23rd March 2010
My alarm went off at 3.30am, I had asked Sammy if we could leave at 4.30am so I could be at the airport in time to check in for the 6am Antrak Air flight to Tamale, (Northern Ghana). Sammy was sleeping on the sofa when I came out of my room, I woke him and we set off, for once the roads were quiet. I arrived and approached the desk and was told “please take a seat madam we are waiting to hear about the weather conditions”. Ok no problem, a little delay will be OK, sure enough the full flight departs only an hour and a half late.
I arrive at Tamale having enjoyed an hours sleep and traditional breakfast of chicken sandwich and coke courtesy of Antrak Air. I am met by a tall man with white hair, “Lucy?” “Karimu!” (Karimu voluntarily coordinates all of the activities of Wulugu, an NGO that COCO is hoping to partner with). Karimu had told me that I would recognise him due to his white hair and that “not another there that day would have hair that is white” and he was right! We confirm my return flight (didn’t know you still had to do that so it’s a good job he’s here) apparently if you don’t they can just replace you with another passenger! We head into the centre of Tamale to check into my hotel, it’s a lovely place on a quiet street with beautiful gardens and the staff are really attentive but it’s quite far out of town and I can’t see an internet cafe anywhere! Never mind, quick change, stock up on water and we’re off. We leave at 10am destination Buipe, which is out to the West (about 2 hours from Tamale) we have many villages to stop at on the way to see the many school refurbishments and rebuilds that Wulugu have undertaken. I am really looking forward to this. It’s so important that NGO’s strive to help those in the rural areas and from what I can gather so far, it doesn’t get much more rural than this!
I won’t tell you about every school but will point out some highlights including the masses of gifts that we received on our travels. The format of each school visit is very similar, we drive up, the kids hear the engine (there are very few cars around), the kids run out of their classrooms to get a peek, I get out with my white skin and my huge camera and the giggles and sometimes screams (depending on the discipline of the school) follow! As soon as I point my camera, the kids either run away or strike a pose! It’s not necessarily natural for these kids to look at a camera and smile so I spend my entire time pulling faces and blowing raspberries to make sure they don’t look grumpy! Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t miserable children they are just too concerned with who I am, why I am there and what I am doing that they don’t really think to smile! I do my cheesy grin showing all my teeth to explain what I’m getting at and the response is a whole host of brilliant white smiles! It never ceases to amaze me that despite poverty, children always seem to have brilliant white teeth and I doubt they use Colgate!
We visit some traditional schools made of mud where the classrooms are about the size of the 4x4 we are traveling in, they are full of dust and there is little or no light. We visit other schools that have been built by Wulugu, these classrooms are much bigger, have proper windows to let the light in and they have concrete floors so the dust is minimal. Wulugu have also supplied desks and benches but there is a visible lack of resources. In one class only one child has an exercise book, no pencil or pen and there is not a text book inside. One of the teachers tells me that because they have to buy cheap chalk, the blackboards are all scratched and need replacing.
At each village, we have to call to see the chief. I am made to feel very welcome and some of the village elders offer me their wrist to shake out of respect. The chief at Old Buipe gave us a goat, a massive bucket full of yams, about 2 dozen guinea fowl eggs, all of which we added to the collection in the boot which so far had, more eggs, more yams, 2 live guinea fowl one chicken and dove (which is a special gift for me apparently). It’s 2pm and I have been up since 3am and not had anything to eat since my chicken sandwich on the plane and although I am grateful for all the gifts in the boot, I would rather they were in an edible state.
We arrive at Buipe VTC (Vocational Training Centre) at 2.30pm and I am delighted to hear that the catering students have prepared lunch for us! Chicken, rice, coleslaw and MAYO!!! I’m in heaven! The VTC is great, quite quiet at the moment as many of the students have graduated but nevertheless the facilities are impressive and the girls very well mannered. I am spending a whole day at a VTC the day after tomorrow and this blog is getting long so I’ll leave it there for now. On our way back to Tamale I tried to sleep in the car although it wasn’t easy with the boot bleeting and clucking!