As some of you reading this know, I’m leaving to live, work and learn in Ghana, West Africa for the next 12 months. It’s a volunteer work placement with Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB) http://www.ewb.ca, a charitable organization that works in 4 countries in Africa. EWB doesn’t build bridges, or dig wells, or manufacture machines, or build schools, or any really technical or infrastructural projects. We used to in the past but have realized that development is much more complex then simply building or fixing something. For instance, after a borehole (well) is drilled, who will manage it? who is responsible to fix it when it breaks? are their mechanics and parts available and who has money to pay for them? who owns the well, the community, an individual, the government, or the non-governmental organization (NGO) that drilled the well? Other things to consider are who  is allowed to use the well? As this can cause conflict between different ethnic or kinship groups, or between different communities, and even between individuals. And was the well really needed in the first place? Or was their a different need that wasn’t voiced, for what community or person would pass up a free well?

These are only some of the things and issues to consider when intervening into people’s lives, I’m simply trying to illustrate the point that it’s not as simple as building something or bringing in something that isn’t already there. EWB’s approach is more about spending time with local people (Ghanaians working for the government for instance) and working with them on problems and challenges. We often look for projects, individuals, and practices that are working and creative and try to support them and see if we can learn from them and use that learning to influence decisions and future projects. Our projects are less technical focused and more people focused, like working with field staff on different ways to link small scale farmers to local markets so they can sell their crops, or working with management in the Ministry to see how they can better support their staff and create a work environment where staff can improve in order to better support rural farmers, many who are struggling.

What does this look like for my placement in Ghana? Well I’ll be working along side the Ghanaian Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) in a district (equivilent to a municipality in Canada) with a strong Director, who essentially is the boss or manager of    the Ministry at the district level. I’ll be working with him and other lower level managers as well as field workers to see how we can make an existing project (that I’ll explain in another blog post) improve and be sustainable so MoFA can run it without EWB’s direct involvement. As I learn more about what my role is I’ll be sure to fill you in.

As some of you know, I spent last summer in Ghana for 4 months, and I’m actually going back to the same Upper East Region, but in a different neighbouring district from the one I lived in last summer. The city I’ll be in is called Navrongo and it’s located in the Kassena Nankana District (you can find it on google maps). So needless to say, I’m excited to have the opportunity to visit friends and coworkers who I haven’t seen for a year. I’m also lucky to be in a nearby area where they speak the same language as in Paga where I stayed last summer.

This is only the first of many blog posts, and I’m hoping to write a few more in the next few days about why I’m doing this in the first place, and more about the context of Northern Ghana. The last month in Toronoto has been pretty hectic and busy with training and last minute errands and ‘to-do lists’ along with visiting family and friends. And since I’m flying out tomorrow, today is no exception. I’m hoping that through this blog you can, in a way, join me in this experience through reading about my experiences as I live, work and learn, and also through a dialouge of questions and comments.

Before I leave, I want to express my gratitude and thank everyone for all their support from generous donations to kind words of encouragement, I know it sounds cheesy but I wouldn’t be here and wouldn’t be able to do this without everyone’s support, so thanks for being there for me and I hope you enjoy this blog. Please feel free to email me anytime: brianvenne@ewb.ca

all the best!

Brian

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