Monday, January 30, 2017

International Development: Degree VS on the ground

The room is stuffy and there is an annoying stream of light blocking my vision to the front of the lecture hall. 1,620 seconds left and I’ll be free, of course I’ll go to the library straight away to read on everything I have just learnt, I tell myself. As I learn about the independence of Ghana and how Kwame Kuma had his name inscribed in the history books as the first President of an independent African nation I wonder what life in Ghana is really like now in the 21st Century. I watch the screen and see the rise and fall of this leader, of the damn he promised that would change Ghanaian energy forever, and see how corruption was eating away at Ghana as soon as they flew that black star.
Then I think back to my degree title Development and Peace Studies and contemplate the current development and peace of the former Gold Coast. The multiple Millennium Development Goal reports I have read come to mind and I have more questions than answers. So in 2015 Ghana has a 76.6% literacy rate and they even have a national functioning literacy programme. But to what standard? And how much of the money assigned to such programmes through aid and government funds is being lost through the sieve of corruption? I ask myself.
Flash forward to my ICS Team Leader placement, where I am actually living in Ghana, rather than looking at a page of statistics and attempting to draw conclusions about how far this striving West African nation has achieved the MDGs.

Training workshop with income generating group
As I am welcomed into the Non-Formal Education Division I am blown away by the Division’s objectives of teaching 1 million people how to read and write through non-formal means and raising 1 million people out of poverty over the course of each four-year phase. It’s remarkable national development on the ground - I am excited to experience the facts and figures I once read about. Then I’m presented with cold reality. This national development program has not lifted 1 million people out of poverty, or created 1 million literate people at the conclusion of their most recent phase. The World Bank cut funding in 2008 after reviewing and visiting the work on the ground. I later come to realise after a few months of working with NFED Tolon, that on average 10% of the literacy classes held create literates after a 4-year period, and I can’t help but think why so much is going wrong.

My degree sold dreams about development in Ghana, more so to the people who were promised that they’d learn to read and write, people that have told me that they are living on 2-10 Cedi (approx. £0.40 - £2.00) a week to provide for themselves and their families. If the work of NFED were to be translated to statistics I wonder how those stats would read. I wonder if in the Ghanaian Millennium Development Reports stats and data such as these were ever inputted at all, and if it made an impact on the picture to be painted of modern Ghanaian development.

The truth of the matter is; working within the international development sector is far more complex than I could grasp as a university student.

Having said all of this, I still believe in international development, but now I understand it is slow, and cannot be understood through only statistics and reports. I understand that in countries where corruption is ripe and unemployment is high, many people work in government departments to ensure a steady paycheque not necessary to inflict positive change. In an environment where ‘tipping’ for the most routine procedure (a police man stopping you at a road block), why would you expect to work in any other way?

The International Service ICS NFED Tolon team
In summary, my ideas where challenged and replaced with global awareness I didn’t know I needed. What I learnt on paper wasn’t met in reality. Having said all of this I acknowledge I lived and worked in a tiny part of Ghana, and do not claim to understand the country. What I do understand is myself, how much I have learnt and I how much I know will change as a result of this placement.

Working on a wealth generation project with NFED Tolon has been the greatest experience. Conducting baseline research into the obstacles preventing growth, and delivering capacity building training workshops with the income generating groups (IGG) is one of the most worthwhile things I’ve ever done. Looking at the bigger picture I see obstacles both internal and external. I also see women gaining financial independence and being able to provide food for their families. When talking to some of the IGG members they told me they are wishing, praying and aiming to make 100 Cedi (approx. £20) a week. I think back to my days of working in Marks and Spencer as a University student, when I wouldn’t have done an extra shift if I were only to earn £20.

When I thought of this throughout my placement, the reoccurring thought in my mind was; ‘come on, you need to put in the work hard to make a difference to these women for that £20’. 

Wumi Nuga
Returned International Service ICS Volunteer
Tolon, Ghana

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