CFTC interviewed Mueni Udeozor, Program Officer, on her return from her first monitoring trip to Ghana in late December, 2011.
CFTC: When did you travel to Ghana?
MU: My journey to Ghana (formerly the Gold Coast) began even before I set foot at Pearson airport late Wednesday afternoon on November 30, 2011. It would be my first trip to Ghana, and in fact, West Africa. After becoming thoroughly familiar with the Frankfurt airport during a particularly long seven-hour layover, I could not wait to continue my journey to Accra, the capital of Ghana. It was night when I arrived, and I remember thinking as we were making our descent how the entire country seemed to light up despite the darkness. From the sky, there were lights everywhere producing an amazing sight. From my vantage, it appeared that access to power for the entire country seemed the reality.
Accra, which stretches along the Atlantic coast and extends north into the country’s interior, is the largest city of Ghana. But I was not going to Ghana’s sprawling metropolis and seemingly never-ending traffic jams, but heading to Tamale in the Northern Region. This is where our Ghana Country Office and some of our partners are based. My time in Accra was short, as I had to catch a 5 am local flight to the north after just a few hours of sleep.
Tamale is made up of a flat, dry landscape with few trees and multiple clusters of mud huts with iron roofs grouped together everywhere you look. This is a society where the sense of family and community are strong. While in Tamale, I spent time reviewing country operations and getting to know our CFTC Ghana Country Office staff including our newest addition, Augustine, who has recently come on board as the Program Officer. I had the wonderful opportunity to meet our local partners, as well as visit communities and speak with women, men and children on some of the projects CFTC has funded. The two weeks I was there flew by given a well-packed agenda. I returned to Toronto on Thursday, December 15.
CFTC: Can you describe Ghana and what your first impressions were?
MU: My first impression of Ghana was based on how warm and friendly the people were, and I felt immediately welcome and at ease. While there are many (approximately 79) dialects spoken in Ghana among multiple groups, English is the language of commerce, and even as the country is surrounded by French-speaking African States – Cote d’Ivoire to the West, Burkina Faso to the North, Togo to the East, and the Gulf of Guinea to the South – French is not actively encouraged or practiced inside the country.
Ghana is a divided country, specifically between the south and the north. Among the three northern regions (Northern Region, Upper East Region and Upper West Region), poverty rates are much higher than the national average, which can be attributed to the historically uneven allocation of resources between the south and the north. The difficult climactic and environmental conditions do not make things easy for the majority of farming households who make up nearly half of the country’s extremely poor. Among these, women and children are the most vulnerable, facing food insecurities and higher levels of malnutrition in comparison to the south.
Because the north only has one rainy season per year, any extremes in the weather (e.g., drought, floods, etc.) means families often go without food as they try to eke out something of substance from whatever small harvest they cultivate. Women, men and children in the Ghana’s north have little or no access to health care, education and nutrition which citizens living in the south enjoy.
This obvious disparity is one of the reasons CFTC is working in the north. And while one person or one organization cannot respond to every need, the women and children I had a chance to chat with expressed not only with words, but with their faces and actions, how much CFTC’s partnership with them means to them, and how much more there is still to do.
CFTC: What was the purpose of this trip?
MU: As Program Manager for Ghana, I am responsible for carrying out annual project monitoring visits to partners and communities where CFTC works to observe project work, ask questions and listen to what is really happening on the ground. This was a great trip because it was my first time to meet with partners, some of whom we have worked with for many years, and others who have come on board over the last few years.
What I enjoyed most was talking, especially the women, about the challenges they face, their dreams to earn an income and be able to establish their children’s future through access to education. And it was incredible to see how some of these women are now involved in Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) which encourage them to save so they can use their savings to make their dreams a reality. Their excitement and ability to manage their own funds was inspiring.
CFTC: Can you describe some of the community partners that you visited, and how their work is having an impact on their communities?
MU: The first partner we visited with the Country Office team in Ghana and the new Director of Programs, Heather Johnston, was our partner in Bolgatanga in the Upper East Region – Trade Aid Integrated (TAI). TAI is carrying out CFTC-funded initiatives in alternative livelihood support to basket weavers by providing access to micro-credit loans, supporting farmers with animal traction services so they can plow effectively and on time, and engaging communities on child protection and child rights work while maintaining affiliations with advocacy groups at the regional and national levels.
While in Bolgatanga, we participated in the official opening celebrations of the CFTC-funded Zaare Community Center for women basket weavers. The entire community attended the ceremony, including local government officials, our partner and some of their board members.
From Bolgatanga, we drove about five hours northwest to Wa in Ghana’s Upper West Region to meet our partner Sustainable Integrated Development Services Center (SIDSEC). Our partnership with SIDSEC spans 11 years with projects mainly in education, micro-credit loans, nutrition and child rights projects.
In Sankana, we visited a school feeding program for 110 children aged four to six. A major challenge for schools even at this level is the lack of teachers and volunteers. For all these children, there were only two volunteer teachers working with them. Our partner occasionally provides teacher training sessions to build their capacity, but more is needed.
This partner has also started a VSLA group with approximately 22 women. We met with them on one of their regular Friday meetings, and seeing how passionate they are and how they run their group was incredible.
The last partner we visited in Ghana was Regional Advisory Information and Network Systems (RAINS), located in Tamale – a seven-hour car ride from Wa on dry, dusty and bumpy roads. Meeting with RAINS, and visiting the projects they are conducting in partnership with CFTC was well worth it. RAINS is carrying out nutrition, education, sanitation and agriculture projects, the latter jointly with Ghana’s Ministry of Agriculture.
It was evident in Kpachelo that providing training on farming techniques has helped increase farm yields significantly. RAINS is also the only partner that runs child sponsorship in Ghana, so we were able to visit with some of the children who are supported by CFTC child sponsors. It was great to speak with the teachers there and learn about the challenges of not having enough teachers while enrolment continues to rise.
CFTC: What makes you most excited about your next trip to Ghana in 2012?
MU: I’m looking forward to seeing again the people I met the first time, and talking more concretely about the plans for 2012 and how these can be tweaked to ensure high impact. I look forward to face-to-face engagement with our partners to build their capacity so they can grow and have a wider reach, influencing policies that currently keep so many rural women, men and children repressed.