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 michael@ypwc.org !

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!
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