Month: July 2018

Sustainability and Safari

Our focus for this past week was on ensuring the sustainability of the projects that we are introducing and continuing. In short, we wanted to make sure that the projects that we are working on could be continued without our direct presence. This was also the week that we went to Mole National Park (pronounced like the end of guacamole) for a safari.

The main project that we wanted to look at the sustainability of is the women’s health project that has been run for the last several years. The project teaches girls how to create reusable sanitary pads out of fabric so they don’t need to resort to makeshift alternatives like parts of old mattresses. Typically, the girls have been supplied with kits containing enough material to create three reusable pads with the hope that they would be able to create more as needed. Ideally, the girls would also be teaching their friends and family how to create the pads so that the knowledge can be spread to people that we can’t reach during our time here. In order to make sure that this is possible we needed to make sure that the fabric that we provide, fleece and flannel, is able to be found in the markets in Ghana. If they are not, we wanted to try and find alternatives that the girls would be able to get ahold of and use.

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One edge of the Central Market in Sunyani

To find out what materials were available to the girls, we went to the markets in Sunyani. It was not the first time that we had been to the market but we had not really looked for these sort of fabrics before so we were not entirely sure what we would find. The group started at the Wednesday Market, which true to its name is a market that only gets together on Wednesdays. We had been there only once before, during our first week, so it was fairly easy for us to get turned around and lost outside of the Wednesday Market on the streets of Sunyani. It was during this time that we got a bit of a lucky break. In a roadside stall not far from the market we found fleece blankets that could be used as material for the kits. We bought a few to supplement the fabric that we had brought and figured that if we could find them at a random stall outside of the market, then someone who knew the area better could probably find some as well. As we continued to try and find our way back to a familiar area, we saw several more stalls selling fleece so we felt confident in this choice of fabric.

Our wanderings eventually lead us to a part of Sunyani that we were much more familiar with, the area outside of Sunyani’s Central Market. The Central Market is in full force everyday, so we go there fairly often to get food and other necessities. We managed to find a few more stalls selling fleece and visited a fabric store that Nana had shown us earlier in the week when we went shopping for African fabrics we are getting tailored into clothes for us. We were unable to find flannel, but Lianne felt confident that by layering cotton, which is by far the most common fabric we found, that the same effect could be reached.

Of course, we also worked towards sustainability in other projects. We found local technology shops that we are planning on checking out to see what future groups may be able to buy over here instead of bringing from the US. Charles and Josh met with a contact at the University of Energy and Natural Resources (UENR) who was able to put us in touch with more people who should be able to help with the folklore project. While this was going on, Sonja and Lianne were meeting with Dr. Emmanuel Opuni-Frimpong, our main contact and the Pro-Vice Chancellor of UENR, to look into bringing a Summer Youth Program to UENR, similar to the one at Michigan Tech.

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Savanna Lodge in Larabanga where we spent the night

By far, the highlight of this week was the trip up to Mole National Park for a safari. We went up on Friday with a driver that Emmanuel knew and stayed the night at the Savanna Lodge in the village of Larabanga. The Lodge was great and it was as close to the park was we could stay without staying at one of the hotels inside the park (which were all full). The next morning we got up bright and early for a 7AM safari. The safari lasted about two hours and gave us the opportunity to see lots of animals in their natural habitat. Among the animals we saw were elephants, warthog, kob (a type of antelope), and monkeys along with a wide variety of insects, lizards, and birds. I could spend pages writing about everything we saw, but a picture is worth a thousand words.

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The first elephant we saw

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A small family of warthogs

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A baboon

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Some kobs hiding in the trees

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This elephant was blocking the road

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A beautiful view of Mole

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Jeep selfie

We had a fantastic time this week, and we look forward to what our final couple of weeks in Ghana have in store for us.

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“Broni Coco Machi!”

By Sonja Welch

“Broni Coco Machi!” means “Good Morning, White Person!” in Twi. During our time in Babianeha this week, children were constantly singing this to us. Everywhere we went, kids were singing and waving at us. I felt like a huge celebrity everywhere we went! I never thought our mere presence could make them so happy. I had so much fun waving back at them and shaking their hands. I just wish I knew more Twi, so I could interact with them more. This was the case in Sunyani too, but they liked practicing their English with us more than their Twi. Whenever we visited the school there, they would also stand up and say, “Good Morning. I am fine. How are you?” in unison. And so many of them wanted to shake our hands and take selfies. It was really cool!

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[Children Singing “Broni Coco Machi!” in Babianeha]

Besides being paraded around the town and waving at children, we did get to do some actual project work this past week. On Monday and Tuesday, we visited Ridge Experimental School B in Sunyani, where we conducted a hand washing demonstration, a women’s health workshop, and a STEM education demonstration. During the hand washing demonstration, we taught the children in all grades the importance of hand washing and how easily germs can spread. Lianne did this by squirting some liquid soap in a few kids’ hands and having them shake hands with their fellow classmates. They all laughed as they had to interact with each other and make everyone’s hands sticky. Fletcher, the ICT coordinator at the school, walked around with us and asked the kids questions to make sure they were paying attention. Whenever he asked what they learned and only one person would answer, he commonly said, “Who is coming?! They have not said all. You’re being selfish with your knowledge!” We laughed about his word choices later because we were so shocked by them, but we were still extremely grateful for Fletcher’s presence. Although through unusual methods, he still made sure the kids were listening and engaged in the demonstration.

During the women’s health workshops, Lianne and I helped about 50 girls learn how to make reusable sanitary pads with some kits she made. They also liked to laugh a lot and work together. Two of the female teachers even helped us out with instructing them. One teacher would repeat what we were saying to the kids in Twi, and the other teach made sure to take selfies with us while we were instructing! I thought it was hilarious, but she did end up helping girls make their kits too. 

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[Sonja and Lianne with some of the Kids at Ridge Experimental Schools]

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[Some of the JHS students at Ridge Experimental Schools]

Josh worked with the kids on STEM demonstrations both in Sunyani and Babianeha. He had the kids work on their creative and designing skills by building small boats with aluminum foil and having them test them in a couple basins of water. The boats were supposed to be designed to hold a large load without sinking. This was tested by adding nails to the boats. Some sank with one nail, and others couldn’t be sunk by even 25 nails! All of the kids had a blast doing it. They’d egg each other on about their boat designs and boast to each other if their boats held more nails. The teachers in Babianeha were especially enthusiastic about the project since it related directly to what they were teaching at the time. They helped us out even further by tying it to their lessons on buoyancy and upward and downward forces. I just wish we had more time in the schools and more demonstrations to do. The way all of their eyes lit up made you really feel like you were making a positive impact in their lives.

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[STEM Demonstration in Babianeha]

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[Team Ghana with the JHS students in Babianeha]

During our time in Babianeha, we also had time to talk to the directors of the community center, which is basically a computer lab for the students. It was fun getting to know the uses of the community center and learning about their needs. It was crazy to realize how much we take for granted something as simple as a printer in the United States. My goal is to find a sustainable way to make sure they can access the resources they need in order to give the kids at the school a great education.

After visiting the community center, we met with the headmaster of the primary school. We discussed the needs of the school, and it was great to learn that he would also like us to do STEM demonstrations with the primary school students. At this time, I also noticed all of the kids were outside with machetes chopping the grass! I thought it was so unusual, but the headmaster explained that because of the uneven layout of the land, they can’t use lawnmowers to keep the grass cut. I guess if it works, it’s fine, right?!

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[Children Cutting Grass with Machetes in Babianeha]

Later that day, we spent some time working on Charles’ project. We headed out to the monkey sanctuary close by. His goal was to gather some stories about the place and the monkeys themselves. When we arrived, the place was much different that I had expected. I pictured a tourist town, but it was actually a small village. When we arrived, we met with an old man who agreed to take us out to the forest to see the monkeys. And boy did they not disappoint! There were monkeys everywhere! There were many times where we got so close that we could touch them. We brought bananas with us, and the man had some dried corn in a jar he could shake around to attract the monkeys. He let us feed them the bananas and corn, and it was so cool! We even saw baby monkeys clinging to their mothers!

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[Tour Guide Attracting Monkeys at the Monkey Sanctuary]

This man also only spoke Twi, but we luckily had Evans and Solomon there to translate for us. He explained to us how monkeys were very sacred to their community. In fact, they were given the same respect as humans. If anyone killed a monkey, they would also die for their crime, and the monkey would be given human burial rites. We even passed by one of the graves on our way through the forest. We also learned about how the town came to be, but that’s a story for another time. Charles plans to post a collection of the stories we learned later on.

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[The gang at the Monkey Sanctuary

Back: Josh, Solomon, Sonja (Me)

Front: Evans, Charles, Lianne]

The next day, we went to the Chief’s Council Meeting. Unfortunately, the Chief couldn’t be there since he was away in Accra at the time. But meeting with the Council was still a really cool experience. Charles asked them for stories about how the town came to be and other folklore they may have stored away. I asked them about any needs they had within the community and if there were any projects they’d be interested in partnering with Michigan Tech on in future years. They talked for a little bit in Twi and Monaa, and they decided that they’ll give us a document with the information we seek in two weeks. It wasn’t how we expected it to go, but I think it still worked out well! We were all really nervous coming to the meeting since we didn’t realize how many people would be there or all of the formalities we would have to go through. It definitely made me more nervous about it since I didn’t want to accidentally offend anyone, especially in this context. We were in the presence of some of the most respected elders in the community! I can’t even imagine how much of a disaster accidentally disrespecting them would be.

Overall, our week spent at Ridge Experimental Schools and in Babianeha were very eye opening and successful. We would especially like to thank the Opuni family for hosting us. They gave us a place to stay and cooked meals for us every day! My favorite meal was always breakfast since Evans’ mom would make us a breakfast sandwich and milo (basically hot chocolate). We would also really like to thank Evans for carting us around everywhere and putting us in contact with people. We would have been so lost without him!

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[Typical Breakfast at the Opuni’s in Babianeha]

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[The Gang Getting Ready to do some STEM Demonstrations at the JHS school in Babianeha

Left to Right: Evans, Josh, Sonja (Me), Charles, Lianne]

Medase! Thank you for following our journey. We’ll have more updates next week!

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Our Arrival and Getting Settled in Ghana

By Lianne Novak

We left the USA on July 1 flying out of Detroit with a layover in New York (JFK).  We got into Accra on Monday morning at about 8am.  The plane deplaned from both the front door and back door in Accra. Customs was a breeze, and Andrew met us once we got our bags and were through customs.

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[Team Ghana Before Getting on the Plane in Detroit]

Accra is a beautiful city and is the capital of Ghana.  We stayed at the Airport View hotel which was about a five minute ride from the airport. Andrew took us to the Accra Mall, which is just like any mall in the States.  We got cheap Ghanaian cell phones (think a basic phone from around 2003), exchanged money, and had lunch at a local “chain” fast-food type restaurant.  They serve various chicken meals, some of them come with rice, and bottled soda.  The hotel is beautiful, and the staff was wonderful.  We were able to meet with one of Sonja’s contacts, Akwesi, in the afternoon.  He is actually moving to the States in August, but he was able to connect us with some other people at KNUST who could talk to her more about biomedical engineering projects that future Pavlis students could work on.  We all watched one of the World Cup games and had dinner at the hotel’s restaurant buffet.  The hotel also had a breakfast buffet which had rice and little sausages at it, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables.

We took one of the hotel’s vans to the VIP bus station where we were able to catch a bus to Sunyani.  The seats were huge, and some reclined (others no longer worked); it was like “the old” First Class. The traffic in Kumasi is very heavy.  It’s like getting around Chicago, but on surface roads; there are no interstates.  We went through Kumasi, stopping at a gas station that was attached to a KFC (yes, I mean Kentucky Fried Chicken is sold in Kumasi!).  Every town and village has speed bumps as a way of controlling the speed limit. Some of these bumps are massive, while other villages have 3 bumps in a row.  Each town/village has multiple speed bump locations.  I think we all thought that the bus ride was bumpy, but our view of “bumpy” would change the next day.

Nana (Emmanuel’s wife) met us at the bus station in Sunyani and helped us move into our hostel room.  We’re on the 4th floor, and have 2 rooms with a shared bathroom at the back of the hallway.  We went to the Eusbett hotel, where Andrew is staying to have dinner with him and Nana; Emmanuel was out of town that night, so we weren’t able to meet him.  Our group got a Hawaiian pizza, and most of the group tried some Ghanaian beer.  Drinking age is 18 here, and it amazes me that nobody that orders beer is asked for some ID.

The next day we ate breakfast at the Eusbett hotel, met Emmanuel’s nephew (also named Emmanuel), and then took a taxi to the Wednesday Market (it’s insanely busy!) to catch a tro-tro going to Dorma, a little town (or village?) about 20 minutes away from Babianeha.  The tro-tro is an old 15 passenger van, and they stuff as many people in one row as possible (this can mean 14-18 people).  Since the van is old, and has now been a tro-tro for a while, it has virtually no suspension, so you feel every pothole, and speed bump.  The visit in Babianeha itself was very nice.  We were able to meet Emmanuel’s extended family, and some of them showed us around the village, and helped us (legally) cross in to Cote d’Ivoire.  The town Gronnokron is a little town that straddles the border with Ghana.  You can visit the town without having to go through Cote d’Ivoire customs.  We also met some of the teachers at the school.  The school kids got very excited to see “Obrunis” (aka not Ghanaians).

We ended up getting snacks on the way out of town since we missed lunch, and then caught a bus to Dorma, and tro-tro back to Sunyani. After we washed up, we returned to the Eusbett for dinner, and got to meet Emmanuel (Nana’s husband).  It was the 4th of July (American Independence Day).

Thursday, we stayed in Sunyani.  We were able to meet up with Emmanuel (Nana’s husband), and he took us to the Ridge Experimental School (one of the schools that Josh will be doing a workshop at).  We also went to the Central Market to purchase some items that we needed for the hostel.  We got some bottled water, toilet paper, rice, onions, garlic, soap, and clothes pins.

We went to Kumasi on Friday, where we said goodbye to Andrew, and met with Josephine, Isaac and Solomon, and Dr. Ahmed at KNUST. Akwesi knew Josephine and connected Sonja with her.  Sonja and Andrew were able to talk to them about the possibility of future Pavlis students collaborating with KNUST for biomedical engineering projects, and what this would mean for both Tech and KNUST.  After we were done with our meeting, we said goodbye to Andrew and he departed for the VIP bus station to catch a bus back to Accra.  The students took us around campus, showing us different buildings, and the ventilator that Akwesi and previous Pavlis students worked on.  They took us to a little café on campus called Icy Cup and treated us to yogurt smoothies.  Once we wrapped up at KNUST, Emmanuel’s driver drove us back home.  Traffic was insane in Kumasi (of course), and I’ve noticed that checking your blind spots or mirrors is a foreign idea in Ghana.  When we got home Charles and Josh made us dinner from the bell peppers, onions and rice that we bought at the market.

Yesterday (Saturday) we went to Melcom, a Walmart like store in the middle of Sunyani.  We purchased some packaged food (like Pringles) and also got some household items that we couldn’t find (or forgot to get) at the market.  We all kind of expected to walk into a Walmart, so I think we were all a little surprised when we found out that the store is 3 or 4 levels high, and doesn’t have a very big floorplan. In the evening, Emmanuel came over and taught us how to make fried yam.  He brought some fish and tomato sauce that we could use with the fried yam, which were thick and crunchy.  He also boiled some of the yam, too, which was kind of like eating a baked potato.

Next week we are hoping to do a few Women’s Health and STEM workshops at the Ridge Experimental School here in Sunyani, as well as travel to Babianeha for a few days where we will also do a few workshops and stay with Emmanuel’s extended family.

Thank you for following our journey so far!

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