25th March 2010 (forget the cuppa, you’re going to need a whole pot for this little essay)
Up at 6am after quite a long sleep! I am just pleased I made it through the night! Only kidding, the VIP accommodation was actually very nice although the bed had a huge dip in it and I have a bit of a tweak in my back this morning. The others aren’t ready yet so I venture up to the hotel for a much needed coffee and the hope that there might be some action at the water hole! The good news is they have plenty of coffee and I get it in less than 10 minutes, bad news, no animals at the water hole.
Karimu told me last night that there are not very many elephants left due to the poachers paying off the park guards to let them hunt and shoot the elephants. It is so sad because a well kept national park could bring a lot more (much needed) wealth through tourism in the North. Karimu’s theory is that the guards are from the South so they don’t care about preserving the North!
We have changed vehicles today because the route we are taking is very sandy and we need a tougher car. This should be interesting, 3 school’s and one VTC, bring it on! The new vehicle is a white pickup truck, there is a new driver and a new guide (there are no road signs and few proper roads so we need a guide to get us to the first village). The guide drove over to meet us last night on his motorbike so we have to put the bike on the back of the pick up along with my backpack a cool box and everyone else’s paraphernalia.
On the way Karimu told me about some of the health issues in the North, one in particular is guinea worm. If you are eating you might want to come back to this later. Guinea worm takes form through a water borne parasite which makes its way into the body through unfiltered water; the parasite grows into a worm. You know nothing about it until the worm breaks through the skin (normally on the leg) and you can’t just pull it out, you have to pull it a centimetre at a time and these things can be very long. The broken skin can then lead to infection and untreated can cause long term damage. He said I shouldn’t worry because I have been drinking mineral water (I hope brushing my teeth with tap water doesn’t count)!
The journey today is very long and the sandy roads mean that we can’t go very fast. It is a little tiresome; I can’t read or work so I just have to look out of the window and do nothing (not easy for me but a skill I should probably learn). Finally we arrive at Bowina Primary School, one of Wulugu’s early projects. This village appears to be much more poor than the previous places we have visited, more children are naked and one little boy is running around with a cardboard box attached to a bit of string, Karimu tells me it is his toy car. One little boy has nasty sores on his tummy, I want to ask Karimu what it is but I am worried he will embarrass the boy so I take a crafty photo and will ask later. Lots of the children have swollen tummies and the classrooms are totally bare, not a poster in site, no pencils or exercise books and in some classrooms there are 1 or 2 out of date government text books.
I’m not sure if it’s the heat, the long journey or the fact that I have been seeing the same issues day after day but I am starting to get a bit frustrated. Wulugu have built these classrooms that should have been built by the government, the district officials say they are grateful for the help Wulugu is giving and the chiefs laden us with gifts but still the children have no text books (which are supposed to be supplied by the government) no exercise books or pencils (because their parents can’t afford them) and despite a national promise to give each child one hot meal per day most of these children have not had breakfast, won’t get lunch at school so will go home to eat what the family can provide and they will often go to bed without dinner. Sometimes it just makes me so angry. The government say the have no money; I have a mock presidential suite district office that says otherwise!
Next to the primary school, Wulugu have built a junior high school (JHS), again the blackboards are illegible (there must be a better way to make them) the floors have holes in them and the door frames have woodworm (Karimu says it’s because they used soft wood from the South). I am reminded of our cultural differences when one of my African colleagues says to one of the JHS classes, “I hope that you are happy that you can come to Junior High in your own village and do not have to travel far to other villages, especially you girls, you know what happens when you have to travel to the other villages...boys take advantage of you and you become pregnant. Now you have no reason to become pregnant, you do not have to travel. If you become pregnant after you have been given this school, we will send you to the bush and feed you to the lions”. Coming from a country and indeed a city where teenage pregnancy is high, I do not want to appear hypocritical but I am not sure that frightening the life out of young girls is not the best way to prevent them from getting pregnant.
I’m having quite a tough day today, perhaps you can tell by my writing tone. So I start asking difficult questions to the teachers like, why have you not tried to fix the door or blackboards, why are there no books, have you contacted the government for text books, have you spoken to your local authority? I hound the teacher s with questions, encourage them to engage with the local education authorities, write to the president, and do whatever it takes to at least say you try to do all you can to create a good learning environment for these children. No wonder they don’t pass exams! Would you if all you did Monday to Friday was sit in the 32 degree heat of a classroom with an empty stomach, no books no papers and a teacher talking at you from an out of date text book because he has no chalk and even if he did the blackboard has eroded so it’s not like he can use it. I think I’d fail, I think I might even stay at home!
I bite my lip as best I can because I don’t want to appear rude and I know they struggle for funds and it’s not their fault. I just wish all teachers were as motivated as those at the VTC in Sawla. We go to the chief, drop of the guide and the motor bike, pick up a lady and her son, they all go in the back of the pickup with the chicken and yams that the chief just gave us. We hear that a pregnant lady needs to go to the clinic so we pick her up too.
We arrive at the next school at Lingbinsi but it appears to be closed, we get closer and a dozen or so children start running back to the school. We get out of the car and I take some photos of the kids, 2 of whom are wearing Barak Obama t shirts. I wonder if I send those pics to the American President, maybe he will up his aid to Africa. Karimu speaks to someone who looks like he might be a teacher. He goes to get back in the car and I ask what’s happening. Karimu says, “They have closed early because the children were hungry, come on we are going”. He is clearly annoyed and embarrassed. Karimu is a proud man and wanted to show me all the good work that has been done and the school has closed early. I tell him it’s OK and not to worry. We pull away and the children scream “teacher teacher”, their teacher is on his way but we don’t wait.
We stop at another VTC, the first one that Wulugu built, it is a bit smaller than the rest and they are in need of more teaching equipment, especially for the hair dressing class. There is a girls dorm here too, we take a quick look, I think Karimu is getting ready to call it a day, perhaps I am not the only one who has had a trying day and maybe my frustrations are affecting him. I try to lighten the atmosphere, suggesting as it is so hot perhaps we should all have a soda and our packed lunches. Karimu says we will as soon as we have seen the chief.
We see another closed school (they do sports on a Thursday afternoon) from a distance and then we head to the centre to meet the chief, he is in his “palace” having a meeting with all the men from the village. As we get out of the pickup, I hear a loud squawk and turn around just to see a frantic chicken trying to fly with its feet tied together, you have to admire its optimism at taking an attempt at freedom despite the odds. It fly’s almost directly at my head, out of the back of the truck and onto the ground, somehow it finds its feet and starts running away, the local children go crazy trying to catch it!
Commotion has well and truly set in! We sit at the Chiefs palace for a while, listening to the men speak, it is all in the local language so I just smile politely. The chief is seated in the corner, wearing a football shirt and a taqiyah (Muslim cap aka a Kufi). There is a man stood up in the centre with a big stick he is repeating everything each of the speakers says. We are given yet more food as a thank you and we leave for Tamale. At last, we have our packed lunches, (warm cheese and tomato sandwiches) I have never been more ready for a cold beer and a good meal, it’s been a tough day but very very worthwhile.