Re-Blog: “The Baker’s Dilemma and the inequity of restricted funding”

Today I stumbled across a great blog post (you can find the original blog post here) about the problem with restricted funding by donor agencies.

Today, I want to talk about unrestricted funding. A couple of weeks ago, Paul Shoemaker published this piece speaking against what he calls “Quite Damaging Dollars” (QDD), funds that come with burdensome restrictions and are not just unhelpful, but actually detrimental to nonprofits’ work.

Now this issue is actually something I was talking to a new friend at a few weeks ago at a party.  We both expressed happiness about the great work that certain organizations are trying to do, but frustration about how inflexible some funders seem to be.  For those readers who are not in the development sector, many NGOs get large portions of their money from foundations, governments, and other funders who can place certain restrictions (such as which contractors NGOs can use, which projects the money can be for, etc.).  Although the goals are good (to increase transparency and fund great work), the outcome is a huge increase in the complexity of accounting and reporting for the NGOs.

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Restricted funding also can sometimes be found with strict project guidelines.  This means a large funder might say “Okay, go do this education/healthcare/income-generating project for X group of people, in Y location, but your methods must be exactly those written here.” The NGO and funder both agree that this is a good strategy and off the NGO goes off to carry this out.  However, after a few months they realize it is not working and ask the funder if they can change some things to make it more effective.  Inflexible funders will say “No, we agreed, you must do what is stated.”  The NGO then has to complete the work, even though they know the impact won’t be as positive as it could be.  The funder will often also ask for a report at the end, and if the report isn’t positive the NGO risks not getting more funding, and thus has an incentive to lie in the report – making it seem more positive than in actuality… a vicious circle.

He goes on to mention how tricky it is for organizations to go through all of the different restrictions placed on them by different projects and different donors.  He mentions that only the largest NGOs have the time and resources to figure out how to finance everything, and how this disproportionately affects small organizations.  The small organizations therefore spend time and money managing all the different funders, instead of doing their great work.

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His blog mentions a great little scenario called the Baker’s Dilemma.

Basically, a group of five siblings want to pool their money together to buy a cake for their parents’ anniversary party, but each has restrictions on what his or her money can be spent on. John will pay up to $7, but his money cannot be used for eggs or electricity, and it will pay for no more than 1 stick of butter. Steven will contribute up to $5, and will pay for anything except flour, but only if another person contributes an equal amount. Sue will pay up to $5, but her money can only be used to buy eggs, sugar, or butter, but not the full amount of either. Etc. Your group, the pastry shop, has to figure out how much each sibling is paying for which ingredient of the cake.

He gave this scenario to a group of funders at a conference to try to figure out – and obviously they became very stressed and aggravated.  It really helped them to understand the difficulty organizations face when trying to deal with only restricted funds.  If you want, you can sit down and try to figure out the Baker’s Dilemma for yourself.  Or try it at your next board meeting…

So if you’re a funder, and you think an organization is doing great work, sit down with them and figure out a plan for what they need to keep doing great work, instead of just giving some money with restrictions in place.  It will be better for both of you.

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I would totally recommend checking out this blog… It’s great to have people being honest about development, aid, and NGOs.

Goodbye 2014! I wonder what 2015 has in store?

A few weeks ago, WordPress sent me an email about my last year… just like facebook does with the photos, except this one was about my blog.  I didn’t think it would very interesting, but I was wrong.  I’m so happy to know that so many people have read about my adventures.  Apparently it has been viewed by people that I’ve never met… not just in Canada and Ghana, but in 86 countries… wow!  Thanks for your support guys!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,500 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 58 trips to carry that many people.

Huh, good to know!

Apparently “The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.” Click here to see the complete report.

And that reminded me… A new year, with new possibilities.  It’s a bit terrifying…

“Amanda, do you wanna go to that concert in July?” “How about coming to the graffiti festival in Montreal in June?” “What do you wanna do for your birthday Steve?”

So many questions about the future, most that I’m unable to answer.  I don’t have a job yet, but I’m looking for one, which pretty much means my life is in the air.

Where will I be in 3 weeks, 3 months or 3 years?  I have no idea!

I found this excerpt that I could really relate to…

The problem? Too many options When you live abroad, there’s a deadline to the experience. Your trip is a bookend that makes everything feel special and like you’re working toward something. Back home, with no finishing date, life can suddenly feel overwhelming or excruciatingly boring. Suddenly, you have to make decisions about your life rather than just your day.

I guess I’m a grown-up now, and have to get a real job with actual responsibilities.

So how have I been doing lately? Honestly, I’m not too sure. I’m keeping busy, but I feel a bit apathetic and melancholy to be honest. I guess it’s a combination of winter time blues and not having a reason to get up in the morning. Plus, everyone knows that job hunting is awful!  Also, I’m getting a lot of conflicting feedback… like ToDoist says I’m one of the top 1% of planners using their app… yay, I’m super productive!  But “2048” (a game on my phone) also let me know I played so many times I won. *sigh* Am I doing the best I can, or should I be striving for more?  Do others expectations matter to me as much as I think they do, or is it okay to be unemployed for a little bit?  I feel like even Facebook and LinkedIn are judging me when they say that my “current job” field is blank, and that I should update it… :(

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You can view the ToDoist report here.

One thing I’m trying to do is to get out at least 4 times a week.  Whether that’s the gym, an event in the city, or a nice dinner with Steve.  It definitely helps to get out of the house.  I also just started a new course called “The Challenges of Global Poverty” that I hope is interesting, and will maybe give me a better idea of a direction to head in.  But for now it’s back to silly fb games, watching netflix, sleeping in… oh yeah, and some job applications in between!

Anyway, sorry to whine.  Just wanted to be honest with you guys about where I’m at.  We can’t all be happy and successful all the time.  I guess this is just part of my roller-coaster that we call life. Hopefully there’s a big hill on the horizon!

Christmas in Mexico – Sun, Sand and Margaritas!

During the summer, my mom was asking my sister (Shannon) and I what we should do for Christmas.  We both went to Vancouver to visit Shanni last year, so we figured this year we should all go somewhere instead (especially since it’s about the same price – and a lot more fun – than the three of us flying to Vancouver).  My mom loves the beach, so we decided to hit up Mexico since Shan had never been.  So, less than a week after getting back from Ghana, Steve and I packed up our stuff and woke up at 3 am to fly to Cancun.  My mom met us at the airport, and we got some breakfast before our 6am flight.  The early morning was a killer, but it was worth it to be in Mexico and able to explore by the afternoon.  After we arrived at the airport (and all my Christmas gift wrapping was ruined by customs), we took the one hour bus to Playa del Carmen.  My sis would be meeting us there in the afternoon.

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Instead of staying on an all-inclusive resort, we decided it would be cheaper (and more fun) to just rent a hotel.  I’m glad we did!  Playa del Carmen feels super safe to walk around, and there is lots of public access to the beach.  You can rent chairs and umbrellas for pretty cheap, and get yummy margaritas anywhere you go on the beach.  For those who’ve never been, Playa has a great “main drag” that runs parallel to the beach, called 5th Avenue.  It has tons of cute shops and great restaurants.  It was great getting to wander around and try something new every night!

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Christmas was fun but mostly just another day.  We brought Santa hats and took silly pictures.  Shan and I tried to do some jumping shots but obviously we were not very coordinated, so we got this one instead!  It was great to spend so much time with her.  Although we’re very only 2 years apart, we have very different personalities.  However, we always get along great and laugh lots when we actually get to spend time together.

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We stayed for a week and got into a pretty regular routine.  My sis and mom would get up early and go find an umbrella by the water (since my sister got sun-burnt on the first day).  Steve and I would sleep in, grab some Starbucks for breakfast, and find them on the beach.  We’d spend the whole day reading, drinking margaritas, and going in the water to cool down (though some days the waves were pretty intense).  When the sun went down we would go back to the hotel for a nap, shower, and then head somewhere new for dinner (and maybe  bit of shopping along the way).  Before we got there, Steve had looked up all the attractions.  Maybe we should dive in the caves, check out the ruins, go to a crazy beach club, or check out some water sports.  One day we did take the ferry over to Cozumel to go snorkeling, but for the rest of the time we just chilled… which was exactly what I needed.  I don’t regret the rest and relaxation at all!

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I feel a bit bad for Steve, since some of out trip was super girly.  My mom and sister love to talk about food and calories, and we did a lot of shopping (even buying bracelets on the beach!).  He was probably a bit overwhelmed but he handled it well.  By the end he seemed to be craving some man time, and hit the gym immediately when we got back to Ottawa, since he wanted to “lift something.”  He’s a trooper. :)

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However, I’m really glad he came.  It was hard spending 5 months away from him, and it was a great chance to spend some quality time together.  We were planning to do lots of excursions and exploring and we ended up being lazy and reading on the beach – which was just perfect!  It worked out well, because we got 2 rooms at the same hotel.  I was able to balance some girly time with couple time, and it was wonderful. :)

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At first thought, it seems like travelling so soon after a long overseas placement might not be a good idea.  However, I think it’s exactly what I needed.  Many of my friends who were abroad came back to intense holiday pressure.  Gifts, food, and too many people asking them a million questions.  I got to spend a week with 3 of my favourite and most supporting people.  I got to relax on the beach, catch up on my reading, and drink margaritas.  It was a great way to end a fantastic, jam-packed year!

“So, how was Africa?” – A letter to friends, family, and supporters of a short-term overseas volunteer

Hey everyone,

I am now officially back from Ghana, and sitting in the living room of my apartment with Steve in Ottawa.  It’s hard to believe that I’m actually back here and that it’s been 5 months since I left.  Wow… overwhelming! Sometimes I’m so happy, sometimes angry… hopeful, excited, or just plain emotional. I’m all over the place, like a roller-coaster.  I’m really excited to be back (and especially thankful to my wonderful boyfriend, Steve, and one of my favourite couples, Anne and Ryan, for picking me up at the airport in Toronto – and bringing some winter clothes!).

I’m excited for many things back in Canada.  I want to go skating on the canal, eat all the food I missed, snuggle with my boyfriend, and watch all the new movies in theaters with my friends. Although job hunting really sucks, I’m excited for the new opportunities I will eventually become part of. I’m a bit nervous that my relationships will have changed, and that uncomfortable silences and awkward moments will be the norm.  I’m worried I’ll forget who I once was, and the city I’ve always called home.  I’m scared that I’ll forget all the important lessons I learned about gratitude, patience, understanding, and “going with the flow”.  But most of all I’m excited for my life to continue, filled with new friends, experiences, and wonderful memories.

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As my friends and family, I know you care and want want the best for me.  I know you want to hear all about my trip but don’t know what to ask.  However, when I get the question… “So, how was Africa?”, or “How was it?”, or “Tell me about the last 6 months”, I’m a bit overwhelmed… I don’t know where to start, and I don’t know how to give you the stories you want to hear. Instead, think about what you love.  Are you interested in art…? If so, ask me about dancing, or the music, or the clothes people wear.  Are you interested in money…? If so, ask me what kind of jobs people have, how to haggle with taxi drivers, or what street hawkers are like.  Are you interested in people…? If so ask me about how they take care of babies or what the gender dynamics are.  These types of specific questions will give me a much better idea of where to start, and will help you possibly learn something new (that you care about!).

As EWBers and other NGOs I know you want to hear all about my work.  However, when you ask “What was your impact?” I’m at a loss to describe everything I worked on over the past half year.  Perhaps instead you could ask me what the highlight of my placement was or to tell you what our curriculum focused on.  More specific questions will give me the chance to tell you what you really want to know.  Even more importantly, I would appreciate your support in the transition back home.  So maybe don’t just ask me about work, but ask how I’m doing and if I want to go for a coffee.  Getting re-accustomed to life in Canada and just sitting down to talk with friends is currently my top priority.  Perhaps half-way through that coffee we’ll talk about work, but before we do I’d love to related to you as a fellow caring human being.  I think you can all handle that! :)

So thank you in advance for asking me great questions, and giving me a chance to talk about my experience  I know three-quarters of my stories for the next few months will likely start with “In Ghana…” and you might get annoyed, but please be patient.  That has been my most recent frame of reference, and I don’t yet have very many interesting stories to share with you about life back home.  In time those will come.  I missed you all, and I look forward to the chance to become reacquainted with you wonderful people!

With gratitude,

– Amanda

P.S. I had planned to post all my blogs about Ghana before leaving, but of course that didn’t happen! If you’re interested in a specific topic or aspect of life in Ghana, and won’t get a chance to see me in person, then feel free to comment or email me asking to talk about it on my blog.  There’s no such thing as a stupid question! :) Stay tuned in the days, weeks and months to come for more thoughts and experiences related to my EWB Ghana placement!

Chilling by the Coast

It’s hard to believe the time is coming to and end, but I wanted to make the most of my time here by seeing as many different parts of the country as I could.  Thankfully, my friend Yazan (who was living in Tamale) agreed, and we decided to take a mid-week vacation (since we had been working hard at a Fall retreat all weekend!). Plus it was my birthday, so it seemed like a good time to get away.

Kumasi to Elmina – After leaving the retreat at the lake, we took a taxi for about an hour with Gordon (an EWBer who works in Accra on BDS – the same venture as Yazan) to Kumasi.  He caught a VIP bus to Accra, and after a bunch of searching we caught a trotro to Cape Coast.  We waited awhile for it to fill, and we were pretty grumpy from the heat, lack of eating, dehydration, carrying bags and waiting.  The vaca was not off to a good start.  A long trotro ride later we arrived after dark in Cape Coast, where we had to negotiate with taxis for a very long time before they agreed to take us to our hotel in the nearby town of Elmina.  They kept changing the times and the prices, and eventually they got totally lost.  We had to ask directions, make calls and use our GPS, but eventually we made it to the hotel where he demanded double the money (this is common when the roads are bad – especially if the taxi lied about knowing where he was going – but is still annoying every time it happens).  We got our room and a lantern (it was lights out), and went to the bar to grab a cold soda.  You could hear the waves but couldn’t see anything, so we wandered a bit to the beach and sat beside a campfire looking at the stars.  It was a great way to end a stressful day of travelling.

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Elmina to Kakum National Park – We went to bed at a reasonable time, and were woken by women sweeping outside (they love to do this first thing in the morning), and someone in the neighbouring room sampling all of their ringtones (is this 1999 and you just got your first cellphone?).  It was about 9:30 by the time we actually rolled out of bed and headed for breakfast at the beach bar.  I got french toast and Yazan got a proper English breakfast, it was good stuff.  I went back to finish the midterm for my online Happiness Course, and then we packed up and checked out.  We headed back to the bar to drop off our bags.  My favourite two features about the Stumble Inn (besides it’s clever name) are the beautiful deserted beach, and the fact that the bar is everything (where you eat, get drinks, reception, ask for a towel, pay your bill, leave your bags and charge your electronics).

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We spent the morning on the beach, playing in the waves, tanning, reading my book, and drinking cocktails.  We had a small lunch of peanut butter sandwiches, paid our bills, and took a small overnight bag only for the next 2 days (though both of us actually took 2 bags – because apparently we suck at packing light – plus we had no idea what to expect at the park). The hotel called us a taxi, which took us into the town of Elmina, where we wanted to visit the Elmina Castle . If you’re interested in getting a bracelet with your name on it, you can also request this from a guy standing near the entrance and he’ll have it ready when you come out. Yazan was really excited about this because souvenirs never have his name on them!

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The castle charged a ridiculous amount to bring in cameras (more than the entrance fee) so we decided to just do the tour.  I’m glad I did because it feels weird taking pictures of such beautiful views in such a horrible place!  We learned all about the slave trade, saw the areas where the slaves were kept, and toured other parts of the castle like the bedrooms, mess halls, storage rooms, etc.  It was really sad but I’m glad I went.  There’s so much history and I think it’s important to understand it all.  We had a great tour guide, and it lasted about an hour.

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Afterwards we got out bracelets and picked a taxi to the trotro station.  Another argument ensued over the price, we weren’t having much luck with taxies on this trip… Eventually we caught a trotro to Kakum National Park, and it was dark by the time we got there.  We met our guide (who had our dinners) and took the 20 minute walk to the treehouse.  Man, we’re so out of shape, and it was tricky in the dark with our bags, mud and wet leaves.  Eventually we made it there, got changed and set up our beds for the night.  Our guide would also be sleeping there.  He said we should wait until 8 pm, because by then we would know whether it was going to rain or not. We waited but it was still not certain, so we decided to go for a hike anyway.  It was dark but we had flashlights and stuck to the path.  We didn’t see any animals but it was cool to see the trees and a really relaxing experience to just think (he warned us not to talk because it would scare away the animals).  About an hour later we were back at the tree-house and went to bed early.  Surprisingly the nets around the enclosure were very good and I got no bites (even without sleeping under my net).  The only thing that kept me up was Yazan snoring!

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Kakum National Park to Cape Coast – When we got up in the morning we packed all our bags and headed through the forest again.  When we got to the canopy walk we paid the guide and left out bags on the landing.  The canopy walk it a series of 7 bridges up high in the trees where you can see the whole forest.  It’s beautiful but terrifying.  I’d recommend it unless you’re super scared of heights.  I’m a bit scared but I’m glad I did it.  We were the only ones there at the time, other than a group of birders with big fancy cameras and ugly outfits hanging out on one of the platforms. After the walk we went back to the main entrance, bought a few souvenirs, and our guide borrowed the company car to drive us back to Cape Coast.

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The canopy walk is a really cool experience.  It’s a fun half-day trip if you’re not sleeping overnight, but you don’t need a lot of time to complete, so be aware when you plan your travels!  Also, the paths are basically mesh, with ladders and then wood on top.  Realizing this freaked me out, but it felt pretty sturdy…

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The driver took us to see Cape Coast Castle which looks pretty similar to the other one. This castle was built by the British specifically for the slave trade. There are separate prisons for men and women and passages for transporting them to the boats. I would recommend going to both castles, as you can learn different things.  I guess many African Americans come to learn about their heritage, and many leave wreaths and things for their deceased ancestors, which is pretty emotional.

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For lunch Gordon had recommended we check out Oasis, which is a hotel but also has an excellent bar and restaurant, right on the beach. We had cocktails and Yazan even got lobster! We called the hotel for the night and they said we should leave right away, so we got a taxi to bring us to our hotel in Elmina to get the bags. He got lost and I think he was illiterate because he had trouble with the signs. Eventually we made it to the hotel, got our bags, and drive to the main road to catch a tro. Of course he argues about the price but we gave him a fair amount and got on the vehicle.

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Cape Coast to Cape 3 Points

The tro took us to Takoradi, where we switched to a tro heading to Agona. From there it appeared to be about 30 min on the map… so we tried to get a taxi but it was super expensive. The guy was huge and wanted to bring his buddy so we were a bit worried but eventually we got in. About 5 minutes down the dark road the lights of the car cut out. We made them stop and they got out but were unaware to fix it. Eventually they called a friend to take us the rest of the way. It probably took an hour and a half because the roads are so bad. The potholes are huge and it’s been washed out by water in many places. By around 10pm we had made it there and the staff wasn’t too pleased.

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The staff brought us to our cabin, heated up our dinner, charged our electronics for a few minutes and served drinks. They wanted to go to bed, so the bar was closed (no more charging). We met a group of 18 year old German girls who were here on their gap year. We played cards a bit and chatted. Some 30 year old German guys were also around and started giving the girls massages before they “went for a walk on the beach”. I think it was a bit creepy but whatever. Yazan and I went to look for turtles but had no luck. Then we couldn’t find our cabin! We searched everywhere but eventually got the guard to show us. So embarassing!

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It had taken us so long to get there that we wanted to stay for another day. We decided to ask our bosses if it would be okay to work from the beach. We were both terrified they would be mad or disappointed. A few minutes later we got replies saying no problem, that it was totally fine! We were set for another whole day on the beach and wouldn’t have to leave until the next afternoon.

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The resort is an eco lodge. There are lights in the room but no outlets. The shower is just a big bucket of water and the toilet uses sawdust to compost the waste. The entire thing is made from bamboo, and the toilet part is open to the elements. The bed area is on a lounge area up a ladder. It took a bit of getting used to.

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In the morning we had breakfast and booked a tour to see the lighthouse, they recommended 4 pm. We read, did a bit of computer work, chilled on the beach, and chilled in the beach and on the waves. After lunch a local boy came to bring us to his village. A tro came along the way and we hopped in and got off in the village. We watched some old men play board games and paid a man to enter the area. We paid again to enter the lighthouse and signed the guest book.

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We climbed a few ladders and the view from the top was amazing. We took lots of pictures and got to see all 3 points. After about 20 minutes we climbed down and walked towards the middle point, the southern most tip of Ghana. It was really beautiful and we didn’t want to leave. Eventually we walked back, had dinner at our hotel, and enjoyed a few drinks before bed.

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Cape 3 Points to Home – On Thursday in was raining most of the day, but I still thought it was really nice to be by the water instead of being in the city.  The power wasn’t working (since the system is solar) and Yazan’s computer was dead, so we spent most of our time reading, walking on the beach, Yazan played his harmonica, and I got some work done for MBC (whatever didn’t require internet access).  Around noon we had lunch, paid our bill, and then the hotel called a taxi for us.  We loaded it up around 2pm with all our stuff (we had bought a lot of presents along the way – which really weighed us down – but we were glad to get some Christmas and souvenir shopping out of the way!). From Escape 3 Points to Agona is about an hour by taxi in the worst, bumpy, dirt roads you’ve ever seen.  We both slept mostly, and then we picked up a tro in Agona, for the next hour long ride to Takoradi (the capital of the Western Region). Once in Takoradi we were bombarded with bus and taxi drivers wanting to take us, and we eventually got in a mostly empty coach bus that promised to leave in 45 minutes.  2 hours later we were on the road to Accra… We had some snacks, and because the bus never fully filled up, we each had 2 seats (aka. lovely napping).  We got in Accra around 10, took a taxi to my house, and made a pasta dinner.  Yazan skyped with his fam for American Thanksgiving, and I went to bed early.  His flight was at 6 am the next day, so he was able to go to work in Tamale that day (although a little worse for the wear).

I would recommend this holiday to all, especially if you’re a beach lover.  There’s something so relaxing about sleeping somewhere that you can hear the waves breaking and wake up to feel the sand between your toes.  Perfect birthday week for a tropical country! :)

Fall Retreat

This year the FIDAP was held at Lake Bosumtwe, which is near Kumasi in the Ashanti Region. There were EWBers from all of the ventures in Ghana, and it was a really great chance to see people I hadn’t seen in a long time.  For those of you who don’t know (I mean how could you not? :P)… FIDAP stands for Fall Integrated Dreaming and Planning.  This basically means it’s a retreat where we get together to discuss issues and plan for the future.

Yazan and I decided to go up early to visit Kumasi.  I left Accra with Florian on Thursday afternoon by bus.  We got lunch and then hopped on.  He thought the VIP was super luxurious, and I think anyone from Canada who has taken the greyhound will agree.  We got to Kumasi as it was getting dark, and checked into the Presby guesthouse (which is close to the bus terminal).  I ate some snacks and chilled until Yazan got in at around 10.  We went to bed pretty early so we could get a good night sleep.  Plus he just found out he had typhoid… again!

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In the morning we got up early and had breakfast.  There was some confusion because the hotel is attached to a church and everyone (reception, security guard, restaurant lady) kept leaving for services and we couldn’t find anyone.  Eventually we had breakfast and caught a taxi to the cultural center.  Outside of the center there was, I’m going to guess, about a thousand women in this very animated church service.  There’s was lots of singing and dancing, and our cab driver later told us that this is where all the single ladies go to church, every second Friday. Amidst the women there were all sorts of booths selling different kinds of crafts.

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We were having fun at first.  We banged on drums, tried of traditional clothes, sorted through paintings and looked at everything.  There was some really nice things as well as some really ridiculous things.  We did really good shopping though, and got most of our Christmas presents for home, which was a huge relief!  Eventually we got overwhelmed.  The sales people are pushy and get mad when you won’t go in their shop.  Even when you say no they’re in your face asking and asking until we just had to go.  We were starving so we bought some watermelon (which they are experts in cutting into cubes!) and ground nuts for the journey.

We weren’t sure if we’d get back in time, but thankfully the traffic cleared and our taxi arrived at the hotel with just 5 minutes to spare,  We got our bags, met up with Jon, and took the taxi to the location of the actual retreat by the lake.  Traffic was bad and the roads are bumpy, so it probably took us over an hour to get there, but I’d say we were in the middle of the pack.  We put our bags in our rooms and grabbed lunch.

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That afternoon we sat on some benches by the lake and got to know each other.  Not only was the FIDAP going on for EWB staff, but a simultaneous retreat was going on with the Kumvana fellows, and it was great chance to meet and interact with that.  They’re African leaders in their communities and businesses who have been chosen to come to Canada for the EWB conference and get a chance to work in Canadian businesses for a short period.  They were so full of insight, hope, and excitement – it was contagious, and we all got pumped up about some new topics.  It was nice just being the water, and was a pretty relaxing afternoon overall.  Afterwards we had dinner and then had “story time” where all the venture leads discussed what was going on with their projects.  Unfortunately, only 4 presentations were possible, since the managers for MBC (my venture) and the Young Managers Program were unable to attend. That night was pretty chill, everyone just hung out and went to bed early.  People were tired from travelling…

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On Saturday we got up, went swimming, had breakfast, and prepared for sessions.  The weekend had sessions on many different topics.  Venture specific time, health and safety, planning and creating goals, learning about the organization, etc.  It was also great to get to know each other.

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One session we were put in groups of 3 and asked to act out different roles while creating a statue.  All three of us Professional Fellows happened to end up together, and it was an interesting experience to learn more about how to understand the needs of your employees and coworkers.  We also discussed various health and safety scenarios, which was pretty informative.  Our group was aptly named “the hammock group”.

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After lunch we had some free time.  Most of us got a bit of work done or had a nap.  Soon it started pouring so everyone had to get out of the lake.  It was pretty relaxing, and some good conversations were had.  We also had “learning carousels” where two sessions are run in each of three time slots.  Gordon from Business Development Services (BDS) did a really interesting one in the first time slot of the “missing middle” of medium sized industries that was really interesting.  In the second time slot, Alexis and I each did one about our venture, since our managers weren’t there to discuss during story time.  I think I definitely cleared up what MBC is all about, which was a cool experience.

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Saturday night after dinner was “Inspiration Night” and everyone had to prepare something to present.  I gotta tell you I was not looking forward to it. It reminded me of a forced talent show from camp.  I hate when people tell me “this is going to be fun” or “you’re going to be so inspired”.  It really makes me feel defensive, like “how would you know how I feel?” and makes my expectations high so that any event is bound to fall flat.  I gotta admit it was a fun night, with lots of songs (including one by the VOTO team about the power going out), stories, poems, and even some spoken word (a really amazing one by Gordon and Staecie about their platonic marriage).  I still think I woulda had more fun if there was less hype though.  We also “cheifed” Miriam from Agex, since it was her last hurrah. Chiefing is something EWB does to recognize somebody’s contribution when their time has come to an end.  There are usually nice stories, some kente cloth, and presents – it’s a nice tradition, and of course, usually super embarrassing for the person sitting on the stool in front of everyone! After that people had a few drinks but mostly it was a pretty early night to bed (much to the disappointment of some of the boys).

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Sunday morning we woke up, had breakfast, and even got crepes with ice cream on top of it as a treat from the hotel. We had a bunch of closing sessions, including an interesting one by Florian (Talent Team at National Office) on where the organisation was and it’s future plans. Afterwards we packed up our bags and headed over to lunch. One of the delegates for the Kumvana program was there to show us her work. She organizes women in the poor rural villages in the north to make jewelery for her, which she buys and sells. You can check out her organization, called Beads of Hope. We all bought some for ourselves or as souvenirs for friends back home. Eventually we sat down to lunch but there was a lot of announcements. Two more long term volunteers were being honoured: Caroline (Voto) and Heather (Amplify)… so there were plenty of stories, speeches, and presents going around when they were also “chiefed”.

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Sunday afternoon was supposed to be venture time… but I was my whole venture (Bernard had some church thing and Kombate was being interviewed by CNN). Most people decided to leave early to get back to work by Monday morning anyway. Yazan and I left by taxi around 3 and got back to Kumasi. From there we found the bus station but ended up taking a trotro on out next adventure…

To be continued later this week. See “Chilling by the Coast” for the next part of the story.

P.S. Most of the pictures in this post were not taken by myself.  Thanks Ghana Whatsapp group!

Religion Everywhere

Religion is not something I think about a lot in Canada. For the most part, there is a separation of church and state, and most Canadians are too polite (and afraid of confrontation) to really bring it up in polite company. I have a few friends who are quite religious, and sometimes we discuss how that effects their lives in terms of relationships and such… But I’ve never been a fan of people who try to preach to me, or convert me to their religion. In Ghana, religion is everywhere… here are some examples!

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This symbol is very common in Ghana. It can be found on fabric, jewelry, and also almost every plastic chair. It’s means “except God”. I used to think it meant “accept God” – like let him into your life, but it actually means something more along the lines of nothing would be possible without God.

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You can also find religious references on trotro bumpers, advertisements, and especially in shop names (I have sprinkled some examples I’ve seen throughout the post). Since I live in the south they mostly reference “Lord”, “God” or “Jesus”, but in the north they often mention Allah.

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Since I got here people have asked which church I go to. Fortunately I came up with a good excuse early on, which is fairly accurate. I simply say that I’m always travelling on weekends so I’m unable to go. This makes sense to them since they think Westerners are too focused on being efficient, walking fast, and are always busy!

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The question “Are you religious?” is something I’m never asked. Instead the question is “Are you Christian or Muslim?” You can find a prayer at the beginning of any important meeting… people will even request it If it’s not on the schedule (as they did at the MBC training). It’s very common to say Insha Allah or “God willing” in everyday conversation.

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Check out rule number 4. “Two men are not allowed to book one room except a man and the son who is below eighteen (18) years.”  

Ghanaians are against homosexual behaviour. A few girls I know were even charged extra for sharing a room in a hotel.  Yazan (a male coworker) and I always share a room (to save money), but I’m guessing they assume we’re a couple.  Ghanaians mostly live at home until they’re married, and it’s not acceptable for a couple to have relations or live together before they’re married in most cases.  Mike (my old roomate) and I also were allowed to get a “couple pass” at the gym (because it was much more affordable, and we registered at the same time), but they still put his last name on my first name for the receipt (even though we told them we were just coworkers)…

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Ghana is made up of different regions, which were once different tribes and kingdoms, with their own languages, customs and religions.  During colonialism, many countries (and their missionaries) forced these new religions on the people.  Religion was also sometimes the only way to go to school or become literate.  Today 90% of the south in Christian, while 90% of the North of the country is Muslim.  In the North you can often hear the call to prayer throughout the day (starting at around 4 am – ugh!), and in the South, Sunday is a very important day.  However, many people still retain some of their old beliefs, and have mixed those with their new religion.

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Religion is obviously an aspect of most weddings, but I think it takes on a different level here. I only went to one wedding, but most of the actual singing and sermons took place before the bridal party even arrived. There’s also a whole stage for all the ministers. They’re mentioned individually throughout the ceremony (most even had a shout out to their wife in the audience). The more people you have on stage the better… It shows you’re a big deal. There were also at least 3 rounds of donations to the church that everyone was forced to stand up and dance towards the donation boxes at the front… The preacher also had his own little speech near the end where he discussed things never mentioned at North American weddings… like cheating, marital responsibilities and divorce.

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Religion is not just something people do on weekends. At the church near my house there’s praying and singing every night. I know a few expats that are not religious but go twice a week In their host community, and the minister still gives them a hard time for “never being at church”. On top of the regular meetings there are also youth groups, week long events for different holidays and weekend revivals. Miraculous healing and speaking in tongues can also be found… On New Years Eve, everyone goes to church. Apparently even if you’re at a bar or big party, you leave just before midnight to go to church, and go back to the party afterwards.

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Preachers can be found almost anywhere, not just in churches.  They often set up big speakers (running on a super loud generator), in the middle of the “side walk”.  It reminds me of buskers in Canada, except a big crowd always comes around.  I can’t understand what they’re saying since they’re usually in another language, but the audience seems to get really engaged.

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There’s also always preachers on the trotros unexpectedly.  In Ghana there are mixed reactions but mostly it’s positive.  People recite verses and say Amen and bow their heads to pray.  They even give him money at the end of the “service” – aka. when he decides to get off the trotro.  However, they all speak Twi (the most common local language in Ghana – though the local language in Accra is supposed to be Ga) so I don’t exactly know what they’re saying.  One preacher even had a handheld video player where he showed us movie of horrible disasters and weird surgeries.  The people on the tro continue chatting with the mate and on the phone through the preaching, and then if the preacher isn’t good they will make fun of him (at least after he leaves).  This morning one guy got on and started talking but he ended up getting off after only a few stops, and nobody paid any money.  I also heard them say something about “Evangelists” and then everyone laughed, so maybe he just wasn’t very convincing!  In the United Sates, people are a little less accepting of this random public preaching.

Overall I find the religion to be overwhelming. I’m not religious, which is very common in Canada. Basically I just avoid talking about it here, and try to be respectful when others are praying and such (as I would in Canada).  When I first got here I was talking to someone who mentioned how countries that are poor need religion.  Children die, their are natural disasters, crops fail… and they can’t really do much about it. Therefore they turn to God.  In Canada, religion is a choice, but it seems that in the developing world, the ability to choose to not have a religion is a luxury they cannot afford…