MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

Beads of Hope, Ghana

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It was a late Sunday afternoon when Jess called one of her trusty taxi drivers, Michael, to pick us up at our ‘junction’ (i.e. the intersection by our house). We were invited to a fellow Canadian’s going-away party, although we had never met her before. But as the saying goes: better late than never. As we crossed over the main road into an unknown neighbourhood, Jess began scrolling her phone for the directions to Erin’s compound. Of course she had to scream them out to Michael over the blaring radio. In a few minutes we found ourselves on a street that seemed to have all the described landmarks except for a compound. Jess quickly called Erin to make sure we were in the right place before Michael drove off. Coincidentally, Erin was right behind us walking towards our taxi. We introduced ourselves in the street and began walking with her. While holding an infant on one hip, she followed a line of children carrying plastic chairs above their heads. Erin introduced us to the little girl named Nadia, and mentioned she had to make the difficult decision of bringing back either Nadia or a chair to the compound. As we walked towards her place, Erin spoke of the family she shares the compound with and that Nadia is referred to as Princess Nadia; she’s adored by everyone and can be quite the diva. The kids ahead of us were arranging the chairs they had just brought in. There were benches and tables in the compound’s courtyard in preparation for the anticipated crowd and food. Erin led us into her home. As soon as we walked in we were greeted with a table full of beads and a welcoming smile! Literally, a table full of jewelry made from shiny and glistening beads. Jess and I immediately sat down, letting out gasps of excitement. As I finally tore my eyes away from the bracelets, I met Nafisa sitting across from us. As Jess and I began searching through the piles of bracelets, rings, and necklaces, Nafisa, affectionately called Nafi, began telling us the story behind the beads. She’s from Paga, a village in the Upper East region, and began making jewelry from local beads as a means to get through University. Nafi was so successful and quickly saw the potential that jewelry making had for others in her community. She started a project called Beads of Hope, with the mission to provide local women and girls the opportunity to make a sustainable income. Beads of Hope has gained much popularity through word of mouth and now employ young boys in addition to women and girls from Paga and neighboring towns Navrongo and Bolgatanga. This local business is dedicated to fighting poverty by providing sustainable livelihoods for families in the Upper East Region. Having a warmhearted and friendly organizer like Nafi as it’s driving force has undoubtedly helped Beads of Hope success. Anyone that meets her will agree that, if it isn’t for the beautiful beads and designs, purchasing jewelry solely because of the passion and dedication Nafi exudes is not unusual. Congrats to Nafi and the continuing success of Beads of Hope! Check out Beads of Hope … like their Facebook page or shop their Etsy store.

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Road Trip to Kintampo Falls

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On a cloudy Sunday morning, wanting to explore the Ghanaian countryside, we boarded a tro-tro to Kintampo Falls.Let me begin by explaining our means of transportation. A tro-tro, or 'tro' as it is affectionately called, is a minibus that you can flag down and jump on with other passengers who are travelling in the same direction. Due to their more than rickety conditions and number of passengers riding along side you, the tros are much cheaper than buses or taxis. Another option, which is what we did on this particular Sunday, is get a group together and rent one (equip with a driver) for a day. Kintampo Falls, only three hours away, seemed doable.No experience in Africa, or in other parts of the world, is complete without travelling like the locals do. We managed to squeeze 19 people, including the driver and his assistant, into this tro-tro. The quarter-sized hole in the floor of the vehicle, giving us a view to the pavement below, didn't even deter us. It may not have been the most comfortable 3 hours (6 hours round trip) but it was a great journey. We passed many different landscapes, bought snacks out of the window from local vendors running along side as we slowed down to go through toll gates, and saw how people live outside of Tamale, 'the capital of the north,' the sizeable town we have already grown so accustomed to. Going through a community, one child on the side of the road did a double take and then pointed to the tro-tro saying "Woooowwwww." I like to think she was also impressed at how many people we were able to fit inside. I sure was.After a few hours, we finally made it to Kintampo Falls. Walking through a wooded setting, we could hear rushing water as we got closer. We passed by the various stages of the waterfall, starting at the top where the water raged down over the rocks, and finally descended 152 stairs (not that I was counting) to the base of the waterfall where it was safe to swim. Although it was overcast, the group of us peeled off our layers and jumped in. The brave ones climbed right under the waterfall where the water poured over from above. We had heard that there was another waterfall close by, Fuller Falls, and decided to check that out as well. Drying ourselves off to the extent that it wouldn't be overly gross to be crammed against one another in the tro again, we hit the road. We were confidently driving along, and even saw a signpost for the falls which reaffirmed we were going in the right direction, when we came to a dirt road, jutted and uneven. The driver stopped and asked a shepherd if we were still going in the right direction. To our dismay, he told us to go back the way we came. How our tro-tro driver managed to pull a three point turn on that narrow road, I will never know.After driving for several kilometres we were nearly back where we had started from. Once again, the driver pulled over to ask for directions. The men who assisted us assured us that, no, the waterfall was back the way we came from – we had been previously travelling the right way. Exasperated, we turned around a second time (waved to the shepherd as we passed him again) and finally came to the entrance of Fuller Falls.Instead of swimming here, we walked up the side of the waterfall to the very top where we were able to sit and look down at the rapids below. I was surprised to see how lush and green the surroundings were, especially considering how dry the weather has been, despite it being the rainy season. We spotted a few creepy crawlies in the brush, including two long and fat centipedes. Or were they millipedes? Some sort of insect with a great number of legs.After taking in the scenery from the top of the falls, we decided it was time to head back to Tamale. It was fantastic to get in touch with nature again and escape the busy city life for an afternoon. Getting out and seeing more of the country we are living and working in, setting the context for our work here, really excited me. I'm looking forward to more local travelling in the future, all for research purposes, of course…

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For Generations to Come…

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Field TripOn our way to the Verimpere community of the Wa West district, many things were racing through my mind. I was highly anticipating my first trip to the field, in a community where the GROW (Greater Rural Opportunities for Women) project is active. Days leading up to our journey, MEDA’s Gender Specialists facilitated gender sensitization and analysis training for our staff and partner organizations. Now more than fifteen of us were heading to the field, some to participate and others to observe the gender sensitization pilot activity for women and their husbands. Many things in that hour-long visit were unforgettable; the women gathered under a large tree awaiting our arrival, their singing and dancing to celebrate our presence in the community, and the attentiveness and involvement exhibited by women and men alike. But the enthusiasm and pleasantness of the children were what really captivated me. Family MattersOnce adults of the community broke off into groups, each settling under a tree, children gradually started congregating nearby. Starting with a few, it soon became over a dozen little ones circling our group. Of course, we were a sight to see for them, dressed differently and speaking a foreign language. Yet, they were sincerely engaged in their parent’s discussion, keeping a keen eye on everyone involved and quietly giggling when something unexpected was said. During the activity, gender roles and responsibilities were being discussed or rather, negotiated. I imagine this was the first time these children heard this subject talked about so openly. I was moved by the children’s curiosity and interest, eagerly soaking up every word.Plant a Seed and Watch it GROWAnd then, “Eureka!” (I really had one of those eureka moments). I was already very familiar with MEDA’s values to ensure sustainability in their projects. Most projects truly provide business opportunities, incredible, sustainable solutions to poverty. But I was now seeing with my own eyes the impact these projects have on the next generation! Because many of these children do not attend school, their attitudes and behaviours are modeled after the only leaders they see, i.e. parents and caregivers. GROW is helping to increase food security for women farmers and their families. Importantly, it’s not only the women involved now, but also generations to come, that will benefit from improved health and development, resources and skills to generate and manage income, and the countless education and business opportunities that result from those. I am so proud to be a part of the GROW project and a representative of MEDA, contributing to and witnessing history in the making.

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THIS is why I'm here

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Since arriving here in Tamale, I have been helping to prepare and facilitate workshops focussed on gender sensitization and awareness. Along with Faustina from the Tamale office, and Yasir who has been visiting from Waterloo, we have conducted these trainings for MEDA staff, as well the local partners involved in the GROW project.Admittedly, it was a little daunting to imagine myself training a conference room full of people, some who have more experience than I did in the field of gender. Now that we're nearly done with the training sessions I can say that I am so grateful for having the experience of participating in the planning and execution of these sessions. Sharing thoughts and ideas with others, meeting colleagues whom I will continue to work with during my time here, and listening to different cultural perspectives has taught me so much.However, today's session taught me the most.In the afternoon our group of local partners and facilitators got into a mini bus and drove 30 minutes outside of Wa, where our field office is located, to one of the participating communities. I was excited to finally see the people who were benefitting from the GROW (Greater Rural Opportunities for Women) project, and knew I would enjoy myself. The experience, however, was above and beyond my expectations.When we pulled up we were surrounded by women and children clapping, singing and dancing. (I told myself I would practice my dance moves in order to join in  next time!) We enjoyed this warm welcome for a few minutes before separating into groups in order to lead an activity based on community roles of men and women.This interactive session with the community members was great to see: men and women sharing their views, laughing, listening to differing opinions, coming to the agreement that women are just as capable as men, and acknowledging their support of the project. Our goal of raising gender awareness and making an entry into the community was a huge success.My favourite participants in this activity were the children who had gathered around the tree under which we were holding our meeting, listening in on the conversation, laughing along with their parents, and catching our eye to smile and wave. Although most of them were too young to realize what exactly we were doing there, it was wonderful to have them present – we really felt like we were reaching out to the community as a whole.After our session, as we made our way back to the minibus, the children were fascinated by our digital cameras and seeing their own faces in the pictures we took. I was soon approached by an unsmiling women who began speaking to me in the local language. I couldn't understand a word, but assumed she was telling me to stop taking pictures. As I was putting my camera away, someone came over to translate: "No, no, she wants you to take a picture of HER!" She struck a pose, quickly grabbing a wooden stool to balance on her head for this photo-op.Heading back Wa, I reflected on the experience. There were so many highlights – meeting the community members, seeing where they live, playing with the children, and witnessing, on a small scale, changes beginning to happen for the better. I've enjoyed all my adventures here in Ghana so far, from trying the different foods to seeing local sights and making new friends. But after this trip to the field I realized – THIS is why I'm here.

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6 Dishes from the ‘Gold Coast’ of Africa

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Greetings from Wa, Ghana…This is my first blog post! And not just for MEDA, but in the history of my Generation Y lifetime. I must admit that I brainstormed about this first topic for a while. I’ve been in Ghana for just over 2 weeks and ‘culture shock’ is an understatement to explain my feelings. I do mean that in the most positive way! The people, culture, and landscape have been nothing short of beautiful, intriguing, and unique for me. There are so many things I can talk about in my first post but seeing as I am the Nutrition/Food Security Intern, I think it is most fitting I introduce you to Ghanaian Cuisine.By no means am I a ‘foodie’. I don’t post pictures of my meals on Instagram, nor do I regularly ‘check in’ to restaurants on Yelp (although I do read the reviews ☺). However, I would say I am a food lover. I appreciate dishes from all over the world and always willing to try everything at least once! It is normal for me to eat Indian, Japanese, Korean, Trinidadian and Lebanese dishes all in a week of being home in Toronto. With that being said, I was open and eager to try the traditional foods of Ghana. Below are dishes I’ve already eaten and are very common in Northern Ghana, specifically Tamale and Wa. Depending where you are from or have travelled, some of these ingredients may be familiar:1. ‘Banku’ and Okra Soup – Banku is really a large, doughy ball of fermented maize (aka corn) that is served in a bowl of soup. Traditionally, it’s eaten with your hands; pieces of banku are pinched off and dipped in the soup. Okra is a green pod-like vegetable with many seeds and quite slimy inside. It’s commonly grown in tropical and sub-tropical climates.2. TZ (pronounced tee-zed which stands for ‘Tuo Zaafi’) and Groundnut Soup – TZ looks similar to banku and eaten in the same way. However, it's made from corn flour and has a much milder taste. It can also be made from cassava flour or a mixture of the two. I had it served in groundnut soup. Groundnuts are essentially the same as peanuts, just a bit smaller. TZ can also be served with ‘green green’, a stew of moringa or cassava leaves, mixed into a soup with pieces of goat and/or fish.3. Red Fish with ‘Palaba’ Sauce and Boiled Yam – Most often, all meals are served with fish or chicken (even if only tiny pieces in soups and stews). ‘Red fish’, as Ghanaian’s call it, is the common saltwater red snapper fish. It is fried and served with slices of boiled yam and palaba sauce made from stewed ‘green leaves’.4. ‘Wachey’ with Grilled Tilapia – Wachey is white rice cooked with beans, specifically ‘cowpea’ bean (aka black-eyed pea). It is much like the Caribbean-style of ‘rice and peas’ or ‘rice and beans’. It was served with grilled tilapia and salad but can be paired with any meat. Tilapia is farmed throughout the country and regularly served.5. Jollof Rice with Fried Chicken – Jollof is a popular West African dish. It’s cooked with tomato paste, peppers, seasonings, and pieces of meat among other ingredients. It is spicy and full of flavour! It’s really a go-to dish, especially in fast food restaurants. And fried chicken is pretty much universal of course. 6. Red Red and Fried Plantain – Red Red is a bean stew made with cowpeas. It’s characteristic red colour comes from the palm oil it’s cooked in. Served alongside, are pieces of ripe plantain, fried until golden. Not sure how to traditionally eat this, but I dipped the plantain in the stew and it was great.Side note: Although I didn’t mention many vegetables here, they’re usually cooked and incorporated into soups and stews. Salads and raw vegetables are not always served but if they are it usually consists of shredded lettuce, cabbage, carrots, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion topped with mayonnaise or salad cream. Second side note: Ghanaians use plenty of seasonings and love their food spicy!Thanks for reading my first blog post EVER! Until next time readers…

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The COLWOD boutique - a hidden gem

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Having just arrived in Tamale, in the Northern Region of Ghana, Gillian and I got a city tour from another Canadian friend living here. We walked through the market and visited stalls selling everything from cows feet to toilet paper and pineapples to insect spray; ate a lunch of 'red red', a typical Ghanian dish of friend plantain and beans; scoped out the nearest grocery stores and bought 'fan ice' - ice cream in a bag – from a boy selling it on his bicycle.Nearing the end of our tour, we were led down an alley, off the main street, to a tiny shop that stood alone – we were introduced to the hidden gem that is the COLWOD boutique.COLWOD, the Collaboration with Women in Distress, is a charitable organization which was started in 1995 to help abandoned and abused women. COLWOD teaches these women skills like sewing, tie-dye and batik in order for them to gain economic independence and support themselves.Not only can you purchase fabric by the yard for 7 cedi, or roughly $3.50 Canadian dollars, there are handcrafts like purses, clothing and home décor for sale. The proceeds go back to the women, providing an income.Since arriving in Ghana, we had noticed the beautiful prints of the women's clothing. Now we know the secret! It's common here to simply buy the fabric of your choice and take it to a local seamstress and have clothing, usually skirts or dresses, made to order. Outside some of the seamstress' shops are photos showing the various designs and styles of dress you can choose from.With this in mind, Gillian and I perused the fabrics, taking some off the rack and holding them up to ourselves, imagining what we'd look like in a dress of that material. What a challenge! There were so many interesting patterns and prints it was hard to finally decide. I walked around the shop with two different materials on my arm thinking they were the ones I was going home with… until I spotted others that I liked even more (repeating this cycle twice). There was even a fabric with Canadian maple leaves printed in red – being eyed by a man in search of something for his wife.The three of us Canadians were browsing alongside other shoppers – another young woman trying on a long robe, and the local man contemplating fabrics. Seeing the others provided a small insight into the reception in Tamale of women's organizations. Knowing that COLWOD has existed since 1995, we can assume there has been enough local support for it to thrive here.The atmosphere in the shop was cheerful and bright, run by a smiling young woman who was quiet but eager to help. In one entertaining scene, the young woman (still wearing the robe she had tried on) asked the man if he would try on a shirt she was hoping to buy for her father back home. She handed it to him, and he struggled to pull it on over his glasses and dress shirt. After he had successfully managed to get into the shirt, he stood awkwardly, waiting for her response. The girl looked him over and said, "You know, you're much more fit than my dad. He has a pretty big belly."It was touching to see how an organization founded to help women in distress could bring people together – both locals and people from abroad – in order to support those in need and help them create a new life for themselves through economic independence.  In exchange, the women's work  serves as a reminder that we can help others in even small ways and adds some colour to our lives.

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