Meeting Lively Minds staff in Tamale
Today was the training day a 09:30 hours start and I couldn’t wait! I started the day with a strong cup of Ceylon mint tea and some bread with Marmalade Dundee, which were kindly left behind by the last volunteers. Equipped with a bag full of donated books for children’s reading scheme donated from many families in UK, I wandered over to The Lively Minds Office tacked away behind the volunteer house.
The office was small but cosy and well equipped with office tools. A lot of thought went into planning the space; there was a white board, a sitting area and an office desk. Many creative sessions with staff and local volunteers must have happened here.
I met David the Lively Minds country manager for Ghana who warmly welcomed me and explained to me the practical side of the project. This introduction was extremely useful and David not only explained the project clearly to me, he also encouraged the team to actively participate in the discussion and shape the plan for the visit. Once the objectives were agreed, we discussed roles and responsibilities and techniques to engage the villagers and I looked forward to my first village meeting.
Alhassan (volunteer coordinator) explained to me the local customs, which I found extremely useful and taught me a few key words to use when greeting the villagers for the first time in the local dialect, Dagbani. Not only did I learn about the Ghanaian hierarchy and the code of values, I also obtained a valuable insight into the local life.
I was soon introduced to another member of staff, John, who joined Lively Minds a year ago and already is making an impact within the communities. John is responsible for monitoring, training and supporting local volunteers that engage with the Lively Minds scheme.
All Lively Minds staff visit the villages on motorbikes, which are the key in effective running of the project as villages are out of town and many are remote.
Introduction to Tamale
Once the day has finished, Alhassan took me into Tamale for a ride at the back of the bike. This was a great opportunity for me to get to know the town better and get familiar with the local people. The roads were extremely busy today and there was an air of excitement.
The elections are coming up on Friday and people were lining up the streets with NDC (National Democratic Congress) flags in anticipation of the current President coming into town, who is local to Tamale ahead of elections to get people’s support. As we whizzed past the National African Stadium, I remembered that Tamale had also many Opposition Party supporters (NPP) with the party promising to deliver free education in its manifesto. With little understanding of both parties, I was eager to soak up all the knowledge and was looking forward to democratic and peaceful elections regardless of the result.
There were traffic jams and young men were whizzing by on motorbikes overtaking each other, racing to get to the main road where presidential campaign was expected to come. Cars were filled with people; elderly women and men were squashed into taxis and overcrowded Tro-tros (or commonly known as “boneshakers”)were packed with many young, all in a hurry to get somewhere. An ambulance flew by us at high speed, someone was in trouble.
We paid a visit to a shoemaker’s stand. Alhassan’s friend owned it. It didn’t take long before I was promised a new pair of furry animal shoes (probably a goat) to be made for 20 cedis (that’s £6.50!). We quickly moved on to capture with the others and get in the middle of the political frenzy. As we drove through the crowds, I felt glad to be shown about by a trusted guide. There were drums, people dancing wildly in the street, some were even doing what seemed to me “a tribal like dance”, lots of NDC flags were waived and people were shouting in my face patriotic slogans! The atmosphere was mostly jubilant, however there was a slight edge to it, people seemed in a trance like frenzy with the mood easily turned.
We found a spot to stand; Alhassan took a few photos for me to capture the atmosphere. I quickly learnt that Ghanaians are very proud and somehow, I felt that it was better and safer for Alhassan to take a few snaps. Yet the President never came and so many people waited for him.
We returned to Alhassan’s stand. This is where he mostly hangs out in town with friends and does business. We were greeted with smiles “Sambi-naa (aka The Chief of Foreigners) is here”.
Here too politics were discussed by local NDC supporters “free education is nice to have but you need to have structures in place first, you need buildings, teachers and resources”.
I was then introduced to a very shy young girl Fahima, with a hidden artistic talent. “She paints tattoos,” said Alhassan “extremely talented young girl”. I told her that I will return to see her paint and maybe she can paint something for me. My mind was racing on how I could help her.
The night was nearly over, equipped with bags of food supplies, mainly a bag of tomatoes for 8 cedi, water and some melons, I returned home. Alhassan pointed out to me “you know that song that I played to you called Choggu… we are driving past the village now”. I looked towards clay huts with straw roofs. It’s true, these musicians had humble upbringings but they did not waste their talent! It was great to get a feel for young and talented Ghana.