From October 19-22, the volunteers of the Upper East held a youth camp in Sirigu for the region's junior high and senior high students. I've wanted to participate in a youth camp ever since I arrived in country, so when this opportunity popped up I was very excited. Sonia, who is in the group ahead of mine, is the amazing PCV who put together this camp and who stays in Sirigu.
I haven't done any work at the Kongo JHS, and there's no senior high in Kongo, so I had Christopher pick a boy and girl student to take to the camp since he teaches there. A few days before camp, I met the students- Eastwood (awesome name right?) and Agnes. I told them briefly want the camp would be about, and told them to keep in mind what they want to do to bring back the knowledge to their peers. We agreed to meet at my compound around 1 PM Thursday to travel to the camp location.
Thursday afternoon we took a tro from Kongo to Bolga, then in Bolga we shared a taxi with Rob and his students to Sirigu. It was about a 45 minute taxi ride on a bad dirt road. I've been on the road before since Dawn's site, Zorko, is on the way, but since the last time I went to Zorko, the rain really did a number on the road.
Eventually we made it to the Sirigu market, met up there with Mary and Jennifer who joined us from Northern Region, and Dennis with his students, and all took a private bus to the camp site- the Ghana Institute of Organic Farming. This was a project done by one of the many Dutch volunteers that come through Sirigu. I don't think its actually up and running yet, but eventually it will be a training college. The building has a computer room dining hall, lecture room, laboratory and storage room- its very nice. In addition, there is an outdoor work area that's still being constructed. The boys and girls stayed in two of the rooms, with PCV volunteers each night, and the non-chaperoning PCVs stayed a 40 minute walk down the road at SWOPA (Sirigu Women's Organization of Pottery and Arts), a womens group-run guesthouse.
Day 1 (Friday October 19): 4-H Clubs and Nutrition
Welcome and Intros, Ice Breaker, Intro to Food Security, 4-H Clubs in America/Ghana, Activities school clubs can do, Mock meeting, Nutrition, Intro to school gardens, Sports, American movie (night)
After introducing ourselves and getting an overview of the camp, we split the students into three different "food security" groups: food access, food availability and food utilization. Mary and I led the food availability group. We had a brainstorming session where the students talked about problems and potential solutions related to food availability issues in Ghana, and in particular the Upper East. They talked a lot of lack of education, lack of government officials to teach farmers, problems with the land tenure system and how social attitudes affect any change in ag practices. The brainstoming session was very informative for me, and it was a great chance to see just how bright these students are and how much they know about problems in their region and how the problems can be solved. They were very articulate and had very strong opinions about agriculture in the Upper East. Right before lunch I did a short session on the kinds of activities school clubs can do. I had the kids tell me what kidns of clubs they are already involved with at school and what kinds of things they can do in the future. Several of them mentioned science and environmental clubs, which I can happy about, and I also mentioned starting school tree nurseries or school gardens, waste managemnet projects, animal rearing and alternative livelihood projects, such as shea, moringa and neem processing. The students made this session easy for me, as they had lots of ideas, and a lot of the camp sessions would cover these activities.
Since all the other days were packed with sessions, this was the only chance we got to have a designated sports time. Vince and Alex led this sports "session," and intended on teaching how to play football and ultimate frisbee, but naturally the kids gravitated to the soccer pitch. But even after a day of access to the frisbee and football, the kids had gotten very good at throwing them. We had mixed gender teams, although the team Vince and I were on was predominately girls, so we were pretty unevenly matched. We still did fairly well, and I was very proud of how strong the girls were and how they didn't let the boys taunting or physicality get to them. The boy who guarded me was one of the smaller, younger ones, but he certainly thought he could defeat me by trying to jump on me, tackle me and trip me. But he found no success; he just ended up getting laughed at since this white girl was outplaying him.
That night after dinner we showed a "Planet Earth" episode, the one on shallow seas. I had never seen this one before, and me being really nerdy, I was absolutely amazed and entranced by it. I can only imagine what the heck the students were thought of it all since probably most of them have never seen the ocean. This was also my night to chaperone with Vince. All the kids were really well-behaved, they went to bed early, didn't cause any problems. But the bugs were crazy, jumping all over all night long. And once I did finally get to sleep, my "friendly" neighbor in Kongo sends me a text at 1 AM, waking me up. Of course. (And don't worry, this will be my next blog- I won't leave you hanging!)
Day 2 (Sat. Oct. 20): Gardening and Animals
Waste management project, Plant a school garden, Animal rearing, Animal diseases, Beekeeping, Housing for chickens and rabbits, Neem cream demo, Games (night)
For the morning's activities we went to one of the junior high schools in Sirigu. The sceince club there discussed their incinerator project, and then those kids helped our students plant a school garden. As Jennifer directed the students with the school garden, Mary and I showed them how to plant crop seeds in used plastic water satchet bags. They planted green pepper, cabbage and broccoli in the satchets we collected just from around the school and ones we had used that morning. We had a whole bag of different seeds and it was cool to see how interested the students were in what the other crop seeds looked like (carrot, cucumber and onion, just to name a few).
Day 3 (Sun. Oct. 21): Chickens and Trees
Build a chicken coop, Soapmaking demo, See a tree nursery, HIV/AIDS activities, Talent show (night)
The talent show was probably the highlight of the day. Well, actually the HIV/AIDS game we played maybe would rival that. We blew up condoms to make balloons, then put sexual health and HIV/AIDS-related questions in them, and had the students pass them around (kind of like musical chairs) and pop the balloons and answer the questions. At the talent show, a lot of the girls sang (the Ghana national anthem and church songs were popular), a few of the boys did storytelling, the smallest girl of all, Vanessa, aka "Happy," danced Azonto, and one boy did stand-up comedy (we think...). But the kids definitely enjoyed it even if the volunteers didn't quite understand.
Day 4 (Mon. Oct. 22): Sustainable Farming
Climate change and desertification, Climate adaptation, Sustainable Ag, Meetings with farmers, Closing ceremony (night)
I began the last day's sessions with my presentation on climate change and desertification. I explained the basics of climate change and tried as best as I could to define certain words (greenhouse gas and greenhouse gas effect were hard ones to describe). When I got to desertification, they seemed to understand and know a lot more. I used the Sahel Famine of 1968-73 as an example. I was surprised to hear that none of them had heard of it, seeing as it happened very close to northern Ghana, then again it is very possible that most of their parents weren't even born at that time. I had a flow chart that described how several factors (colonization, increased population, and 7 years of heavy rain before the drought) lead to the famine. I hope I got across my point- northern Ghana could easily have this happen to them, and the whole region is in serious danger of becoming desert very soon. The area is just getting drier and drier and people need to both mitigate these effects and change their farming/ag practices (which is what Sonia talked about after me). I also did a small experiment with the students: I placed two tin tomato cans, both sides cut out, in two different soils (one very compacted, where people walk a lot and one very loose, underneath a tree) and had the students think about how long each of the soils would soak up an equal amount of water. Hopefully they could see the difference between dry, compacted soils and (relatively) loose, healthy soils in relation to desertification.
This last day was my favorite, not just because it was more in my expertise and interest areas, but I think the sessions were very informative for the students, especially Sonia's on climate adaptation and Dawn's on organic ag. I think the students were able to see the huge problems conventional agriculture has created in the area.
To wrap up the entire camp, Sonia brought in her farmer's group to come listen to the three different food security groups talked about what they learned at the camp. Me and Mary's group brought up a lot of points from this last day- using compost, not chemicals, for fertilizer; not burning fields after harvest time; practicing crop rotation/multiple-crop systems. It seemed as though at least some of the farmers understood and agreed with what our students were saying, and the students enjoyed showing the farmers what they had learned.
After dinner we had the closing ceremony. Each student got a "Certificate of Completion" from the camp and a t-shirt. Then there were three MVPs, one from each food security group, and they each were given a moringa tree seedling. My boy Eastwood won the MVP from Rob's food utilization group, I was so proud! But I was definitely proud of everyone- they all participated and were engaged, asked lots of questions and had lots of good ideas. They made me feel that their communities and the Upper East as a whole has a bright future with these kids. They can be the ones to start the change and guide their people.