, Vida (the wife and mother of the home). I observed that family ties were stronger in Anum village from my experience with the Boateng family. I am beyond lucky and grateful for meeting and becoming close with Vida. She is a woman who is constantly giving while never asking for anything. I have become very inspired (and fat) because of her. I feel compelled to give her some recognition as she deserves it.

Final Comments/Conclusion

Anum is a beautiful village. There is one other white man who lives at the top of the mountain behind a gate at his hotel. He mostly keeps to himself and entertains visitors overnight, or at his restaurant/bar. I arrived here and was immediately accepted by everyone. They are a generous, loving, and caring community. I had some discussions here. I attempted a project with the water bags, which was embraced by many. People would always stop and tell me that I was welcome, invited me to eat their food, and wanted to know about me and where I am from. As many of my views and opinions are different. They too tried to learn them. Their ready acceptance of me has made it very difficult to be judgmental and critical of them. As an outsider, treated as I have been, I did not feel it was my place, or acceptable to aggressively point out that some of their ways of living needs reorientation due to my background. Western culture has some practices which are better, and many that are worse. I did make an effort to expose people to alternative values and ideologies with respect in hopes of planting some more progressive thoughts in their minds.

I made some good connections here and I sincerely hope to return and visit sometime in the future. I am already a little sad and miss Anum and some friends I made. Looking and being different, I believe that I made a good impression as a Canadian. I embraced myself into their culture, met lots of people, saw the main sites, and created some unforgettable memories and experiences for myself. I am excited about clarifying a lot of the misinformation that North Americans receive about Africa. Anum is a bit of a hidden treasure that few people would ever visit. Upon returning home, I will continue to be involved with some of my new friends, the school, and the organizations/ people who wish to bring good to the school and community.

 

Thank you for taking the time to read my report. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at adam.ernst@outlook.com.