2014

This year was my 9th visit to the Volta Region, SE Ghana and, whilst I am now very familiar with the daily rhythm of life in Keta, there are always plenty of new experiences and this year was no exception. Once again, I was fortunate enough to stay on the compound belonging to Togbi Kumassah, the local Chief who, in 2006, was responsible for introducing me to the traditional storytellers who told me the stories which I used to write ‘Once upon a time in Ghana.’
I went out knowing that I would be visiting all my old haunts but a new challenge this year was to find a dentist who would be willing and able to be part of the Dentaid scheme which aims to improve the oral health of disadvantaged people around the world. In conjunction with Dentaid, Rotary International has developed a Dentaid Box which looks like a transportable wheelie bin and opens up to become a dental chair. It also contains all the key dental requisites of equipment and ancillaries to enable a dental professional to deliver in any locality in the developing world, basic oral health care and emergency treatment to those in need. The Rotary Club of Norwich is very interested in raising the funds needed to provide one of these wheelie bins but to whom and where? Anxious to find the answer to these questions, I introduced myself to both the hospital administrator and the dentist who works at Keta Municipal Hospital which is also a teaching hospital. Both were very enthusiastic about the idea and we immediately started talking about the possibility of establishing an outreach clinic in Anyako where there are no dental services whatsoever. Such a clinic could be accessed by people from a number of surrounding villages as well. I returned to the UK armed with all the necessary names and contact details so maybe I shall be seeing the Dentaid box in action in 2015.

Mr. Nutsugah
I turn now to ‘my’ storytelling communities and the projects old and new. First on the list this year is the storyteller, Mr Nutsugah now 92 years old. Life is not easy for him but he is always delighted to see me, or more accurately, to hear me as his sight is very poor. My first task with him is always to take him to see
the doctor at the hospital. There is no appointments system. It is simply a matter of turning up and waiting for hours on end.
The first doctor we saw at the hospital asked to see him again a week later and the second visit revealed that he has a heart problem. His feet and ankles were very swollen and his fingers and toes were numb. He also complained of dizziness and was constantly collecting saliva in his mouth.
Getting the ECG report the doctor wanted proved quite difficult. The machine at the hospital would not print out; the second machine at a private clinic an hour’s drive away was broken but the third machine at another private clinic was functioning normally so we were able to return to the doctor with the desired ECG reading. After four hours of waiting to see the doctor in a very hot, uncomfortable and crowded space I noticed that Mr N was looking particularly weak so I called Togbi and told him that there seemed no chance of seeing the doctor before I had a much more serious case on my hands. One phone call from Togbi meant that, minutes later, the hospital administrator appeared looking for me. He immediately marched into the one and only consulting room and ordered the doctor to see Mr. N there and then. Such is the power of the Chief! I felt somewhat uncomfortable being seen as the white woman for whom the doors opened but consoled myself with the knowledge that it was for Mr. N. After all this, he was so weak that the taxi driver had to lift him bodily in and out of the taxi taking us back to his home. It took me the rest of the day to track down and purchase all his prescribed medication but at least we had some prescriptions. I paid a 10 year old boy to supervise the medicines each day and can only hope that he is still doing so. The doctor wants to see Mr. N monthly and I left instructions and money for someone to take him to the hospital. It is hard to leave him as he is getting frail and receives the absolute minimum of care but it is a situation I have to accept. By the time I left, he was feeling so much better that he said he was ready to fly to England with me!
Amongst the various presents I took him this year was a pair of pyjamas which he wore whenever I took him to hospital! There are many young children living on his compound and they are his only company. He seems very comfortable with them and always shared the bread I took him most days. The little boy you see here is a particular friend.

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Anyako
Since the completion of the two Kindergarten classrooms at Anyako RC Primary School in 2012, I have focussed on raising funds to build a lagoon defence wall between the lagoon and the school buildings. For 6 months of the year following the rainy season the lagoon fills a large part of the school grounds and as the water becomes increasingly fetid, so the children are wading through increasingly foul water to access their classrooms. Furthermore the water is salty and is destroying the classrooms sitting in the water year upon year. Many of the buildings around the lagoon have built walls to protect them against the water but, of course, this costs money. So, with the generosity of Blackfriars Rotary Club, Norwich I was able to send the requisite funds to Togbi last October 2013. Togbi’s task was to engage and pay the masons (builders). However, the people involved with the RC school and Church decided to position the wall much further out in the lagoon in order to
follow the boundary of the land owned by the church and create a much larger school/church compound. Thus it was that the money sent has not been sufficient to complete the much enlarged wall. As Easter is the time when Ghanaian families return to their home towns, the RC church is calling upon its Easter visitors to donate generously to help complete the wall and I shall devote funds raised here to help out as well. One such fundraiser will be a concert at 2.30 pm on June 29th at St. Lawrence’s Centre for the Arts in South Walsham. The event is being generously sponsored by Arnold Keys and will feature a wide variety of music as well as the premiere performance of one of the traditional Ghanaian stories set to music by local musical director and composer, Ian Kenneth Hytch.

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In the photo above are Rick Fuller of Blackfriars Rotary Club, Norwich and the Head teacher of Anyako Primary School. Rick had come to Ghana to experience a little of life out there and to see the various projects with which he has been involved in Anyako. The plaque balanced on the wall will
eventually be fixed above water level! As you can see, there is still a long way to go; 2000 more bricks are needed for completion of the project.

 
Have Domefe
One of the highlights of any visit to Ghana is the four hour trip to the Chief and the villagers of a tiny community called Have Domefe, tucked away in a hilly, wooded area far north of the Keta/Anyako region. The welcome I and any accompanying visitors receive is so cordial and charming. As soon as we alight from our taxi, the group leads us into the Chief’s palace singing a welcome song accompanied by shaking the rattle and beating the gong-gong. Every visit must follow the same ritual of the group sitting opposite me, the Chief in the middle of the front row and the ‘Linguist’ sitting alone in front of the Chief. All the Chief’s words to me and all that I have to say has to be transmitted via the linguist who acts as the mouth and ears of the Chief. We witness the invocation and libation offered to the ancestors as one of the group performs the ritual which ends in pouring three splashes of spirit on the floor in front of us all. This year Rick Fuller and a Togolese friend of mine came to Have with me and so they had traditional friendship beads tied round their wrist. Not wanting to leave me out, the Chief explained that I was to receive a small bracelet as I had already been given the full-sized one on a previous occasion!
Then came the moment when I was invited to offer my gift to them. It had been several years since I had been able to offer them any money so I was delighted to be able to give them 4,300 Ghana cedis (£925.00) which they are using to buy a polytank and the materials to make the concrete base upon which it will stand. With proceeds from the sale of Moringa leaves and seeds grown on the land I gave them in 2008 plus the rental money from the hiring out of plastic chairs I gave them in 2010, they have been able to save enough money to have the pipes laid which carry fresh drinking water from the main road to the entrance to the village. One of the villagers has been appointed custodian of the water and she will sell it to all those who require it, thereby making a further small profit for the storytelling group as well as providing a very important service for the villagers, especially the school children who
arrive with their empty water bottles each morning on their way to school. As the water frequently doesn’t run, the polytank will be kept full so that there is always a supply of drinking water. I am very happy with all this because it is the perfect example of all my project aims; a self-sustaining enterprise managed by the storytellers for the benefit of themselves and the wider community.

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Three cheers for Togbe Krakani (centre) and his group, not all of whom are in this photo. The polytank will be positioned next to the pipe and stand you see here.

 
If the visit to Have was a delight, so also was the news I received just a few hours before my departure for Ghana on March 4th. This was the news that the Ghana edition of ‘Once Upon a Time in Ghana’ (published November 2013) had been selected to receive the accolade of Best Book 2014 for older readers in the Africana children’s literature awards. Quite astonishing! The award is made by an American organisation called Africa Access and was set up by an American academic to recognise and promote literature intended to widen the
appeal of African inspired material. I could look for no greater validation of the appeal and significance of these ancient and timeless stories, ten of which feature in the Ghana edition. The final icing on the cake comes with the invitation to receive the award at the Smithsonian Museum of African Art in Washington DC on November 8th 2014.
School news update
Keta Basic School now has electricity and is hoping to be able to communicate electronically with Wicklewood Primary school. An email address is still to be created.
A new link has been established between Shalom Shalom School and Hemblington Primary. Shalom already has an email address which will facilitate communication between the two schools as postal communication is both slow and unreliable.
Afiadenyigba Senior High School has recently begun teaching music to examination level and the partner school, Acle Academy generously donated CD’s to allow the children to listen to a range of music – classical, jazz, choral etc. Without these, the pupils would have no concept of the sounds, individual or collective, made by many of the instruments we take for granted
I look forward to seeing the continued development of all these very fruitful links.
And, in conclusion…..
Once again, I take this opportunity to thank all of you who have and continue to support all my fundraising events. Without you I would be powerless to continue the project work with the storytellers who now refer to me as their mother!

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2013

The main focus of this year’s visit has been to establish the way forward for Ghana Storytelling projects in 2013-14. With the completion of the Kindergarten block in 2012, I knew that it was time to look at what could be done to help the storytellers in Have. I was excited to visit them as, for various reasons, I did not see them in 2011 or 2012.

The first thing I did upon arriving was to walk to the land where I had planted the first moringa sapling in 2009. I was immediately told to identify this same tree and, sorry to say, I picked the wrong one. However, the requisite photo soon put all to rights:

 

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In the photo, you can see the seed pods on the moringa tree; these will be left to dry completely before they are harvested and the seeds removed for sale as a cure for headaches, a herbal paracetomol. Once the rains arrive (May onwards) the leaves will then shoot on the trees and will also be harvested and sold for herbal infusions with a number of
medicinal properties, including treating hypertension. Once the rains arrive, the storytellers are also going to plant orange trees between the moringas as they grow well in the region and will be a further source of income. A discussion with Togbe Krakani (chief of the village and organiser of the group) and the storytellers lead to a request for a bore hole to access underground water. I was somewhat surprised by this request as I knew that running water was already supplied to the village. Togbe quickly explained to me that as he had installed 2 blocks of WC (male and female) in
the village some years ago, the water board had decided to charge the village water consumption at a commercial rate which is much higher than the usual domestic rate. His reason for installing the WC was so that he could reasonably encourage the locals to use his facilities rather than the surrounding land, thereby helping to reduce the risk of diseases
such as cholera. His farsighted and generous provision of WC’s is now costing him and the villagers more than they can afford and they are obliged to take out bank loans in order to meet these costs. Whilst a bore hole cannot feed the WC directly, water drawn from the hole could be used to flush the system. There is already a committee of women who
maintain the WC’s as best as they can and who receive the small donations which are made by those who use them.

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The WC block in Have Domefe – male and female blocks.

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This is the desired site for a village bore hole, engineering excavation permitting.

 

I asked Togbe about the possibility of ground source water and he told me that there is a stream nearby which dries up during the dry season (November to May) but which is clearly indicative of underground water which could be reached with a bore hole. I therefore went to see the manager of the water board in Keta (where I stay) to inquire about the possible costs and was told that it should cost between £2,000 and £3,000. The most advantageous situation would be to agree a price with a drilling company which is already working in the region. So, now that I have some of the facts, I hope to be able to proceed with this project for the villagers of Have Domefe, whose storytellers have freely given of their traditional oral stories, several of which are in my book, ‘Once upon a time in Ghana’. On my various visits they have also shown me dramatic representations of puberty rites, traditional singing and games.
Of course, I visited Anyako and the primary school site. The Kindergarten (KG) classrooms which were completed in 2012 are a great success and the numbers for entry in September
2013 look very healthy. Two good classrooms complete with a wide selection of teaching and learning resources have worked their magic in persuading new parents to enrol their children at school.

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Once again, Norwich Blackfriars Rotary club is looking to assist with the school and so I returned armed with all the necessary information on building a lagoon defence wall around the school. During the rains, the lagoon water fills much of the land occupied by the primary school and so the children are obliged to walk through water which is unsanitary and carries many water borne diseases. At best, the children are at risk of contracting skin infections and, at worst, of contracting life-threatening diseases such as cholera. Whilst there are many urgent needs within the school, the defence wall is seen as the most urgent as, not only is the water a source of disease but it also destroys the buildings.

Whilst we cannot eliminate the salt content of the atmosphere, and it is the salt which destroys the mortar, the act of preventing it from actually seeping into the mortar for several months of each year means that the buildings have a sustainable life. The classroom block you see below is being destroyed by the salt water from the lagoon which surrounds it for several months of the year.

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So, measurements for the defence wall were taken and I was shown other defence walls which have been constructed around lagoon side buildings. The proposed wall around the school would only be about half the height of the one shown in the 2nd photo below but still gives an idea of what we need to build.

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Whilst the Have and Anyako projects have yet to be realised, I was able to spend time and funds on Mr. Nutsugah, the elderly storyteller who gave me so many wonderful stories in 2007. The annual visit to hospital revealed that he has cataracts developing on both eyes but, in view of his age and the difficulties involved in providing him with constant close care, it has been decided that he will not undergo an operation. Discovering that his bed was broken, I was able to get it mended as he has found it difficult lowering himself to floor level in order to lie on his mattress. I also had new clothes made for him and left money for a local lady to do his laundry and he was very happy with all the new arrangements.
I discovered this year that he loves babies and, despite his difficulties, he has no fear in holding them and this little one was anxious about the white lady and the camera but not about being held by the 91 year old Mr. Kwaku Livingstone Nutsugah.

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SCHOOL LINKS

One of the highlights of this year’s visit was the 20th anniversary celebration of Afiadenyigba Senior High School (Afiasec). This school has been linked with Acle High School for the past 5 years and is totally transformed from a small rural school struggling to find classrooms to house the pupils into a fast developing and successful Senior School. Help from Acle High gave the first major boost as they were able to turn the shell of an abandoned building into a 4 classroom block, thereby gaining the extra space they sorely needed. This early success meant that the school was able to declare itself ready and able to make excellent use of scarce government funds and, under the skilled guidance of the head teacher, Mr. Sabblah, the funding was duly given. At the same time, a very successful business man retired to live in the locality and has really taken the school to his heart. With his many influential contacts he is hoping to attract further funding as there is still much that needs to be done to meet the ever increasing demands of education. Mr. Sabblah is enormously grateful to Acle High for help with building and then with funding the microscopes his Science Department was able to buy, both of which will always testify to this help so generously given.
This grand new entrance was opened at the anniversary celebration on March 23rd 2013.

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The link between Wicklewood Primary and Ketasco Basic (Primary) continues to flourish. Last year, I was able to give money generously raised by the Wicklewood pupils and with which it was intended that a school lunch time shelter should be built. However, the Ghanaian Government suddenly and unexpectedly announced that it would donate a number of laptops to schools which managed to put in electricity. So Ketasco raced to raise the necessary funds for the electrical work to be done and was obliged to include part of the Wicklewood money to this end. However, the remaining money was used to start making the bricks they will need and my hope is that I shall see the completed shelter next year.
Here you can see the bricks which will be used. In the background is a new boarding block for the High School which is much better provided for than the Primary School.

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Finally, I would like to mention a generous donor from California, USA who very generously gave me dollars to spend on footballs and skipping ropes to be offered to whoever I thought would be appropriate recipients. I was able to buy 4 balls and pumps and 20 skipping ropes which I gave to a mixture of primary schools, junior football clubs, an orphanage and local children playing on dirt ground. Carolyn is repeating her offer for my next visit in 2014 and I know that all the new recipients will be just as delighted as the 2013 ‘winners.’
This photo is taken at the orphanage which looks after abandoned or severely neglected children in Togo and which I visit every year.

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Thank you very much to all of you who continue to support my projects in Ghana. Nothing would happen without you.
Anna Cottrell May 2013.

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2012

My principal preoccupation during this tear’s visit-March to April-was with the completion of the two classroom and store room block for the Kindergarten pupils in Anyako. Due to Togbi’s illness following my return to England in April 2011, the building work had stopped. However, with my return this year, Togbi assembled a new team comprising builders, carpenter and painter and work began forthwith. The KG (Kindergarten) pupils had remained loyal to the school in spite of having nothing but a verandah to sit beneath. During last year’s rainy season they had squeezed in with the older pupils in their already dismal and crowded classrooms and, as soon as the rains were over they were back on their verandah. Their only resource has been a teacher and an old blackboard and easel and they have spent hours there just sitting and repeating whatever the teacher told them. One of the aims of the KG curriculum is to teach English so that the children can participate in the education programme from Primary One as all the teaching is henceforth in English.

The Kindergarten and store room block in early March 2012

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During my stay in March, Togbi was on the phone to his brother every day ascertaining what the next day’s order would be in terms of materials.  Everything is bought as the need arises as there is nowhere to store anything on site.  Some days it was roofing sheets, another it was so many pounds of nails then a trip of sand and so on.  It was not just a matter of ordering the goods but also transporting them to the site.  In an attempt to keep costs to a minimum, Togbi would try and find some people who were crossing the lagoon to Anyako and put the bits and pieces in their canoe as making a special trip to Anyako by road is expensive.  In the main, the system worked well and impressed upon me the fact that I could never have achieved any of this without Togbi.  His knowledge of the place, the people and the system is invaluable.

Our aim was to complete the building so we could hand over the keys the day before my departure for England on April 3rd..  We almost made it; the shutters were not all in place and whilst the floors were ready to be screeded the builders could not secure a delivery of water (Anyako has no water supply) and so were unable to make the necessary cement.  This, in turn, meant that the painter could not finish but these were minor details in the overall scheme.  As I write this on April 28th I know from Togbi that everything has been completed and that the children are now in residence, just as this year’s rains are about to arrive!

Pupils in front of their almost completed KG and store rooms when I left –  early April 2012

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