27 January 2016, by Phil Marsden
I have just returned from a week in Ghana along with Zoe, helping out a charity called Ashanti Development that provides development support to villages in the Ashanti region. Through the charity, Softwire sponsor a village called Bonkron and amongst other things we have provided latrines, hygiene training, a kindergarten, micro credit, bee keeping training and a hardship fund.
Our journey started with a flight from London to Accra and a quick overnight stay before boarding a flight the following morning to Kumasi. From there it was just over an hour’s drive to the town of Mampong, a quick stop for some lunch and then a 10 minute bumpy ride down a dirt track to Gyetiase. We were staying in a clinic that was built by the charity in 2007 to provide accommodation to visiting volunteers and basic medical services to the local villages and which now specialises in ophthalmology.
Although fairly basic by western standards, the accommodation at the clinic was clean and comfortable and staffed by a team of wonderful locals for whom nothing was too much trouble. After meeting the other volunteers who were staying with us at the clinic (Penny, David, Bill and Marie) it was off to meet with the village chief and the elders in order to be granted permission to stay in the village. Tradition dictated that we had to answer the question of “What is your mission” (even though they knew the answer) and shake hands with them all many times both when arriving and leaving!
A wild fire the night before had knocked out a couple of electricity poles so without power as darkness fell, we dined by torch light and planned a trip to the local electricity company the next morning in order to expedite getting the power back on for the surrounding villages. A few of us headed out at 8am and after some pleading, the electricity company agreed that if the local community could provide the labour to dig the holes needed for the replacement poles then they would get to work that afternoon to restore the power. A community team was quickly gathered and by evening we had power!
During the rest of the week we travelled to many villages to help out and to see the work of the charity.
We made many trips to Bonkron and on Wednesday they held a huge Durbar (Party / Reception) in our honour during which we were shown (and joined in with!) many of the village customs, including games, dances etc. As the event drew to an end I was surprised (and honoured) to find out they were planning to make me a chief of the village. They presented me with a number of gifts and after a brief ceremony and lots of photos I was made “Nana Kwadjo Phil”
The highlight of the trip, however, was on Friday when we had arranged to present to the school a laptop, projector and internet access and to use it to show a short cartoon to the local children and have a Skype call back to the Softwire office in London. The event was planned for 5pm and we decided to get to the village at 4pm in order to set everything up as we weren’t sure what to expect. When we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to see many of the children were already there sitting on loads of desks that had been taken from the classroom and set up as cinema style seating. A generator was whirring away around the corner (the power was out again!) and a sound system was available for us to connect to.
We showed a short episode of “Shaun the sheep” and then connected over Skype to London. The internet was a little poor, probably due to the lack of power in the area, and did drop out a few times but that did not dampen the spirits of the children who enjoyed chanting “Soft” “Wire”, singing songs, seeing everyone in the office and chatting to Dan. We showed a couple more episodes of Shaun and then brought up Google Earth to show the village and then zoomed out to show Ghana, Africa and then world then back in to show the UK, London and our offices. Overall it was a great success and we look forward to future Skype calls with Bonkron.
On Saturday, we visited the chief and elders of the village to ask their permission to leave and then said an emotional goodbye to the other volunteers before leaving on our journey back to the UK.
Overall it was an amazing experience and one I hope others at Softwire will have the chance to share on future visits.