Staying Clean

Trip Start Feb 04, 2007
Trip End Mar 09, 2008

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Flag of Ghana  ,
Sunday, November 11, 2007

It was difficult to stay hygienically clean in a situatation where there was no running water, no flushing toilets, no soap dispensers nor hand towels.  The climate was humid, children played in the dirt and the grime had an inexplicable way of sticking steadfastly to you.  Team this with the fact that at meal times people over here eat with their hands and you can see how health and sanitation is a huge issue.  This was a much more serious problem at the school as every home usually has an urn of water which can be scooped out and used to wash hands.  At the school children would go to the toilet in the bushes;  play in the dirt; then with each other and finally sit down to a meal of white rice with pepper stew which they would scoop out and eat with their hands.  Hand washing didn't really come into the equation and so it should come as no suprise that there was a virtual intestinal worm epidemic amongst the school kids.  Worming treatment was encouraged every second month.  However, this was a luxury that not every family could afford. 

Hygiene and the availability of clean drinking water are things that we take completely for granted in the West.  These issues should be the first addressed, but who is responsible for this in Sega?  The village of Sega has a chief; there is also a government focussed on, I assume,  'the larger issues'.  There are currently no sealed roads in Sega, there is no sewage system, there is no garbage collection, there are no phone lines, electricity is sketchy.  I suppose there are so many things that require correction, this type of thing is somewhere on someone's to do list.  

FYI: One tap for the village costs 5 million cedis  plus an ongoing water bill.  That is about USD $500 plus about USD $40 per month ongoing if there is a lock and a key applied to the tap to restrict usage. [The current village tap consistently had a bolted padlock fastened].  

On a lighter note, I can't possibly talk about my stay in Ghana without mentioning the other volunteers I shared my time with.  These guys really made me love my stay so I will begin with some brief introductions.  In no particular order, we had Mojdeh and her cute 5 year old son Darius who are both staying for about a year in Sega.  Mojdeh is a proud Iranian who has been living in Canada.  Jessica is an English Primary school teacher who is staying in Ghana for 9 weeks (who goes home tonight).  Bruno is a Belgian PE teacher who is staying for 9 months.  Sasha is an American Nursery teacher who currently lives in Munich and who stayed about 3 weeks.  Last but definitely not least, Canadian Tabitha is on her second trip to Sega.  She enjoyed her first visit   so much she came back again - this time for a year.  Tabitha undertook a great deal of fund raising after her first visit and was fortunate enough to be able to raise enough money for the school to build a painted, concrete JSS structure.    

I loved living in Sega with these guys.  Discovering the availability of wholemeal bread (instead of the normal white, sweet bread), finding minced ground nut at the markets (woohoo we now have peanut butter!), sharing the crazy anti-malaria medication fuelled nightmares over breakfast, celebrating my first ever thanksgiving with goat meat and then a dessert of chocolate fondue as well as our standard 6am outdoor yoga sessions before the sun became too oppressive. [There is something amazing about doing sun salutations to the sun].  One day after Jess and Sasha had spent the day in a town a few hours away Jess approached me coyly with a suprise gift.  It was.... a cucumber, and I have never been so excited in all my life.  I didn't even remember sharing my desire for fresh, sweet cucumbers with her.  Unfortunately I was unable to return the favour with her cravings of melted cheese on toast - but hopefully she will be digging into a few slices by lunchtime tomorrow!   

Despite our advanced hygiene techniques (wet wipes and antibacterial leave-on soaps, etc) it was still hard for us to keep clean and keep mosquito bites and cuts free from infection.  Mojdeh's eczema turned into a one week hospital stay with an IV delivering penicillin bursts 4 times per day, Tabitha was provided with a malaria treatment during my stay as it was believed her symptoms were malaria, Jatta (the house cat) had worms the whole time I was there and another American volunteer we met had a deep cut in his leg that had become so infected over night that he was unable to walk.  

It was frightening how the smallest things turned into big things virtually overnight.  It is not enough that there is insufficient medical care available but combine this with a hot, humid environment and you have a veritable bacteria proliferation factory.  Speaking of health concerns, Bruno had a few.   He developed both the frequently sighted prickly heat rash across his torso and then the much less commonplace hookworm in his foot.  This was a worm, fondly referred to as Moby Dick, which travelled 1cm each and every day.  It also laid larvae in the arch area of his foot. [We were placing bets over whether the larvae would hatch and follow the same path as the mother worm or would they venture off independently and create their own tracks in other parts of his foot].  A little less funny when the only product the hospital knew which would treat this worm was not available from any pharmacy (even after travelling 2hrs to Ghana's capital, Accra, to look for it).  You will all be happy to know that the worm is still in his foot but is now dead and amazingly his body will just absorb the carcass in due time. < Erghy. Shudder>  

I should begin this section with a brief note.  My stay in Ghana was an overwhelmingly positive experience.  Would I do it again? With no hesitation I would say yes!  Would I stay even longer?  You bet!  If you are a prospective volunteer searching for Amnchara on google and you've run into our blog, then please be encouraged to go as it really was an experience of a lifetime.   

But, and there is always a but, I found the school's disciplinary techniques extremely unsavoury. [This is apparently a fairly common observation amongst volunteers who stay in Ghana].  It is an interesting situation where families discipline their children in violent outbursts; the school teachers discipline students in violent outbursts and then it comes as no suprise that children "discipline" each other by beating each other senseless.  So much so that I had to implement a set of rules for my classroom which involved "no beating".  Teachers are very physical with students caning, hitting, kicking and squeezing/twisting cheeks until the children wail and cry.  This was traumatic to witness particularly when it was over something like getting an answer wrong in class or coming to school bare foot (when the uniform required that all students must have footwear).  

Other punishments such as kneeling in the dirt with your arms raised straight over your head in the burning sun for not standing straight in the assembly were activities which would cause a national outcry if they took place in the West.  Amazingly, I was told that so many volunteers had complained about  the children being treated this way that the disciplinary action had been curbed.  I can't imagine how much worse this would have been before.   One child told me she knew that the kids had been rescued by the blefonos (whites) as all the teachers had reduced the frequency and severity of these punishments when the "white people started coming". 

In addition, as Ghanaian qualifications to become a teacher are simply a high school education there was also a great disparity in the ability levels of the various teachers.  One of the first lessons I sat in on was a teacher explaining something that he obviously didn't understand himself.  His explanation was completely illogical and incorrect.  When one courageous child audaciously asked a question, she was publicly castigated.  The frustration here is that this is a private school.  I had heard a great deal about the incredibly poor teaching that goes on at the government schools in Ghana.  An incredibly exasperating cycle making it very difficult for these children to make headway.

To be continued....
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