Still Kickin’ it in West Africa

It’s been a while since we wrote one of these. One month to be exact. It would be naive of us to try to capture everything the past thirty days have offered, so I’ll first off refer you to Andrew Holliday’s blog ( He’s one of our all-star participants who has been keeping up a lot more frequently with updates. What we’ll do here is run down some key highlights:

Projects in Sandema! We spent four weeks in Sandema, doing a whole slew of things. A big bunch from the group did field research in the community of Kpikpaluk in the town of Kadema to gather facts to help inform the G-Roots seed microloan project. This was a great cultural experience for all, being invited into the homes of the community members, offered fly-water and shea nuts, and just conversing with great, great people while doing the field surveys. Kpikpaluk is about 40 minutes from Sandema, so the moto rides to get there were also a highlight.

OG Superstar Polly Leonard was instrumental in working with Gilbert of the Sandema Disabilities group, and helping them type up all the grant applications that they receive. She also worked very closely with Gilbert in developing a funding proposal for the group to apply for funding from the British High Commission. Fingers crossed!

OG All-Star Andrew Holliday (a.k.a. Biggy D, a.k.a. Long Boss) – who is also the winner of most nicknames award – committed the majority of his time to setting up the brand new laptops that were donated to the Sandema Resource Centre, then he kicked it up a notch and got internet up and running at the Centre! There are now three designated browsing computers at the centre, which are also providing a great source of revenue for the Sandema Resource Centre and Horizons Children’s Centre.

OG Musician Extraordinaire Colleen Grande worked with the boys at HCC to develop a music education program, providing some formal musical training to the very musically talented bunch. They had one-on-one and group sessions with her pretty much every day, and everybody enjoyed every minute of it.

The wicked awesome ladies from our crew worked, once again, with the girls in the community to reassess the Girls Leadership Program and set its direction for the future. They ran into some issues with centralizing the program, but, with working with the girls in the community, managed to tweak the program into a more peer mentorship-based structure, with the older girls forming mentor groups with the younger girls. We’re super excited to see how the outcomes of this change in future years!

The third annual OG-initiated Sandema District Junior High School Football Tournament took place this year, but for the first time it wasn’t organized entirely by OG participants. Matthew, Jonas, and Yaw from HCC took on the roles of co-Project Managers, and with mentorship from Jennifer Sherys-Rivet and myself organized the entire tournament, from writing letters of appeal and going to meetings with the District Assembly, to contacting all the schools, to securing official referees for the tournament. They managed all the organization and logistics, and did an incredible, incredible job running the biggest and best tournament yet! And congratulations to Ayeita JHS on their tournament victory, and to Sanjuss JHS and Kori JHS for following up in second and third place.

Two giant shout outs to OG Alumni Jeremy Fuller and Kristina Mansveld who joined us in Sandema while we were there. Both Jeremy and Kristina were on the West Africa Discovery program with me last year, and it was amazing to have them back in Sandema with us this year. Jeremy worked with HCC to further the science education program at the centre, implementing a peer-led program that had the older boys who are keen on science to pick topics, work with Jeremy to understand the concepts and design their lessons, then teach it to everybody else at the centre and all us OGers. Kristina came to Sandema through her university, Mount Alison University, to do research on girls education in the community. She has been running around Sandema interviewing teachers and headmasters at the various schools, and we’re quite pumped to see what her research yields.

Lots more happened during our time in Sandema, from drumming and dancing, to inventing the game of fan ball. Life-long friendships were definitely forged, and in the days leading up to our departure from Sandema there was already talk of people planning their return trips next year! It was sad to leave, but our time in Sandema came to a close last Tuesday. We marked this by feasting on our goat which we had been raising for three weeks (aptly named Charlie Sheen, because he was super erratic and definitely had tiger blood coursing through his veins), and I got to prepare super awesome Tuareg Tea for the group (Jeremy found gunpowder green tea in one of the stores in Sandema, and we borrowed a miniature tea set from one of the community members). It was a nice way to end our time there. And the group has been on Independent Travel Time since. Here are some of the travel plans:

  • Anna-Marie Gierach and Sarah Clark made their way to the Volta Region to do some hiking before making their way to the beautiful Ghanaian coast.
  • Polly Leonard, Ben Van Dieten, and Jennifer Sherys-Rivet gunned it to Cape Coast, and are making coastal stops on their westward journey to Princess Town.
  • Andrew Holliday, Janaya Bennett, and Sarah Knowles made their way to Mole National Park, where they hung out with elephants, warthogs, and baboons. Sarah Knowles parted ways and went to Accra to stay with family friends (the wonderful Auntie Vivien), while Andrew and Janaya made their way to the Volta Region for some hiking.
  • Kelly Hadfield stayed in Sandema, working hard to distribute the medical equipment she had been working all year to secure to the various district hospitals in the Upper East Region. The equipment has successfully arrived in Sandema, and she will make her way to Kumasi then the coast on Thursday.
  • Colleen Grande and I made our way to Togo. We spent a few days in Lome enjoying French cuisine and getting accustomed to the language change before making our way up to Kpalime for some hiking. We parted ways in Ho, where Colleen will be meeting up with Andrew and Janaya, as I made my way to Accra to meet up with some Liberian friends that we made in our Togolese adventure.

So that is a very quick run-down of our adventure since the last update. The group meets up on Saturday at Princess Town, and I can’t wait to hear all their wacky stories!

It’s crazy to think that this adventure of ours is almost coming to a close in a week. It’s been an amazing six weeks, and we intend to make the most of this last one.
À la prochaine.

Taha and the OGWAD 2011 Crew