Highlights of My Visit to Lawra (January 2019)

I have just returned from Lawra in the Upper West of Ghana, having spent 2 weeks there. My primary purpose was to work with the ATE Ghana staff on delivering our training to the ATE-supported small businesses, I also met with various people in my role as ATE Chair of Trustees.

I will share with you some of the highlights of my trip but first I want to talk about my emotional response.

I am always staggered by the resilience of the people I meet – many of whom live in extreme poverty – a level of poverty that I have only ever personally encountered up close in the Lawra area. No electricity, no running water, maize dominated diet (which often runs short in the lean time of the year) and none of the basic facilities that I take for granted in my everyday life. However, these same people keep going, they seek solutions wherever they can, have pride, believe in their culture and try hard for their children. I take my hat off to them – I wouldn’t be very good at being this poor. I should stress that not everyone is this poor – just a high proportion, a very high proportion in the villages out in the rural areas.

The second part of my “emotional response” is usually triggered on the road journey up to Lawra. This time was no different. The simple sight of a 2-3 year old child running from the road towards her house. The context is a remote village, traditional mud houses with rushes as a roof and a human driven bore hole pump (if they are fortunate enough to have a bore hole). In January when I go, it is very dry, and nothing is growing – a desolate landscape. The luck of the draw in terms of birth is breathtaking in these circumstances. I am lucky enough to be at the grandchildren stage of life so probably the contrasts are heightened for me now, but I do wonder how we, who have so much, can serenely live in this world alongside so many people who have so little. I can only conclude that we must rage against it and do whatever we can to create change.

When writing about “development” one ought to emphasise the positive. Research shows that pictures of starving children do not work, so please excuse my outburst. There are of course positive things going on, most obviously for me those being implemented by ATE in Lawra District.

So, some of the highlights of my trip

  • The main purpose of my trip – the business training. I believe many of our trainees got it! Our topic was selling and marketing, and we focussed on the very practical and basics of both. Some of the models we use are adapted from the models I used on these topics from my time as a trainer to the global consumer goods giants. Pleasingly they work in this context. I am optimistic of achieving the ultimate goal – behaviour change and more profitable businesses. We trained 42 small business owners (plus 17 consultants who assist with the training, and 6 ATE staff). Good luck to them all.

Awarding Small Business Owner, Teresa, a seamstress, with an award for her outstanding marketing plan

    • Real signs that the ATE Ghana staff team are getting to a level of capability level where they can run these sorts of trainings without me. This is one of the goals – sustainability.
    • The visits with Ken (ATE staff member) to the five dry season farms that ATE supports. All five are doing very well. The two groups with a majority of disabled members are however the ones that make the biggest impact on me. The context is a 45 minute motorbike journey on mainly dirt roads into one of the remote areas. The normal, desolate, dry season landscape is all around. Until one stops in the middle of nowhere and walk a few hundred yards to an oasis of vegetable growing being tended by hand, by 15 or so people. Their farm is fenced off to protect the crops from various local animals. This is my 3rd annual visit to these farms, each time significant expansion has been implemented and each year I am increasingly impressed. Pleasingly this is both intuitively and theoretically “good development”. I am sure that a high proportion of the groups regard me as a being from outer space. Not all have this problem though – one old (probably younger than me) lady asks me to marry her each time I see her. At least that is what I think she is suggesting.

  • My day out in Biro with ATE staff member Evarist. Biro is a remote village and seems to be a village with no centre – just little groups of buildings dotted around the place. It gives the impression of being the most difficult place to live that I have ever been to. Biro has been an ATE hub now for a year, meaning that at this stage we support the school and several small businesses there. The school has expanded significantly in the year with student attendance showing dramatic growth. I visited some of the small businesses – the most uplifting being Vincent. Vincent is developing a thriving guinea foul business and was one of the stand out delegates in the training. He clearly has the wherewithal to leave the community but is staying there to support his extended family. With people like Vincent in residence these people have a chance of surviving. One of my tasks in Biro was to build a relationship with the village hierarchy, so I visited the “caretaker” chief. Despite a somewhat intimidating appearance and a funeral going on in his compound, he was very welcoming. We had a good chat which then led him to presenting me with a live chicken. This is a great honour. The chicken and I got to know each other quite well on the back of Evarist’s motorbike going back to Lawra.

  • Working and having fun with the ATE staff – One of the fun things we do now is play an annual cricket match. This is very much beach cricket style with rules being stretched in severalareas. Lots of enthusiasm and increasingly a competitive edge are shown. I appreciate that my role as captain of one of the teams (Chair of Trustees All Stars) and umpire has some conflicts but the M.C.C. would be seriously concerned at the amount of shouting and challenging of the umpire’s decisions. No sand paper was seen
  • Family – It would be disingenuous of me not to mention that a big personal benefit is that my visits allow me to spend a lot of time with my daughter Sarah, her husband Habib and the grandchildren Hassan and Aviella. A great pleasure!

Overall, a great trip. Tiring but very rewarding. Next year I hope to flex my schedule to reduce my travelling time which is currently massive. If the threatened opening of commercial flights to and from Wa Airport happens, negating the need to take the very long overnight bus journey north from the capital, then I will celebrate!

Charles Gardner