Thoughts from an agricultural development gal in Ghana

Why aren’t you staying in Tamale?

“But why aren’t you staying in town??” This is almost always the second question, following my answer to the first question, “Where are you staying?”.

New electricity lines in Zuo

I have decided to live in a village called Zuo, about 10 minutes moto-ride outside of the city limits of Tamale. It’s a small village of about 400 people located on the Yendi road heading east out of Tamale. There are Primary and Junior Secondary schools, a mosque, a health clinic, a nutrition centre and about 30 household compounds. Most of the houses are simple mud-brick affairs with thatched roofs, though some of the more affluent families have cement buildings with tin roofs as part of their compounds. The village just got electricity a few months ago and lightbulb sellers in the area must have made a killing! Each room is now furnished with a bulb, plus one for each compound courtyard where the women do the cooking and families gather in the evening. The electricity also powers a grinding mill which seems to run at all hours of the day – it’s a very popular place!

Borehole pump

Back on the water theme, the village is equipped with a borehole, but most people still fetch their water from a pond a 10-minute walk away. Apparently they don’t like the taste of the borehole water and the soap “doesn’t lather properly” when washing with this water. They use the borehole water occasionally for cooking and cleaning, but use the pond water for drinking and bathing. This baffles me, since the borehole water is clear and clean-looking, whereas the pond water is cloudy and full of algae. Seems like a no-brainer!

My bedroom

My room is located in the health clinic. This large building was built very recently and has 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms and a kitchen to house the community health nurses who are supposed to be living here. It also has a storage room, a treatment room and a waiting area. There are supposed to be three health workers living here, but one stays in Tamale because she doesn’t like the water and the other two, who are part of Ghana’s Youth Employment Program, haven’t been paid in 6 months so they come and go as they please. I spent my first couple days with one of these girls, named Nimatu, and we became good friends. I enjoy her company when she’s here, which is about half the time. The clinic is designed to be a drop-in centre for the surrounding communities for first aid treatment, malaria testing and access to drugs. However, when there’s no one here, people are just out of luck! It’s a shame that this nice new building is not serving its intended purpose as an easily-accessible clinic for people in the area. However, as I discussed in my previous post, the issues are much larger than just this one clinic.

Fuseini family compound

Though I stay in a room in the health clinic, I am hosted in the village by a man named Fuseini Salifo who stays in a compound with his family just across the road. Salifo’s household also contains his two brothers, Zachariah and Adam, each of their wives, Azara, Fatima and Mariama, and a host of children, including Salifo’s own Wikaya and baby Hussain. It’s a lively household, with children and goats running all over the place. I come in the morning to take tea and a maize porridge called “koko” for breakfast, then head to work. At the end of the day, I return and greet everyone in the compound and take my supper with them. People are always coming in and out to say hello and catch up, so I’ve met most of the village this way.

My host, Salifo

Salifo, like most of the people in this village, is a farmer. Right now it’s the dry season, so he is resting and taking part in the many construction activities that happen at this time of year. When the rains come, he will go to his fields and begin to farm. With his brothers, he farms maize, yams, rice, soya beans and many other small crops. They also raise livestock, including sheep, fowl and even a herd of cattle. They are assisted by their local MoFA Agricultural Extension Agent, a man named Tahiru who I work closely with. He brings them new technical information, helps them access loans and farming equipment and answers their questions.

When I describe my home to my colleagues, I always get the question above: why am I not living in Tamale? To most educated Ghanaians, it’s completely backwards to reject the modern city lifestyle and choose to live in a village. But by living in this village, I come one step closer to understanding the lives of those I’m trying to reach through my work. I can see firsthand the challenges and opportunities for rural Ghanaian farmers and connect with them on a personal level. Unfortunately, this perspective is easily lost when working in the development industry, with its focus on budgets and timelines and impact. By coming home to this reality every night, I will make sure my experiences will directly inform my work with MoFA and with EWB and keep me focused on what’s really important: getting people out of poverty.




8 responses

  1. Adam

    Wow, amazing photos! This takes me out of my day here in rainy Kitchener to touch in with what’s going on out there for you Erin. Thanks.

    It’s really interesting what you say about having that personal connection and how that’s different then the timelines, budgets and impact. I agree, that something is different when we have a personal connection and I also recognize that there is a need to make decisions based on help most of the people involved and that the two are not always the same.

    I’m wondering how you balance what you know has to be done to maximize impact, while also holding the things you’re learning through the personal connection? Or maybe the more appropriate questions is what is important about this personal connection that the typical development work processes don’t capture?

    BTW. Your room looks kinda cozy 😛

    Best to you, Erin!

    April 7, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    • Hey Adam,
      Thanks for the comment! This gets back to the MBTI thing: do you make decisions based on thinking or feeling? Sometimes it’s easier to make irrational emotional decisions when you have a personal connection to people, and I recognize that. However, without knowing someone that will be affected by the decisions we make, how can we hold ourselves accountable to the real impacts we have on real people? I think it’s just good to remember that there are people behind all of these statistics and an experiment does have long-lasting results. Of course I know sometimes sacrifices are made – you can’t help all the people, all the time – but having personal connections makes you THINK about the consequences when it’s so easy to just ignore them. Well, that’s my thinking anyway!
      And yes, I’m setting up my room quite nicely – I like it a lot! 🙂

      April 7, 2010 at 4:12 pm

  2. Adam

    that’s interesting. I like that. also I thought I’d mention that your blog shows up really nicely on the iPhone. commenting with it right now.

    April 7, 2010 at 8:36 pm

  3. Tim

    Hey Erin,

    Interesting post!
    It sounds to me like the borehole pump water is undesirable on account of it’s hardness:

    Maybe you could check if it is ‘Temporary’ or ‘Permanent’ hard water. In any case, I’m not sure if there is a simple water softening technique that is possible to implement without consuming lots of chemical or energy resources.

    Good luck & keep the updates coming!

    April 8, 2010 at 3:13 pm

  4. Josh

    Hey Erin!

    Great post. Seems like you’re starting to hit your stride and find a place that can be yours. I’m really interested in the water issue. If the water seems dirty are there a number of people that get sick or have waterbourne diseases? What is the latrine / sanitation situation like? I remember hearing that Ghana has a pretty poor track record for their lack of latrines.

    Many questions to ask, but I’ll stop here!

    Much love and good luck!


    April 8, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    • Hey Josh!
      Thanks for the comment and questions. I’m still trying to figure out how many people get sick as a result of the water. People get “colds” all the time, get all snotty and have bad coughs, but I’m not sure if I can attribute that to the water. And since I don’t follow them to do their business, I don’t know if they have diarrhea… and you’re right about sanitation: it’s generally abysmal in Ghana. Most villages just “free-range”, ie. shit in the bush. And people urinate in the same place that they bath, which is in their compounds, meaning it flows out a little hole and makes a pool of piss and water for the goats to come and drink from, right outside each compound. Yuck! There is a latrine that was built outside the health centre where I’m staying, but I think I’m the only one that uses it – not sure why people would prefer the bush, this is a new latrine and doesn’t even smell! But there’s no education about hygiene and sanitation, so people just continue to drink bad water and go to the bush. We need some CLTS here!!
      Anyway, yes, frustrating answers. Keep the questions coming though!

      April 12, 2010 at 12:02 pm

  5. Olivia

    Hey Erin!

    It looks like you have a great home set up there 🙂 Thanks for posting all those photos. I’m looking forward to hearing about your work with MoFA!

    Take care,

    April 12, 2010 at 1:58 am

  6. It is not in all cases that clear water = clean water

    May 7, 2017 at 9:32 pm

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