The Catholic Parish of
Blessed John Henry Newman

 Covering most of East Leeds

A Letter from Ghana

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Originally posted March 2001 by Anne Marie Pickles


Many thanks to all those parishioners and friends who have written to me - its good to get so much post from many different sources.

You asked me to tell you about Dunkwa - there are two places with this name in Central Region - we are in Dunkwa-on-Offin which is inland, bordering on the Ashanti region. Itís difficult to estimate how many people live in Dunkwa - maybe about 10,000 - the buildings are tightly packed together interspersed with masses of undeveloped land, with goats and chickens roaming about all over the place - almost as many as the children! The schools are very basic, single storey flat roofed buildings Ö winning no prizes for aesthetics. Iíve not come across one that has proper windows and inside, the walls are as bare as when they were first built - which is strange when youíre used to schools in England which are covered in childrens work and other displays of achievement. Itís rare for them to have proper toilets and there is no such thing as a sports hall or dining room. The average class size is probably 40 but this varies - in the mixed secondary school there are 49 in the class and thatís one of the better schools. In the boys school there donít appear to be any textbooks. The volunteers who are teaching science are noticing the problems of not having facilities more than I am. You donít realise at the time how much of what we learned in science at school was demonstrated in experiments that we did or watched - over here it is all theory-based and they just have to accept things and learn by rote.

Education is not free either so not everyone goes to school, fees are about 40,000 cedis per term and exercise books are around 1,200 cedis each. This doesnít seem a lot by our standards (£1 sterling = about 10,000 cedis) but when compared to the income of the people here and remembering that families here are much larger than in England it soon adds up. The fees increase as you go through the school system so not only do you have to be very bright but also very rich, to go to university. Many of the children we speak to dream of being able to go to university so itís good that they still have hope that their dreams may become reality.

I am lucky to have my own room in the house which I share with three other volunteers. We are very fortunate to have the services of Belinda, a ďgraduateĒ from the Vocational School - she is 17 years old and a very good cook! For our breakfast we walk to the next house down ďourĒ hill where they have big clay ovens and cook masses of fresh white rolls which we can buy for 500 or 1,000 cedis each depending on their size. Unfortunately there are no dairy products here despite the goats so we try to get our calcium input from Milo drinks made with powdered milk! We are eating a lot of rice under various guises, usually with fish or chicken. The toilet and shower are in outbuildings outside the main part of the house. When we have a water supply - which is not always predictable - the shower is a constant cold temperature.

Our house seems to attract a constant stream of children both inside and outside - they brighten the day with their smiles and jokes. Before I went (to Ghana) I didnít know what to imagine but now that Iím here Iíve adapted (more or less) to the fact that there are millions of flies around - happily (?!) there are also loads of multi-coloured lizards to eat them up, though one got in my room yesterday and I wasnít too happy about that! Iíve not seen any snakes - yet - during the day it is always really hot and usually sunny then at about 6 pm or 7 pm the rain absolutely pours down like Iíve never seen it before - the noise is deafening. Soon after we arrived in Dunkwa we were told that they had their first rain for 54 days but now itís a regular feature. Even if we donít have rain there is usually an electrical storm which can last for hours and is fascinating to watch . Usually the lightening is so far away that we donít hear any thunder but just see the sky lit up with a series of natural spotlights. The real rainy season doesnít start in earnest until next month and with all the hills and dirt tracks we have to go across in Dunkwa I fear it will be less fun - I might even have to purchase some wellies - oh no!

There is very little to do here in the evenings - we sometimes play cards or Othello or a Ghanaian 2 - player game called Oware and weíre getting through a fair number of books between us. Occasionally we listen to the radio (I have been hearing about the foot and mouth epidemic on the World Service) or tapes but if itís entertainment you want then Dunkwa isnít the place really! It tends to be worse during the day between teaching sessions - but weíre trying to get the library at the Kindergarten set up into a place for after school activities - everything takes time in Ghana - the slow pace can be frustrating - even a simple thing like getting a drink takes time as we have to boil, cool and filter every drop - I will really appreciate just turning on a tap when I get back !

God bless, love to everyone

Anne-Marie



Published Thu 6th Dec 2001 01:14:58

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