Ghana Together works with our Ghanaian friends of Western Heritage Home, a Ghanaian-registered and managed non-profit, to improve social, educational, and health conditions in Axim, Ghana. Together we accomplish projects, connect WHH to resourceful individuals and organizations, and create sustainable programs. We make a real difference to real people in a local, grassroots effort. Our website at tells our story.

Jan 30, 2012

Church in Axim

St. James Methodist Church, Axim,Ghana on Jan 29, 2012--an ordinary Sunday service
The women in white belong to a women's service group and wear distinctive dresses.
Yes, I do attend church in fact, since the services are long and the churches are clustered, I usually attend more than one! Partly this is because I find the services warm, inviting, and inspiring, even though I cannot understand more than a few words. I sit there, and sort of get in touch with myself and find myself calming down and relaxing---shedding my feeling of foreign-ness just a bit and getting my head and heart more or less in alignment as best I can. And I connect with folks I know, etc.
Today in the Anglican Church, the preacher started his sermon dramatically by sort of slugging himself in the forehead, and I caught the words “David and Goliath”, so I knew generally where he was going. He ended by saying in English that we are small “David’s” sitting on God’s shoulder, walking together...and he walked around a bit and everyone clapped. And I thought to myself since everyone here walks a LOT, it probably was the perfect metaphor.
But mostly I love the singing---these most ordinary people sing so beautifully. And when the drums kick in, well, yes... I know a couple of church musicians are reading this. Here’s how it works: the lead singer in the small choir starts singing, whether hymn, response, etc. In the Anglican church, this is a woman. While she is singing the first few bars, the keyboardist is searching for the key by playing individual notes until he finds the ones she’s singing. It’s his job (young guy) to match her and build the chords around the notes she has started out with. There are disadvantages---today there were two guys and the second guy obviously wasn’t very experienced, and we had quite a few strange chords. BUT, the advantage is she is a really good singer, and she knows all the songs and knows exactly where to start so it fits the voice range---not to high or too low. So, actually, it works well, and when they get rolling, it’s really wonderful. People divide into parts (fifths) and then the drums find the rhythm that works and off we all go. If we had a hard time getting it going on the first verse with the whole “key matching” process, the pastor or someone will call to sing it again. It’s worth going to Africa for! J
Today I thought I had bad luck because when I left the Anglican service, I walked over to St. James Methodist church and they had just launched their quarterly congregational business meeting! I was ushered in to the usual front/side seat and there was no polite escape route. But, I quickly became fascinated. First, leaders gave reports --- all in Fante. Energetically, with expression and conviction. Then the photocopied financial details were passed out to those who raised their hands (very detailed...I was impressed). Then, Mr. Kwofie, an accountant who attends the church, gave his auditor’s report and certified that the records were accurate.
Now came the best part. It was explained to me that this is the one time during each quarter when anyone can stand up and say before the entire congregation what he or she likes or doesn’t like about anything at all regarding the church. Many persons came up. Each started by saying “Christ is Risen.” The congregation responded, “He is Risen Indeed”. Then, the natural Ghanaian oratorical skills began to flourish. Ghanaians are not a shy people, generally, and they speak their minds. Some comments were obviously critical; some were positive. Both men and women had their say. There was much gesturing, clapping for some, and much cross-conversation, laughing, vigorous arguments, etc. as people started to discuss among themselves in the pews. I’m not sure if anything was settled or if someone was writing things down...I imagine the leadership was paying attention. It was explained to me that this is in their church constitution since Ghana is now a democracy and so they have full participation by everyone.
Then suddenly it was all over. We enthusiastically sang “We Thank You All Our God”, plus another hymn and spilled out into the street, with much laughing and conversation. Suffice it to say, it was BY FAR the most spirited congregational meeting I have ever attended, and I’ve been to quite a few!
Another reason to go to church is that it doesn’t hurt to have several hundred people know you’re in town. I feel quite accepted and protected. It also gives me a chance to say a few words before the congregations about why I’m here and make the connection with local leaders. I say “few words” because my American-accented English is tough for them. Americans are rare here.
Mr. Bentil and I went to Friends Café to have lunch and discuss next week’s schedule. The only thing on the menu was a dish called “Local Food.” It was palm oil soup with two balls of rice in it and two balls of what I think maybe was the fat of something—beef maybe? I tried not to think about grasscutters. I courageously ate the liquid part of the soup, which was spicy and OK, and the rice. Maybe I’ll lose weight here!
Back to the hotel and a nice conversation with Jonas, the owner/manager. A good guy. Dinner was perch in sauce and two mounds of rice. Then a conversation with a fellow diner who is the Ghanaian equivalent of an FBI agent. He not only investigates crime but also policies that don’t seem to be working. The example he gave was if many students from a school are failing the standard tests, his job is to find out why. Interesting. Tomorrow I get to solid work. Bye for now. Maryanne from Axim, Ghana

Jan 27, 2012

From Afia Village to Axim Beach Hotel---some thoughts

From Afia Village to Axim Beach Hotel---some thoughts. Some of this is quite personal, because many of my “readers” are very familiar with the places and people and may enjoy an update.

Accra seems to be one big construction site. One huge new-to-me building is painted entirely in multi-colored Kente cloth design. The new multi-lane highway heading north is finished on the north bound lane somewhat beyond Accra but when the south bound lane ends, everyone just travels both directions on the north bound, now a “three-lane-but-no-lane-marking road.” Yikes!
Tuesday am we headed west. Just outside Accra they are building a modern overpass---suffice it to say this is about the worst traffic nightmare imaginable, with voluminous clouds of thick red dust and no detours. People told me Accra was built for 400,000 people and now several people told me it has 4,000,000---can that be?

But, James, Mozova (his employee) and I left that behind and the tropical environment emerged with village after village along the road and people selling every imaginable product under small roadside stands with canopies. After a while, James mentioned it was almost 4:00 pm, and then began the search for a “roadside  café” with a reasonably-sized TV so we could watch Ghana play in a World Cup qualifying match. We finally found one that was really quite small, but the best available, so everything stopped and I sat and watched the game with about 30 men, several being police or military men with machine guns slung casually on the back of their chairs. And Ghana won! So all was well.
Gas here is subsidized and costs about $4.00 per gallon. Ghana has oil now, and there is a lot of controversy about the government’s policy to end the subsidies in the near future---I was told it may be well above $5 US/gal. This is a country where the average per capita GDP is about $1000-$1200/year. People feel they should benefit from their country’s resources. We followed two huge Caterpillar earthmovers on the road---going to the gold mines west of Axim---another new economic development. It’s a little wild with oil, natural gas, gold...but how will this all translate into a better life for the ordinary folks?

Finally we reached James’ home in Takoradi. How fun to see Godwin whom James has taken into his home. He seemed relaxed, happy, at home. He whispered to me his best friend is Emmanuel, and he likes school. The family is amazed at his intelligence and proud of him. He asked if I could get his OLPC for him. Luckily I had one with me that I had taken back home to repair. He loves it and is very skilled. James’ house is secure so it won’t be stolen. Since Little James has one, the two boys will teach each other.

And how fun to see their 3-year old deaf daughter again! She is remarkable, too, fitting in well, outgoing, attending an ordinary nursery school while Mom takes baby sister Heidi to work in the Jamkay shop. I have given them three books I bought in Mt Vernon for early teaching of sign language. I hope they work at it.

And Elfriede will be 18 in May! She is excited about “getting enfranchised.” It took me a bit to understand she was talking about voting in the upcoming Ghanaian Presidential election! She is the leader of a Civil Society Club in her high school. They investigate problems in their community and compete with other high schools on presentations. They did a project on a Takoradi slum—they didn’t win this time, but they are sure they’ll win next time. The “national winners” get to make their presentations on TV! Her grades are excellent she says. They are also studying all the speeches made by candidates, etc. She read my Ashesi brochure and got excited about possibly going there to become an engineer.
Many of the day-to-day frustrations of family life remain for this middle-class family. The electricity was steady this time because it’s the “dry season”, but piped water is still not available most or maybe any of the time, although they live in a settled part of the city. They carry water in on headpans from a nearby spigot, which itself only runs at certain times. Imagine running such a household with no running water!

Anastasia dropped in. She has moved on from Quicken software for bookkeeping and now uses Quickbooks and keeps the books for a medical clinic! YES! She also set up a patient record system for the clinic. Then Barbara came round. She is taking courses to become an internet/network/ administrative systems specialist! YES! She took me to her home. I met her lovely Mom and siblings. THEN, Ariana called me! She has twin boys, 10 months old. She is home with them, doesn’t get much sleep, but sounded completely happy. She is thinking about starting a little bookkeeping business in her home when they get a bit older.” Yes, I am really proud of these young women and love that I maybe gave them a little boost with a practical skill!

Then further west to Axim, where the jungle really sets in. The huge rubber plantation some of you are familiar with has been TOTALLY bulldozed. It’s amazing. A Qatar company is cutting down all the trees, grinding them up into sawdust on the spot which flows into a container which is driven by truck to Takoradi port instantly. Meanwhile, new rubber trees are planted right behind the bulldozer. The trees are sixty years old and no longer produce rubber so they’re replanting the entire thing.

Finally we arrived in Axim. The Axim Beach Hotel is more elaborate than ever---Jonas seems to expand the place by the day. I’m in a very small little room, but nicely appointed with water, shower, fan---a new volunteer quarter in a sort of court---brand new. It was good to have a really nice meal tonight, looking at the sunset over the Atlantic, and a shower! Mercy has invited me to stay with her and also Bentil’s niece has offered to stay with me at WHH, so I’ll probably be leaving here soon. Bentil and I walked downtown and had lunch at Friends. It was nice to be greeted by folks along the way.
So tomorrow I start working with folks here, looking back, looking forward, celebrating what has worked and working together to fix what needs fixing...trying to learn as much as I can. Thanks for reading. Oh, and yesterday was my birthday, but it sort of passed without remark. I’m just very happy to be alive and able to carry on. No photos this time...couldn't get it together. Next time. Love to you all, Maryanne from Axim, Ghana

Jan 24, 2012

Visit to Ashesi University College

James and I drove the long, rough road from Legon University area to Berekuso, home of the new, beautiful Ashesi University College campus. James and I met with Matthew Taggart, Associate Director of Development, and Maria Bankas, Admissions Officer, to discuss possible opportunities for Ashesi to connect with the Axim-Nzemaland area.

Ashesi was founded in 2002 by Patrick Awuah, a Ghanaian retired Microsoft Program Manager Patrick Awuah, founded this new liberal arts college in 2002. Ashesi’s mission is to train a new generation of ethical and entrepreneurial leaders in Africa.
Ashesi is interested in reaching out to Nzemaland/Western Region. We arranged for Maria to visit the high schools in the area in March, as a guest of Western Heritage Home.WHH will work with Mrs. Bonku, headmistress of Axim All-Girls SHS and other headmasters in the area to facilitate the relationship.

We were especially interested in Ashesi’s “College for Ama,” a short-term summer program that brings impoverished adolescent girls to Ashesi camps for one week. Ashesi bases its admissions entirely on academic excellence. Students pay tuition on need-based system, depending on family circumstances. Some pay the full amount of about $3000/semester; one student currently pays about $100 for the entire year.
As a fellow librarian, I had a good conversion with Nina Chachu, the head librarian. She runs an amazingly nice little library. They provide access heavily subsidized access, thanks to a Ghana academic consortium, to the online journal and research databases familiar to academic librarians worldwide, such as EBSCO, etc.

We had a wonderful visit. I am so happy that James was able to be there, and meet with them, tour the beautiful campus designed by a Ghanaian architect using local native stone (extremely beautiful I thought), hear about their mission, etc. Unfortunately, Mrs. Bonku, headmistress of Axim All-Girls High School was ill and unable to join us. But, James tentatively arranged with Matthew another visit for the two of them. A wonderful day. Thank you Tom and Louise for facilitating this event.

Back in Ghana

Hi all,
This is Maryanne Ward, here in Ghana on behalf of Ghana Together, at the increasingly expensive but still nice Afia Village Hotel. A long ways from Seattle---snow, ice, delayed flights...
I will use this News feature on our Ghana Together website to keep folks, esp. my family and fellow GT Board members informed about my to-ing and fro-ing here.

Our friend Frank Cudjoe kindly met me at the airport with my three huge bags with my 14 laptops and who knows what else, plus three small bags. Amazingly, the customs official guided me straight out between the two lines of people who were opening suitcases, etc. for the officers...into the hands of competent Frank and his friend the taxi driver.

Off we went to Frank and Anita's neat little apartment in the middle of Accra. One of our original Ghana team, Frank has benefitted greatly from his friend and mentor our Leif who helped him launch his computer career, and helped him get Microsoft and Cisco certifications, etc. Frank now works for MTN, a large telecom/cellular phone company. Anita and her Mom have a catering business, doing weddings, birthday, funerals--anything from cakes to groups of up to 500 people!

We brought "career-oriented gifts: SD chips, RAM memory, and serial cables for Frank; for Anita a high-quality manual can opener from Gretchen's in Mount Vernon (scarce and almost unknown in Ghana), and of course, books for little 18 month old Gejooba Sue (sp). Her Ghanaian name means "Monday-born".

Frank and Anita represent to me the "upcoming young adults" of Ghana---educated, trained, determined to better their lives. It was great to be with them. Anita the caterer prepared a special meal to honor me: rice, boiled plantain, palava sauce (based on moringa leaves), red spicy chile sauce with little slivers of beef, and a bottle of water. It was truly delicious.