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Academy Assistants Gossa & Myrthe: fieldwork in Ghana, update 23 March

Gossa and Myrthe, students from VU University Amsterdam are currently in Northern Ghana,  doing fieldwork for the  interdisciplinary ICT4D research project “Knowledge Sharing for the Rural Poor“. For this project they received a grant from the Network Institute, and are supported by W4RA. The University for Development Studies  Ghana – one of the partners of W4RA – is kindly offering hospitality and assisting the students in their field research.

Myrthes last blog before leaving Ghana, March 23 2015

“Last week I kept myself occupied with conducting two one on one interviews and two group discussions. On Saturday 14th of March I made an appointment for a focus group discussions for which I developed a specific topic guide aiming to discover if there could be more nuance added to the data I’ve collected thus far from the one on one interviews.

Anthony Dittoh (the father of my translator Docras and brother of professor Saa Dittoh) helped me to organize the meeting. At least 20 people would gather underneath the large mango tree across the main road. The meeting would start at 09:00 and Docras en I left the house on that time. Because, this is Africa and here they have the time instead of the clock…. A little bit nervous we went on our way to the market. Unfortunately there were only two farmers present. The rest had to go to a funeral, to the market, had to feed their livestock and so on. Disappointed we went on our way home again.

Monday 09:00 was the second attempt to get the first focus group discussion of the ground. We went on our way to the market again. This time we needed to wait again before we headed towards the mango tree. We waited in the small shop of Docras’ second mother (first wife of Anthony Dittoh). When the clock reached 10:00 we decided to go and have a look what was going on. Only seven people were sitting under the tree and I started to feel quite frustrated. We decided to stay and hoped for more to come. Eventually at 11:15 there were 25 people present and we had a fruitful discussion together.

Tuesday I was supposed to have my second group discussions at the house of an important farmer called Fuzeni. However, Saa Dittoh called and asked me if I wanted to join on a fieldtrip with the team of the Water Land and Eco System project. Docras told me I should go and she would send her uncle to Fuzeni’s house in order to reschedule the meeting for thursday. So, at 08:30 I needed to be ready at the junction. A 40 minute walk from our house and Saa would pick me up there. Eventually they picked me up at 09:10 and went on our way. This trip would mainly be used for short stops in the target areas of their project. I didn’t get the chance to gather data for my own research, but it was interesting to see some other part of the Upper East besides Bolgatanga or Zanlerigu village.

Wednesday I had an interview with two women from the market. However, one cancelled because her money had just been stolen and she was quite upset. I did one interview and could not get a replacement for the cancelled interview.

Thursday Docras and I went to the farm of Fuzeni. It was a 45 minute walk from our house. Sometimes I really miss having the freedom to use any transport I want, but on the other hand I also consider it as some good early morning exercise. At 09:10 we arrived and already 30 persons were sitting under the large Mango tree. Many more were still to come and at the end we were with over a hundred people. It was a lively and lovely gathering. Noticable were the convincing majority of women. An explanation was that women take meetings more serious, another said that it was because men can marry more women and a final explanation was that men died sooner than women. Well, I still have my doubts. Maybe it is a combination of all, but that should be part of another type of research.

Friday I interviewed a farmer who was into livestock rearing and selling. He struggled most with up-scaling hisbusiness. He didn’t had enough knowledge on how to farm pigs on a large scale and didn’t have the tools or capital in order to manage a large scale farm. He blamed the government mostly for this. They were the ones who supposed to help farmers who wanted to get into serieos agricultural businesses. Disappointed he added that most of the government officials only wear titles, but execute nothing.

The weekend I spent on doing domestic obligations, relaxing, homework and playing and hanging out with the Dittoh family. Sunday I went with them to their local church. This was way more fun than the church in Bolgatanga city I went to last time. I even had the chance to be a witness of some real life exorcism practices. The people here believe that a lot of problems, and that includes also health problems, are caused by being possessed by evil spirits or demons and can be solved by accepting Jesus Christ as your one and only Savior and pray a lot in addition.

For the upcoming week I will keep myself mainly occupied with preparing my departure back to Holland, travelling, getting back home and continue with data analysis. I will get in touch with my dear colleague Awa Gossa Lô and will see her as soon as possible in order to work further on our ICT4D hardware tool.

This week a learned that time is not of the essence here in Africa. I knew this beforehand, but it is always different if you experience it yourself in real life. On the one hand it could give you a lot of relaxation and freedom, but if you are a control freak like me who loves time and most important being on time it could also cause a lot of stress. This week I learned to let go the essence of time once in a while.

Well this will be my last report from Ghana. Next time you will hear from Awa and me again, but this time we will be in our lovely, cold, beautiful and well organized Holland again. Ghana and especially Zanlerigu village: It was a joy and a valuable life lesson for me being there. Thank you very much for all the information you were willing to share and the lessons you have taught me.”



“Thursday, 26 february we visited the University of Development Studies (UDS) in Tamale. ICT researcher Francis Dittoh brought us there to meet his colleagues, ICT researchers whom we would later interview on their work in ICT4D. They seemed to be aware of the development issues the local farmers are struggling with. Two of the ICT researchers were enthusiastic and offered to volunteer for our project if we manage to complete the ICT-tool we are aiming to build (one of the deliverables of our research project).

The average temperature in Northern Ghana is about 40 degrees Celsius and the humidity is 12 percent. On Saturday we made a road trip on the back of a motor cycle, to the village of Galiwei, to interview farmers living in a remote and poor area. The village was the home of our host’s family. We were going to interview his father who is the butcher’s chief.  On our way we enjoyed the beautiful Ghanaian scenery; waving children, small towns and crocodile ponds, where people collect water and wash their clothes. When we left our host was wearing a jacket. He told us it was for protection in order to stay clean. He asked us if we also wanted to wear a jacket. But is was so hot and we decided not to. However, 80 percent of the road was loose red sand with large wholes. So, when we arrived, we were fully covered with red sand.

In the village we were warmly welcomed by cheering and laughing children. We took some pictures and cleaned most of the mud from the road trip. In the butcher chief’s hut,  an old man was sitting on the ground. It was our host’s father. Two older brother accompanied the interview. Our host functioned as our translator. All the questions we asked were intensely discussed between the informants in their local language before translated in English. After the interview we offered dutch cookies named stroopwafels. We before we left we  did some formal greetings to relatives of our host. Late afternoon we arrived back home.

Monday we left for our final destination: the Zalerigu village, situated near Bolgatanga in the Upper North-East region. Professor Saa Dittoh, from UDS, drove us there in two and a half hours. This village is his birth town and we were kindly invited at his family’s  compound. Zalerigu can be considered poor, remote and rural, so it is the perfect village for our project, however less perfect for personal convenience. We were warmly welcomed by Prof Saa’s family. The family home is made of concrete and has no running water. However, electricity is available. We were very pleased to stay here.

It is our fifth day since arrival. We are quite used to our new lifestyle here in the village. Every morning we wake up around 05:30. Our work starts at 06:00. We fill our mornings with gathering data. Our host Anthony, the brother of Professor Saa Dittoh, is the chairman of the local market. He knows almost everybody. His daughter is our translator and guide. They are both our gatekeepers who give us access to relevant informants. Every morning we interview farmers and are shown around the area. We make sure we come home before  the sun rises at its highest point, because the heat is unbearable for us. The rest of the day we use for making homework and building the tool. A large part of our day is spend on basic activities. A lot of what we take for granted back home because it is convenient and easy, takes a lot of time over here. Luckily the people here are very helpful and friendly. So, we are already integrated if we may say so. The upcoming days will be spent on interviewing more farmers and testing our ICT tool.”

We’ll keep you posted!!

Myrthe & Gossa