The thoughts, sights, and sounds of my summer as an EWB Junior Fellow

Posts tagged “impact

The Power of Thinking Backwards

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One of the major challenges I have found throughout my placement with Engineers Without Borders Canada in Ghana thus far is managing my mental space for what I am going to achieve, how I am going to achieve it, and when. My placement has had lots of freedom in terms of the type of change I can create. I am working with multiple market actors in the Ghana agriculture production system, which means there are a multitude of ways I can act in terms of supporting them. It is an exciting place to be, but sometimes it can be difficult to navigate.

 During the last session of our Junior Fellow pre-departure training in Toronto at the beginning of May, each of us wrote down on a card what we would do to make the most of our JF placements, what we will have learned about ourself, or what we will tell our grandchildren about the summer of 2012. I chose to write down what I will do to make the most of my JF placement, but I chose to frame it in the past, as if I had already done it. That way, everything I do will seem like a logical step on the way to something I have already achieved. This is what I wrote:

“I will have allowed my true warm character to shine through the challenges and differences I face despite natural feelings of inadequacy, doubt, and fear. I will have leaped into new realms of possibility for my impact in Africa, and discovered an entirely new level of what my potential can be.”

When I read this, I feel like I am filled with sunshine and energy. It rings true to my soul, and provides a grounding reality check that ties me back to the person I was back in pre-dep, filled with hopes, fears, and a huge feeling of not knowing at all what I was getting into.

The idea of working backwards from impacts and outcomes to activities and inputs has lately become very relevant to my work. A few days ago, I decided to write down (as if I was back in Canada at the end of the summer) the things I had achieved during my time in Ghana. The list includes:

  • I have worked through the application questionnaire for the AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa) seed production grant with the nucleus farmer
  • I have made use of the Business Model Canvas to create a business model with the nucleus farmer that is practical and hopefully win-win for him, small scale farmers, and buyers
  • I have communicated with a large grain processor some insights from the nucleus farmer based on their first year of working with nucleus farmers, making use of market facilitation experience from our team
  •  I have followed up on the record keeping workshop that I helped to facilitate with the nucleus farmer’s outgrowers, then have shared any insights regarding Return on Investment with the AVC team and SARI (Savanna Agricultural Research Institute)
  • I have run a workshop at Antika to formulate Results Chains for the business’s seed growing operations, then worked with the staff to develop a monitoring plan based on the Results Chain
  • I have effectively managed my ½ acre of maize and ½ acre of soyabeans in Loggu, and put up a laminated sign indicating that it is my plot of hybrid maize supported by Antika
  •  I have held a mid-placement meeting with ADVANCE (Agriculture Development and Value Chain Enhancement, a USAID project) to share insights and get feedback
  • I have communicated effectively with the people at my chapter, friends and family about the work I am doing, and built enthusiasm about the year ahead with EWB at Usask
  • I have taken lots of pictures and video footage, + brought back some Ghanaian cloth
  • I have built strong relationships with my family, colleagues, and friends in Ghana

Most of these things, in reality, I have not yet finished yet. But knowing that this is what I will in fact say in one month’s time helps it to come together small small.

The Results Chain is a method often used by development organizations to ensure that activities undertaken actually contribute to the desired impact. Also known as a Logic Model, it can be used for things as routine as planning a family trip to things as complex as protecting an endangered species. For the remainder of placement, I hope to make extensive use of Results Chains to develop solutions for both the nucleus farmer and Antika that actually lead to the desired impact, by effectively thinking backwards.

Interested in learning more? Check out www.uwsa.edu/edi/grants/Kellogg_Logic_Model.pdf

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MPR, TGR, and what am I doing?

Right now, I am sitting in the Vitting Presbyterian Lay Training Centre bungalow with six of my fellow Jfs. Many of the Jfs have already gone home, and I will be taking a taxi to catch the metro mass bus to Wa at 4 am tomorrow morning. I made the decision to take this extra day to catch up with my thoughts so that I can go back to Wa and the village with a prepared mind and heart.

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To be honest, I was not initially extremely excited to come to the Junior Fellow Mid-Placement Retreat (MPR) in Mole National Park , and Team Ghana Retreat (TGR) in Tamale. For me, the upcoming retreats signalled that the summer was about to be half over, and that has resulted in me realizing that I will actually have to leave Ghana in about seven weeks.

I had just finished a week of enjoying the village of Loggu where I live in Wa East (see Where Am I page), which included successfully supervising (and helping where I could) the planting of almost half an acre of hybrid maize and almost half an acre of soyabeans on the land that is called “nasalla por yor” (meaning “white woman’s farm” [rhymes so much better in Waalii, I’ve decided to just go with it]). This is my farm, and so far I have had a part in clearing bushes with a cutlass (think machete), sowing, and spraying glyphosate (called “condemn” here because it non-selectively kills all weeds). I received a text from my host brother that the seeds had germinated on Thursday (after only four days!). The day before I came to the retreat in Mole, I spent the entire day clearing with a cutlass, which involved a 15 km bike ride over really fun challenging road there and back.

Arriving in Mole National Park, the land of toilet paper in bathrooms, burgers on the menu, and a swimming pool (what?) was a bit of a shock for me. I had arrived at Mole about two hours early since I was the only one coming from the Upper West Region (I’m the only EWBer there). I was in such integration-take-every-opportunity-you-can mode that by the time the other Jfs arrived in a huge tro, waving with their shocking white arms and smiles, I had already eaten fufu and groundnut soup at the less-expensive chop bar, walked to Mole school with someone who offered to show me around, introduced myself to many of the teachers and headmaster, walked into the classrooms and greeted the students of almost every grade, and was riding on the back of a bicycle back to the hotel. Soon I was hugging people (which seemed very strange – Ghanaians don’t hug), speaking Canadian English only, and organizing for a group meeting. Oh, right, I am a white Canadian university student volunteer. Right.

Soon we were sharing with the group where we were regarding our head space, heart space, body space, and I loved to have the opportunity to express some of what I was feeling. As I had to articulate how I felt, I began to identify how my experience so far had been different from that of other Jfs. I had almost become lost in integration, and in doing so perhaps had not taken enough opportunity to move towards producing tangible deliverables with the work in my placement.

As for the work in my placement, I fully realize that I have completely failed to explain what I have actually been doing in the Upper West over the past month+. Why is it easier to share my heart and soul with everyone than to put into words the reason I have been trying to tactfully talk to two very busy men, purchasing 30 small notebooks from a store called Foca in Wa, and staying up late to soak seed in a Latvian peat moss liquid fertilizer solution?

I am working with a large and progressive agricultural inputs dealer called Antika Company Ltd. in Wa, having shadowed the business for two weeks to determine how the business runs and any opportunities or threats the business faces. I am living primarily in a village called Loggu, which is 23 km SE of Wa and has no electricity, in a one-room house with a nucleus farmer’s first wife. I work with the nucleus farmer to understand his business which includes managing about 100 farmers in farmer groups, running an agric-inputs shop stocked by Antika, growing certified seed to be sold through Antika, and farming other crops. I can see an example of how four agriculture value chain roles are being filled by working with and observing one person. In order to understand the realities of smallholder farmers part of a nucleus farming scheme, I have officially become the 24th member of the woman’s farming group, and will be making visits to surrounding villages to meet with other farmer groups working with the nucleus farmer.

My work thus far has very much consisted of experiential and immersion learning. I have mapped out systems, but I feel like I should be using more tools, writing more notes, and producing more reports like some of my fellow Jfs. These two retreats have given me time to take a step back and strategize, but I feel like I could always do more to make my learning useful to others. Now is the time to begin focusing on one leverage point in the system, and produce some tangibles. And I can honestly say that I think I am in a really unique and great position to be a part of creating some meaningful change.


Today is malaria appreciation day.

Malaria. Transmitted by the Plasmodium parasites that are spread to people through the bites of infected mosquitos, it claims the life of an estimated 885,000 people each year. Half of the world’s population live in areas where malaria is present, which each year leads to an estimated 216 million malaria cases. (WHO)

In my senior year of high school, I was the “leader” of a group called “Take Action” which carried out campaigns to promote social and environmental sustainability. One of our most notable undertakings was raising of $2000 CAD for Rick Mercer’s Spread the Net campaign, which for every $10 CAD raised a mosquito net would be supplied to an at-risk child in Sub-Saharan Africa. The grand prize for the highest fundraising school would be a visit from Rick Mercer (a Canadian TV personality) himself. We did not win, but in our efforts, I could be seen putting up posters quoting facts such as above, trying to stress the importance of anti-malaria bed nets in saving lives. Back then I was aware that I really hadn’t taken the time to understand exactly what malaria was or how it acts and is spread.

Yesterday I tested positive for malaria at a clinic in Wa. For the entire week leading up I had been suffering from nasal congestion, a runny nose, and almost lost my voice. Yesterday morning I felt nauseous, and I could not even think about eating lunch. Around 1:45 pm, I checked my temperature and it read 38.2º C, significantly higher than my regular 36.7º C. I was quite sure at that point that I had malaria. I have since learned from a colleague at work that this is all part of a common cycle called “Kuttun”.

The reason I say that it is malaria appreciation day is that I have made the choice to appreciate not only the seriousness of malaria, but everything that my having malaria at this time can contribute to my development as a person and my placement. It would be easy to think about how I am not able to be working hard in the office, traveling to the farm, or learning Azunto dance this evening, but that is not constructive. The following are ten positive things about me having malaria right now:

1. I am in Wa, where the clinic to get tested for malaria is literally just down the street.

2. I already had the treatment handy because I bought it as a precautionary measure when I in Tamale.

3. I am currently living with the family of the agric-inputs dealer in the house which is on-site, so if I feel like I have energy I can walk 20 steps to the office and do work for my placement.

4. My family feeds me fatty food (fried eggs and bread, fatty meat soup with TZ) which is exactly what you are supposed to eat right before taking a course of the malaria treatment.

5. I can drink the Wa municipal water after adding aquatabs so I don’t have to rely on bottled water or satchets.

6. There is a ceiling fan in my room which I can adjust the speed to keep me cool when the fever gets high (up to 38.9º C).

7. Imodium,Pepto Bismol, my regular malaria prophylaxis medication (Doxycycline), and the malaria treatment (Lumartem) have no drug interactions (I checked) so I can take them all at the same time.

8. It turns out Sunday is the only day that almost no one comes to work at the agric inputs dealership, so I am not missing out much on the action anyway.

9. It gives me time to take a step back in my mind about my placement, and think about how I want to spend my last week working with the inputs dealer before heading back to the village. I was feeling a bit scattered because there are so many questions and things to investigate that I was finding it difficult to focus.

10. It provides a wake-up call for me that I am in fact not invincible and that there are consequences for actions (ie. not wearing much mosquito repellent in the evenings, not sleeping under my mosquito net 100% of the time), even though I have taken my malaria prophylaxis (Doxycycline) religiously and have not missed a single dose. * Also, hopefully if other JFs have gotten careless about applying mosquito repellant in the evenings or sleeping under their bed net, it can be a wake up call for them too.