Official Starts

I have a new appreciation for running water and the amount of water we use on a daily basis. You see for the past 5 days we have been without water at VEG headquarters. This evening was the first time I was able to take a shower (from a faucet) since arriving last week. In front of the compound there are construction workers who have been digging and apparently hit a pipeline, our pipeline! Luckily we have a tank, a “Poly-Tank” that has been storing water, so every day since Friday myself, and the other women in the compound have been helping me carry buckets into my bedroom. The size of the buckets is comparable to a size of a horse water bucket, slightly bigger. It takes 1 entire bucket to fill the toilet with water to then flush. And another bucket and a half to bathe yourself. Then you take into account all the times you wash your hands in a day (I have been washing mine compulsively) and all the times you need to use the water to wash off silverware and plates. That is a lot of water to use in just one day. It’s fascinating to me how easily we take water for granted and having access to water. Luckily for us we have this Poly-Tank that has a water supply, but what about all the other thousands of people in our surrounding area that if their pipeline or well stopped working they would be forced to go without water for daily needs?

The past two days have been unlike anything I am used to, you could say my days were hectic, but yet for 8 out of my 12 hours awake (actually functioning) there was nothing to do. For 4 hours both days Kofi and I were running all over Ho doing a million and one things. Yesterday, for instance, we went to 4 different schools, with one meeting in-between at a hospital, and managed to set up and start our program all in the span of 4 hours. While today we had a staff meeting, prepped for a New York Times journalist to come to VEG, discussed the idea of bringing a dentist over from America, met with an assistant head-master of a senior high school, and launched day one of our program at the same high school (school number 3, but 5th location). I am used to being busy and doing a ton of stuff in one day, but for me that usually means my day starts non-stop at 10 and goes until 9 that night. While here I am doing nothing until 1 o’clock, lounging around coloring, writing, talking, and then we go and do things until until 5 o’clock, and then I am off to my room to write and get ready for bed. It is a very different combination; my mom says it’s good for me to learn to relax. I have never had this much time to myself in one day.

A view of the two holes dug for the road expansion in front of the VEG compound

A view of the two holes dug for the road expansion in front of the VEG compound

Another view of our construction zone... you can see the haze of 95 degree heat in the dry season

Another view of our construction zone... you can see the haze of 95 degree heat in the dry season

Yesterday I had an early start. I start my day off by going outside and walking around and then coming back to breakfast, usually the cook is there by then. I had asked for just fruit and fried rice with vegetables, she laughed at me like I was crazy, but she brought it anyways. It is the best fruit here. Kofi got to the office around 11:30 and we set off walking to visit one of our 3 senior high schools. Yesterday’s school visits were all about formal introductions, we met with the vice principal and gave him our letter of intent. Apparently the program had been all set to start when I arrived, but the principal had just retired and a new one had taken over, meaning we had to start the introduction process all over! Kofi is a good sport though so he didn’t mind. The VP seemed fine with the idea and said he would let us know in the next few days when we could officially come and start working with the kids.

A little confused by a Yevu?

A little confused by a Yevu?

On our way to the next school there was a woman with her baby at a fruit stand. I went over to them because the baby was watching us, when I got over to her at first she kept on covering her face, but then finally she smiled and stuck her hand out. I think I was the first white person she had ever seen. I am 100% in the minority here. The only other white person I have seen is the other long-term volunteer with VEG.

Kofi and I kept on walking to catch a taxi to go to the next school where the school looked more like the schools I had worked at in Anloga, the other high school had been multiple stories high, this one was only the ground floor and in the shape of a horseshoe with a dirt yard in the middle. Here we met with the headmaster, who was so sweet. He was one of those people you automatically feel comfortable around, he was really excited for Kofi and I to start our program and he was especially excited for my R.O.C. program cultural exchange as well. We will officially start at this school later in the week, we are just waiting for confirmation.

Next we took another taxi to a hospital, the original one in Ho. The hospital was used by a lot of universities and was about to be turned into a teaching hospital. The taxi driver was funny, they were talking about politics and the new President who had just been elected. We walked through the hospital to the other side where we crossed through a yard (and through a gate) to a home that we thought was an orphanage. It was called ­­­­Mamfo Ghana Children’s Shelter Home. We met a man outside named Emmanuel who was the director of the home, he was with his daughter, and a man I assumed was a groundskeeper who was holding a live bird in his hand. He started laughing hysterically at me when I realized that it was a bird in his hand.

Emmanuel was a very lively man and obviously very passionate about the work he was doing. The facility was beautiful, by far the nicest building I have seen in Ho thus far. The walls were all colorful, there was a playground for the kids, a huge dining hall, a library, and a common room, and in the middle of the dormitory was a big green courtyard with flowers growing. Emmanuel took us into the common room and sat down with him to talk about our program and our interest in his. We shortly learned that it was not a home for orphans, but a home for children rescued from manual labor and child slavery. We listened to him share his stories about the struggles of running the home. We learned that the government had just passed a new policy making it so that group homes would have to return the children to the original parents and could not keep the children for longer than 6 months at a time.

Emmanuel was right when he said none of the children wanted to leave, I wouldn’t either, they have clean water (their own water filter), 3 meals a day, showers and toilets, and a clean bed to sleep in with mosquito netting. Emmanuel was very excited about our program idea, and I think this home will be great for the R.O.C. program because they have computers and we can continue the cultural exchange of Skyping with Vermont R.O.C. students even after I leave which is HUGE.

Finally, we went back to the hospital for Kofi to meet with one of his friends who then drove us back to the headquarters where we ate some food and then headed off to New Seed International. The orphanage I had gone to on Sunday with Stephen. I wanted to go again with Kofi so the director could meet Kofi (they had already known each other, but a new program) and we could pick a time and day to start working with the kids. We settled on a few days a week after school and then on Saturday and Sunday. Then we went back to the compound and that was my day.

Akpene working on drying some batiks outside

Akpene working on drying some batiks outside

Today had an even lazier start then yesterday. I got up relatively early to some of the girls knocking on my door and and I got up and got ready for the day. I didn’t realize my day wouldn’t really start until 2 o’clock… But I got up and went over to explore the batik making room with Akpene and the sewing rooms, I watched some of the women make batiks, then went to the nursery to play with some of the babies and then back to my room to get out of the 95 degree heat.      

Then at 2 o’clock we had a staff meeting with the team. I am the only girl, and the youngest by at least 7-10 years. But they don’t seem to care. And still take me seriously J  Kofi and I presented what we had been working on an our plan moving forward. Everyone was on board and happy to see that we were making progress.

I am always coming up with new ideas and plans that in some way relate to a project I am already working on. Well… yesterday one of my friends from home Dr. Julie Spaniel, who is a dentist, mentioned that she would love to come back to Ghana to do some work on the kids and help out in anyway that is needed. I said I would bring it up at the staff meeting.

After everyone else had gone around talking about what their group was working on I brought up the idea of Julie coming to Ghana to set up a clinic for the kids, and they loved it. They asked if she could come before I left. So now Julie and I are working on trying to figure out how to get her here before March 17th to set up a dental clinic for the children here in Ho and possibly back in Anloga! It is crazy what can happen when you keep your mind open at all times.

Another topic today at the staff meeting was that a New York Times journalist was coming next week to write and article about VEG’s solar and technology program. After listening I went over to Kofi and asked him what he thought about seeing if this journalist would be interested in coming to the orphanage with us. And to talk to the girls about her career, because a bunch of the girls had said they wanted to go into the news world, and one had even said being a journalist. He gave his word that he would do his best to help make it happen.  

After the staff meeting Kofi and I went to Sokode Senior High Technical School (our third high school), Kofi and I met with the administration briefly and then went off with Sandra, Moses, Evanam and Majid who were the patrons of a club called Think Twice Club based around reproductive health and leadership. Everything had already been approved at this school so today was day one of our program specific for introductions and getting to know one another. I was excepting a small group… but it was huge! Boys and girls and all four grades of high school. Kofi and I introduced ourselves and the program overview and I explained what R.O.C. was and how the cultural exchange part of things would work. It turns out the matron of the program is a professional bead maker! So she will be working with this class on making bracelets to send back for R.O.C.

All of the students of the "Think Twice Club"

All of the students of the "Think Twice Club"

Kofi and I presenting in front of the class

Kofi and I presenting in front of the class

When we had finished presenting they asked me to share with the class how old I was and I said I was 17. Everyone was shocked and so confused as to why I was up in the front of the room. Then the teachers Sandra and Evanam used me as an example of how to be “bold” in order to stand out and take a chance and these were the types of leaders they wanted to get out of the class by the time our 8 weeks were through. I am very excited to work with these kids.

Thank you for reading, I know this was a long one :) See you in a few days!

Natalie

Our team here at the Sokode Senior High School! From left to right: Kofi, Evanam, Sandra, Natalie, and Majid

Our team here at the Sokode Senior High School! From left to right: Kofi, Evanam, Sandra, Natalie, and Majid