November 4, 2010

Seed Initiative Winners from Ghana

It's with much surprise and delight to post that G-lish Foundation, the organisation founded by my inspiring partner, Godwin Yidana, is one of the winners of this year's SEED Initiative Awards.
"The SEED Awards recognise inspiring social and environmental entrepreneurs whose businesses can help meet sustainable development challenges. By helping entrepreneurs to scale-up their activities, the SEED Initiative, which is hosted by UNEP, aims to boost local economies and tackle poverty, while promoting the sustainable use of resources and ecosystems."
The UNEP's full press release can be read here.

As the press release explains, the award seeks to recognise and support young organisations that focus on sustainable development. 

The winners receive support in the form of tailored workshop training in-country and via distance (remotely) to help them develop their business plans and find solutions to barriers to growth so that the orgs can break through whatever problems they're facing and continue their good work. 
"The prize they will receive from SEED is a package of individually-tailored support for their business. This includes access to relevant expertise and technical assistance, meeting new partners and building networks, developing business plans and identifying sources of finance. SEED will furthermore contribute towards meeting each winner's most immediate needs by contributing to a jointly developed support plan."
You can visit the G-lish facebook page and read more about their activities by clicking the link on the right of this page.  

The winners from Ghana are truly inspiring. The other winners are: 

Some of the winners from African and further afield that caught my eye are:

Kenya: EcoPost - Fencing Posts from Recycled Post-Consumer Waste Plastic

Burkina Faso: Manufacture and Popularization of Biomass Briquettes (when you see how many trees are cut down for charcoal for cooking fires you understand why an alternative source of fuel is so important).

Senegal: Micro Power Economy for Rural Electrification 

"The goal of this enterprise involving local partners from the private and microfinance sector is to set up a profitable rural power provider based on off-grid power system operation and the utilisation of renewable energy sources, such as wind-solar-diesel hybrid power systems."

China: SolSource

 You can check out all the winners at the 2010 Awards link.

October 21, 2010

The Amazing Race Ghana

 For those planning to travel to Ghana for the first time, you may like to check out clips from a recent episode of the Amazing Race when it hit Accra, the capital of Ghana. I've just had a chance to see the clips for the first time myself and can vouch that there is nothing unusual in the experiences that the contestants had in Ghana.

That is, this is the Ghana I know and that you will encounter when you arrive. Some Ghanaians are annoyed by a "dirty" representation of Accra but, frankly, that's how Accra is.But we all have to deal with it. As did the racers.

You'll see inside a real market and also check out the famous coffin makers. Of course, you don't need to visit these places when you come to Ghana but you'd be missing out. We do cover how you can visit the coffin makers and markets in our Ghana Guide.

Ghanaweb is hosting the clips here.

The photo of the coffins at Teshie is by Walt Jabsco. A little explanation on the coffins. They're mostly "patronised" by the Ga people of Greater Accra. I say Ga, but I'm sure someone will disagree with me. The deceased may have expressed a desire to be buried in a coffin that represented their occupation in life, but also their vices or hobbies. You will see coffins shaped as cigarettes, bottles of beer, Coca Cola, pens, rockets, lobsters, and the lovely cow you can see in the photo above. Personally, I'd like to be buried in an Egyptian mummy with a bellydance coin motif coffin as well as some Adinkra symbols, kente designs, mud cloth prints and ancient Japanese text. Surely that's not too much to ask?

September 28, 2010

Excellent Photos of Ghana

Ghana Photos

If you are traveling to Ghana, I am sure you will enjoy this simple and quick way to find great photos of Ghana. Basically, head to Google Images and begin a search.

A search of "Ghana" brings back a colourful array of images.

A search of "Wli", which is in the Volta Region and a popular traveler's stop, brings back lots of waterfall pics as well as some from the hike to the Upper Falls.

"Kumasi" gives you both a view of downtown--especially crazy Kejetia trotro and market area--as well as traditional ceremonies.

A quick click on "Accra" gives you a strong sense of the capital.

The photos of "Bolgatanga" are actually very representative and give a strong sense of how the area feels.

Shoot me if the photos of "Cape Coast" don't make you want to visit! And it's sister, Elmina, is just a 15 minute drive away.

Ghana Videos!

You can do the same thing with Google Videos. Here is the link to view videos relating to "Elmina". And videos for Accra, Cape Coast (President Obama in Cape Coast) and Kumasi. There are even some for Bolgatanga!

So, you get the idea. Hit Google images search and type in the name of the place you're coming to visit in Ghana. You will get a sense of the place before you even leave home.

Elmina Castle and fishing photo at top by chris_wilson.Black and White fishermen in Cape Coast photo by See Wah.

September 20, 2010

Ghana Bloggers Mature

The blogosphere in Ghana has been growing steadily. You can read a lot of the regular bloggers at

I was checking out some of my favourites and found some fun and thought-provoking stuff going on.

Accra Conscious Forever posted a brilliant poster of Adinkra symbols. If you visit Ghana, especially along the coast from Accra to the Ivory Coast and inland to Kumasi, and everywhere in between, you'll see Adinkra symbols on pretty much everything that's not moving, and much that is moving too--especially vehicles. You will certainly see a lot of batiked cloth printed with the more popular symbols. If you want to know what they mean, check out Adinkra Cloth Symbols.

Interestingly, here in the far north of Ghana most people have no idea what Adinkra is. It's simply not part of the culture as it's unique to the Akan culture, those areas described above.

Accra Conscious Forever also did an awesome post on music called Blending Visuals into Music - M3NSA

"No.1 Mango Street – the international debut album by MC, singer and producer M3NSA. The single is a cocktail of eclectic Afro sounds infused with Nu-jazz and High-Life delicately underscored with sweet harmonies of rhythm and blues."

Holli at Holli's Ramblings wrote a thought-proviking post about the issue of witches in Ghana. Both the post and the comments are worth reading. This is one of the things you're unlikely to notice while traveling through Ghana for a short time, but if you happen to pick up a newspaper on most days you'll find a story about witches. I live in the far north and hear about these problems often. It's hard to listen to and accept.

I was teaching a young girl how to use a computer and using a Harry Potter excerpt that was nicely formatted to show how the Indexing works in Word and "document map" button and she happened to flash across the mention of witches. I had to explain the history of witches in western culture and the Harry Potter phenomenon. She couldn't believe people wanted to "be" witches. One word, totally different connotations.

Here is a small excerpt from Holli's story:

"Northern Ghana is home to over 10 massive witch camps – each housing up to 1000 people – the majority of these are young children. Soak that in. THERE ARE STILL WITCHES CAMPS IN GHANA IN 2010. All of these people have been banished from their villages for all sorts of crimes, including allegedly killing people who died from ‘mysterious illnesses’."

And Betumi wrote about culinary entrepreneurship in Ghana. Betumi, by the way, is the BEST place to read about food in Ghana online. I was intrigued by this post detailing Fran's recent trip around Ghana collecting more data and researching food prep in Ghana in all its forms. I'm interested to see if she finds the 17th Century translation!

"Over lunch I challenged a couple of the English faculty to begin looking at the portrayal and symbolism of food in African literature, a shockingly neglected area, and especially to examine any gender differences between men and women writers. My sense is that women are more intimately connected to food preparation and socializing around the cooking pot and hence their memories (especially when exiled from their homelands) may be different. I'm curious to see if Helen and Kari take up the challenge. I also have the exciting promise of receiving a 17th century translation (from German) of a document describing the preparation of kenkey. I'm still trying to track down dokono's origins and history. Suggestions made at the luncheon were that, unlike "dokono," "kenkey" is a Malay word, that Northerners have always fermented millet, so they just used the same technique on corn when it arrived in Ghana. I welcome anyone's comments on his subject."

September 6, 2010

The Interview with Expatify for Ghana Expats

I completely forgot about this interview I did with Expatify ages ago. They wrote to tell me it was online in July. We've had so many problems with terrible internet connections here in Bolga that I completely forgot about it. 

The interview is helpful for those planning to move to Ghana for an extended period of time, like expats, workers, volunteers, and so on. If you're planning to visit Ghana for a short stay, you may also get something from it. I added a few tips that will help anyone planning to travel or work in a developing country too.

A short excerpt:

"Unless you’re in Accra or Kumasi, there are no luxuries like coffee shops, cinemas, or large supermarkets. However internet cafes are improving dramatically everywhere. Water supply and electricity are notoriously unreliable, but you learn to cope."

* The Kosa I refer to in the interview is owned by Dutch, not Germans. 

I took that photo in Cape Coast some years ago. It's the fishermen pulling in nets together. It's awesome to watch them work like that in rows all along the beaches, hand over fist, a kind of dance and song to ease the drudgery, I guess.

August 31, 2010

Win Recycled Bolga Baskets

We’ll be holding recycled Basket giveaways over at G-lish too. If you want a chance to win one of these be-you-T-full baskets, wherever you are in the world, subscribe to G-lish! Winners will be announced at the end of the month.

Meanwhile, if you can’t wait that long, and you’re in Ghana, you can find the baskets at Trashy Bags in Accra. Check out Trashy Bags videos for more info on their brilliant work in the capital of Ghana.

We’ll also be holding competitions along those lines here so look out and be sure to enter this one if you want to win.

August 30, 2010

Warning: Recycled Baskets Contain Love

WARNING: As a Recycled Bolga Basket I should mention that I’m created from 230 “pure water” plastic bags, and over 2 yards of scrap cloth. Yes—I was once waste, but I’m now rather striking don’t you think? It’s all thanks to the brilliant, basket-weaving communities of Bolgatanga in the Upper East Region of Ghana who will be able to buy medicine and pay school fees when you buy me. That’s because they get paid fairly for creating me. Oh, and for every basket you buy, G-lish plants a tree in Bolgatanga, regenerating the deforested, northern-most region of Ghana—and creating sources of food, shade and shelter in the community.

G-lish’s vision: Thousands of us baskets will find homes across the globe and thousands of trees blossom across the Upper East.

G-lish: solving environmental problems, preserving an age-old handicraft tradition, and providing sustainable incomes for impoverished, rural, Ghanaian craftswomen and men. (They’re not basket cases in Bolga, I can tell you!)

Look out for more at G-lish: Contact:

The basket-makers asked me to tell you…

“We thank you! Teppohzoe!”

Find the baskets at Trashy Bags in Accra. Click the image at the top of the pagwe for directions.

That's what's on the lable of the baskets!

August 29, 2010

One Basket = One Tree

Another positive aspect of the recycled Bolga basket project is that for every basket sold the producers plant a tree in the community. Currently they are planting mango trees, the most popularly requested, since mangos provide excellent shade during the extremely hot season and have a natural cooling effect. They are the coolest places to be when outdoors during the hot season.

A basket maker in the cool of dusk. You can see how barren the Upper East is. We need trees! 

Of course, they also provide fruit and nutrition which are much needed in the Upper East where the average diet consists of cornmeal porridge and soup—not at all meeting daily nutrition requirements.

For the record, the price of the Ghana guide will increase as we also have a campaign to plant one tree for every guide sold—increasing the tree-planting scope so that thousands of trees will begin to grow across deforested parts of Ghana where they are badly needed.

Trees are valued and precious in Bolga because of the need for shade and wish for fruit to supplement the very bland diet. The basket makers and producers are very excited about this.

This is a long term vision, inspired by Wangari Maathai’s Greenbelt movement.

So, when you buy a recycled Bolga basket, you’re not only providing livelihoods to Ghana’s poorest men, women and youth, but also providing shade, shelter and sources of food for many years to come and greening Ghana too.

August 28, 2010

Saving 7000 Pure Water Bags

Part of the objective of making recycled Bolga baskets is to clean up the environment by directly using materials that would otherwise be discarded; in particular “pure water” plastic bags and scrap cloth. Not only are they discarded, but they’re often burnt, emitting harmful gases and pollutants into the atmosphere.
Recently produced baskets sitting on a sea of pure water plastic bags. Each basket uses about 230 pure water bags on average!

In the month of August alone basket makers have used over 6000 plastic bags to produce their baskets—the very ones selling in Trashy Bags now! They envisage using over 7000 by the 31st. Each basket uses an average of 230 plastic bags each, some more, some less, depending on the final size.

While we recognize that the volume of rubbish is small on a global scale, every bit makes a difference. And it’s not just about the relativity of the global impact, but small changes in behaviour that may lead to widespread changes. And beautiful baskets.

By the way, we'll be givi ng away baskets as prizes over at G-lish to one subscriber a month. If you want a chance to win, go over and subscribe to G-lish:

August 27, 2010

Totally Uncrappy Bolga Baskets

You know when crappy marketers write “Be quick, limited stock available!” and you just don’t believe them anymore?

Here’s a line for you: “Be quick: Hot recycled Bolga baskets sell quickly.”

But this is not crappy marketing, this is just being honest. These baskets go quickly. So quickly that the photos to show from last week’s delivery are redundant because the damned things sold out already.

However, you’re lucky. A new delivery has just arrived at Trashy Bags in Accra. If you want to buy a recycled Bolga basket, you do have to be fast. They are popular—which makes the craftspeople in Bolga happy—more sales more incomes for some of Ghana’s most impoverished communities.

Find the baskets by heading to Trashy’s shop in Accra. Here are the directions.

August 26, 2010

Recycled Bolga Basket Stars

A glimpse of some of the basket makers working on recycled Bolga baskets. The producers work from their home, usually a mud and thatch room in a large family compound. They work on the baskets as time and commitments allow.

Right now it’s harvest time so everyone is busy on their maize and millet farms. Many have children that they attend to while working on the baskets too.

You can find these truly unique, world-first (we believe…correct us if this is done anywhere else), gorgeous baskets at Trashy Bags in Accra.

August 11, 2010

Change by Volunteer Design

I have been showing a great series of photos taken by a photographer who visited Ghana in 2009 to work on a community building project. I'd like to start showing some of the photos from the project so that you can get a strong picture of the life of a community volunteer in Ghana.

You can read the full history of the program in this article, Giving, By Design, in Mimian Magazine. Here is a short excerpt:
"Ghana Design/Build, the resulting program founded by Della-Piana, remains the longest running summer studio workshop in the department of architecture and interior design. Since 1998, interdisciplinary teams of Miami students have completed nine buildings — including a children’s library, a marketplace, a community center, and in 2008, a computer facility."

The article continues:
"To prepare for their six weeks in the West African country, students attend a series of classes about its culture, language, and politics. Upon arrival, they visit Abrafo-Odumase and are introduced at an “opening ceremony.” Before embarking on a two-week tour of the country, students sketch the future job site. While on the road, they create multiple designs."

I enjoyed the quote beneath the photograph series by Adam Nelson on this project that reads: "100 degree heat, an African sun that feels about 6 in from your face, and not a power tool in sight. ready/set/build!"

The sun does feel about 6 inches from your face here in Ghana. Imagine building by hand! That's how it is for virtually every building I've ever witnessed being built. That's how it was for these students too.

“Once we get the go-ahead from the chiefs, we just start building,” says J.E. Elliott, professor of architecture and interior design, who has served as the faculty sponsor since 2006. “There is no bureaucracy. Our building permit is a pick and a shovel.” Read the full story in Mimian Magazine.

Have a look at the whole building project series here at super.heavy's photostream on Flickr.

August 9, 2010

Upper East Photo Journey

Now, seeing as though this is now my "home" town, I have few excuses for not showing my own photos. These, however, are not mine. These photos were taken by photographer Adam Nelson. You can check out all his Ghana photos at super.heavy on Flickr.

The first image is of the Bolga "craft village". While it does "somehow" resemble a village, they do not actually demonstrate any art or craft-making here, unfortunately. I feel it's a lost opportunity for Bolga craftspeople, given the huge amount of space available there. If you do want to see weaving of cloth in action, head to the Bolga market, about 800 m from here. You can also ask around to visit basket makers in Bolga if you're interested. 

The photo below is from the Single Mothers Association located here in Bolgatanga in the Upper East Region. 

And in the photo below is a demonstration of "winnowing" the rice which basically helps remove rubbish and any unwanted particles from the rice.

You can read more about the Upper East Region of Ghana here. And then, finally, many people do visit Paga crocodile ponds which are on the border with Burkina Faso. Check out this photo. If you ever wanted to get this cosy with a crocodile, then Paga is certainly the place to do it. It's about 45 minutes north of Bolga by taxi or an hour by tro.

August 8, 2010

Mole National Park Photo Journey

The images here are courtesy of the collection of photos taken by photographer Adam Nelson. You can check out all his Ghana photos at super.heavy on Flickr.

This particular post focuses on Mole National Park in the Northern Region of Ghana. The park is a 4 hour bus ride on public transport (Metro bus) from Tamale. If you have your own 4WD, it's about 7 hours from Kumasi or 2 hours from Tamale, depending on how muddy the roads are.

The next photo shows very much how Mole looks right now, in the wet season. The lake is full and the landscape is bright green. You have a good chance of viewing elephants playing and swimming in the waterhole from ground level. 

One of the joys of visiting Mole National Park during the rainy season is this: elephants 10 or 20 feet before you, a mesmerising spectacle.

If you stay at Mole Motel, which is located inside the park environs, this is the view from the escarpment where the hotel and its restaurant and poolside area is located.

August 3, 2010

Secret to Surviving Ghana

Ghana would flash alongside despots and endangered gorillas on the international media’s Africa radar if peace and friendliness were newsworthy. But Ghana, a nation where followers of all faiths—Christians, Muslims, and Traditionalists, all—work, eat, joke, and vote together, displaying a remarkably high level of mutual acceptance as they enjoy their constitutional right to Freedom of Worship, is still a bit of a secret. If there’s one thing we’re not good at, though, it’s keeping secrets that really ought to be shared, which is why we decided to write this story.

The idea took form during one of many spontaneous trotro journeys. I had been “sweating like a pregnant toad”, as Ghanaians say, in velvet-heavy humidity on the hot side of an old, rusting lorry-bus (trotro), while a lay-preacher shouted a revival-style sermon above my head for three hours before we set off on a four hour journey that unfolded, like a market lady’s wrap skirt, to seven hours, because we broke down. It was while five men were simultaneously shouting at the driver who was banging on a piece of smoking engine, and every other man stood peeing along the road facing the jungle halfway to Kumasi, and one proposed for my hand in marriage, that the three Ghana survival essentials whacked me over the head. It was a perfect Zen-coma-trotro moment, a state you must enter to endure and rationalize the numerous near death experiences and delays that every road journey absolutely guarantees. I thought I best mention these survival essentials now, before we get started; you might want to find another country. Although, this advice applies in varying degrees to travel across all of Africa and most developing nations.

Right. So, when a man (or woman) peeing along the side of the highway proposes marriage to you midstream—the eleventh in two days (granted, the other ten weren’t peeing)—and all you want to do yourself is pee (but you can’t because all eyes are on you), and get where you had to be—three hours ago, you need Patience, with a very, very capital P. You might point out that there is no middle road when it comes to capitalisation, and that’s how it is with this most important of attributes. In fact, since you made it to the end of this paragraph, you might actually have what it takes.

Now, if you’re over thirty you’ll remember waking up early to catch the best cartoons, and how much Boy George wanted to be Madonna, and how much Jon Bon Jovi just wanted their hair, and all the chores you did to save up for those feather hair-clip thingies and stone-washed denim jeans. Well, Whoa-oh! We’re halfway there-ere…Whoa-oh!...because the second most important survival attribute is (not an ability to spout useless 80s pop trivia but, rather) a Scooby-Doo-like, Dogged Determination. (By the way, if you’re under thirty, you’re probably not still singing “whoah-oh, living on a prayer-er…” Anyway, whatever age, you’ll be saying your prayers in Ghana—especially on the road.)

The determination is because you will encounter many obstacles along your journey. This is a good thing. It may be locating the vehicle (among thousands) to take you where you wish to go (which may not necessarily be where you end up), or finding the office that processes the twenty-third piece of paper you need to legitimize your stay, or finding a copier to copy the twenty-third piece of paper since the office (now you have finally located it) has a photocopier but it’s “finished” (not working), or not giving up when the internet crashes for the fifteenth time in an hour and you still haven’t opened one email.

It’s more a tortoise than a hare kind of determination, if that helps, because nothing gets done fast, except switching channels to the UEFA Championship, or the English Premiere League, or any Blackstars game.

And, finally, the third and final attribute, which is as much about survival as preventing malaria, is this: A-Steve-Martin-meets-Billy-Connelly-meets-Queen-Latifah-who-meets-The-Queen-of-England, royally-bonkers, whacked-out Sense Of Humour; after the fifty-fifth, breaking-down-pee-copier-email incident, you will need it.

In fact, your journey’s sub-theme could be: Learning How to Laugh No Matter What. Because there is the poverty you’re not going to believe when you first encounter it. Poverty is not “funny haha”, but life is, and the ladies selling strings of beads from shiny aluminium bowls balanced on their heads, and the elderly woman selling freshly charred plantains from her smoking brazier by the open sewer, or the children who shout “obruni!” when they spot you every few feet, or the men or women you promise to marry if they agree to be husband/wife number seventeen, will be shaking with laughter.

If you are not naturally blessed with the three attributes, you have two choices:

1. Cultivate them very quickly, or

2. Try Europe instead. Apparently the London underground only keeps you waiting an hour on a bad day. It’s up to you. Look. I don’t know much, but I do know that life in Ghana is nothing if not wildly unpredictable. It is certainly not “neat” or “conventional”: Japan is neat; France is conventional; Ghana is anything but.

Right? Now we can begin. Although, this is not exactly the beginning. And it’s definitely not conventional. Patience, trust me.

And so your journey begins...

This piece is the introduction to our Ghana guide

ps. those are palm nuts in the photo. Palm nut oil, pressed from the nuts, forms the basis of almost all roadside cooking in Ghana. You will see palm nuts spread on the sides of highways drying. If you happen to care for an African grey parrot, they love them! Image by by super.heavy. I urge you to check out his Ghana collection of photos.

July 30, 2010

Helpful Ghana travel info

If you are new here, you might want to jump to some of the pages first.

This page has a list of our top Ghana articles in various categories. You will find a lot of helpful and (hopefully) fun info about travel in Ghana.

This one is all about the guide.

The others are about us and how to contact us. You can see the links at the top right side.

Happy weekend and end of July!

July 25, 2010

Trashy in Name Only

I referred to an article written by Emily Bowers in the first of this series about the plastic problem in Ghana. I encourage you to read the entire article, Burkina Faso Women Spin Trash Into Exports. While the article refers to Burkina Faso, it could just as easily refer to Ghana. There’s not much difference in the circumstances she describes.

Here’s a little more of what she wrote, in case you don’t read the whole story.

Across Africa, women are becoming more involved in environmental initiatives, spurred on by role models such as Wangari Maathai's Green Belt Movement, which started in Kenya to encourage women to plant trees and expanded into other African countries.

In 2004, Maathai brought environmental activism in Africa to the forefront, winning the Nobel Prize for Peace and encouraging other women and girls to take the lead in environmental protection. She also created economic opportunity for women as she paid them to reforest Kenya.”

The women began crocheting plastic bags into dolls and they now export the dolls and other products to the USA from their cooperative in Burkina Faso, as well as selling to local tourists.

“Lamizana also showed off a washing board, formed from melted plastic and molded into a typical, if old-fashioned, board. At their booth in the Village Artisanal de Ouagadougou, their main clientele are browsing tourists, who will pay a few dollars for the smaller items and $20 or more for a large bag.”

The same type of activities have been happening here in Ghana for some years now. Trashy Bags in Accra are selling “recycled Bolga baskets” in their store in Accra made from woven, recycled plastic bags and cloth. These baskets use traditional basket making techniques but use recycled materials.

Each basket uses 170 pure water plastic bags on average, and about 1.7 yards of recycled cloth, that would otherwise be burnt along with the plastic.

You can visit their show room in Accra and buy recycled Bolga baskets and Trashy Bag’s products like shoulder bags and purses by catching a taxi to Dzorlu and visiting the showroom. Click our header image or the side bar links for directions to the Trashy Bags showroom in Accra.

July 24, 2010

My Silent Goaty Bolga Basket

Did you have to sing that song in school? We did. It gets stuck in my head all the time now.

It went like this (I think—I’m notorious for mixing up song lyrics):

My silent goaty oaty oaty oaty oaty
Was doing fine ine ine ine ine
He ate three shirty irty irties
Off my back line ine ine ine ine

Or something like that.

Here in Ghana we could sing:

He ate three rubbers ubbers ubbers ubbers ubbers
From in the gutter utter utter utter utter utter

Or something like that.

Either way, they choke.

In her article about the problem in Burkina Faso, Emily Bowers wrote:

“Here, women were worried about the mysterious deaths of their goats. When they realized their animals were munching on the plastic bags and dying shortly after, they decided to do something to clean up the filth.”

Who wants to eat “Aponkye Nkrakra” (goat light soup) flavoured with plastic bags?

Maybe that’s why I don’t like the taste of goat: it’s the plastic.

If you would rather enjoy your plastic on the outside, then take a twenty minute trip to Trashy Bags in Accra where plastic is recycled into brilliant, handmade bags and purses. You can also find these brilliant Bolga baskets made from recycled pure water bags and cloth there.

July 22, 2010

Affordable International Volunteer Program

This is an introduction to the YPWC International Volunteer Programme

Are you looking for an affordable opportunity to volunteer in Africa or Ghana?

YPWC is one of the most affordable organizations with which to undertake volunteer or internship projects in Ghana. YPWC's main focus is to design programmes that empower youth and advise them on how to implement action projects successfully. Successful volunteer applicants either fill vacancies or support staff in working in a variety of areas.
The areas you will volunteer in with YPWC:
  • Youth migration and development
  • Youth MDGs Programme
  • Climate Change
  • Connecting North and South schools/Youth Groups
  • Website marketing
  • Proposal writing
  • Book Project series

The YPWC volunteer/internship programme builds participants’ capacity in leadership skills, proposal and report writing, training and facilitation skills. Volunteers/Interns will also be exposed to research on migration and development, Millennium Development Goals and HIV/AIDS.

YPWC staff and volunteers work together to provide support in implementing community service projects. Volunteers are encouraged to be proactive and entrepreneurial to develop their own projects and programmes that are related to the broad vision and mission of YPWC.

We ensure that our volunteers are provided with comprehensive information concerning living in Ghana and do our best to make your volunteer experience in Ghana a period of excitement whilst you try to make an impact on the life of people and communities.

Who is eligible to volunteer?
Volunteers are 18 years and older, and there is no upper age limit for participation in the YPWC International Volunteer programme. Volunteers range from undergraduate/ college students to professionals, business students, filmmakers and photographers, social workers, teachers and educators.

YPWC welcomes volunteers who may not have previous youth or community development experience. Volunteers receive all necessary orientation from YPWC so that they are able to work effectively and produce quality results on their assignments.

For more information on our International Volunteering Programme, including how to apply, visit:
More info on YPWC volunteering
and more here too

As a bonus, anyone who arrives to volunteer with YPWC will get a free copy of our Ghana travel guide and the MP3 files. If you come to volunteer in Kumasi, you'll find the Twi language files very useful because Twi is the main language spoken in Kumasi.

You can email the founder of YPWC directly with inquiries to !

We look forward to meeting you in Ghana.

Have you volunteered in Ghana before? Are you thinking of volunteering? What areas are you most interested in volunteering in?

Download the YPWC brochure here.

July 21, 2010

A Plastic Bag for Your Thoughts

This post continues on from the earlier one: Rubbish Rubbish Everywhere, Ghana’s on the Brink

A stroll along any road in virtually any city or village in Ghana invites ugly scenes: plastic rubbish virtually everywhere. It’s one of the major complaints tourists have about traveling in Ghana.

I feel like plastic bags have become a status symbol here in Ghana. I’ll explain. It’s like a “gift with purchase” almost. As in, you purchased a bottle of water, here’s your free plastic bag with that. People are proud to carry handfuls of black plastic bags as though it’s a sign of progress like some small middle-developing nations purchase tiny cars to clog up the already crowded streets and emit yet more CO2 into the choking atmosphere.

When we shop in the market, we take our huge Shop Rite heavy duty bag and pile fruits and vegetables on top of each other inside. Despite protestations and pointing into our bag to demonstrate that we don’t use “rubbers,” traders don’t listen.

“Here’s a plastic bag anyway,” they seem to say, peeling off a plastic bag and handing it to us after we place the fruit in our big bag with all the other items.

We have to forcefully refuse this offer everywhere we go. In the pharmacy we’re offered a plastic bag with our little tiny box of medicine. In the store we’re offered a plastic bag with a small tin of milk.

And Ghanaians complain about being poor. Imagine how much money would be saved if no one handed out black plastic bags for a month. There’s a cost none of us needs when we buy food. Imagine the savings. If we’re paying 5 pesewas a plastic bag, say, and we consume one or two a day, that’s a saving of 10 pesewas a day. Now, where I live, that’s a lot of money for some folks. Apply that across the country and there is a whole lot of money that can be spent on food instead of plastic.

I have never seen anyone refuse a plastic bag. I remember as a kid the same thing in Australia. No one thought twice about taking a plastic bag for a packet of bread that was already packaged in plastic. That mentality changed with time and education. The same will have to happen here if, and this is the big if, the country values its environment.

That’s the question, though. Does anyone in Ghana really value their environment?

As I wrote in the first post, ‘While the Ugandan Government banned plastic bags in 2007, in Ghana pure water sales provide considerable employment and it is argued “the economic implications of a ban would just be too significant.”’

That is part of the problem. Most people cannot get access to clean drinking water. You risk all sorts of diseases by drinking straight from the tap. The alternative is plastic bottles, which are too expensive for most people and possibly even worse for the environment. So, until we can get access to clean drinking water, “pure water” it will have to be. (How pure it actually is, is anyone’s guess.)

This would not be the huge problem it is if these bags were taken home and recycled, or put in rubbish bins and recycled. One of these options has to become reality. If not, the plastic that someone throws away today will still be in the ground or water when the babies born this year, in 2010, go to university in 2030.

Pure water plastic bags will be around for 20 years, they don’t ever truly break down. And 40,000 of them are discarded every day in Accra central, alone. You can imagine the impact to the soil, rivers and water catchments across all of Ghana. God knows what type of poisons being leeched from plastic rubbish enter the water ways.

Fortunately, there are some rubbish collection services in Ghana, like Zoomlion, but they alone cannot cope with the problem.

The solution lies with each person not littering. And in either recycling or phasing out the use of plastic bags altogether. That’s the long-term solution. The Ugandan example.

Meanwhile, a lot of small and large NGOs have begun turning this rubbish into creative products. You can find them at Trashy Bags in Accra, a popular haunt for travelers and expats. They’ve been doing this for years now, and have become very good at it. All those Fan Yogo and Fan Ice wrappers, as well as pure water and juice wrappers, are sewn into bags and purses that make great personal gifts when you’re returning home, or for you yourself during your stay in Ghana.

Here is a link to Trashy Bags web site where you can browse products and get directions to their Accra show room. The baskets in the header image on this blog are also available there--but be quick.

And here is a link to the excellent Fantastic Plastic video about their story.

Image by Terence

July 19, 2010

Ghana From the Beginning

This is my story, from when I left home in 2005 to now, five years later, in Ghana. Here's an excerpt from when I resigned and some of the reactions from colleagues in the then oil industry that I used to work in. Read the whole story at To Journey in Africa. If you're about to head to Ghana, you may find solace in the fears of another fellow traveler before she had any idea what she was getting herself into!
Time came to bid farewell to oil industry associates across the country. ‘You’ll have lots of fun in Ghana, but you won’t make any difference,’ quipped the Director of a reputable multinational. ‘Africans are ‘too tribal’ to ever make peace and they’ll never develop.’

A young German intern who had volunteered for the UN in Zambia advised me to take a cotton sleeping bag rather than silk or synthetic, ‘So you can wash and iron it. You must iron everything you leave to dry outside. You know these flies? Oh, what are they called? These flies they lay eggs in the clothes which hatch in your skin when you wear the clothes. They make bubbles in your skin and the worms burst out. You won’t die, but it’s disgusting,’ she smiled over the photocopier. Germans took the cake for directness. My colleague had taken a silk bag which, if she washed, she could not iron. So, she chose to sleep for two months, dirty, but peacefully, in an egg-free sleeping bag.

July 18, 2010

The Rubbish Monster

I read an excellent article a while back. It’s about the plastic bag problem in Africa.

Plastic bags are to the Ghana landscape what fallen leaves are to Autumn landscapes in cooler parts of the world. Unfortunately, this is not a seasonal phenomenon; it’s a 365 day a year phenomenon.

Plastic bags are simply everywhere, fluttering from high tension wires, scattered across fields and between rows of maize. They are piled high in drains and burning in piles by roadsides everywhere, emitting noxious gases in close urban quarters.

In fact, it was the “burning rubbish” smell that I was yearning for when I returned to Ghana in 2007. That’s what I couldn’t wait to smell when I alighted from the belly of the airplane in Accra. That’s the smell of Ghana.

The writer, Emily Bowers, wrote:

Traveling across West Africa, it's easy to tell when you're coming to a town or city: the spindly brown trees become decorated with plastic bags like Christmas tree tinsel. Caught in shrubs and on fences, the bags clog sewers and water sources. They are ubiquitous; simple plastic bags are handed out with practically every purchase at a market stall or container shop.

I have been told that plastic bags only became common in Ghana around 1995 or 1996. It’s not as if there is a long history with the bag. There is a long history with the cloth, the bowl or the basket however, traditional means of carrying goods in Ghana.

But the plastic bag thing caught on like the flu. And it seems like it’s going to be just as difficult to shake. Here, the bag is called a “rubber” and it’s almost always black. And then there’s the pure water bags. Everywhere.

Statistics released by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) and other waste management bodies indicate some 270 tonnes of plastic waste is generated each day in Accra alone. “Pure water” sachets represent 85% of this waste. 40,000 sachets are discarded daily in Accra and take 20 years to degrade partially; they will never fully disintegrate. While the Ugandan Government banned plastic bags in 2007, in Ghana pure water sales provide considerable employment and it is argued “the economic implications of a ban would just be too significant.”


Meanwhile, check out one business doing a brilliant job at combating this problem: Trashy Bags in Accra. You can visit their showroom and buy brilliant products made exclusively from recycled plastic rubbish. The directions are on their web site.

Trashy Bag image by Trashy Bags.I read an excellent article a while back. It’s about the plastic bag problem in Africa.

July 17, 2010

Single Mothers Ghana Update

Hey, For those interested in inspiring women leaders in Africa, check out Single Mothers Association's website. They're a small NGO based here in Bolgatanga in the Upper East Region of Ghana working with single mothers. Women get short shrift here, even by comparison with other parts of Ghana, and "Madame Stella" and the other members are doing their best to give women an opportunity to earn an independent income for their efforts.

July 15, 2010

Trashy Videos Woo

We're starting a series here about recycled plastic products that you can find at Trashy Bags in Accra. They're brilliant. 

This is what CNN had to show about Trashy Bags (hint, click the link for brilliant images about the problem):

When British entrepreneur Stuart Gold saw Accra's plastic problem he recognized an opportunity for a business venture -- an NGO that could clean up the streets and create jobs in the community.
His idea was to collect discarded sachets, clean them up and stitch them together to make brightly colored, fashionable bags.
Two-and-a-half years later, Trashy Bags makes around 250 items a week and produces 350 different designs of bags, wallets and raincoats.

Aaaaand, watch Trashy Bags brilliant own video here. It's fantastic. Don't miss it!

For directions to Trashy Bags shop and showroom in Accra, click this link.

July 11, 2010

Ghana Star Pupils Need Your Help

Hi there!!

A long time reader contacted me about an organisation that needs a little assistance from you.Reach for the Stars is a small group of committed people with strong links to Ghana. Much like myself, some of them spent time volunteering in Ghana and developed close connections with the children they worked with, in particular.

When I received the notice about their work, I totally understood. I also connected with the students I worked with and can understand the need to want to see those kids have a chance to succeed.

The main problem for many students in Ghana is finding enough money for school fees. The amounts needed are small by Western Standards, but go a long way here in Ghana. It's all relative.

If a parent takes home 100 Ghana Cedis per month, but school fees for one child are 20 Cedis per month, then they pay 20% of their income towards their child's fees. I'm not sure what you make per month, but could you afford to pay 20% of it per child per month for their education?

This is a big problem here. Most parents can't afford that kind of ratio. Often the ration is much higher. As a result, Shallee and a few others have developed an organisation to help some children go to high school--the final years.

It's a make or break time for these kids. The difference between toiling as labourers or possibly being able to go on to higher education. You can make a difference with a donation as small as US$5. I know you read this all the time. But it's true. Even better, $50 will help in the same way that $500 would help in the States or the UK. Possibly more, because these kids don't have a fall back option.

I hope you'll check out the site Reach for the Stars and click the icon on the right to make a contribution!

Thank you!

July 8, 2010

Devil in the Details

Hi All!

We apologise for not writing for the past week. So much has happened. Most sadly, "BaGhana BaGhana" dropped out of the World Cup. If you were anywhere in Africa you would have felt the energy of 1 billion people plunging into depression on Friday night.

I had a meeting on Saturday and all those who attended were quiet. Quiet, I should mention, is not a word I would ever use to describe most Ghanaians I have met. It was a strange day.

On the streets, however, it was all chatter about one thing: the hand of the devil--that's what they're calling that handball. I do concur with something I read online. If it were Rugby, a "try" would have been awarded if an opponent stopped a try with an illegal move. They'd also have the video ref. FIFA needs to get with the times. It's the 21st Century. Hands of God are one thing, hands of the devil are another. What if Uruguay had "cheated" their way, handball blocking style, all the way to the final? What stops anyone from doing that, particularly if they're willing to sacrifice a player at the last minute?

While Spain were in my finals pick, I wish the other red and gold and black (and green) were up there. They could have been. We're all proud, anyway.

Gotta love Ghana. The reception at Independence Square yesterday included a dancing competition on stage in which all players had to give their best grooves. Not bad! Only in Ghana!

Finally, thank you to all those who purchased our Ghana guides recently! We appreciate it.

July 3, 2010

Godwin's Plea for Ghana

Godwin published a plea to the world from Ghana at our other site, G-lish. Here is an excerpt: 

"Ghanaians talk a lot and we have a reputation for being friendly. However, our culture also says that we should not question our seniors. No matter what our seniors say or do, we must accept their word as absolute truth, even if they are mistaken or lying.

I’ve gotten myself into a lot of hot water for challenging my seniors ever since I can remember." 

If you want to read the whole story--it's fascinating, surprising, and bashes a few Africa stereotypes--click the link

Also, you can download our free Guide to Volunteering in Ghana over there, and the free guide for how to set up an NGO in Ghana.

July 1, 2010

Ghana V Uruguay 2 July 2010

Is it possible?

I have this rather Medieval notion that if I write my hopes about something, then the something will not happen. You could say I am a superstitious type.

So, I'm not going to write about what I hope will happen, tomorrow night, in South Africa, when Ghana's Blackstars play Uruguay.

I'm not going to write how the hopes of an entire continent are hanging on the unpredictable trajectory of two cubic feet of leather and air.

But, oh how that leather and air seems to unite an entire continent (while dividing an entire stadium)!

A continent that could do with a little magic and laughter and reason to sing and dance and cheer and jubilate.

I've no doubt that even if that thing I'm hoping will happen (that I'm too Medieval to mention) doesn't actually happen, an entire continent will be singing and dancing and cheering and adoring those that made brilliant efforts this far in the quest to direct two foot square of leather and air into a space called the goal.

Good luck--they who should not be named--because all of Africa, and many destinations beyond, are behind you.

Let the Stars be Black tomorrow night!

June 24, 2010

Congrats to Ghana in Quarter Finals--Just

So, Ghana made it through to the quarter finals, with much thanks to their goal keeper. If Kingston's not man of the match, then I'll eat my smock hat. 

Australians colloquially call their country: "The Lucky Country." Frankly, the Blackstars ought to adopt this title for their country and call themselves the lucky team since they were dependent on others to make it to the next stage of the world cup. I hope someone learns how to kick a goal during play between now and the USA match. 

Anyway, Ghanaians are incorrigible and it's been exciting, once again, to be here during a football tournament. 4 years ago the excitement was when Ghana beat the Czech Republic. Then there was the African Cup of Nations in Ghana, then in the World Cup in South Africa. Either way, there is much "jubilating" when Ghana scores and advances through the competitions.

4 years ago I accidentally overstayed my visitor visa by a few days. I'd been so good at being on time up until then, but my date fell on a weekend and everything was football...I totally forgot. I remembered, however, on the morning of the day Ghana played Brazil. I decided that if I didn't face immigration before the game, I'd miss out on riding the high that had hit the whole country, and would quite likely face a depressed, grumpy office. I figured it was better to face the happy music, than the grumpy music. 

Flag wrapped around my head, flags painted on cheeks, Ghana T-shirt on, I approached and handed over what would have caused some issues any other day. But, it was football. Hopes were high. The woman stopped eating her rice during lunch time, no less, and promised to help me renew...not a problem. I was grateful.

Ghana did not beat Brazil, as you may know. Moral of the story: If you have to take care of difficult business, do it before the world looks like coming down from its high.

I love this post 10 Unusual Ways to Wear a Ghana Flag. If you wonder how this crazy country looks when it celebrates and supports its team, check that post out. Love th Pres's wife and also the Trio.
Here's an excerpt: 

"For those of you who are not president's wives, and have no hope of ever becoming one, I pity you. But do not despair. As long as you have a little bit of Reggae in you,  you could still do the shawl thing like Kwesi Selassie here and look all pseudo-"conscious" doing it too. "

June 19, 2010

Ghana v Australia Sat 19 Jun

So, it’s Ghana versus Australia in the World Cup in South Africa and my allegiances are torn. Kind of. I have family and friends at home in Australia reading this, and a whole lot of Ghanaians at home in Ghana reading this too, so I’m going for Spain! Ha! (Whispers: I really am going for Spain, unless Ghana gets to the next stage, or the one after that.)

When I go to the market, I overhear the male traders talking about how appalling Australia is and how “Ghana will score them!” And I cannot disagree based on the last game each team played. Australia look liked they showed up for cricket. Or badminton. Or Aussie Rules. Not football. Ghana look like they showed up to put fear in the hearts of the best of the South Americans. 

So, today, the Blackstars versus the Socceroos. I have no idea who’s going to kick whose behinds, but if history predicts the future, it’s going to be Africa United, all the way. Ironically, that dance the Blackstars players do when they score a goal, the one where they stand in the warrior pose and dance as they’re doing doggy paddling is called “The Kangaroo Dance” in Ghana—inspired by kangaroos. If anyone knows how that started, please comment! On the other hand, anything can happen in football. Maybe we’ll see the Aussies doing a dancing like stars. Who knows. 

Today I’m a Gozzie: Ghana Ozzie. Either way, I can’t lose! But I’m kind of really going for Ghana, in case you couldn’t tell. Australia wins half of everything else they play on the world stage; they don’t need to win this as well. That’s my logic, anyway.

Where’s my popcorn?!

Kangaroo photo by AndrĂ© Gustavo and Blackstars supporters by manbeastextraordinaire.

June 16, 2010

Spain v Switzerland & World Cup Ghana

I confess that I didn’t give much weight to Ghana before the first match, and boy was I proven wrong. And I gave a lot of weight to Australia—and boy was I proven wrong too. I don’t know if it’s overdosing on popcorn that fries your smart cells, but mine were seriously stupid before the World Cup began.
Then again, I bet that Spain, Brazil, Argentina or the USA will play in the final final. (I’m so confused about the use of the word “Final” in reference to these World Cup games). Obviously the first three don’t take too much smart cells to figure out, but the USA v England match proved my “dark horse” selection wasn’t so stupid. After their showing in South Africa last year, I couldn’t dismiss them. Come about 2018 they may be up there with the best of them.
I truly hope Ghana does not have to face the USA down the line in this tournament if they make it into the next round of finals—quarter finals? (So many bloody finals. Sorry for swearing.) Then again, I’d rather they face the USA than Spain. Ohh, I can’t wait for Spain’s match today. They are my favourites. It’s a Barcelona thing. I can’t wait to see if Spain faces off against Argentina. How are those Spanish Barcelona defenders going to handle Messi? With kid gloves you’d think…we’ll see if it comes to that.
And didn’t North Korea give a surprise performance against none other than Brazil? I mean, unknown quantity just put themselves on the beautiful game map. They may not have won, but they weren’t a walk over by any means.
While I love Africa and am overawed and moved by the support of all sections of South Africa for all the African teams, the Asian teams are looking good here in Africa. It’s not that surprising if you think back to the Korea/Japan tournament some years back. But I wasn’t expecting it in Africa.
As for Africa, I watched the Ivory Coast match yesterday and it really didn’t inspire, unfortunately. Don’t understand why Drogba was kept off until the last quarter. So far, Ghana is the only African team to have won their first group match. Let’s hope the second round of group matches brings more African victories.
“Come on Black Stars Ghana!”     
Oh, and Saturday: Ghana v Australia. Sheesh. (For new readers, I’m Australian and I live in Ghana—in case you’ve been eating too much popcorn too.)
I need some more popcorn—but we ran out of gas. There is no gas in Bolgatanga at all. We’ve had to eat food that doesn’t need heating or buy cooked food from town for a few days. I actually collected firewood to light a fire to make popcorn. I think that makes me a popcorn junkie. And a bit of a football junkie too. But I don’t smoke or drink—except tea. So, hey, pass the popcorn would ya! 

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