Thoughts from an agricultural development gal in Ghana

Culture Shock

I met John while at a meeting in the garden of a local guesthouse. “Hey, Wayne, how is it?” he greeted us. “Hey, John, long time! How is Accra?” replied Wayne. Wayne, our team leader, introduced John as an employee in the M&E department for MoFA in Accra. He sat down to join us and his animated personality soon made us forget our meeting.

John had come to “the north” on a data collection assignment for MoFA National. Apparently all districts had been asked to submit some data on the farmers in their area, but hadn’t been doing so. John came to find out why, and to assist the districts in submitting the data.

He is young, maybe 30 years old, born and bred in Accra. This was only his second time traveling north of Kumasi. Last time he got very sick on his second day, so this time he had packed his white pick-up full of bottled water and food from Accra. “But John, they sell bottled water in Tamale.” “Yes, but it’s not the same quality as what we have in Accra. You never know what you’re getting.”

As his driver chauffeured him north, out of the lush green forests of the south and into the savannah of the north, he marveled at what he saw. “People actually live in mud huts here! Some don’t even have electricity! Me, I can’t imagine living without a microwave.”

He stopped the driver a few times in villages to talk to people as they passed, but they couldn’t understand each other. “You mean there are people in Ghana who don’t speak Twi??” Twi is one of Ghana’s major languages, spoken by many people as a common language even if their local language is different. But is mostly found in the south.

Through an interpreter, he had a conversation with an old woman in a village. “I asked her how old she was, and you know what she said? Ten! I mean, I didn’t expect her to know her exact age, but ten? She doesn’t even understand the concept of numbers!” The fact that someone in Ghana can live her whole life with no formal education is unfathomable to John.

“How can you live here? I don’t know how you EWB people do it.” “But John, this is your own country. You don’t think you could live here, in the north of Ghana?” “No no, I wouldn’t be able to do it. I could go to your country, Canada, and live in the north there. It would be an adventure! For you people, living in Ghana is an adventure. But I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t live here.”


7 responses

  1. Ally

    Very interesting story. Hope you’re well 🙂

    August 13, 2010 at 1:52 pm

  2. CV

    This is a fasinating little story to share on our GR chapter site.
    Thanks Erin !

    August 13, 2010 at 7:18 pm

  3. Don Bradley

    Aug. 14/2010
    Hi Erin:
    I had a 2nd message to you under the same comments as the 1st, but I guess that wasn’t the place for it. Or perhaps I don’ know where to look. Perhaps you could set me straight if you you answer this.
    In any event your latest addition recounting your conversation with John answered the part about education of people who are now seniors.
    In case you can’t find my 2nd “comment” it was enquiring about education before and after independence.
    Don B.

    August 14, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    • Erin

      Hi Don,
      Thanks again for your comments! I did see the last one but my internet connection has been a bit spotty lately so I didn’t have the chance to reply yet. Thanks for reminding me!
      Great questions about education. The education system is actually much the same now as it was 50 years ago – based on an old British rote learning style, largely ineffective. And actually the quality of teaching has probably gotten lower since colonial days. That said, enrollment is much better now, so more children are at least accessing education than before, even if there is a compromise in quality.
      Boys and girls technically have the same opportunities to go to school, but in practice many families will choose to send a boy over a girl if they can only afford a uniform for one. School is still seen by some of the most “old-fashioned” folks as useless for girls – but society is coming around, and Ghana actually has pretty good girl enrollment rates.
      As for fees, education is mostly free in Ghana. Primary and Junior Secondary School (JSS) are free, but students must provide their own books, pencils, uniforms, etc. Secondary School does charge fees, which is why a lot of students stop after they graduate from JSS.
      Most schools are government-run, but there are also many private schools in Ghana at all levels – and of varying quality. Still, if you have money you can pay for a very good education, and if you’re stuck at a public school it’s questionable.
      My organization, EWB, doesn’t have anything to do with education here. Our work has grown organically and we’re now firmly embedded in working with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. That said, there are tons of organizations that work in the education sector here in Ghana, so the market is already flooded – I think we’ll stick to our area of expertise: agric business!
      Whew, I think that covers it. Thanks again for all the questions! Say hi to my Gramma for me 🙂

      August 15, 2010 at 11:03 pm

  4. Dane

    Wow, and he was working for MoFA? In M&E? You know if he’d just started or had been working there for a while?

    August 16, 2010 at 7:03 pm

  5. Stacey

    Ouch! Reminds me of some UDS students I met who did research in the same community I was staying in. They told me that they cried themselves to sleep because of the lack of electricity there. I heart them, but I couldn’t help but shake my head.


    August 16, 2010 at 10:02 pm

  6. Olivia

    The last quote is interesting too. I don’t think it applies to EWB staff in the same way, but it’s interesting. Do you find this with a lot of MoFA staff in Accra?

    Thanks for sharing!

    August 19, 2010 at 8:10 pm

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