As a quick update for anyone who hasn’t heard, I have officially been placed in Ghana, most likely working in the Northern Province.
So now I know where I will be going on August 8, and returning from December 14. I know that I’ll have 4 months plus a week of actually being in-country, a lucky lengthening compared to most JF placements, which will give me additional time in the later stages of relationship development to actually work with people.
But what will I actually be doing in Ghana?
To be perfectly honest, I don’t exactly know. I do however have some good guesses, and there are good reasons for a lack of definition at this point (which I’ll explain later). Problems that we (as EWB) are working with as an organisation are looking at behaviour change. With this definition of the issues, we are taking a further step than many other organisations which define the problems as lack of access, to knowledge, technology, etc. In many cases, it is true that those pieces of the puzzle are missing, but what EWB is trying to figure out is how the system can begin to provide them for itself. This stems from an observation that even when those pieces are present, still situations can remain stagnant. This is where the humanity of it all steps in. People are typically resistant to change, and we’ve a host of sayings to back that up (can’t teach an old dog new tricks, leopard never changes its spots etc etc.). So when the approach to change focuses on workshop-based teaching and information dissemination, we’re adding one piece of the puzzle, but we’re not really addressing how people are able to change their behaviour, and the constraints on this process. We’re simply getting the information out there.
Let’s illustrate this idea with an example that I’m sure many of us can relate to (and used by another EWB volunteer in a blog, if this is you please remind me so I can credit you!). We’ll look at a behaviour that is relatively simple, such as toothflossing. The dentist, in whom you generally have a high level of trust concerning things like your teeth, has probably discussed the merits of flossing your teeth once or twice a day, has demonstrated the proper technique, and has educated you on types of floss and where you can get it, and often even furnishes it to you for free! Yet, how many people actually floss on a regular basis? The dentist doesn’t really know unless you come back in for your next check-up, and even then the only way to know if you actually follow the correct procedure twice a day is to go and see for themselves, to monitor for behaviour change. Obviously your dentist isn’t observing you very often, and I’m sure that the number of people properly educated in the behaviour of toothflossing far outstrips the number of people who actually do it.
Now imagine that the behaviour is somewhat more complex, is more expensive, has merits that are less apparent or take a long time to bear fruit. Here is the missing link that EWB is trying to influence. What is preventing people that have functional knowledge of a particular practice from using it effectively?
So more specifically, I’ll be working with the newly renamed EWB African Programs team called Public Sector Agriculture. Right now our main partner is the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) which is an arm of the Ghanaian government. After having worked with MoFA for several years now, our team is re-analysing how we fit strategically into MoFA’s mandate, and how we can increase the value that MoFA is getting out of our relationship, and by extension the value that they are able to provide to farmers (because in the end, we want to help improve farmers’ livelihoods).
A couple of projects I could be working on include working with the middle management which work in the district offices. By helping to foster learning within these offices, we hope to create more resilient and adaptable institutions. This summer the JFs with our team are working specifically to support innovation, helping management to take the initiative and increase the value that their office can provide. In addition, it is important for me to realise how the government’s work influences daily life for farmers that they work for. By better understanding rural livelihoods, I can offer insight into government practice, specifically by helping to understand why behaviour change isn’t occurring as rapidly as we expect in the field. If you’d like to get a better idea of what I could be doing with the team in 6 short weeks, read some of the blogs that I’ve linked on the side here. And don’t hesitate to ask them questions about their work! They love hearing from interested people!
I also love hearing from people! Please do not hesitate to comment on my posts, it is a great feeling to know that people have read them.
This will be especially important to me when I am overseas, potentially mired in culture shock, homesickness, frustration, disease etc etc. (There will definitely be a post on this at some point).