By Charles Gardner – January 2024

Since 2012 many friends have had to put up with me talking about Action Through Enterprise, Lawra and the Upper West of Ghana. Many a conversation ended with an invitation to join me on my annual visit to Lawra. This led to six friends joining me this January in Lawra, one of whom, Fiona, is clearly more than a friend. Five are from Sydney and one from the UK. We spent eleven days in Lawra. We were joined for the first six days by a group of four people connected to ATE via Robbie Lesiak, who works for Gamma, ATE’s largest and most consistent corporate supporter.

The 11 on our visit to the Chief’s Palace – with the Queen Mother and her supporter


It is always feels to be something of a risk, to persuade friends to join me on my visits to Lawra. Lawra is a harsh living environment, certainly for Europeans / Australians. In January it is hot – mid thirties every day, but it is a dry heat. Interestingly, the locals find it cold (17c or 18c at night) at this the coldest time of the year and often wear hoodies in the early – mid morning. It is very dry and dusty as the one rainy season in the year has long gone. The visit involves daily riding motorcycle pillion on unsealed roads. The food choices are significantly less than one gets in London or Sydney. The work we do ensures you look poverty up close. Many of the day to day comforts that we take for granted are absent. Then there is the travel to get there.

Part of the team heading out for the day


Despite the challenges, all the group have given very positive feedback. “Amazing time, such an insightful trip”, “Amazing time with amazing people”, “Memorable trip that I will never forget” are a sample of the quotes.

Everyone was very engaged in the work, the people and the situation. Importantly we also had space and sufficient energy for fun. Canoeing across the Black Volta to Burkina Faso and playing backyard cricket in the guest house compound are two contrasting examples. Some beer was drunk.

Preparing to embark for Burkina Faso


The group was kind enough to occasionally refer to me as their leader! Herding cats was sometimes mentioned. In truth my role was more coordinator & guide, and the group were all easy to coordinate & guide. Not a cross word over the whole trip, at least not in my hearing. It was important that a significant amount of pre-planning was in place.

The ATE staff team was vital to our success and a pleasure to work with. The core team that we interacted with were led by Kaamil and included Charity, Sylvester, Kanyiri, Helen, Esther and Ernestina. They worked really hard and patiently to make the trip productive, informative and enjoyable.

A successful visit to Lawra is a lot easier to achieve if visitors have tasks and objectives. Everyone worked well. The “health team” (Lyn, Steve, Fiona and Anna) were probably the most focussed. They had a powerful mix of skills and experience including two medical doctors, one gastroenterologist specialist, one Professor of Rheumatology, one with a broad range of experience from midwife, through nursing, transfusion medicine to infection control and one researcher with a background in anthropology. Great credentials and credibility.  This group of had the objective of recommending how best ATE can positively impact the health of one of our hubs (Kalsagri) over the next three to five years as a pilot for potential subsequent rolling out across the Lawra Municipality. Dozens of senior and junior people were met, and many facilities were visited.  The meeting with the Ghana Health Service Director for the Lawra Municipality deserves mention as he was very enthusiastic and cooperative. The health team all had different perspectives but blended and cooperated really well. Pulling it all together into a coherent report looks to me to be quite challenging. I am sure they are up to it.

The health team on a school visit


Mike and David’s focus was more on the business side of things, utilising their experience bases. Both visited many ATE Small Business Owners. Both took part in some of the staff development workshops that I run, adding value and acting their part in the role plays. Mike also was tasked with investigating the tech and renewables opportunities for ATE as that is his area of specific interest. His self-generated aspirations for ATE in this area gradually reduced over the eleven days as the practicalities of life in the Upper West became clearer.

Mike, David, myself and Sylvester visiting Jacob a successful ATE supported carpenter SBO


Assisted by Sylvester, Kaamil took advantage of our visit to arrange an audience with the Paramount Chief – Naa Puowele Karbo IV. The Paramount Chief is extremely important and influential, nothing happens in Lawra without his approval. We were able to spend an hour with the Paramount Chief and his senior support team discussing the general situation in Lawra and ATE’s work. More common ground was found by the discovery that he spent time in Sydney as a student.

Paramount Chief, supporter, 11 visitors and Kaamil


We were very encouraged by the Paramount Chief’s overall endorsement and encouragement of ATE’s work. It is gratifying that we have reached sufficient critical mass to be seen as important players in the management of Lawra Municipality.

Another highlight of the visit was a ceremony to celebrate the many years of Gamma support for ATE. Robbie and Kaamil spoke graciously and sincerely about the vital importance of the partnership. Long may it continue.

Robbie being presented with the plaque celebrating Gamma’s longstanding partnership with ATE


How to measure the success of a trip like this? I know that numerous benefits have been generated. Cultural exchange and mutual awareness are high on that list, however the equivalent of the bottom line is positive outputs and plans. An immense amount of people were met, and insight generated, there were plenty of quick wins. The challenge now is turning the insight gained into practical plans that positively impact the people of Lawra, that ATE can go out and gain funding for and implement.

The visitor team and the staff team bonded really well, so that at our goodbye drinks the conversation freely flowed.

Last day goodbye drinks


Many thanks to all involved. The trip was highly productive and fun. May there be many more of them.