EWB Work Pt. 1: Whatever your dreams are, start taking them very, very seriously.

Earlier this year I made a list of all of the things I could do if I had more time (read: if I wasn’t involved in EWB). It was quite the extensive list, and I was somewhat impressed by my ability to come up with a multitude of different exciting options for whenever I had some time to spare. Always daydreaming about more time to do more. And now I’m in Ghana, thinking about Karaga and farmers and people and development 24/7. And there are plenty of dreams here, too.

I’m here because these people are real people. My director, Dr. Saviour, he lives with ambition and purpose. He has a vision for his office that will make it effective and useful for the farming communities it serves. He lives a very comfortable lifestyle, far above those that he works with. He’s a family man, and is incredibly proud of his older daughter and son, but above all believes his youngest daughter is the smartest of all.

His youngest daughter, Sada, is smart and shy and is great company. In spending time with her for 2 days, we are now comfortable and she literally sticks to me. Her favourite artist in Don Williams, who seems to be some kind of American country star. She laughs and calls for her Mommy in the same demanding yet plaintive way I once did as a ten-year-old.

The other ten-year-olds I’ve met are alternately shy or exuberant. When they ask me how I am, I reply “I’m fine, how are you?” and they often are surprised that their calls have been answered. They run along the side of the main roads running through town.

Along the main road, I have met a tailor by the name of Talhatu. She speaks excellent English, and has been a seamstress for over 20 years. She has a daughter that rolls around on the floor laughing when I tickle her. She has a good sense of style. She does not hesitate to answer all of my questions about her fabric and  styles and life.

My life is also shared with Arimiyaw, whose name I’m still forgetting. He’s a marketing student at the Tamale Polytechnic, and is worried about finding a job when he finishes his degree. Sounds like SFU to me. He runs the juice shop, which I go to every day, partly for the juice, mostly for the conversation. He answers my questions about food and the movements of the town, and I answer questions about the size of Canada, the geography and political system and schooling there. Is it hard to get scholarships in Canada? Yes, yet I still encourage him to apply. He is smart, and kind, and has taught me much already. I’ll miss him when he goes back to school in a few weeks. He acts as a buffer system, and helps to translate the several marriage requests I get one day I am there. He offers to entertain me after I’ve walked in the pouring rain for an hour, and shows me a ridiculous and dramatic Dagban movie that is a short step away from Nigerian movies and North American reality TV. People everywhere seem to want to watch the same thing.

I’m watching my colleagues, and they are in one similar to those I’ve worked with before, but different as individuals are.

Mr. Abanga is charismatic, and happy to talk, and excitable. He is tall and has a wife in Tamale whom he visits on weekends.

Mr. Allasin Doublechest is called so because he used to be a big-time runner. He is quiet and kind and bows easily to authority, is very shy of conflict and will take the path of least resistance.

Abdulai is a person with intensity and dreams for his 4 children. He asks me about the medicine system in Canada and how he can help his oldest son apply, because the Ghanaian system does not support that many students. He listens to me talk of my younger brother, how he is going to go into engineering, and asks about environmental engineering at UBC. He has a deep appreciation for simple and beautiful words, and asks where he can get a copy of the book I am reading. He is philosophical and soft in his heart.

These are just a few of the people I have spent small time with here in Ghana. These people are intelligent, multifaceted, far from perfect, and full of potential to change their lives and those around them. And they are TRYING. This I stress, because I am thinking of the multitude of people where I’m from that don’t really try. I want to work for the people that want to work for themselves, and you can find those anywhere, but there is a concentration here, here on this hopeless, dark continent, there is light and thirst for a better life, a life with a modicum of security, opportunity for education, safety from hunger and malnutrition.

As a volunteer for Engineers Without Borders Canada, but moreso as an emotionally invested employee of the Government of Ghana, Ministry of Food and Agriculture, my work is for and with these people that try.

My work is for Swoli, the son of the Assemblyman (local elected official) in Komoayeli, who is a farmer as his father was, but is no less the soft-spoken intelligent young man because of it.

These people are not merely observing life as it goes by, they are trying to reach their dreams. These real people are what remind me of my ability to try.

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About Janine Reid

What is Janine? -board game enthusiast -political observer -Vancouverite -questioner -listener -health provider
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8 Responses to EWB Work Pt. 1: Whatever your dreams are, start taking them very, very seriously.

  1. Eli says:

    Great post Janine! I absolutely loved this line “This I stress, because I am thinking of the multitude of people where I’m from that don’t really try.”

    We have been given so much here in Canada that we genuinely have the option not to try very hard. Thank you for bringing it up in such an eloquent way!

  2. Janine,
    What an awesome experience you must be having! Can’t wait to go back and read your posts from the begining so i can see more about what you do…. Congrats on the fulfilling and life changing work, you rock 🙂

  3. Mike says:

    I find this interesting because these dreams seem like such possible things for someone in Canada to achieve (you probably could become a doctor or environmental engineer if that was what you really wanted to) but there are so many more obstacles to someone in Africa to doing the same. Yet once in a while you do hear of someone who manages to make it happen, generally through scholarships or other good fortunes.

    In your opinion, how does someone in Africa overcome these huge obstacles to achieving the huge dreams they have? Is it only through luck? Or does goal setting and careful planning play a role in helping people who are successful in achieving these huge, obstacle filled dreams?

    • Janine Reid says:

      So, at the moment (with what I consider very little in-country exp.), I think that it is somewhat a combination of the two things. Each one is necessary, but not sufficient to achieve their dreams. So you can have a scenario where someone is very lucky but doesn’t capitalise on their fortune because of poor planning, and also someone who is very goal-oriented but utterly without opportunity. I really don’t have a good idea yet of how many people who are in decent positions in Karaga have carefully worked towards their goals, or exactly how much opportunity small farmholders have or don’t have. I also know there is A LOT of compromise. On your own dreams for something that is available, on your own dreams in favour of your children, etc etc. Mr. Abdulai, he would have liked to become a doctor himself, but there was no space, no resources. And now he has the resources, but at 42, he is far too old, in his opinion, and is he focusing on his children’s careers. Dr. Saviour, was also wanting medicine, but there was a scholarship opportunity for veterinary medicine in Russia so he took that, and gradually made his way up into Agric management. Dr. Saviour’s wife is a wonderful woman. She was named National Teacher of the Year in 2008. She’s completing her Masters in educational improvements in the Volta Region. We had a conversation about how she was solidly middle class, but now is above her richer and more privileged peers, because she put work in and sacrificed. And this notion of sacrifice, that she would forgo living in the big city to save money, she would work so that she could pay for her education, is an interesting thing. It seems that this sacrifice is in fact an exercise of will-power over things within her control, and that sacrifice is not available to everyone in Ghana. So she’s advanced due to planning and sacrifice, but she had something to sacrifice in favour of future endeavour. What if there’s nothing to sacrifice?
      And back to compromise. Perhaps big dreams will not be possible for the dreamer, or their children, but small small (bit by bit, in Ghanaian English), they can improve their situation. That’s at least my naive hope.

  4. Will says:

    Great post Janine! Look forward to hearing about more of your adventures in the coming months!

  5. Tessa says:

    Wonderful, inspiring post, Janine. You have a way with your words. 🙂 I hope you’re doing well, I wonder how things are going for you half a world away often!

    What a paradigm shift it would cause for the average person here to see what you are seeing. It’s really encouraging and frankly humbling to hear of the determination these people have to create a better quality of life, especially in access to education. It’s too easy for us to bemoan school and homework; we’re living the dream. I hope these motivated individuals you’ve introduced us to are able to achieve their dreams.

    Take care! 🙂

    Tess

  6. Grace says:

    I love this post. These people sound so awesome. I wish I could meet them. You did a good job of giving us glimpses into their personalities and lives.
    Also, thanks for the reminder not to take for granted the endless opportunity that we have here in Canada.

  7. menel says:

    Salut Janine!

    j’aime ton article et surtout les commentaires que cela a entraîné ici au Canada. C’est génial de voir des gens laisser des commentaires et de voir que tu les as fait réfléchir.

    Much love from Montreal

    Menel

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