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Friday, March 30, 2007

Miia's First in a Long Time

To my dearest loves, electricity and water:

Oh how I love you electricity. The way you keep the fan going in the night to keep me cool or light the evening's dark hours so that I can lie with a good book. I love how you keep the kettle going for my morning coffee or how you charge my computer battery so that I can watch my favourite films. Electricity, you make life so wonderful and when you are gone, sometimes for so long, I miss you so much. You keep the mosquitoes away with that cool blast of AC air and so too you keep away the malaria. When you are gone, I wake up thirsty - both for the water I have sweated away all night and for you, dear electricity.

And you, running water, where have you gone to? I was sad when you didn't visit me in my home but was satisfied that you weren't too far off, just across the street. But then you left there too and I had to walk some ways to find you. Now you've gone even farther and my body aches for missing you. My showers have become even more meager for missing you. I wanted this morning to wash my towel but, alas, didn't want to waste any of you. Dear water, I know you don't mean anything ill by it, but please come back. As much as I know they don't mean to, the neighbours gawking and laughing at me as I carry you on my head is more than I can bare sometimes. I've even accepted that I can't drink you, that the water that goes in me must come from somewhere else. But to cover myself in sweet cool water, I can only dream.

* * * *

I'm really liking my work. I like that I have a lot of freedom when I work and how I direct my work, while at the same time contributing to positive change. I like that I am getting to do both macro and micro work, i.e. policy related work as well as grassroots work. As a bit of an update as to what I've been doing...

For the NGO, OrphanAid Africa, I've been doing two projects:
1- An audit of their educational supports program with a kind of socioeconomic survey of students. Basically, OA pays the school fees for 300 needy students. The kids are anywhere from nursery to university and OA helps them with their fees. The idea is that it is also a preventative measure, keeping children with poor families who might otherwise be tempted to leave them with an "orphanage" even if they have living family members.

The work involves going all around Ghana tracking down these students, mostly at their schools. I meet the principals, teachers and students and then interview the kids at some length about school but also about other things, like if they have health insurance, the health of their parents, are they eating lunch and dinner every day, etc. As the interviews are now wrapping up, I will prepare a report that will recommend which students need to continue to receive support (they would be cut if they have dropped out or if their family situation has changed and they can pay their own fees) as well as the findings of the surveys. The survey findings will be used for the NGO on future program development ideas as well as go to UNICEF for some ideas on releasing funds to needy families and other areas of support that would be recommended.

2- Also for OA, they have written a piece of proposed legislation on minimum standards for children's homes that they are trying to have passed as law in Ghana. As many children in orphanages aren't actually orphans and as many institutionalized children's homes are run as businesses, the welfare of children is not always kept as paramount. So, I've been working on reviewing the document as well as making sure that OA's home also meet the standards they are proposing for other organizations. Since they are advocating for these reforms, they must be a model in themselves. My work has been to do an assessment of the organization and now I am preparing training for different staff levels on upgrading their children's home. Next week I will train the senior staff and the following week we will have two days with front line staff.

For the UNDP, I'm also working on two projects, both of them related to the Ghana Prison Service:
1- GPS has asked the UNDP to conduct human rights training for their prison staff. This past week, I was part of running a 2-day training with 111 sergeants in the GPS. My work here includes visiting prisons, participating in the training that just happened and then writing a final report with recommendations on future training going forward and what it should cover and how it should run.

Interestingly enough, when we collected the evaluation forms of the training this past week, 65% of respondents either agreed strongly or agreed that more important than human rights training is improving the conditions within the prisons. With 15,000 prisoners in prisons with a total holding capacity of 4,000, overcrowding and lack of resources continue to be a major problem.

2- One of the human rights under the UN Minimum Standards on the Treatment of Prisoners includes the availability of educational programs within prisons, especially for illiterate prisoners. As can be expected, the illiteracy level within prisons is higher than in the general population but GPS does not have any formalized education programs (although there is vocational training) in the prisons. So, I am also writing a brief report on what would be the key considerations and a plan of action to pilot education and literacy programs in prisons. We will start with two prisons for men and two for women. UNDP will be providing a lot of the logistical and some financial support.

So, that's the work I'm up to. It's been really great, actually and I feel I've both learned a lot as well as had a chance to make some positive and lasting contributions. Not bad for a five months stint.

* * * *

Soon the next leg is about to begin as we head off April 16th by Ghana Intl Airlines to the UK. Chris and I have been looking at the maps my mom sent (thanks Sian!) and daydreaming of our upcoming hitchhiking through Scotland, France and Spain. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to cold weather, hot coffee and cheese. We'll be in France for the second round of the presidential elections - sure to be very, very interesting indeed. Maybe we can even join the anti-Sarkozy protests sure to happen.

Tomorrow we are off to another Ghanaian funeral and then two weeks of work to wrap up all these reports... Then back in the air.

It's been a very good go here in Ghana. Obviously there have been a lot of learnings, about myself and about Ghana and they are sometimes not easy. But they are definitely worth it and I'm liking it all the more all the time.

Much love to everyone out there.


Miia's father-in-law said...

Miia's poetry on electricity and water (hydro&hydro)is wonderful. I enjoy the style and echo the sentiments.

mavenmiia said...

Thanks F-I-L! Alas, we never know how much we love them till they're gone...

Anonymous said...

Great to hear from you Miia - received your letter today - that was a nice surprise:)

The B's all appreciate water, having lived with a well that frequently went dry, until a few years ago when city water came thru. Of course, in summer, we could always jump in the lake. EB

Amanda said...

Much love to you too! Glad to hear from you & learn about the great work you're doing. Excited for your upcoming adventures, and excited about seeing you this summer! Keep well, and we'll stay tuned!

Love, Amanda.

HL said...

Miia, thanks for sharing these latest glimpses into life in Ghana. We in "developed countries" take so much for granted....
Through your work over the past 5 months you have been able to make a difference - hopefully a lasting positive difference!