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To preface, I hate asking people for money. So what am I doing, asking for your participation in this year’s EWB Perspectives Campaign? Asking you to donate to EWB during this holiday season?
I believe that your donation will go towards supporting real change. That is, incremental, hairy, long-term change. I myself have donated to EWB, small sums of money, countless hours of time that could have been spent studying, and a full 5 months of my life to this organization. I wouldn’t ask unless I truly believed that my time, and your time, was worth it.
I’m asking for an investment.
I want you to invest in me, a student leader at SFU, a dedicated member of one of the largest development networks in Canada, and a recent employee of the Government of Ghana.
I want you to invest in the work that my chapter (a group of 30+ dedicated leaders across two SFU campuses), and chapters across Canada, are doing to push the Canadian government and public to stop wasting their money, and make better consumer choices and better aid spending choices. See the recent commitment of Canada to the International Aid Transparency Initiative here, which EWB has had a monumental hand in influencing over the past 18 months.
But mostly, I want you to invest in people like Dr. Saviour, Mr. Abanga, and Chairman. For those of you that have been reading my blog over the past months, you may be familiar with these names. Let me tell you a little about them.
Dr. Saviour directs the District of Karaga’s government office of agriculture. He has chosen to live in his district, despite the lack of material comforts and friend networks, because he believes he can make better decisions if he is present and accounted for, and in tune with his community. He is a participant of the DDA Fellowship, a leadership network developed in the resource-poor Northern Region of Ghana that strives to improve their leadership and management skills, in order to better serve their offices and farmers. He is passionate, pragmatic, loud and has a great smile. He is taking proactive steps to improve the services his office can provide, by innovating on approaches to nutrition like his Soya Bean Consumption initiative. He is trying to invest in his staff by rewarding those with high performance, and using leadership tools to understand them better. But he still faces some tough, and for me heartbreaking, decisions.
This year the rains didn’t come for Karaga District, meaning that most farmers got next to zero yields on their rice crops. For those that could squeeze a few bags of rice out of their fields, harvesting was delayed because the combine, coming from the Regional capital, had to be requested multiple times in person, broke down on the way to the fields, and has required multiple repairs since then. For those farmers who have participated in the government subsidy program, Dr. Saviour is mandated to take repayments from them in exchange for the seed and fertilizers they received during the growing season. If he doesn’t collect these repayments, the centralized government will reduce, or scrap the program altogether. But he knows that if he asks these farmers to repay, they will have nothing to give.
Development is hard, and it is difficult to tease the complexities apart in a system like this. The systems are often broken or unbuffered, which makes navigating them challenging for even seasoned veterans. Because of Dr. Saviour’s ability to be proactive and take strong leadership decisions, he will be able to facilitate his staff to address this situation. But because of his personality and his 6 years of working with EWB, Dr. Saviour is highly capable, and his abilities are far above the reach of most of the District Directors in this region. Yet he is not jealous. He is investing in his fellows next year by taking a leadership role in facilitating the DDA Fellowship. He will take his own time and energy, for no additional pay or official benefits, to contribute to a more capable contingent of district directors in his region.
Mr. Abanga is an Agricultural Extension Agent for the Karaga district, and I’ve worked closely with him over the past 4 months. He’s a young 30-something, who first started working with the district bereft of transportation with which he could visit his farmers. Because his job requires him to travel to communities, many of them up to 20km away from the office, there was no way he could complete his duties without some mode of transport. The office is supposed to provide transport, but across the northern region coverage is inconsistent. As a young employee with a wife and his savings invested in his education, Mr. Abanga could not afford a motorcycle of his own. But invested in a bike with the small money he had, and persevered in his outreach work, getting much-needed information on crops, planting techniques, and fertilizers out to the farmers he was responsible for. He is now a role model for the office, and his name is recognized by farmers from all corners of the district, regardless of whether he has been directly responsible for them. He has been keen to provide as much support to his farmers as possible through government and NGO opportunities.
A strong partner of EWB’s Technology Adoption strategies, he’s enabled key demonstrations in communities convincing farmers that things like testing the fertility of their seed, and planting with correct spacing, can improve their lives. Mr. Abanga has also absorbed like a sponge some key facilitation techniques from previous EWBers, and I’ve seen him implement them to great effect over the past 4 months. He believes that if Ghanaians like him start taking initiative, learn from others, and remain disciplined, Ghana cannot help but develop.
Chairman Mohammed is a tall, slim, soft-spoken man that houses his family in a village called Nangong-Ayili, about 10 minutes bike ride out of the town of Karaga. He’s a farmer, and a night-watchman at the Karaga Senior Secondary School, a stone’s throw from his house. His verdant maize farm in September was an impressive experience, and he was proud to show it to me. His soya beans pricked my fingers and gave me incredible blisters as we harvested them in mid-November. He is a good farmer, and cares for his family and extended family well. In total, he houses 23 people in his compound house, including some students, and strangers like me. He invests in his sons and daughters by sending them to school.
Yet the children are sick often, and they do not have the cash flow to go to the hospital or pay for medicines. The school he guards is understaffed and underfurnished. And last week, both borehole wells nearby to the village broke, leaving a few hundred people and a school full of students without a clean and easily accessible source of water. And I watch the women come in at night from a long walk to the nearest dam and back, carrying huge containers of water on their heads, and I think about the potential of an effective government system for making reliable and high quality health care, schools, and water systems accessible. I think of the monumental success EWB has had working with the Malawian water sector, enabling government to use simple tools to track and maintain water points across the country. I wonder when the effects of EWBs work with the Ghanaian government’s education planning offices will show. And I fantasize about a time when EWB, or an organization like it, will have the resources and expertise to foray into medicine in the developing world, a topic which truly makes me tick.
The situation of Chairman and my family in Ghana makes me realize the urgency of the problems we are trying to solve.
The dedication and ingenuity of Mr. Abanga inspires me to be creative and determined to succeed despite my resource constraints.
And Dr. Saviour gives me hope in a pragmatic and responsible administration for Ghanaian government. Without EWB’s investment in me, I wouldn’t have been able to gain this perspective.
EWB invests in people, like young leaders in Canada and Africa.
EWB invests in systemic change, preferring to target Canadian aid transparency holistically and pushing for better aid rather than more aid.
EWB invests in exploring and understanding the complexity of development. Life in Ghana isn’t any simpler than life in Canada, so why should international development, that is governments, NGOs, and individuals, try to treat it that way?
I cannot in good conscience tell you that EWB has all the answers. But I can tell you that our initiatives are driven by passionate and pragmatic individuals in Canada and in Ghana, focus on not just changing the board but changing the game, and are connected to realities and best interests of the bottom line of the people we are trying to help. I’ve experienced this through 3 years of working at a university and regional level in Canada, and one of the most incredible semesters of learning as a Junior Fellow with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in Ghana.
It’s what Dr. Saviour, Mr. Abanga, and Chairman are investing in.
It’s what I’ve invested in.
It’s what I’m asking you to invest in now.
So please, if you are interested in investing in the incremental but important change I’m seeing, go to my Perspectives Campaign here and contribute, whether that be $2, $20, or $200, it all adds up.