Category Archives: Humanitarian

AGBOGBLOSHIE: Hope in the slum

In the heart of Accra, there’s a landscape that belongs in a sci-fi movie. Agbogbloshie is a sprawling slum, famous for its eco-unfriendly recycling practices. Electronics are disassembled and melted down and lots of other toxic stuff goes up in smoke here.AgbogMetalYard Pro-Link has a couple of projects in Agbogbloshie. One is the ADRA/Linkages HIV/AIDS and STI testing and screening project. They have a drop-in centre and their clients are male and female sex workers. A team of peer educators scours the alleyways for clients, providing them with education and referral information. They also keep tabs on their clients for follow-up care. ADRAPeerEdsThe other project is called Obraapa, where sex workers are taught how to make a variety of beaded items including bags, decorated slippers, necklaces, bracelets and earrings. While I was there a group gathered around a table and started sorting beads.MoBeadersAggieMo Aggie, a feisty gal leading the group came charging over to me holding up some coloured beads. Would I like a bracelet? I pointed to my ankle. I had been craving an anklet ever since I saw the ones the Obraapa women had made for my boss. Aggie’s fingers moved quickly and in no time she was fastening her creation around my ankle. Beautiful! It didn’t stop there, she also whipped together a chunky necklace and matching earrings. Wow.
This girl was talented. We took pictures and then the peer educators had to leave for their rounds. GroupShotDespite such a challenging environment, the young women were playful and full of fun. “Is that your natural hair colour?” one asked me. “Well, not exactly, I lighten it. Is that your natural hair?” I responded. She laughed and patted her braids. “Not exactly.” We all laughed. Funny how that visit changed my preconceptions. Despite the sci-fi landscape, these young women were like young women everywhere. Full of vitality, hopes and dreams. Their work with Pro-Link has bolstered their self-confidence. They’ve seen other young woman who have become role models in their community and they know it is possible eventually to reach some of their goals. As they say here in Ghana, “God willing!”

Visiting Pro-Link’s Kadjebi Office & ADRA Project in Volta Region

MoLadiesCabbage copy

It was a long, long journey, completed in one day. And worth every minute of time spent travelling there. I joined Executive Director Trudi Nunoo recently to visit the Kadjedbi office in the Volta District, north of the town of Hohoe.
Starting out at dawn with our driver Mr. Osei, we headed east then north for seven hours, much of the time dodging potholes. We reached the new office at around 1 pm.KadjedbiOfficeExterior copy In the back of the pick-up truck were supplies to support the office’s ADRA Linkages project — a drop in centre and room for HIV testing and counseling. We brought a flat-screen TV, air conditioning unit and supplies for the nurse’s station.TrudiDeliveryCheck copyPatMauwsiTrudiDIC copy
Program Manager Mawusi Tsaku and the office’s gender advocate Pat Mejom welcomed us and proudly showed us around the new digs.MauwsiDesk copy Then it was time to check on three of the area projects. First up was the AWDF women’s agricultural empowerment project. Driving a little outside of town, we headed up a dirt road then walked down a winding path. Ahead was a green field and a scattering of women watering their crops — garden eggs (similar to small green eggplants) and cabbage.2Ladies2kidscabbage copy The water was coming from a length of hose, pumped from the adjacent river. Green and luxurious, the crops covered. 1.5 hectres of land, designated by the village chief. The group’s president told me the 15 members worked in rotating shifts — some went to market to sell produce, some worked the field and some were at home doing domestic chores. “We share some of the profit but also put money we make back into seeds,” the group leader told me.TrudiGardenLadies copy
After a fond farewell and lots of picture-taking, we hopped into the truck to head to our next destination.

Wrapping up a Terrific 2015 at Pro-Link


On Dec. 18th Pro-Link had its big, end-of-year meeting with all field staff. People came in from all the regional offices: Aflao, Hohoe, Kadjebi, Obuasi, Amansie, Kumasi and Mankessim. Much of the day was spent watching presentations on each project’s progress, success and challenges.ElvinAflao
I learned how the women farmers were doing in the Volta Region (a Crossroads International supported project) and how 10 blacksmiths had been brought in to make them simple, gender-friendly tools (hoes fitted to a woman’s size). In Hohoe, our officers have been working with key populations at risk of contracting and spreading HIV. They have been selling condoms, identifying female sex worker (FSW) sites to visit for education sessions, and setting up a drop-in centre attached to their office.AllSeated
Pro-Link works with both Global Fund/ADRA and USAID on programs that target “key populations,” which are marginalized segments at very high risk of spreading HIV. The Global Fund/ADRA project targets female sex workers. The USAID project is called “Linkages” and targets both female sex workers and men who sleep with men (MSM). Both projects are being carried out throughout the country in areas that include mining camps, refugee settlements and trucking routes.
At the Obusai office the main projects are Linkages and Reducing the Incidence of TB/HIV Co-infection in the Ashanti Region (RISTICA). We learned of the people tested, numbers that were positive and the treatment they were receiving. Joe
One project I was particularly interested in was Young Voices in the Central and Eastern Regions. Lead by Bernice Gyekye, the project empowers girls and boys, young women and young men to demand improved services in maternal health and sexual reproductive health. They learn about social accountability tools and create awareness with traditional leaders about some of the negative practices that go on in the regions. This can include food taboos and the use of harmful herbs. Bernice told us that the donors (EU/Plan Ghana) are moving away from direct implementation to a rights-based approach where beneficiaries are educated and empowered to lead social change in their own communities.BerniceYV
Pro-Link’s Executive Director Trudi Nunoo updated us on the eni Foundation corporate social responsibility initiative, the Healthy Mother and Child project. TrudieniPresentationNew and revamped maternity wards, health worker training and distribution of IE&C materials in the Western Region are due for completion by May 2016. So far269 health workers have been trained (total goal is 384) and more than half of the facilities have been completed.StaffPhoto
The meeting was enlightening for me and it was especially great to meet the people behind these projects.

World AIDS Day at Pro-Link

On Dec. 1st, Pro-Link commemorated World AIDS Day by inviting our Peer Educators in the Global Fund/ADRA HIV Prevention and the FHI 360 Linkages HIV Prevention projects. They work in some of the roughest areas of Accra, informing a key population of sex workers about HIV – how it is contracted and encouraging the use of condoms.Audience
Pro-Link field officers and local nurses also go out to these locations to test people for the disease and provide counseling.PeerEducatorTshirts
The front lawn of our Accra office was filled on Dec. 1st. The crowd sat under a tent watching presentations and sharing knowledge about sexually transmitted diseases, condom use, testing for HIV and screening for infections.FemaleCondomDemo Then we danced to great music provided by a local DJ, played musical chairs and had a lovely catered lunch of chicken and rice.

Musical chairs!

Musical chairs!

The star of the day was Gertrude “Trudi” Nunoo, Pro-Link’s Executive Director. Her warm heart and generous spirit touched all present…she is known for her tough love and a determination to make positive change. Everyone got out their cameras and cheered her on when she hit the dance floor.
Lady in red: Pro-Link superstar Trudi Nunoo.

Lady in red: Pro-Link superstar Trudi Nunoo.

A serious subject and a serious good time!

Check out the Pro-Link Facebook page for more pics @ Pro-Link Organization Ghana

Groceries, Laundry and Other Day-to-Day Coping Strategies

Smiles here are the best. My first bagged water -- how most people in Ghana get their H20.

Bagged water, how most people in Ghana get their H20.

1) It is very physically challenging to hand wash laundry. Our washer is broken with no sign of repair to come…so I get out the bucket once a week and do my clothes by hand. Strenuous!
Notice the delightful razor wire. Our neighbour is a bit paranoid...or maybe just has way more stuff to steal than we do.

Notice the delightful razor wire. Our neighbour is a bit paranoid…or maybe just has way more stuff to steal than we do.

2) I never buy meat/chicken etc. I can’t eat that day. The power might go off and so will the fridge, and my meat.
3) I always try to eat fruit the same day I buy it. Left a pineapple 2 days on the counter and it almost exploded as it fermented.
4) All dry foods in paper or thin plastic bags have to go in thick plastic tubs…otherwise I’m sharing with the mice and other critters.
5) If the power is on, I run to plug in my phone/camera/computer for charging. Nothing worse than devices with no juice…and that can happen very easily as the power goes off randomly.
6) Since I sweat a lot here (not something I normally do even in summer in Canada), I drink a lot of water…way more than I think is necessary. Because it is very necessary.
We buy water by the carton. Something I hate to do, but no choice...other than the bagged variety which can be suspect at times.

We buy water by the carton. Something I hate to do, but no choice…other than the bagged variety which can be suspect at times.

7) I smile and greet everyone I meet, even if they are scowling. 9 times out of 10 they’ll break into a big smile.
8) I am getting a handle on taxi prices and now know to walk away if they charge too much, which they always do with an “Obruni” (foreigner). Guys parked I stay away from because they don’t really want to work and charge outrageous prices.
9) I’m starting to tolerate the red dust which gets into everything. No use fighting it. You won’t win.
10) Malaria pills…important to take daily. Another volunteer got malaria. It’s not something I want to go home with.
My daily dosage.

My daily dosage.

11) My morning walk starts no later than 6:30 am, otherwise it’s way too hot.
12) Sticker shock…I avoid the imported brands…since they are priced like they might be up in the Arctic. $30 Cnd. For a cabbage. $20 Cnd. For a jar of instant Maxwell House coffee.
Reduced to almost $20 Cnd. What a bargain!

Reduced to almost $20 Cnd. What a bargain!

13) Go Ghanaian whenever possible with food. I have discovered great cocoa powder, brown rice, roasted peanuts, and yummy honey. All reasonably priced.Honey
14) Bring a flashlight. It gets VERY dark at 6 pm….there are next to no street lights, huge potholes and no sidewalks.Flashlight
15) My wallet always holds small bills. Nobody ever has change.
16) There is a very big Lebanese population here…so hence good yogurt. Who knew?Yogurt

Mashed Bananas, Dettol and Maternal Health

Last week I headed back out into the Western Region with the Pro-Link team for another Healthy Mother & Child training session with nurses from various district health facilities. We also delivered some of the IEC (Information, Education and Communication) materials which included posters about breastfeeding and staying away from using herbs to trigger contractions. HalfAssiniBreastfeedingPoster
Director Trudi Nunoo spoke with various district health personnel about the Mummies, Daddies and Adolescent clubs which educate about maternal health and provide ideas for local communities to prevent dangerous situations, such as lack of transportation to clinics. This is a real problem for some of the more rural communities. When a woman is facing birth complications often she can’t get a taxi to take her due to lack of money and also because of the mess she might make in the back seat. Communities are working out various ways to raise funds and have a reliable transport referral system. Drivers want to know they’ll get paid, plus they want Dettol to clean up and disinfect their vehicles. In some areas churches are working on ways to get the funds and in others it’s the nurses.
I was lucky to witness a Child Welfare Clinic in Essiama with Ellembelle District Public Health nurse Judi Okine. Judi was there to give a presentation to mothers on nutrition and the best foods to use when weaning a baby off breast milk after they’re six months old. She laid out a table with a blender to create a watermelon juice, and also demonstrated how babies can eat mashed yams and mashed bananas. I was privileged to watch the weigh-in and some vaccinations (not popular with the little ones).

Judi gives moms nutrition tips at Essiama market.

Judi gives moms nutrition tips at Essiama market.

Another focus of the trip was to check in on the construction of some maternal health facilities. In Nkroful, we saw that the health centre was almost complete…I’m sure a relief to the moms who have had to give birth in a temporary set up next door.
Entrance to the temporary birthing room.

Entrance to the temporary birthing room.

NkrofulDeliveryBedNkrofulMothersA very cool trip giving me lots more insight on the Healthy Mother & Child project.

Ghana: Love and Not so Much


1) Very friendly people.
2) Sweet pineapple and bananas.
3) Lizards…they are everywhere and eat the bugs.
4) Big fruit bats that come out at night. Very cool.
5) Beautiful ocean…get out of Accra and it’s stunning.
6) “You are welcome,” the way Ghanaians say “hello.”
7) “You are invited,” what Ghanaians say when they sit down with you to eat.
8) Cheap beer…my brand is Club. A pint costs around 5 cedis ($1.75 Cnd)
9) Rock buns…they sell then from bicycle vendors on the streets. Like scones.
10) Beautiful fabrics.
11) Fresh coconuts…vendors sell them everywhere. Chop chop and you have fresh coconut juice!
12) Cocoa powder, great for mocha coffee. Made here. Cocoa is a huge export.

1) Power outages…almost daily.
2) Lack of wi-fi. Cafes advertise they have, but then they don’t.
3) Open sewers – aka open air urinals. No shyness among the men here!
4) Dirty public beaches, especially in Accra. You have to pay for clean. At Bojo beach, outside Accra, the entrance fee is $5 (15 cedis) and is worth every penny.
5) Plastic trash. Everyone drinks water from these little plastic bags. There are no garbage receptacles.
6) Taxis with no set fees. You have to haggle before you get in.
7) Traffic. Makes Toronto gridlock look like a walk in the park.
8) Diesel fumes. Choking.
9) Two distinct standards of life. Mud and stick houses vs. mega mansions.
10) No street lights. It gets dark at 6 pm. Very dark. Impossible to see potholes and sewers.
11) Expensive imported food, especially cheese. I am weaning myself off.
12) Packed trotros when you are sitting at the back and have to get out. Excuse me, excuse me.
Clean Bojo Beach

Helping Moms and Babies in Western Ghana

Me, Trudi Nunoo, Pro-link Executive Director and health workers in Ekabeku.

Hitting the road with the Pro-Link team the last week of October was a great way to experience first hand the Healthy Mother and Child project, a corporate social responsibility initiative by Italian company eni Oil. Ghana is rich in oil (and gold, hence it used to be called the Gold Coast) and there are many foreign companies extracting here.
It took us seven hours to get to Essiama, a small town in the Ellembelle district in the Western Region, where the maternal health training would take place with 31 local nurses and health workers. I’ve learned it’s not so much the distance but time of day, and actual day that adds hours to your travels. Accra traffic is crazy and the police stop vehicles randomly, clogging up the roads and causing unending jams.You cannot be in a hurry. Difficult for my North American sensibilities. It is best to avoid rush hour if possible. Also avoid Fridays. Sundays are perfect – everyone is in church.
The training took place at the Wantapa Hotel where we were staying. From sun up to sun down the days were brutally hot. Hardworking AC just barely kept us from melting. I took pictures and notes as the the group learned about infection prevention, medical waste disposal, infant feeding and nutrition, HIV/AIDS testing and counseling and more.
There are certain traditional practices that the health workers are fighting to change and perhaps the most damaging is herbal enemas to speed the birthing process. “They trigger contractions, but they also damage the uterus,” Trudi Nunoo, Pro-Link’s executive director told me. The trouble is, this practice is encouraged by grandmothers, aunties and traditional birth attendants, so health workers must educate the whole community, not just expecting mothers.HerbsPoster
We also visited a number of maternal health clinic renovations and new constructions in the area. In total, there are 15 facilities in the project: Half Assini, New Ankasa, Tweakor II, Ekabeku, New Town, Samaye, Adubrim, Asomase, Aidoo Suazo, Aiyinasi, Asasetre, Essiama, Nokroful, Tikobo No. 1 and Agona Nkwanta. Mind boggling.
Here’s an official description:
The Healthy Mother and Child project addresses important maternal health and child health issues in the Jomoro, Ellenbelle and Ahanta West districts in Ghana’s Western Region. The project aims to support Ghanaian Healthcare Authority action to achieve the Millennium Goals, number 4 and 5 —reduce child mortality and improve maternal health. A major focus is revamping neglected maternity blocks as well as building new facilities so that women may give birth safely, with a skilled professional health care worker in attendance. Additionally, the project will ensure children and families receive improved health care in their communities.
Included in the project is training for almost 400 nurses and other health care providers, formation of Mummies’, Daddies’ and Adolescents’ clubs to provide positive maternal and child health education, and new medical equipment and furniture for the revamped and newly constructed maternal health facilities.

Nurses with their training certificates.

Nurses with their training certificates.

Part of my job here is to document the progress of the project, which is due for completion spring of 2016….so far one site is completed and seven are more than 50 per cent done. Fingers crossed the rest will meet the deadline!

My Review: Talent for Humanity

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This picture is of Yarrow Kraner, one of the inspirational people profiled in the book Talent for Humanity. A white kid growing up on an Indian Reservation (in Canada we would say First Nations), Kraner created a mentoring website where marginalized kids can link up with creative professionals and turn their lives around. Here’s the review of Talent for Humanity I did recently for the Innovate Development site. Such inspiring stories!

What I Do: Volunteering and Travel Writing

IMG_9119 Taking a break after a vigorous ride through the rice paddies of Mai Chau, Vietnam.

Terri Marshall at Travel Writing 2.0 wrote this profile of me that covers what I’ve been doing for the past few years. Thanks Terri!