A Royal Visit, M&E at MOFA, and A Happy Holiday vacation
What a whirlwind of activity here in Tamale! The past two months have been jam packed with adventure, from a trip to the Atlantic coast, training madness at MoFA, and a visit from a pretty amazing Canadian and her entourage….
First things first. You might have heard about the Governor General trip to Africa in December, but did you know that Her Excellency, the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, made a stop right here in Tamale to visit with the Canadian volunteers in Ghana’s Northern Region?! It was a pretty incredible visit, with an impressive entourage consisting of the heads of many development organizations, full press coverage, a ‘beautification’ project to make Tamale pretty, and hordes of people lining the streets to catch a glimpse of the GG as she passed.
The day began with lots of excitement and commotion in the streets. I prepared for the visit (ie. I ironed my shirt for a change), donned my fancy new ‘work’ shoes (have been wearing flip flops since I arrived), and listened to sirens and honking horns in the distance – the GG was on her way. I jumped on my bike and met up with fellow volunteer Luke Brown. After a short cruise down Bolga road we arrived at the Gariba Lodge, the site of our meeting. We had just missed the motorcade of sport utilities and police vehicles bringing the crew into town to visit some Canadian projects. We mingled with fellow volunteers a while and anxiously awaited Her Excellency’s arrival. After some time we heard the sirens fast approaching. Everyone straightened up and began take their places. A series of big black sport utility vehicles pulled up, and the Governor General cheerfully popped out of one of them. She was greeted by a young group of singers and drummers, and she danced a bit and enjoyed the music. Then low and behold, George Roter, co-CEO of EWB came running from out of nowhere and greeted Luke, Kristy Minor (another great EWB’er in Tamale), and I, and we chatted all about our adventures in the first 5 months in Tamale. Before long the Governor General made her way over to us, and then it happened – we officially met the GG of Canada! WOW! It was pretty cool. We chatted for a while about EWB, and joked about how my name was about as French as it gets, but I can’t even order poutine properly in Quebec. She told us how amazing our work was here in Ghana and in the rest of Africa. It turns out that she specifically asked the EWB CEOs to join her tour of Africa, and wanted to learn more about what EWB does. Goes to show you just how much incredible energy, enthusiasm, and heart EWB has tapped into with so many young adults across Canada!
We then gathered in the dining room, where Her Excellency addressed the crowd before we dug in to a delicious buffet of local dishes. Before we knew it the lunch was over and the Governor General was off to visit a village before flying back to Accra. Altogether it was a pretty cool experience. Quite an honour to meet the Governor General, especially when she has gone out of her way to meet you!
So why haven’t I written for so long you ask? Because things have been crazy here at MoFA! I have been working hard with my counterpart Sheref to train ourselves on ‘Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E)’ of projects, and in turn to train staff here in Tamale and in the districts. MoFA is currently undertaking a country wide initiative to assess the impacts of projects and activities in the field, and Sheref and I are scrambling to fine tune some aspects of the M&E program before it is finalized. I’ll write more about the M&E program in a future post, but briefly the idea is to integrate ‘indicators’ for assessing impacts into the regular reporting scheme.
Sheref and I have been taking advantage of this opportunity to train staff on the importance of aiming for impact in the field. Essentially, agric officers in the districts really are ‘development workers’ and can dramatically improve livelihoods of poor rural farmers. So we are visiting districts and meeting with officers to show them how to have the most impact in the lives of farmers, and how to ‘monitor and evaluate’ their impacts on a regular basis. Furthermore, Sheref and I are developing ‘excel’ based templates for reporting to i) enable district officers to easily enter information and reduce time required for reporting, and ii) to take advantage of tools in excel for visualizing information and analyzing data, to help in understanding impacts and areas needing attention. This is a big step forward in MoFA, since data collection, analysis, and reporting has previously been done entirely on paper. Each report would normally take weeks to complete, and did not enable officers to analyze their performance and fine tune their focus in the field. So far the project is moving forward really well, and the results are promising! If all goes well, we will introduce our new ‘system’ to the national office in the next two weeks, where we hope to share our successes with the other regions.
Apart from my work at MoFA, I took an amazing trip down south for Christmas and the New Year. The south is like a whole other country this time of year. Up here in Tamale it is hot and dry – down south everything is still lush and green. They have a second rainy season down there, which not only keeps the trees beautiful, it also allows for year round farming. Hence the disparity in incomes and poverty between the north and south. Up here, we haven’t seen a single drop of rain since October. Not one. The dirt has turned to sand, the plants have all dried up (and have been burned down), and the temperatures are steadily rising. Its currently around 38C (100F) during the day, and will rise to 45C within the next few weeks. Yikes! They don’t call it Tamale for nothing ;).
In the south I stayed at a few incredible backpacker beach resorts (bare bones places but luxurious). I found myself relaxing on the most beautiful beaches with hardly another Siliminga in sight. The most amazing part of the trip was visiting many fishing villages on the coast. At one resort near Butre I hiked up the beach and came across a large fishing boat being pulled ashore. As the boat arrived, all of the villagers came out and began pulling in the boat and offloading the massive nets filled with writhing, silvery life. Everyone had a job – the men hauled the fish nets away from the surf and the women and children all sifted through the jumping and shaking fish to separate the big from small. The kingfish, barracuda, and other big ones were sent to the women, and the children took the squid and began to clean them. The children carefully stuffed the squid with sand to take away the slime, then began peeling away the skin, and finally removed the ink sack to spill it back into the sea. The men tended to the nets and the boat once the fish were sorted. Some cleaned seaweed from the nets while the others hauled the ship on shore using logs to help it slide. In all thirty or more people made it all happen, and in thirty minutes they were all back at the village with their catch.
I’ve posted some photos of my trip in the gallery, check it out. There are a few other things posted there from the GG visit, training, and other stuff too, enjoy! Also, if you like photos and stories from Africa, like to keep track of your appointments and birthdays, and are interested in helping support Engineers Without Borders (Canada), I’ve got just the thing for you. The EWB calendar!!! For $20 you can get a sweet calendar filled with great photos and stories from our volunteers (including some from yours truly), and can help EWB overseas. Check out https://www.ewb.ca/en/whatyoucando/holidays/index.html to order one!