The kids are out of school, and the summer stretches before us, full of possibilities. For the past couple of years, Forest Hills neighbors have shared their travel stories with us. This week, we’re sharing them with you again. We start with Jan Buresh’s tale of volunteering for a farmer-to-farmer lending program in Ghana, which originally published in August, 2012.
by Jan Buresh
Most of my work takes place in bank conference rooms with an occasional goat walking in and spray-painted chickens pecking outside. Their “highlighter colors” identify their owners.
Much is unpredictable, starting with uneven stair rises and intermittent cell phone reception. I’m taken aback by the wide-eyed disbelief at my ignorance of not knowing the day of the week of my birth. They all know their days because each person is given a name to match their day. For example, Efia is a common name for a women born on Friday.
To my unexpected delight, my hotel showed the opening ceremony of the Olympics by hooking up a generator to a computer. Also, during my stay, their president died. The transition was smooth even while most of the population was in shock.
Daily I wake at 5 to sounds of roosters. Church bells ring from 5:30 followed by prayer calls. By 6, women with perfect posture walk to market balancing baskets of huge yams on their heads. They are the elite women. By 7:30 kids in ironed, orange and brown school uniforms pop out of their dirt-walled homes to walk to school. Kids appear precocious because they are older than they look. They call out “good morning white man” to me and I reply “mah chee” which is “good morning” in Twi, the local language.
Each morning women sweep the same clay areas outside their homes then pound cassava in tubs for cooking on charcoal. Because it is harvest time, women sit in groups on piles of corn for days. They remove husks, toss cobs in a pile and wait for a machine to come to remove kernels. Babies are wrapped on their backs and small children play nearby. Men work in fields with hoes and machetes and mix concrete by hand. In early evening, enterprising kids wave where the road narrows. They ask for money because they worked to fill pot-holes in the road.Ghanaians are generous and enthusiastic. My well-being is monitored by daily calls from my three lead bankers plus a catering school teacher who brought me meals for a week in a town with no restaurant. One family took me on a village tour to their friends’ businesses, the commercial corn market, an outdoor 3-day funeral with 80 red or black plastic chairs, and to the round hut of the village chief where he practices their traditional religion. The mom is a leader of women yam sellers, the dad founded the local grain market and the son is a university student. At the end of the day, the family and I watch the Olympics, have dinner on the lawn of my hotel, and discuss the challenges and possibilities for agriculture in the region.
The common discussion topic between Farmer-To-Farmer volunteers on this trip is education. The schooling of most of our clients has been largely rote and many university graduates tend to think linearly. Little is written down,so few records, policies or plans exist. Two accountant volunteers are in awe of how much a local business accomplishes without written records. I learn that analysis, priorities, trade-offs, and risk prevention are rarely used in everyday business. When ‘my’ bankers use these tools they are impressed with the results of their own work. And I am impressed by how they have mastered these concepts.
The Farmer-To-Farmer program is funded by USAID to send volunteers to developing countries. Work is serious with statements of work and deliverables. Our tax-payer money buys technical training for people who can produce food security for their country. If you want to apply your skills and do some unique travel, you may volunteer through websites for Farmer-To-Farmer: ACDIVOCA.org, Winrock.org and CNFA.org.