Cover image: an old man in a family compound in Bobikuma is fascinated with my camera
As I mentioned in the last post, my time in Ghana was spent under the auspices of the German Red Cross. While generally true, technically I was employed by the Red Cross on a volunteer basis under a German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development program, working under a Ghanaian Red Cross partner organisation called Agricultural and Rural Development Association (ARA) which assigned me to a local NGO called Glorious Vision Orphans (GLOVO), which in turn assigned me to one of their projects in a school called Agona Municipal Assembly ‘C’ Primary and Junior High School (AMA ‘C’). Confused yet?
In practice I spent all my work-time either in the school or with GLOVO. The latter had assigned me to teach ICT (Information and Communication Technology) at AMA ‘C’ in the wake of having donated three computers to the school in order to set up a computer lab there. Most days I taught between one and four classes at school, but if I did not spend the time in between chatting with fellow teachers, I would usually head over the school yard to the GLOVO office, which is located right next to it. GLOVO was set up by Williams, the owner of a local shop for computer parts and repairs, who established the office in a room adjacent to his shop.
Image 1: Felix oversees the handing out of donated clothing from atop a truck
Image 2: Dwellings in the village of Kwesikrum
Two desks, his van, three part-time volunteers and the support of his wife Maggie were all he needed to set up an NGO supporting disadvantaged children in the surrounding area. This support mainly consisted of helping to pay school fees and provide learning materials to the children and the occasional foodstuffs to their families, and was severely limited by financial constraints. Later all the eighty children supported by GLOVO were brought under the national health insurance scheme through donations that Agnes, the other German GLOV volunteer, organised. Today GLOVO has considerably expanded its scope, caring for far more children, having established a school in one of the villages that even includes a clinic and ICT lab, and hosting groups volunteers from all over the world, but back in 2010 it was just Williams, Lawrence, George, Felix, plus Agnes and I.
Image 3: ‘The Old Man of Kwesikrum’
Image 4: Lawrence donates blood
As my main task was teaching at AMA ‘C’, I was not strictly expected to participate in other GLOVO activities, however whenever time allowed I would usually head out with Williams and Agnes. This mostly involved Academic Performance Monitoring and House to House Monitoring. The children GLOVO supports can be disadvantaged in a variety of ways, from physical and mental disabilities, to being full- or half-orphans. However, instead of running an orphanage (which have received bad press in the past for the questionable conditions under which many of them are run), the children stay with relatives. In order to make sure they are provided with the resources they need, GLOVO regularly visits them and their families for interviews. This is called House to House Monitoring, and was done every couple of months. Similarly, on different occasions their schools were visited in order to interview their teachers about their academic progress, a process called Academic Performance Monitoring.
Image 5: A child in the village of Kwesikrum holding sugar cane and a knife used to peel it
Image 6: Traditional hearth
Monitoring usually happened several afternoons a week over the course of a couple of weeks. Williams, Agnes and I (and sometimes Lawrence and/or Felix) would jump into Williams’ van and we would make our way out of Swedru over pothole riddled roads and ultimately bumpy tracks to one of the many villages surrounding Swedru. There we would walk around to visit the different families and talk to them and the children, but not before we had paid a quick courtesy visit to the home of the local chief. Most of the families spoke no or only very basic English (instead a local dialect of the Akan language, called Fante, was widely spoken), which meant Williams, Lawrence or Felix had to do the actual interviewing, Agnes had to note everything down, and I was free to sit by or, even better, take pictures. Ultimately many of them ended up in GLOVO’s promotional material, lending at least some sort of credence to my unofficial activities as GLOVO’s ‘photographer’.
One interesting thing about the villages was that unlike Swedru many of them had not been visited by any white people before, which could lead to funny situations beyond the crowds of children following us anywhere. One time we were sitting in a courtyard for an interview, Williams and I on one wooden bench, the entire family (from toddler to grandmother) on another one opposite us. Everyone was staring at me, and suddenly Williams grabbed my arm and waved it around, much to my surprise. He then proceeded to lightly pinch my skin, which was acknowledged by nods and surprised comments on behalf of the family. I was about to ask Williams what the heck he was doing, when he explained that no one in the family had ever met a white person before, and they had been wondering whether my skin would fall apart upon being touched. Naturally this quickly turned my annoyance into amusement.
Image 7: A child draws with donated materials
Image 8: Young child in a village I forgot the name of
Another time an old man came out of one of the huts as we were interviewing his family, took a seat on the steps in front of the door and curiously eyed my camera. He looked ancient, his face wrinkled, wielded a knobbly wooden cane and may very well have grown up in a country that was still a British colony, known as the Gold Coast (the lovely host-mother of one of my friends, Victoria, did). As I raised my camera to my eye to take a picture of him he marvelled at it with obvious curiosity, so I walked over and showed it to him. He seemed completely amazed, and considering the poverty of the village and his age, it may well be that this was the first time he saw himself on a digital screen. The result can be seen as the cover image of this post.
Other, irregular projects that GLOVO pursued and I participated in, in the villages or Swedru, included a blood donation exercise in the city centre, donations of clothing to villages, the screening of educational movies in villages to raise awareness on issues such as gender equality, HIV or child abuse, a visit to the areas of Swedru flooded in June 2010 and interviews with those affected, and the health insurance registration.
Image 9: Child selling vegetables
Image 10: As we are setting up the equipment for a film screening in one of the villages, the sun sets over the coconut trees
Ultimately the visits to the villages produced many of my favourite images from Ghana. While Ghanaians are generally very open to being photographed, the people in the villages were even more so. Walking between the mud compounds, surrounded by coconut and banana trees, in the late hours of the afternoon usually resulted in beautiful, golden light, and I managed to take many portraits, both candid (like the one of the child balancing a plate of vegetables on its head) and open ones. My mother actually surprised me by printing two of them (the aforementioned child, and the old man in red shorts) out which are now adorning my walls.