Monday, 29 March 2010

VTC's and VIP's

24th March 2010

When I arrived back at the hotel last night all I wanted was a cold beer a shower and my bed (in that order). I asked the gentleman at reception if there was a bar, he said yes, pointed to a fridge full of soft drinks, to which I said, oh great, can I have a beer please? No, we do not sell alcohol here. Gutted! Too depressed to even eat so got myself a fanta and settled down to do some work and went to bed at 8.30pm!

Anyway, up at 6am today, breakfast 6.30 and departure 7am. I tell Karimu I would really like to stay somewhere with internet next time and he says sorry but I am booked in here again on Thursday! Never mind, will try to remember for next time. I never knew how much I needed the internet to survive (especially if there is no beer and no people to talk to). I want to know what’s happening at work, get the latest gossip on facebook and check my bank balance! Anyway I digress...

The best part of today and the whole trip so far in fact was the visit to Sawla VTC (Vocational Training Centre), this is the furthest West I have been and not very far from the border with the Ivory Coast. The girls at this centre are the friendliest I have ever met, not to mention the most enthusiastic. There is a feel about the place that I have only found at some primary schools in Tanzania and even that is usually brought on by over excitement! There’s a feeling that everyone genuinely wants to be here and they are happy and grateful for their chance at an education. They want to hear what I have to say, what my advice is to them, they smile clap and laugh when I wish them good luck with their exams. I ask the computer class “Are you confident that you will pass your exams in November” and I am met with a loud and resounding “Yes!” What has been created here is so much more than an educational institution; it’s a great big family. The headmistress talks to her girls like they are her own daughters and there is a definite air of respect in her communication, unlike so many teachers who tend to talk down to students and dictate to them. I am approached by a lady with a tape measure who gestures that she would like to take my measurements; I let her and try not to giggle as the tape tickles! I hope they don’t want to make me something and then send it to UK, it will cost a bomb!

Just when I think this centre couldn’t get any better, the headmistress takes me into the back of her office to show me what I can only describe as a handmade printing copier machine for printing textiles. I will have to post photos to explain exactly what it is but this invention made me realise what the difference was between this and most of the other projects I have visited, it is pure and simple initiative. The staff here have it in abundance and their influence is being passed to the students. Wulugu funded the building to start with but since then the teachers themselves have sourced much of what is needed. Karimu was not even aware that they needed a printing machine. Instead of asking for it to be bought for them they used the funds they had to make one.

The girls are learning a variety of skills here including hair dressing, dress making, tie dye, tailoring, catering and information technology. The teachers have teamed this up with life and entrepreneurial skills classes. I think it has all the elements required to be a very successful project, the proof will be seen in the pass rates in November and the number of students that find employment as a result. I am really looking forward to seeing what level of success is achieved here.

The need for this centre is for more classrooms and more dorms, there are just too many students and they desperately need more places. The demand is huge and girls are coming from far afield to try to get a place at this centre. Opportunities for education in the North are scarce but opportunities for quality education are practically nonexistent with the exception of this centre. The fees for a term are 5 cedis which is around £2.30 (£6.90 per year) not all of them can afford to pay this but the teachers help out where they can. We eat courtesy of the catering department again, fabulous food and this time we even get a fizzy drink! Before we leave, I am given a beautiful tie dye dress that the girls have been working on since I arrived; they have also thrown in a batik and a woven blanket! I am touched by their kindness, I thank them and wish them the best of luck with their studies. We leave and I feel very positive that Wulugu have done some great work and I am hopeful of a partnership.

On our way to our overnight accommodation, we stop at the district office to do the official bit the big cheese is not in, so we meet with his next in command! Before we leave, I ask to use the ladies room and I am guided there by one of Karimu’s friends. On the way he opens the door to the office of the presently absent district “big cheese” it looks like a presidential suite! White leather couches in an office the size of most people’s houses. Karimu’s friend is laughing at the decadence of it all but I can’t help feeling a little bit angry that the district commissioners have this and the girls at the VTC are sleeping on the floor in an overcrowded dorm just to get an education.

We (Karimu, his grandson and driver) arrived at Mole Motel in the heart of Mole National Park, although the place is in desperate need of a facelift, we have been invited as guests of the district, and it seems nice enough, there are a few other white people here too, it’s a popular place to take time out from the dry heat of Tamale. It’s quite cruel that in this muggy 30 degree heat, there’s a pool, and I have meetings to attend to!! I was relieved to check into my shabby but comfortable air conditioned room, complete with mini bar and DSTV, but was then told actually there had been a misunderstanding and we were staying in the house down the road which is specifically for VIP guests of the District Coordinator. Normally I would be OK with this but it means I get no time to myself, which for me is not good! I am grateful though, it’s free!
Things are looking up, guinea fowl and ground nut stew with rice balls for dinner (eaten with fingers of course) accompanied by...A BEER!!! Hooray! We eat by the pool and watch as the baboons try to steal the food from the guests, I’m glad we’re sitting a bit further back some of those baboons are the size of Great Danes! I have had my VIP bucket shower (I’m sure half my shampoo is still in my hair), and walk to my room bear foot to find that the VIP floor could do with some TLC because my feet are black!

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