Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Supporting Cast

Today began fairly normally with me at the “fitters” with Michael having a service. I waited the 20 minutes and paid £3.20 which included the oil! I watched them, as they are not all trustworthy, and they did perform the necessary.

The rest of the morning was a real eye opener and took “headteacher support” to a new level for me. The support I received as a head was mostly professional but the occasional input of personal support was possibly the most valuable. I only support a few heads here as it is impossible to convince most people that you can help them for free……with pretty much anything!

So, when I received a call saying that a head was literally wrestling with a teacher who believed she was “possessed by spirits” and out of control, I wondered momentarily where this fitted into my placement profile. I wasn’t sure what support I could offer but I know how reassuring it can be just to have someone else there, so I went to the teacher’s house, or room. It seems a lot of people live in one room of a house. Their cooking, bathing and toilet is outside anyway.

The teacher was certainly in a poor mental state and seemed very distracted, wailing, beating her breast, not focused. At one point she took off into the “bush” running like a gazelle. The head managed to stop her and bring her back with the assistance of three healthy young men stripped to the waist who had been working in the field.

Thanks to some assistance from someone in a car, they repatriated the woman with her son in the next town. The rest of the story is second hand but amazing, just the same.

As I have said before, there is a lot of belief in the power of spirits. Local herbalists, fetish priests and others do a roaring trade in curing almost everything. This seems to fly in the face of the very strong Catholic and Muslim beliefs held by the vast majority of the population up here. I can’t quite reconcile the idea that you can attend Mass numerous times a week and profess to be a devout Christian, but then sit in somebody’s room whilst they plaster some concoction on parts of your body with a few chants and a wave. Evidently, that was what happened……..some ash on the temples and piece of string around her ankle and she was as right as rain almost instantly. Wow!! Cherry picking your religion is rife around these parts.

Anyway, everyone was back home by 2.30pm, carrying on a usual……..well everyone except the head, a true Christian, who did everything she could for her colleague as an excellent headteacher would and who came out of the experience very frazzled and confused about her part in this episode and what she would do the next time. There may very well be a next time. I have to say, having felt rather disturbed by the extreme behaviour I witnessed at the house this morning, it all seemed very odd. The power of the human body to heal itself is one thing but this was something else entirely. It could almost have been a little play acting, but I shall never know.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

A Job for Life

I have talked about funerals often over the past year, but then they are an ever present feature of life here for Ghanaians. The cost of them to individuals and organisations is immense for people who largely have precious little money to spend.

Recently, I have learned why the issue of teachers’ funerals is discussed at the District Education Office so frequently. Evidently, when you sign your contract with Ghana Education Service as a teacher, you agree to teach in any school in the country to which you are posted. In return, the GES undertake to repatriate your “corpse” to your home village in the unfortunate event of your death in service and pay the expenses of that process. Now I have a greater understanding of the role of the Welfare Officer. Organising collections and the logistics of repatriating teachers’ corpses is a significant responsibility for him.

Last week a teacher from a school in this district died. His home is near Lawra, some distance from here but within the Upper West Region. His “corpse” rested in a mortuary until the funeral on Friday and Saturday, when it was the responsibility of our District Officers to collect it with a family member and transport it in a coffin in an open backed car to the man’s village. Large numbers of teachers, headteachers and office staff accepted the duty to travel to Lawra to attended at least one day of the funeral to pay respects to the family and give the man a good send off. This duty is accepted whether you knew the teacher or not. A collection is taken to enable a reasonable sum to be donated to the grieving widow and, of course, there has to be some refreshment, usually pito, for those attending. The family have the enormous expense of providing food and some drink for those who travel there.

Tomorrow, I expect the focus for Morning Devotion will be the events of the weekend’s funerals. It usually is. Some weeks there are more than others. This weekend it was one of their own who left, but his family will have appreciated the sterling efforts of many fellow teachers to mark his passing.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Hammering it home

The District Office was transformed into a carpentry workshop last weekend. You could hear the sound of it all from some distance, but as we rounded the corner on Monday morning we were met by the sight of mountains of stacked school desks. A team of men have been assembling the pre-cut pieces into individual and double desks to be delivered to some lucky schools somewhere in the district. So, for a whole week I have tried to concentrate on writing guidance for implementing a simple system of Appraisal into the District Office amongst other things, to the dulcet tones of hammering. The wood is all mahogany, but hasn’t been treated or dried before construction. Hence the large nails are already splitting the wood and I fear the desks will not last as long as they should. They are spraying them with some preservative which we are breathing in as it wafts through the open windows and doors. I hope the preservative works effectively on us as well as the desks!

Sometimes, the only way to get rid of the fumes and the noise is to go to the Spot for lunch. (If I need an excuse.) I have been wondering about the practice of pouring the first sip of your drink onto the ground before you fill the glass and take any yourself. Some people seem to perform the same action to ensure the glass is clean. Anyway, evidently, Africans believe the Earth is alive with their ancestors. If you pour some drink, usually pito from a calabash, on the ground it is to remember and acknowledge your ancestors. Also, there is an element of self preservation. Your enemies are unlikely to poison your drink as they would need to poison their ancestors before you and that would be unthinkable! So remembering to sacrifice a sip of your beverage for those who have gone before you is always a wise move, but especially so if you ever suspect your popularity is waning!!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Laughs and Loyalty

You need a few laughs after the week I’ve had. I won’t go into details but it involves some grossly unprofessional behaviour from some “Fishwife” who should know better! (This was not directed at me, by the way.) A friend of mine gave me a wonderful expression that is used in these parts……”She bisects her mouth at any angle and brings out any chaff.” Don’t you love it? I wish I could draw the accompanying cartoon. Another one from the same friend, whilst telling me about the condition of the young chickens she had bought from the market……”Six are fine, one has died and three are wearing smocks!” Here is a photo of George in a smock. This men’s striped top is worn typically in the north of Ghana. They are worn more in the cooler seasons.

 Picturing a sick chicken in this heavy garment on its way out or “trying to leave”, describes the state of it perfectly. It makes me smile every time I think of it.

The goats are everywhere around the house at the moment and every one of them is massively pregnant. Most are as wide as they are long.  You’ll remember there is one who waits for me under the tree and smiles. Yes, I know I’m finally losing my mind, but you can see her clearly here. She seems to have been carrying these kids for months. The gestation period is 150 days so it can’t be long now.

 The other mums are delivering, usually on the moat platform, and then take off around the periphery whilst their tiny offspring follow bleating loudly in a high pitched squeaky tone. It’s worse at night when they get lost in the dark and can’t find each other. A kid born yesterday outside the front door got trapped in the veranda under my moto this morning. Her mother looked less than pleased with me for repatriating her with her child. You just can’t help some goats!

I embarked on a mission of mercy with an empty calor gas cylinder on Thursday. I needed to strap it to the back of Michael and take it to Wa for filling. My instructions were to fill it & take it to the tro station in Wa where it would be transported back to Nadowli and delivered. On the journey into Wa I pondered on the likelihood of this working at home.

Filling the thing was easy and I managed to get my heavy passenger to the extremely busy tro station. There were people everywhere and motos weaving between the tros, people selling stuff from huge bowls balanced on their heads and the inevitable wandering sheep. I can’t relate to sheep here. They don’t look at you and wander in front of you almost out of badness, to be a nuisance. They bear no relation to the sheep at home, showing no sign of warmth or cuddliness! Anyway, the tro manager who sits at a table selling tickets had been told to expect a ”Nansapur” (white woman) with a gas cylinder. The large group of assorted men gathered around the desk looked at me blankly when I arrived and a woman eventually remembered the arrangement. Someone untied the cylinder and I rode away. Amazingly, the gas arrived in Nadowli, was passed between a number of people and stored somewhere overnight. Finally, it was delivered to its owner intact the following afternoon. It had no label to distinguish it from any other either. At home, that cylinder would no doubt disappear from the moment it was untied from the moto and would never be seen again.

All manner of things disappear or are blatantly stolen from around our house and veranda. White people seem to be fair game, take what you like and squeeze any amount of money out of us. We are “mugs” and can clearly afford to be fleeced. However, there appears to be a reassuringly strong code of fairness and respect amongst Ghanaians in terms of whose property belongs to whom and they take responsibility for each others belongings. They don’t cheat each other. Going back to the goats for example, (yes, I know) they all roam everywhere but everyone knows who’s is who’s.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Education - A Cautionary Poem

On Monday I shall celebrate a year in Nadowli and these words express some of what I have learned & felt during that time.

I know what a good school looks like,
The words to describe one are there,
Files of paper, on-line data tables,
Policies, work schemes are spread everywhere.

Risks assessed for our every movement,
We cannot leave something to chance,
Health & Safety are paramount issues,
Before pupils prospects are enhanced.

Teachers drive into car parking spaces,
Looking purposeful, eager and smart,
Their day all planned out on a laptop,
All the aspects right down to the Arts

Rooms and cupboards crammed full of resources,
Lessons planned meeting needs of each child,
Expectations are high of their teachers,
Work assessed, marked neatly and filed

Pupils present, lined up every morning,
Looking clean and eager and bright,
See the faces and shoes oh so shiny,
Their homework all finished and right.

Remember the wider curriculum,
Provide for the whole child instead
Of just the vital core subjects,
There must be room in his head.

The constant threat of inspection,
Strangers pulling your life’s work to bits,
All the time, tears, pride and devotion,
Let’s work out where the true child fits.

It’s all very neat and its tidy,
A showcase you’re proud to extol,
A place seen as safe, warm and cosy,
Professional, but comfortable as well.

I know what a good school looks like,
It’s real life not all in a book,
It’s about people sharing and caring,
Children thrive and strive, take a look.

Miles away in a far distant country,
School starts much the same every day,
Pupils gather for morning assembly,
Asking God to protect them, they pray.

The minds of the children are open,
Just like sponges they want to learn more,
They must perform duties beforehand,
Like sweeping and washing the floor.

Their palace of learning is airy,
All of life pokes its head in to see,
Books for reading & writing are scarce here,
They are dreaming of who they could be.

Potentials are there with the others,
Opportunity is fragile but we hope
That the life skills and working together,
With their teachers will give them more scope.

Health & Safety takes care of itself here,
Children come and go as they please,
No one suffers for lack of a policy,
It is rare to see even grazed knees

The scrape of the bench and the chalkboard,
Teachers doing their best to explain,
It’s almost impossible to show them,
Without bricks and wall charts, it’s plain.

Precious card and a dried up marker,
Bottle tops we are using to count,
When you know there is nothing to ask for,
There’s no money, not any amount!

Teachers walk far and ride on the tro tro,
Their bicycles, seen better days,
It’s not easy, this smile I am showing,
It’s hard when I get little praise.

Headteachers are thrown in as leaders,
They don’t even offer to serve,
The letter comes late to inform you,
A refusal would take such a nerve.

Be proud of your post as Headmistress,
Make sure that your teachers do well,
There will be no funding or training,
Succeed or we’ll make your life hell.

Thank God there is always a football,
Whether new or really well worn,
Either kicked with posh boots or flip flops,
All play from the first light of dawn.
What you’re used to shapes all of your future,
We all try to improve what we’ve got,
When we start to value our present,
All are happy and sad with our lot.

You can choose to measure the data,
As long as the children are seen,
But it’s life that provides education,
Who loves you, who you love and how keen
Are those who are put in positions
To give the nurture and care.
That develop the young and the needy,
Give your heart if you’re willing to share.

Monday, 13 February 2012


It is one whole year today since I flew into Accra’a Kotoka airport and began my African Adventure. I can safely say, notwithstanding the most recent frustration and despair, I haven’t regretted one day of the past year. I have met some wonderful people, other volunteers and Ghanaians, who will reside in my memory and heart long, long after I have left Ghana. I can’t quite imagine leaving Nadowli, so I won’t try just now. Instead, I spent a thoroughly enjoyable lunchtime in our favourite Eating Spot celebrating this milestone with some good friends, a bowl of Light Soup and Fufu! (I ate dog and  Fante Kenke yesterday, which was delicious, but we won’t go into that at the moment!) When I came to pay the bill I was asked for “One eleven”. Even my friends looked non-plussed for a moment! It turned out she wanted 11 GhanaCedis and 10 Peshwas. I love it here!

 I have been paying more attention to “languages” recently. My Dagaare is still pretty poor after a year, but my Ghanaian English has come on a treat. Ghanaians are extremely polite in their forms of greeting and their horror of inadvertently insulting someone. ( I have to remember to do nothing with my left hand. It really needs to be strapped permanently to my body. I cannot touch anybody with it, raise it to draw attention or pass anything to anyone with it, and certainly not eat with it.) It is easy to cause offence without realising it.
However, through all this politeness, nobody uses “Please” in what we would consider an appropriate place. If you want another drink you call “Add one”. Requests are made as “Give me……”  But then you shouldn’t say “ Yes “ or “No” in any context without a “Please” attached. Eg. “Is this your pen?”  “No, please.” Also, “Also” is not used to introduce an addition. ie “I am also going to Wa”, when Wa has not been mentioned previously.

When something isn’t available, it is “Finished” and if it it damaged or broken it is “Spoiled”.  “I will go and come”, means “Just popping out”, but “I am coming” means you are on your way, but the time frame could be anything up to a few days! If you are eating and someone walks by, you should greet them with “You are invited” even though it would be a shock if anybody accepted the invitation. If a person is leaving they ask for permission to go, and often say “That will be later, then” (See you later!) However, if you are dying, you are "trying to leave!"

There are plenty more wonderful and delightful expressions that I love to hear and of which I wish I could remember more. My favourite is the equivalent of….”Ok, I understand!”  This is almost impossible to spell but I shall try. It also has to be spoken with a huge amount of energy and you must stress the second part through your throat….”Ah Haarr.” Fantastic, well done! Sometimes it sounds more like “Eh Hehr” with even more strength behind it!!

I wore my new clothes today too. I employed the services of a local tailor to sew a shirt and trousers in Ghanaian cloth for me. Judging by the reception I got at the District office, it has met with everyone’s approval. Evidently, I look like “a true Ghanaian.” Well, with at least one obvious difference.  I love it too and am planning a few more!

 Oh, by the way, someone in authority in our office today, suggested that we found 5 “neat girls” on a Friday, when they are not “on curriculum” to come down to the Teachers’ Resource Centre and clean it (………..for the sake of the 3 brand new computers that already lie under a ton of dust!) How is that for equal opportunities and valuing the extended curriculum throughout school hours? Dear oh dear. Never mind………and I mustn’t!

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

New Heads with Hearts & Minds

Having vowed to remain positive in all my blog postings, I just need to describe this day to people who have ever attended training in the world of educationalists. “Horror struck” was the best description of my state of mind by midday. This was day 1 of a 2 day training programme for new headteachers ………..well relatively new. They have all been in post for over 5 months with no funds and precious little guidance on anything.

The training was to begin at 8am and a few participants were there ready at that time. I applaud their professionalism, as the course facilitators were nowhere to be seen until 9am and then they changed the venue. The first hour was spent removing desks from a classroom and filling it with plastic chairs. People arrived in an assortment of coats and ear muffs and we were all signed in and ready to start by 10am. However, we needed to wait for the Director of Education to arrive. She had an important visitor, evidently. So we all waited. Finally, chairs scraped as everyone stood to welcome her. She addressed all assembled with various bits of random advice about managing schools, declared the workshop open and left.
I am posting this photo of our Director sporting the new office uniform with 2 of her drivers.

10.30 and surely we must start the real business now! No, there were pieces of housekeeping to be covered, like who would be workshop “secretary” ( the person who stayed awake, took notes and summarised the day at the end for those who slept), “welfare” (ensuring there was enough water and dealing with anyone who lost the will to live) and “time keeper” ( sorry, I collapsed at that point). All this time phones were going off, not ringing, but bursting into the most appalling disco music and folks went out to answer them. We VSO volunteers were invited to say a little about our work, which was interrupted frequently by one of the facilitators. There were three of them, District Officers, who had clearly not discussed how the day would run nor agreed who would take which responsibility. A little tension was obvious as someone came around dishing out a pen and an exercise book each. There were still “Workshop Norms” to get through….Phones off, punctuality and not interrupting people, were recorded! Fat chance!

We did start then. The chief facilitator was interrupted during his third sentence when it was announced “Breakfast is ready”! Don’t be alarmed. This is Banku in a palm nut soup with cow meat and a dash of okra and chilli. (eaten with your fingers!) It was actually, rather good, except I had recently eaten porridge and a boiled egg. By 11.10 we had finished breakfast, a few more headteachers had arrived, two backing babies and we were ready to resume our learning.

First session…. Scare all the new heads to death by going through the Code of Professional Conduct word by word emphasising the misdemeanours leading to dismissal! I almost resigned at that point until I remembered this didn’t actually apply to me. The participants endured this session quietly until “Sexual Offences” were mentioned and then most of the men laughed. This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered inappropriate laughing by Ghanaian men. I could suggest they don’t know how else to respond but I don’t know.  Amongst unacceptable behaviours including drinking and smoking in the classroom, for which examples of teachers were identified from the district, caning of children was mentioned and should be kept to a maximum of three strokes, by the way.

As the day wore on and people started to look forward to their second meal, chicken and rice this time, attention turned to the process of getting paltry sums of money from the District to run your school. We had 2 hours of painful bureaucratic descriptions of form filling and the gathering of receipts for pitifully small amounts of money. It is clear that nobody should be trusted and headteachers are expected to swindle the system and run off with all the pencils and correction fluid they can find. They receive the princely sum of 4.5 Ghana Cedis (£1.80) per child each year. The workshop ended abruptly due to the imminent  kick off (no  two and a half hour delay there!) for Ghana’s semi-final football match in the Africa Cup.

So much about this day horrified me. I am used to working alongside professional headteachers who are in a position of authority and respect, gained through hard work and ambition. They have climbed to that position over years and jumped through numerous hoops to fight their way to headship.  Here they are thrown into it, often against their wishes, without training, support or resources. Some show initiative and have a good idea about what would improve their schools. A little guidance and direction can help individual heads to begin the process of developing their staff and the educational provision in school.  Autonomy and imaginative leadership are not encouraged by the authorities. It is too dangerous and they are not ready for it! They just want headteachers who will toe the District line, keep order and complete the correct forms. The status quo and staying quietly inside the box is most acceptable. Oh, for the merest hint of trust!

I know heads among this group who could enjoy rich, professional rewards through achieving exciting learning experiences with their staff and pupils. However, they will need to be brave to take on the plodding dinosaur of the education authority and break it’s gnarled back. Shaking off the exhaustingly mundane, pedantic and painfully unimaginative expectations of the current system will take a lot of confidence and motivation. When you are criticised much more often than you receive praise or encouragement it is hard to believe you have skills and qualities to offer as a leader. My heart & huge respect go out to all headteachers who show initiative here and I pray they can be brave enough to claw their way out of this suffocating box and give their schools individuality and a chance of exciting learning. They and their children deserve it.

I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to day 2 !!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The Power & the Glorious

Well, the Harmattan has been blowing through here with all its might this week. The atmosphere is choked and every surface has a layer of dust. You cannot see the sun. The wind blows like a gale and is quite cool but unpleasant. It is like a very overcast day at home but here it is warmer & you still don’t need a coat. However, the locals are in ski jackets with ear muffs and look “nithered”. You can taste the dust and there is a thin pall of it inside the house. It is as though it cannot allow all of itself to settle. Sweeping and dusting are a waste of time as it is still all there! Maybe this Harmattan has kept its strongest blasts until last. It should be finishing soon and the hot season will be building up over the next few months.

I have learned a little more about people’s beliefs in Ghana. A school was closed last week as a teacher was in fear of his life. He had, inadvisedly, allowed some discussion about spirits. A girl accused some boys (a huge taboo), of attracting spirits at night. Parents were told by pupils and the teacher was attacked by a group of them. This is all taken very seriously as people can be beaten to death. A meeting was chaired by some District Officers and peace was restored in the community. The school reopened today with agreed conditions of behaviour.

The power of Witchcraft is real and if you admit to being sceptical of it all there are plenty of people prepared to prove you wrong. Young children with mystery illnesses and disrupted behaviour day and night are sent to priests for prayers & exorcism of spirits. These powers are passed from person to person whether you like it or not. A man died this week, who was known to exact punishment, ranging from illness to death, through witchcraft & Juju powers on anyone for an appropriate fee!  I imagine he looked quite normal……….. even as a corpse!

On a lighter note……..some members of our “Drawing Club” dropped by the other day with a toy someone had made them. This glorious machine must have taken a while of painstaking work to build and was very intricate in its moving parts. The tyres are cut from old flip flops. It is magnificent and the children were very proud of their truck.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Who is in charge here?

I often worry that I portray too negative an image of my hosts in Ghana through my blog postings. I don’t know whether that is the way they are read. Differences are alternatives and no way of life is ultimately better than any other. The longer I stay here the more I am aware of the lack of pressure  and stress in my life, but then people here have huge pressures on them just to manage their large families on meagre funds and keep everyone healthy & safe. For many, life isn’t fair or just and the authorities cannot be trusted or relied upon. There is a lot of stress in the fragility of life for Ghanaians in the north. If I am critical it is usually a criticism of systems or of people taking advantage of their positions to the detriment of those less fortunate. It could be argued that it is the same at home but somehow it leads to far greater suffering here and people are resigned to that as the norm. They expect and are satisfied with so little. The education system leaves much to be desired and improvements, as I am finding, are slow slow and small small. Children deserve so much more.

I visited another school today, to plan some training in English for the teachers. The journey was short, only 20 minutes. I dodged the earth moving equipment along the main road and turned onto a sandy track (You must know by now, I dread sand). All was fine until I screeched to a halt at a steep descent into a dry river bed full of sand. The rest felt like a motocross trail.

 I arrived at the school as all the pupils were singing in smart regimented lines between the 2 rows of classrooms. By the time I had divested myself of the usual helmet etc they had filed into their classrooms. I peered into the first room and found all the pupils, aged from 6 upwards, sitting quietly in their desks, waiting. I could see no teacher and moved on. Alarmingly, this was repeated in 5 more classrooms. There were no adults in school!  I tried to imagine a school of 6 classes at home with no teacher at the beginning of the day. Endless playtime probably! These children had taken some initiative and organised themselves according to normal procedures. There was no sign of chaos and lack of control. They were sitting calmly waiting……and waiting. When you have spent your whole career putting children’s safety and welfare above anything else you find this kind of experience horrifying. 

A P6 girl brought out a chair from her classroom for me to sit on whilst I wondered what to do. So polite, wishing me “Good Morning”. After a few minutes the headteacher appeared around the corner on a bicycle saying she had been to the District Office. I think I might have checked some teachers were present before I had left to make that trip.

As I have said before, children are expected to do their chores and take a lot of responsibility. The pupils at this school did themselves proud today. I was in awe of their behaviour and how they supported each other. The eldest watched the youngest and everybody was calm and safe. A situation that a British school would aspire to. I wondered what the atmosphere would have been like by midday had nobody turned up to teach and supervise the children. I could have been surprised either way!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Community Observed

In 2 weeks time I shall celebrate 1 year of residency in Ghana. Despite observing a million differences between life in England and that of Ghanaians I continue to find it fascinating to watch groups of people here carrying out their everyday roles. Things that are an issue here are not at home and visa versa. The values and cultures differ hugely in so many ways. This week we were asked to take our laptops to a very rural village school an hour away down rough, sandy tracks. The Deputy Head phoned me the evening prior to the visit to check I had remembered. I had, of course, as I was looking forward to spending time in a classroom showing children what a computer looked like and what it could do. They have only seen pictures of them in books until now.

As we pulled onto the school site from a hot and challenging ride, we could tell this wasn’t an ordinary day. Most of the classroom furniture had been carried out and arranged in an “L” shape under a couple of Nim trees. A few adults had wedged themselves into the wooden desk seats which, believe me from experience, are only designed for small bottoms and short legs! Clearly, a PTA meeting was imminent. Having extricated ourselves from helmets, jackets etc under the watchful gaze of a group of parents we approached the headteacher’s office. He was in conversation with someone so we sat on a step and waited. They both emerged a few minutes later, the head in a rain jacket zipped to the neck. His visitor had obviously come straight from the fields as he was covered from head to toe in thick dust and minus any footwear. I shook his proffered hand and was introduced to the PTA Chairman
There was no sign of an apology or explanation as to the change in our itinerary. Following the PTA meeting we would work with P5 & 6. In the meantime I was expected to speak to the assembled parents. I asked what the head would like me to say and he replied that anything that would encourage them to send their children to school regularly and try to make a financial contribution would be good. The men sat on one side and the women on the other. The men were addressed and the women, who were wearing cloths wrapped around their bodies and heads of every colour, many feeding infants, were ignored even though they were the largest group. The head was alone with the PTA Chairman for the first 20 minutes until a few members of his skeleton staff drifted into school and joined us. He insisted we sat at the Top Table and a teacher wrote the minutes.

Meanwhile, the many, many children, some young ones “backing” siblings, a few in items of torn and grubby uniform, found a variety of ways to pass the time. Toddlers, one in Barack Obama underpants, played happily in the dust. I noticed one was playing with a large pair of scissors, bizarrely, as I have never seen scissors anywhere but the seamstresses and unimaginable in a school that clearly has no resources at all. They wandered through the meeting from time to time, as did families of dogs and goats. Blossom fell on us from the Nim trees even though the leaves had an Autumnal appearance. An impromptu football match was taking place in a cloud of dust nearby, the players very skilful in flipflops and bare feet. Once in a while a mother stood up, picked up a stick from the ground and ineffectually whacked some small child with it for a reason not at all obvious.

The meeting progressed in Dagaare for almost 2 hours and occasionally we would have a moment of translation to relieve the tedium. Apparently, the meeting was called to impress upon the parent body that they must make their termly contributions towards the feeding programme. This school is one of 55 in the district that receives funding to feed the pupils each day. These funds pay for the ingredients and the cook. However, cooking pots, bowls and washing soap have to be purchased. Parents are not paying the 50 peshwas (20p) a term that is asked of them. Exchanges of opinion and explanation ensued between the fathers, the head and PTA Chairman. We knew the meeting was closing when everyone stood to pray. I have no idea what was decided or whether anyone understood my words of encouragement.

Finally, we got to a classroom and were just unpacking laptops when the whole school and a group of interested parents were ushered in. This wasn’t quite what we had agreed and were expecting to work with groups of pupils using the computers for the first time. As it was we demonstrated what they could do whilst the children pushed closer and closer. After a while it was obvious that this wasn’t going to work and, in order to preserve the laptops & everyone’s safety, we were compelled to put them away. The classteacher, who had fallen asleep behind us, was obviously disappointed as he probably thought we would entertain the whole school until “home time”. Bad Luck…….we had had enough. 

I explained to the head what we needed to do on another occasion. I think he got the point. We will surely see! There were hundreds of photos I could have taken here but there is never a good reaction to a camera from adults. The children crowd around and it can all be rather dangerous so I took just the one to show them how pictures can be uploaded onto computers. I'll try harder another time. Until then, use your imagination and my description!