22nd March 2010 - might want to make yourself a cuppa, it's a long one!!
Clearly the one thing Ghana does have in common with every other African country I have visited is the fact that nothing happens very quickly! On the plus side I have written a couple of reports this morning that have been somewhat overdue for some time. Despite all efforts to be on time, Sammy and I leave the house at 10am in search for RAM preparatory school in Darkuman. COCO have wanted to look into working with this school for some time since it was brought to our attention after a Durham University student volunteered there in the summer of 2006.
The traffic in Accra is, like most African capital, chaotic! There are no traffic lights, only police men and women waving their hands around with no real sense of order, which translates into traffic jams, congestion and road rage. I am quite pleased to be in the comfort of this posh car as opposed to one of the tro tro’s (Ghanaian busses) packed full of men, women, children, vegetables and livestock, it’s far too hot to be sharing a bus with a farm yard! After a stop at the bank to change some pounds to cedis, we stopped and asked no less than 2 garage attendants, 3 shop owners and 2 builders for directions. I had only an address, a cell phone number that wasn’t working today and a handful of old black and white photos of the school but we found it eventually in the most peculiar of places.
The school is located in a busy residential and shopping area in between various informal shops and businesses. It is made up of several buildings all of which are rented from a private landlord and has a major walkway for the public running straight through it. I can see from first glance the this school is not up to scratch and I a little worried about the set up but I smile politely as I walk into what seems to be a staff room to introduce myself to the headmaster.
Mr Mante and his assistant head Moses greet me and ask why I failed to tell them I was coming (I did, they obviously got the dates mixed up and I have caught them off guard – which is no bad thing) not a great start! The children are beautiful and very friendly, I am met by a chorus of “good morning madam” and have my hand shaken by at least 2 dozen little grubby hands. I explain to the teachers that I am Lucy from COCO in England and I am a friend of Cat’s (the student who volunteered there in 2006). I remind them of the email I sent back in January to ask if I could visit and remind them of our numerous phone calls in 2009 when we were trying to establish a budget. It seems that has sparked off some memories at last! I ask if I can take a look at the school, photograph the buildings and children and speak to some of the teachers. I am given permission and the tour begins.
As in every African school visit, I have to see every class room and meet each teacher, be greeted by the students and speak to them in English, their protocol, not mine. The school is diabolical, it is completely run down, and under resourced. In fact without the children in uniform, it would look nothing like a school. There are no partitions between the classes so each class interrupts the next, the roof has holes in it, the walls are eroding, the blackboards are illegible and there are no books, papers or pencils and no learning resources at all. What’s worse is that this is a school that receives volunteers from all over the “developed world” and no one has thought to bring in posters or books.
The teachers look disinterested and to be honest I can’t really blame them, from what I understand, most of the pupils can’t afford to pay their school fees so the teachers often go without pay. Unfortunately no one is keeping an accurate record of any of the finances so there is no evidence to prove that this is the case. I am told the only support they receive is some money for fees from parents and some donations occasionally. The government give them books sometimes but not enough and not often.
I ask the teachers what it is they need the most and they tell me it is land. They want to buy their own land so that they can build a school that belongs to them so they will have no rent costs each month. The problems lie in the fact that they can’t afford to buy the land because the school has no money and they have no evidence to suggest that they could make the school sustainable if they did get the land. COCO only go into a project if we can genuinely see a way to incorporate community participation and capacity building. I don’t want to add our name to a long list of organisations that hand out money for the sake of it and I honestly feel that if we gave money to this school we would be doing the donors of that funding a disservice.
There are 2 kinds of schools in Ghana, government and private. It would seem that anyone can set up a private school and this is what has happened here, a group of teachers have got together and decided to set up a private school. Whilst that is incredibly noble of them it presents a few issues with accountability. The fact that the school buildings are rented from a private landlord means there is no way that COCO can refurbish them – I am fairly certain that our donors do not want to give to this project to improve the building s for some fat cat landlord on the outskirts of Accra. This is why buying their own land is probably the only feasible option for this school, but this is expensive, it’s a long term investment and we have to be sure it can be sustainable for the children and teachers and that’s before you go into the issue that it should be the government’s responsibility to build schools with their vast aid budgets.
I have learnt from past experience not to invest in these “private schools” unless you can hold someone accountable for the delivery of progress and without an attachment to an NGO or CBO this is an issue for RAM. I asked where they would go if they could buy the land, they say they can take me there, they have already found land. I ask how much it costs and after the three of them (by now the English teacher has joined us) have a conversation in Chi, Moses asks me if I want to know in old cedis or new cedis (which I think quite odd) I ask for the cost in new cedis seeing as that is the currency now. He tells me 80,000 Cedis, I look shocked and he changes his mind, no it is actually 8,000 cedis, then he scratches his head and says ah no maybe it is 800,000 cedis with costs ranging from £4,000 to £400,000 I decide to ask them to do some research, put a budget together and I will come back on Friday.
On the way out, I pop my head into the one class in which there is a volunteer and I introduce myself, her name is Lorraine and she is here for 4 weeks with a volunteer organisation called Travellers Worldwide. I briefly explain why I am here, the situation and ask her if she would answer some questions for me about the school when I return on Friday, she agrees, we swap contact details and I leave.
It’s 13.30, I still need a phone, sim card and airtime, have to pay for my air fare at the Antrak ticket office and get to the internet, lunch would be nice at some point too! Sammy and I talk in the car about his perceptions of the school and he has similar concerns to me, for which I am both disappointed (that helping these children is not going to be as easy as I had hoped) and relived (that my instinct has been seconded by a very bright Ghanaian). The rest of the day is dedicated to the usual day one logistics and planning for my trip North which starts tomorrow at 3am!