AFAWI Clothing Cooperative

One of AFAWI’s projects which I have been working on alongside Operation 100 is the Clothing Cooperative.

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Doreen displaying the fabric

This project is essentially a social enterprise. In recent years, particularly following the global financial crisis, grants and awards have become more and more difficult to come by. In the past, AFAWI relied heavily on international grants, but this has proved to be an unreliable source of income, which did not enable continuity of projects. The senior management of AFAWI came together and decided that the best strategy would be to shift towards social enterprise – sources of income that are controlled by AFAWI and are ultimately more sustainable.

The AFAWI Clothing Cooperative was one such social enterprise which came out of this initiative. The idea is to utilise access to an international market – particularly through current and past volunteers – and sell Ghanaian clothing. The profit generated provides AFAWI with a constant stream of income. It also enables us to provide a generous wage to those who craft the garments.

In the long-term, if the clothing cooperative expands, there is hope that the initiative will provide a sustainable income to numerous women in Ghana. At the moment we only have one seamstress, but if the project is successful, then we can invest in more materials and equipment, and potentially a workshop.

But in order to make this happen, we need to develop our market. It’s one of those things where we can’t really gauge interest unless we mass-produce all of the various options, but we can’t mass-produce until we are sure that the items will sell.

At present, therefore, we are at a bit of a standstill. But you can help us to develop a strategy! The first thing you can do is visit our Ebay and our Etsy accounts and purchase items.

Please bear in mind however that our seamstress, Esther, is RIDICULOUSLY talented and can make pretty much anything you want, made to fit. So please rack your brains and if you think of any item which you cannot see on the website but which you would be interested in buying, let me know. You can email me with any questions or feedback or ideas at Florence@afawigh.org.

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The wonderful Esther at work

We are also looking for feedback on pricing – we want to optimise our sales and it would be so so helpful to get an idea of the market’s willingness to pay. So, even if you don’t have to cash to buy anything now, please fill out this form and share with your friends and family so that we can get a good idea of demand going forward.

Any help is hugely appreciated! And please don’t hesitate to contact me if you want something made, the fabrics available are stunning and Esther is competent at creating any style, so even if you’re curious please get in touch and help this initiative to grow!

Thanks in advance to all my trendy, socially-conscious friends – you are the target audience and your input would be greatly appreciated xxx

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A cautionary tale regarding Ghanaian visas

Last week, I took a holiday to the Western region of Ghana with my mum who flew out to Ghana for a week! We had an amazing time exploring the beaches in this secluded part of West Africa. As mum was only visiting for a week we decided to take a domestic flight from the international airport in Accra to Takoradi (which is the main city in the Western Region).

This was very exciting as it was my first time on a propellor plane. Obviously we didn’t need passports, because we didn’t leave Ghana, but I decided to take mine – I needed photo I.D. for the flight, and wasn’t sure whether a British driver’s licence would be accepted. This, I think, was my first mistake.

When we arrived at Takoradi we had to go through immigration, which we thought was amusing because you can only get flights from  other cities in Ghana to Takoradi. I handed over my passport which contained my Ghana visa, valid until January.

But no! I was swiftly informed that I had overstayed my visa. The officer pointed to my entry stamp, dated 26th August, where “60” had been written in biro at the corner. Those jammy people at Accra airport had limted my visa to sixty days on my arrival, and not even told me. It just so happened that I was travelling on the 27th October – my 62nd day in Ghana. “But I have six months?” I protested.  I was directed to an asterix at the bottom of the visa which said ‘subject to authorisation in Ghana’. Damn.

I was offered to call my boss so that he could verify that I was always supposed to be here for three months not two, which turned out to be a great idea, because he shouted down the phone at the officer for five minutes and – I think – persuaded them to reduce my fine. I was told to pay 100 cedi (£20) to renew my visa, and then one of the officers (all of whom were carrying Kalashnikovs, I should add) disappeared for ten minutes with my passport.

He came back and we were on our way, but it was only a few minutes later when I checked my passport that something was up. Instead of granting me a visa extension, I had an exit stamp dated 25th September, and a new entry stamp dated 27th October, with 30 days granted. Both were from Takoradi Harbour, not the airport – even though I’ve never so much as seen the harbour in Takoradi…

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My fraudulent stamps

So, my passport now bears documentation that I spent a month outside of Ghana from September to October, although no corresponding entry stamps to any other country, and nothing to suggest that I overstayed in Ghana at any point. I can only assume that I managed to swing this and avoid a fine thanks to the diplomacy of my boss.

I’m only slightly concerned that I will have to embellish a tale at some point as to what I did for that month – I suppose I could say that I sailed around in international waters, or took an extended stay on an oil rig. May this serve as a cautionary tale to anyone entering Ghana on ANY visa – they will just do what they like when you turn up and will ultimately make it so that you have to pay as much money as possible to enter Ghana! It’s definitely a good idea to keep an angry Twi-speaker in close contact too, should the space to negotiate arise.

The Challenge of Infrastructure aka WHY IS THIS HAPPENING AGAIN

Several days working at AFAWI I have, through no fault of my own, done hardly any work. This is because there have been numerous unexpected power cuts. It’s really opened my eyes to how important infrastructure is to development and in connection how crucial it is that governments are involved in development. This blog is an attempt to turn my frustration into a point about development and politics, but I’m rushing so bear with me here.

There are three different possible sources of a power cut here. There are government controlled shortages, which tend to start at 6am and end at 6pm. These are experienced by different districts of Accra at different times and are initiated by the government in order to manage demand. Secondly, there are genuine power cuts which sometimes correlate with heavy rain, or which happen when demand is unexpectedly too high. Thirdly, we often run out of electricity on our account, which inevitably takes a day or two (or sometimes four if you get screwed by a 3 day weekend) to be topped up. Nobody here pays bills by monthly contracts; we have a pay-as-you-go electricity account which has to be topped up in person at the office of the electricity company.

So I’ve been trying to take it easy and not get frustrated about how this is impacting my work on a regular basis – the Ghanaians who I work with are of course used to it and completely not fussed about turning up to work with no means to actually do work, they will happily just sit and wait.

I’ve been trying to adopt this attitude too but it bothers me even more when I start thinking about the enormous implications it must have for foreign investment. Although I would never claim to be an economist (except maybe in job applications – forgive me for unqualified references to my tripartite degree whereby I did one year of economics and scraped a 3rd before dropping it), I am receptive to the idea that foreign investment and international trade is ultimately more sustainable and more conducive to development than specific ‘aid’ objectives whereby financial aid comes laden with conditions and reliant on foreign ‘expertise’ rather than local people. And it’s easy to lament the fact that Africa doesn’t receive much investment because as we all know global capitalism is essentially evil.

But how can a company realistically start up when the power goes off at random at least one day a week and generators are expensive? I can easily see how it would be too much hassle even for a multinational looking to expand into Africa, let alone local entrepreneurs. Working and living here, it really is tragic how difficult it makes everyday office work, especially in the knowledge that Ghana exports a huge amount of electricity to neighbouring countries. I suppose it must be politically easier to gain cash fast from export rather than investing in Ghana’s domestic electricity supply, but it doesn’t seem to make sense in the long term.

I do wonder why the international development sector hasn’t prioritised infrastructure more, but at the same time I kind of know. It’s hard to develop country-wide solutions without allowing or encouraging government to take a leading role. But corruption remains prevalent in Ghana. I’ve witnessed three bribes to public officials since I’ve been here, and just today a taxi driver was apologising to me for the state of the road, and told me that “the politicians go to Europe to borrow money for roads, and then they use it to get fat”. This encourages some NGOs to stay away from infrastructural issues and instead do what they can – small scale work in a handful of schools, or a couple of villages. It does make sense, but I don’t really think it’s the best approach – improve services and everyone becomes better connected, and it’s easier to do any kind of developmental work.

Of course I’m generalising here and it’s a bit rich for me to criticise the fact that an extremely expensive but beneficial project hasn’t been undertaken in more places, but that’s my take on the issue. I’m not sure if it eases my personal frustration that it can be connected to a national grievance and potentially a problem pervading the entire international development sector, but there we go.

A Typical Day at AFAWI

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The view from the porch of our house

I struggle to update people on day-to-day happenings unless I talk to them very regularly, so I’ve decided to do a stylised version of my typical day. Ghana is very different to the UK but I’ve got used to it quickly, so I’m trying to include here the myriad of bizarre events which happen regularly, but are also very normal for Ghana, which might lead me not to comment on them in general conversation.

I wake up at 7 here, not by an alarm, but just when it starts to get light. If it’s sunny I do my washing outside by hand, and then have a cup of Earl Grey on the porch. I brought lots of tea with me, but the water here tastes sort of acidic, so normal tea doesn’t taste so good. Breakfast will be a banana and peanut butter sandwich, or a tomato omelette if I’m feeling adventurous.

My first task is to invite a particular school to participate in the research project, and in order to do so I need to contact the headmaster. If I were in England I’d maybe find the school’s website and email them, or google for references to the school to find contact details elsewhere, or call the district council to get a phone number. Here, I can’t do any of those things – we had to go to the district assembly just to get a list of all the junior schools in the area. So instead I’ll take a two hour trip on two minibuses and a shared taxi to go and visit the school for ten minutes, to give the headmaster a letter and ask him when we can come back to do the research. On another day I might go to do the data collection itself – distributing surveys to teachers and students – which takes longer, but is still a lot of travelling.

If I’m really unlucky, the headmaster might not be there. This has only happened once though and the deputy was very helpful. It’s not too much of a waste of money if the trip isn’t fruitful though; the return journey only costs £1.50 due to the incredible efficiency of public transport here. There is a crazy network of minibus routes which are totally unofficial and therefore the only way to get your head around them is trial and error. You can get most places for about 10p though. More rural locations are a slightly different story – you will pay more like 30p (shock horror) and will go in a shared taxi which leaves when it is full. Public transport here has absolutely no set departure times – you just wait at a station, or sometimes just at the side of the road, and hope that you don’t have to wait too long for the taxi/bus to be full enough for the driver to leave. While waiting for the taxi to leave I might get a marriage proposal from another taxi driver nearby, which I politely decline by saying that it is immoral for a woman to take more than one man. I’ve had six so far, trying not to let it go to my head too much though, I think it might be because they want me to take them back to England rather than because of my great charisma and beauty. It could be a mix of both though.

 

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A ‘bus station’

Four hours later back at the office (which is also our house – sometimes a blessing, sometimes a nightmare), it’s nearly lunch time, which means it’s nearly time for me to get bullied relentlessly by the majority of the AFAWI staff if I leave any food or express the slightest discomfort at how much hot pepper is included. Ghanaians tend to eat their main meal at lunch time, and it tends to consist of a large amount of carbohydrate with some sort of hot sauce. Vegetables are a novelty but I’ve managed to successfully lobby for their inclusion. A Ghanaian classic is banku – an incredibly stodgy carbohydrate which is kind of like dough, or mashed potato but just so much denser than you could imagine. Eating a full portion quite often means a nap is necessary. Ghanaian food is delicious though and I’m trying hard to get my hot pepper-tolerance up to an ‘acceptable’ level so that I can impress my Ghanaian co-workers. It’s difficult to say whether this is peer pressure or cultural exchange.

In the afternoon, if there is power, I’ll type up the data, or work on the current draft of the report. It’s 45 pages long currently and has been written and rewritten different volunteers since the project started, so we’re trying to compile all the work and get it to a manageable size by the end of October. I also might have meetings with staff about the implementation of the report, or about the clothing cooperative (watch this space: it’s going to relaunch soon on ASOS Marketplace).

In the evening we sit on the porch and relax – reading or cooking, often a few drinks too. The kids who live over the road come over around 6pm and stay until 8.30pm; they’ve recently taken a liking to my travel scrabble which I’m delighted about, and have also managed to find a game on my phone, hidden within the Emoji app, which keeps them entertained. I have a cold shower before bed, although sometimes I go a bit wild and boil a pan of water on the stove to take into the shower with me. I’ve only done this twice so far though; I’m not a complete princess. We’re not near the centre of Accra so we don’t go out that much during the week, but we have a lot of freedom to go away at the weekend: Cape Coast, Kokrobite, Hohoe. Blog post forthcoming (maybe) about my leisurely experiences of Ghana.

First Two Weeks in Accra

I’ve been in Ghana for two weeks now, and feel compelled to write this post to give a detailed record of what exactly I’m doing here. This is pretty much just a factual overview but please get in touch if you have any requests or comments on anything else I should write about – I’m new to this blogging thing you see but keen to get into it.

The NGO:

The organisation I’m working for is called the Alliance For African Women Initiative (AFAWI). Their website is www.afawigh.org and they are a grassroots charity working to improve the lives of women and children, particularly those living with HIV/AIDS, in the Greater Accra region.

‘Grassroots’ is one of those development jargon terms which can mean almost anything, but AFAWI is befitting of the description – it’s an extremely small charity with very few staff and a small reach outside of Ghana. It operates independently of grants or large-scale funding, and works through an extensive local network. This has a number of positives: I’m already enjoying a huge amount of freedom to do what I want with my project, and it’s very easy to see the impact of the work we do, it’s flexible in terms of when we work and what we do, I already know most of the people involved with the NGO.

However, it’s also challenging at times – there is very little management going on, so I have to take the initiative, and additionally it’s hard to get things done on time, as Ghanaian ideas of urgency and timekeeping are very different to English notions. But I’m trying to see these as positives and cultural differences rather than getting frustrated because people aren’t doing it ‘right’ or ‘the best way’ – Britain doesn’t exactly have a great track record with showing Ghanaians how to help themselves after all, and the last thing I want to do is be guilty of enforcing or trying to transplant Western norms to a foreign context that I know relatively little about, compared to the people who actually live here. And although I’m on quite a tight schedule, it’s actually quite nice to take a chilled approach to work and not feel stressed or guilty if work doesn’t go 100% according to plan.

The Project:

Within AFAWI, I am working on a research project called Operation 100. The aim of the project is to evaluate knowledge of and attitudes towards sex education and HIV/AIDS in Junior High Schools in the Ga East and Ga West districts of Greater Accra, Ghana.

What that basically means is that for the past two years, various interns at AFAWI have been collecting data in schools and surrounding communities – distributing questionnaires, doing interviews and focus groups – in order to be able to draw some useful conclusions about the shortcomings of sex education and make recommendations to the government on how it can be improved, as well as see what AFAWI, as a community-based NGO, can implement in order to tackle the issues. The research has a particular focus on HIV/AIDS.

I was happy to discover upon arrival that the data collection phase is nearly over. This is good because, although interesting, it’s very repetitive, whereas doing the analysis is a lot more interesting and enables me to engage more in the project – because I’m actually doing the recommendations and working out the conclusions, not just handing out surveys.

However, this is a bit of a double edged sword, as I have also been told that the project needs to be finished by the end of the year. This is doable, but I discovered shortly after that, from the end of September, I am the only intern working on Operation 100. This puts a lot of pressure on me to complete it on time, which is a little scary, but definitely doable. Operation 100 has been worked on by lots of different interns over time, and the aim of the project has been interpreted and re-interpreted over time, which means some of the work that has been done is hard to collate, but I feel confident that I can bring it together and construct something meaningful and valuable.

Overall…

I’m really enjoying the project so far. It’s given me a great insight into research and all the ways it can be attempted, which is really good for future career prospects and my masters. I’ve done a week and a half’s work for AFAWI so far – I spent my first four days in Accra, getting to know the city, before moving to the NGO hostel where I will be for the rest of my stay. I’m working every week until the 24th October, then I’m planning a little holiday and some travelling for a few weeks, before returning to AFAWI for more work, if it needs to be done. I fly home on the 6th December.

Why I Want To Pursue A Career In Development Research

This is my first contribution to the Development Intern blog. Expect to see more contributions shared here over the next few months, reflecting on my experiences of working on a PhD project in Oxford, and working for an NGO in Accra, Ghana, from a career perspective.

Development Intern

I have just finished my undergraduate degree in Politics and Philosophy and am now attempting to pursue a career at the intersection between international development and academia, in a policy or research-based role.

The main issue with this plan, which became apparent in the last few months of my degree, was that I have very little experience or knowledge of this area of work called ‘research’.

I have always been interested in development (particularly in Africa); an interest sparked no doubt by being lucky enough to visit Malawi on a voluntourism project at the age of 16. As I grew older, I realised that working in development was a legitimate career option, which was great as my main career aspiration was – and remains – to help make the world a better place.

I have no direct skills in education or sanitation. Although my degree has furnished me with theoretical…

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