Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Captain's Log: Development on my mind

The first 10 days of our journey was nothing short of mind blowing: We spent some time working with children that have special educational needs in a local school. We also volunteered at a hospital for disabled orphans. We were been given a “baptism of fire” by the University of Ghana football team. We were able to successfully engage in dialogue with the University of Ghana students. We were asked to name and officially open the “Beyond Barbers” barbershop in Kumasi. We have even featured on Ghanaian TV and radio!

These are just a few of the things we have been doing and it gives a flavour of what we have been up to. As we leave Kumasi, we look forward to our jam-packed schedule in Cape Coast. It involves 3 training workshops with children, as well as two volunteering sessions with a local NGO. Our games there are against two Div. 1 sides as well as the University of Cape Coast.

We flew out from Heathrow airport on the morning of September 1st and landed in Lagos later that evening. We then faced a 14hr overnight stay in transit whilst we waited for our connecting flight to ghana at 7am. The airport stopover was filled with plenty of conversation amongst ourselves and airport security, but on the whole was pretty uneventful.

The real action kicked off once we touched down in Accra. We were met at the airport by Eric K. Akwei, a friend of Tom & Jasper, and Doe Abega, a staff member in the sports faculty at the Univ. of Ghana, and taken to the university campus. The day was spent meeting various supporters of the tour ranging from the University of Ghana sports faculty, the Dean of Student services, and the executives at Gold Coast Matcom. Gold Coast Matcom are the sole distributors of Dimes juices, our team sponsor, in Ghana and have been incredibly generous in their support. They organised a 20 seat minibus and driver for our entire stay in Accra, as well as donating well over 1000: milk drinks, fruit juices, cakes, and biscuits to the Beyond Borders project and the University of Ghana students.

Once we had settled in we went about exploring the campus and two things immediately became apparent; the sheer size of the campus and the open and inviting nature of the students on it. The University of Ghana is the premier higher education institution in Ghana. It is a state university and therefore heavily subsidised by the government; fees roughly equate to £140 per academic year for Ghanaian students and £450 for international students (outside of Africa). To put this into context, private universities charge roughly £750 per semester, whilst the expected average graduate salary is roughly £200 per month. For the vast majority of the students in Ghana private university simply isn’t an option. The Univ. of Ghana is often ranked as #1, only occasionally being move to #2 by Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology. Competition for admission is ferocious, but this doesn’t mean that the students here are a bunch of lifeless bookworms and academic drones. Every night popular r&b music can be heard from any halls of residence until the early hours, this is normally replaced by a couple of hours of silence before the morning singers reclaim our ears. Football is played from 6am until darkness on any spare space, whilst handball, athletics, and hockey seem to be popular too. Basketball pick-up games are played through the night under the floodlit courts. This campus is a cauldron of energy and it is epitomised by the fantastic market we found. It became our daily stop for jollof rice, fish, plantain, pineapple, coconut, water, chicken and a raft local specialities we came to love.

We ventured out of the campus quite a few times and these visits opened our eyes as to what life is like for many of Accra’s inhabitant. At the University of Ghana it became easy to forget that we were surrounded by predominantly middle-class and well off students. However, our trip to the fishing hub of Jamestown painted a far more sober picture of life in Accra for the average citizen (picture). The time we spent at the hospital for disabled orphans was particularly powerful. It is hard to capture with words exactly what we witnessed and the impact this had on the team; I only hope the pictures can give you all an insight. As soon as we left the orphanage a great debate was sparked about the nature of development and the sustainability of it. As a SOAS student this was nothing new, however this debate has a unique angle to it. The debate had a new and localised tint to it. People we debating from the heart and offered their solutions according to what they had just experienced on the ground at grassroots level; this is exactly what Beyond Borders is about.

Captain’s Log: Toib Olomowewe

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