A 2-week voluntary work trip to Ghana in a joint project with Reusing IT & the Turing Trust.
For more info the charity’s click the links below:
After an uneventful train journey to London on Friday evening my adventure to Ghana started at 8am when I left for Heathrow. On arrival was directed to self-check-in, which didn’t work – couldn’t find the number it was asking for, so had to be done by a member of airport staff, then queued up to check-in suitcase (was 1st in line for this). Departure was delayed by an hour, mainly due to number of passengers (and baggage) needing loaded – before boarding there was a public address made that anyone flying on the flight who had cabin luggage they didn’t need during the flight were to go and check it in at the check-in desk so it could go in the hold.
After a 5-hour 57-minute flight finally landed in Ghana at 2030 (UK time – Ghana is only 1 hour behind), the next challenge was getting through immigration. On the flight we were given a card to fill in that asked for the address where you were staying while in Ghana, information I didn’t have to hand (on my laptop which was in my suitcase) or think to bring with me in hard copy, so had to borrow the immigration officer’s phone to phone Eddie (the person I am staying with during my time in Ghana) to get his address!! The next challenge was recovering my suitcase which took 15 minutes. After all that met Eddie outside and went for dinner and chatted about the plan for my time here, already has changed – originally meant to be setting up a printer on a network which will now be done at the end as the staff wanted to do this at 1pm so they could go to church, but as it is a 4-hour drive to Kamasi wasn’t really feasible.
One thing that was interesting was that once we were off the plane and entering immigration there were signs advising of Ebola, how to prevent catching it and all passengers had to pass by a thermal camera showing individual body temperatures. Once I had met Eddie and we were on the way to our hotel I asked how Ghana had been affected by Ebola – the response was that it must have been divine intervention as Ghana was untouched by the events that hit Sierra Leone, Liberia and other neighbouring countries’.
Today was the drive up to Kamasi, left at just after 8am and arrived about 2.45pm. Road was mostly in good condition (with some really bad bits – not much better than dirt track) and varied from 1 lane in either direction to 3 or 4 (there is a lot of road construction going on so that it will be the same for most\all of the route between Accra and Kimasi – didn’t bother asking Eddie how long it was expected to take as I pretty well know what the answer would be, something along the lines of how long is a piece of string!!!!!! Only real excitement of the day was when Eddie was pulled over by a police checkpoint (police officer who flagged him down was armed with an AK47 assault rifle!!!) – his “offence” overtaking a lorry on a long straight stretch, reckon the officer was looking for a bribe!
At lunch Eddie asked what I wanted – so I replied I would try what he was having. Bad idea – the dish was banku, maize made into something similar to dough balls served with a fish & vegetable stew (which you eat with your fingers), definitely need to be Ghanaian to eat. Eddie ended up having mine and I switched to chicken and rice – but that’s the fun of travelling, trying new things (even if it turns out to be a bad idea).
After arriving at Eddie’s and unloading my bag went to the supermarket to buy bottled water and other supplies. It is not advisable to drink from the taps over here, which is the same for both other African countries’ I have visited (even though it is only a 2 week trip this time), even the locals don’t drink the tap water – mainly buying sachets of water (as this is a cheaper option).
In the evening finally met the rest of Eddie’s family – though wasn’t quite sure who was who as another family also came round, so there were 4 kids and 2 females, Eddie is married (Rosemond) with a son (Eddie Junior, aged around 2) and daughter (Larissa\Nicki [she goes by both], age 5). All the kids weren’t sure about me at 1st were shy and ran away squealing and laughing in the opposite direction whenever I approached!
After being woken at 4am by a rain storm followed by a shorter thunderstorm (rainy season is starting soon here) the first full day in Kimasi, after breakfast, was taxi duty for Eddie (and I went along for the ride) – the 2 kids to school and the wife (Rosamond) to work – met Eddie’s mum at the school where she works as an administrator.
Rest of the morning was spent working at Eddie’s with (mainly) Mick Minty, Turing Trust’s in country IT man, this involved a few different things (some of which will be ongoing over the full amount of the time I am here):
- Observing work practice’s and advising on any improvements. The operation at Eddie’s has only been running for around 2 years.
- Provide training for Mick as required (Turing’s IT man here has no formal training in any aspect of IT).
- Set-up and configure around 4 systems to be used as a RACHEL “server”.
1st order of Business was copying RACHEL (a learning tool that does not require an internet connection to be useful) onto a couple of systems to make sure it was working and then to set-up the system as required (won’t go into full detail as involves some techy terms!!!). This was done 1st as is a large package that is copied on to the computer (but doesn’t need installed so once copied to the target system is ready to go).
A trip to Mole National Park (1 of the most popular tourist spots for wildlife watching) was also organized for the middle weekend I am here – Eddie has arranged a driver to drive me there (I’ll pay for all food and fuel to get us up there, about 6-hour drive) and booked the Mole Motel (which is at the park itself), so all I need to do is arrange the safari in the park on arrival (which can be done from the motel). About 3pm Eddie drove me over to Manhyia Palace museum, as I’m not really a museum person wasn’t sure how interesting I would find it, turned out to be very interesting (and I had a tour guide all to myself) – was about the Ashanti tribe, who are the main tribe in Ghana, and the rulers.
On the way back picked up the 2 kids from school – where I made some new “friends” while we were waiting for his 2, other kids in the school took an interest in me!!! Wanting to know my name and where I was from – which caused much hilarity as none could pronounce Scotland or my name properly. Once we had the kids (his son was asleep so was just laid on the backseat, his daughter wasn’t strapped in either – no such things as child car seats out here).
Apart from the lunch on the drive up food has been fine (Eddie likes his food really spicy, but family not so keen – so tones it down for them, and any visitors that aren’t keen either. Although I like spicy food not in the weather here, which has been mostly cloudy so far with the sun appearing at times, but is still far warmer than Scotland.
Today was finishing off the 2 RACHEL servers that were set-up yesterday (both needed drivers – 1 for network and 1 for graphics) and then a site visit to a school (Afoako ICCES) that has received PC’s, but is still a work in progress. ICCES stands for Integrated Community Centre for Employable Skills – more info here http://onechildghana.org/what-is-icces/.
Easy start to the day – Eddie once again took the wife and kids to work\school, this time I stayed behind. While he was away had the 1st power cut of this trip (Eddie has a back-up generator – although 1 of his 2 dogs had chewed through the cable leading to the spark plug!! Fortunately he managed to fix it), which lasted all day in Kamasi and is still ongoing in other parts of the country (Eddie had the radio on in the car and on the news the government claimed the cut was caused by “vandalism” of the gas pipe in Nigeria, where the gas is sourced from but the news presenters stated it was due to an unpaid bill – might be either or both). Had more rain today – a heavy downpour while working in the computer lab and light to heavy rain showers on the way back to Kamasi.
As mentioned above Afoako ICCES is still a work in progress – the room has space for 50 systems but currently only has desk space for 24 (on this visit there were less than half working due to lack of power sockets and faulty systems). After observing a short class on the use of Microsoft Word (students just shown how to open and type) Eddie gave a speech and then the really work began – installing the RACHEL server and seeing if we could get it all networked so RACHEL only needs to be installed on 1 PC (the teacher’s). 1st problem that we came across was that most of the PC’s currently at the school have network cards but no drivers installed (so are not able to connect to a network), after finding a PC with a network card that was installed attempted to set-up the network as planned – as with any plan it didn’t work and had to fall back to using a method that makes supporting a networked lab more challenging (manually assigning IP addresses). Did eventually get RACHEL running on the teacher’s PC and shared to the other PC by creating a shortcut on that systems desktop.
Have suggested to Eddie, as this is to be the “showroom” lab, that instead of trying to find the necessary drivers for the computers they have swap out all the computers for newer models (the 1’s currently in the lab are also running Windows XP, which is now no longer supported by Microsoft) and get the lab fully setup on another day before I go. The computers currently in the lab can then be brought back to Eddie’s for upgrade to Windows 7 and all relevant drivers sourced so if they are given to another school will be fully up to date.
Tomorrows plan is to set-up a small network at Eddie’s, see if we can iron out the problems we had today and start preparing Afoako’s replacements. Have enough built just need to ensure that everything is configured correctly (1 of the 1st things I noticed when Mick was installing Windows was that he didn’t change the region form US to UK – this means that the system is set to US and so is the keyboard, which has a different layout from UK keyboards!) and all necessary software is installed.
Another day spent at Eddie’s. Today was configuring PC’s that are due to go out tomorrow, advising what software was required (some software that was being installed would have provided absolutely no benefit to the schools who receive them) and creating process documentation so that all systems have the same set-up (desktop wallpaper, desktop icons, software etc.) when they go to site and providing Mick with advise\training on using process documentation (not sure if he has grasped the idea yet – is still asking me what other checks need done even though it is all in the document I created and printed!). Before I finish plan to create 1 more that will cover the actual install of Windows.
2 power cuts today – 1st 1 lasted less than an hour, 2nd lasted most of the afternoon. 1st power cut Eddie was away and the generator was still in the back of his pickup but he was back in time to get the generator unloaded and connected up to the house so we could carry on working.
Discovered today that Eddie has even more kit than I thought. The house has 3 bedrooms, I am using 1 and I assumed 1 was for the kids with the other for the parents, but no 1 is stacked floor to ceiling with boxes of IT kit!!!!!
Not feeling 100% today – think last night’s dinner out didn’t agree with me No power all day (or running water – this was related to power issue) so working on the computers was by generator – today has been the longest power cut so far, started early this morning while I was still asleep and didn’t come back on until late afternoon.
Today was visits to 2 schools that have applied for computers. The plan was to install 6 in each, but in the event neither got any as the rooms being used were not ready – inadequate security arrangements (bars on windows not strong enough, door not strong enough and no night watchman) and power points (1 had no power at all in the room that is planned to be used). Also visited Tetrefu ICCES TRG Center, this school has computers but not the power to run them, even though they are paying for electricity! Eddie gave a talk to some of the students asking for ideas on how to fundraise to buy a generator – this wasn’t a planned visit, as we were in the area Eddie decided to drop in unannounced.
Good to see how Eddie does the site assessment’s and selection’s. The 2 today were a bit of an exception as normally Eddie would receive an application from a school, visit the school to assess the room, a revisit before computers are deployed to ensure everything is in place and finally the actual deployment. The 2 today were going to be 1st visit followed by deployment if the rooms were ready, as I was around Eddie thought would be good for me to be involved in as many deployments as possible.
Rest of the day was spent at Eddie’s building more systems, continuing work on process documentation as well as creating form’s to be used at the initial deployment and for any swaps (to give full traceability of where systems’ have gone). Eddie and I also went into town to find some USB mice (Eddie has plenty of PS2 1’s but the majority of the computers that have been shipped over are USB only as PS2 was discontinued several years ago).
Tomorrow off to Mole National Park, 2 days of driving with 1 day at the park (drive up Friday, safari on Saturday, drive back Sunday). Organizing this has turned into a bit of a challenge for Eddie – 1st driver had to pull out for some reason, replacement driver is coming from Accra but his car is overheating so he is taking a night bus to Kumasi while Eddie takes a night bus to Accra to pick up my driver’s car, get it fixed and drive it up to Kumasi in the morning!!!
Can’t believe a week has nearly passed already!!!
Drove from Kumasi to Mole National Park today. The original plan (mentioned in yesterday’s update) at some point changed – this morning Eddie was still in Kumasi and my driver (Ebenezer – Eb\Eban for short) hadn’t had to travel up as he lives in Kumasi!!!
Quite a long drive, left at 10.30am and arrived 5.00pm, plenty speed humps on the main roads over here, especially in\near villages and towns. Ed has never been to Mole so stopped a few times on the way up to ask passers-by if we were on the right road, managed to get there without getting lost.
After arriving discovered my driver wasn’t leaving me at the park to return on Sunday to collect me but is with me the whole time! (he hasn’t been before so will bring him along on the safari’s as well). Also staying tonight are a party of 3 white people (got talking to 2 of them just after we arrived and discovered there are evening safaris) who are also in Kumasi, but for a month, working in schools and orphanage’s in the area, 2 German brothers and another group that looks like Amish. There may be more but I haven’t seen anyone else.
Booked the safari for tomorrow for both of us and another surprise – the safari only runs for 2 hours in the morning (7am-9am, have to be at the information centre for 6.45am), would have thought it would have run till at least early afternoon, there is also a late afternoon safari from 3pm. Also discovered that there are evening safari, so arranged that for 8 – was initially told there wasn’t any as it had to be pre-booked so driver knew numbers and enough lamps could be charged, but the 2 Germans said they had 1 for 8pm – so went to reception and asked, she didn’t know but phoned someone who told her that we could turn up and the cost is the price of hiring the vehicle which is divided among the numbers who show (is 160 Cedi’s for the vehicle) plus a price for the guide, which is a flat rate (40 Cedi’s). So have decided that tomorrow will head back to Kumasi after the safari instead of heading back Sunday as planned, as there doesn’t seem much point doing the same 1 twice (which I am guessing it will be). So, although the park covers a huge area it appears a tiny fraction is used for tourist safaris’ (from the experience of the night safari you are never that far from the motel (for someone fit could walk back to the motel in less than half a day if on the 2-hour vehicle safari). So while disappointing there are no full day safaris at least I have got to see some wildlife and will (hopefully) see more tomorrow.
Early start, safari starts at 7am meeting at 6.45am [not the sort of time I like to start my day :-)]. Had set the alarm for 6.15am but in the event didn’t need it as Eb received a call at 5.45am!!!
Arrived for the safari and discovered that it was a walking safari rather than vehicle, brilliant, total number was 8 (including the guide). There was another group also going on safari but they were in a vehicle, this was the group I saw last night and turns out I was right they are Amish (1 of the 3 from the group I got talking to is American and she said they were – think she said she had spoken to them).
The safari got off to a great start – just after we left the information centre there was an elephant feeding (guide, Albert, told us that some people can come for a week and not see a single 1 – Mole has a herd of around 400), so we followed her as she moved towards the motel with the guide answering questions about her (how old – between 45-50 years, does she usually get this close the motel – yes, she drinks from the swimming pool!!!!). After leaving her to graze the group moved on and dropped down from the motel to the watering hole, where we saw crocodiles. As we walked saw green monkeys, water buck, antelope, birds and 3 more elephants (including 1 swimming) – glad I had my super telephoto lens with me, at times the guide held the rest of the group back and beckoned me go forward alone (1 advantage of using pro camera gear!). Also met another walking safari at a raised hut that provides a viewing area and rest area for the walking safari’s – 1 asked if I had got any good shots, so showed him and that groups guide (both impressed).
After the walk was time for breakfast (omelette and toast – had to pay extra for juice as breakfast only includes tea or coffee, neither of which I drink) then check out and head back to Kumasi. For the return there were 2 extra passengers, the 2 Germans who had originally planned to stay in Tamale for a few days but were advised by locals that there is nothing there to see, as I was checking out 1 of them came to check out as well and asked if we could give them a lift (they’re original plan was to use public transport – 1 option Eddie suggested for me but I wasn’t keen, mainly due to reliability issues – as I am here for only 2 weeks didn’t really want to run the risk of being stuck somewhere because a bus has broken down, saw a few broken down on the side of the road on the way up & back). Drive back was quicker, had planned to leave at 10.30 again but had to wait for the 2 Germans so was 11am when we left, took around an hour less (taking into account stopping for fuel and putting air in 1 of the back tyre’s).
Did nothing yesterday – just stayed at Eddies, read and sorted out the photos from Mole.
Today re-visited 1 of the schools we went to Thursday as they have now, mostly, sorted out what they needed to sort out (security still an issue but now have sufficient power to run the 15 computers they have received). While Eddie and I were doing this Mick was sent off to Accra to visit some of the schools we will be visiting at the end of the week to get an idea of the problem’s we may face – we will now not be leaving for Accra until Wednesday, as this is a public holiday which Eddie had forgotten about and all schools will be shut, so only have 2 full days there instead of the planned 5.
Being out here really brings home how much we take computers for granted in the developed world – you could tell all staff were very happy to be receiving the computers and 1 woman couldn’t stop beaming (not the sort of reaction you would in any school back home)!!!
As usual power was an issue but an electrician was on hand to wire in a generator to allow the computers to be booted up and tested, only a couple of issues (1 being a failed graphics port, so the system will need replaced).
After doing the deployment Eddie gave me the choice of joining him in town as he was getting an oil change or going back to his – opted to go back to his as we will need systems for Accra and didn’t have enough built. Managed to build 6 and get another 4 near completion before the 2nd power cut of the day happened (1st was for about 15 minutes this morning, the current 1 started at 1815 and is still ongoing as I type this at 2120), it has also started to rain and there was a little thunder earlier.
Monday was spent at Eddies installing operating systems and software on PC’s that were coming with us to Accra. Had 2 power cuts within an hour of each other – after 2nd left the generator on until had finished installing the operating system’s.
Tuesday we drove down to Accra, left at 7am as Eddie panned to visit ICCES head office to do the work required there – as it turned out by the time we got to Accra the office was empty (no surprise considering it was a holiday). Once again Eddie got pulled over, twice this time, but was only to check his driving license. We are staying in the same hotel as last time the Citizen Kwasi.
Today’s plan was to visit the ICCES head office as we could not do it yesterday and a couple of schools. As with any plan it didn’t work out – spent more time at the office than planned as the work took longer. This work involved networking 3 computers to share files & a printer, it turned out 2 of the 3 had no network drivers so these needed downloading which was a major headache as Internet connection in Ghana are a nightmare, ICCES uses 2 3g dongles to get access and is incredibly slow (so took all morning just to get the computer’s to a stage where they were ready to be networked. Eddie had, fortunately, brought a modem\router (although only the router will be used) so were able to use that (after Eddie had gone shopping for a power supply as the 1 we brought down didn’t work), so no need to assign IP addresses to any of the computer – could leave it all on automatic.
After we had finished was off to Nima 441, 1 of ICCES’ inner city training centre’s (there is no road so was a short walk from the nearest road to get to it. While they do have a computer lab this visit was to have a chat with the lady who runs it about a project that she is keen to get started, her idea is that some of the students at the centre will make jewellery out of beads and these will be sold with any profit being used to fund the education of a student (or more than 1, depending on the project develops).
Once this visit was complete was back to battle with Accra traffic (which is even worse than Edinburgh at rush hour!!) to our hotel. On arriving discovered the hotel had no power and the staff seemed unconcerned about it, due to this Eddie decided we should check out and find somewhere else, sound’s simple – not in Ghana, the only possible suitable alternative cost nearly 110 Cedi’s (roughly £20) more than where we had planned to stay but rooms were very similar and the only additional benefits were breakfast and Wi-Fi, so ended up going to back to our original hotel where the generator was now working (Eddie reckoned staff couldn’t be bothered to inform the owner that there was A) no mains and B) there was a possible problem with the generator!!!!).
Tomorrow is (at the moment) a very easy day. Eddie has arranged a Q&A with some if the IT staff in the area (he reckons around 10 max) for me to advise on how to solve some of the main problem’s that they face out here, will be interesting to see how it goes, and then I fly out that night (so need to be at the airport between 7pm and 8pm).
Today visited Mamprobi Methodist Primary school and also my last day as am due to fly out tonight at 2240.
This was a 2-part visit – have a look at the computer lab to see how they have it setup and for a Q&A with some of ICT teachers and myself. The lab is 1 of the best I have seen in all 3 of my visits to Africa, has 4 ceiling fans, AC and lab (as well all systems) have been kept very clean – so no issues to worry about with this site. Eddie thought that 1-2 hours would be adequate for the Q&A, so after introducing me he took his leave to go and find an power supply for a router (this ended up taking him over 3 hours as he had asked a teacher for somewhere that may have what he required and got directions which weren’t the best!!!). The Q& A ended up only needing about 15 minutes, the idea had been that the teachers would ask me any technical questions that they had come across and I would endeavour to provide a solution – as it turned out the only problems they were having were not technical but were environmental (dust & heat) and electricity (or lack thereof)!!
On the drive over Eddie and I discussed my visit and how we felt it had gone. In my view Eddie has everything run as I would have expected with my only concern being Mick – while he is a competent IT technician he appears to be unable to follow simple instructions, follow simple process documentation and works at a very slow pace (I configured 20 PC’s for use in a day and a half while it took Mick 3 days to configure 15 using the same process and still didn’t get it right – the process takes the same time no matter how much experience you have in IT) – I have seen him on the phone with friends and I also found him asleep a few times!
After finishing at Mamprobi Eddie and I left at around 1500 to find somewhere for a late lunch – ended up at the restaurant near the airport where we had my final meal in Ghana. Eddie then took me up to the airport at around 1730 to see if it was worth going to start the check-in process, there was a big queue to get into the airport due to initial security checks so decided to come back at 1830 to see if queue was smaller, so sat in the car for an hour chatting about various things. At 1830 went back and Eddie and I parted as I went through security thinking I would be airborne for London at 2240.
Am now safely back in London after a rather interesting experience trying to get the flight back. After leaving Eddie and getting through initial security I checked in and was advised that the flight was delayed and would not be departing until 1200am, no problem as far as I was concerned, so checked in went through rest of security to get to the departure gates (I needed Eddie’s address again for departure so, as on my arrival, had to borrow 1 of the security guards phones to get Eddie’s address).
At the departure gate got talking to a group of American students and they had managed to check BA’s website and the website stated flight was delayed until 0500. At 2300 some of the American group started to try and find out what was happening – finally someone from the airport arrived to advise flight was delayed until 0500 and we could get a hotel room, asked if we could stay at the airport (as we would need to be at the airport for 0300) initially advised that this was fine but 5 minutes later this was not an option and we had to go to a hotel (but without suitcases – as these had been checked in they would be staying at the airport).
So off we went to the Holiday Inn where we got checked in. I have no idea what the room looks like as I spent the entire 3 hours before having to return to the airport sitting in the bar reading and using the hotel Wi-Fi to read the news and check e-mails.
At 0300 checked out and back on to the hotel airport transfer minibus to go back to the airport to see if the plane had finally arrived (it had – could see its tail sticking up over the perimeter fence, so a good sign).
Back through security and time to wait for boarding to start. Once boarded another waiting game and the captain came on the PA to apologize and explain the delay, there had been 2 problems – 1st the plane ad had a technical fault that needed fixing (not sure if this was at Heathrow or not) and the 2nd was at Heathrow when a passenger that had boarded then had to be taken off as unwell and luggage had to be removed from the hold. Plane was supposed to take off at 0500 but didn’t take off until 0550 as 4 passenger’s failed to show and the luggage for these 4 had to be taken off. After an uneventful flight plane landed Heathrow at 1320, 30 minutes later than planned (we were kept in a holding pattern for the additional 30 minutes) – at immigration had a bit of banter with the Border Force officer, he asked what the reason for the delay was so I explained what we had been told and he replied that the more likely explanation was that the pilot had been drunk and had needed to sleep it off!!!:-)
An hour after landing was back at my relatives with just the train journey to go on Sunday. Spent rest of the day doing a little shopping before going out with my aunt for an early dinner followed by a lecture on “Mending broken hearts; rebuilding shattered lives. Quaker peace-building in East\Central Africa” (although I am not a Quaker this was an interesting talk on how 2 women have helped rebuild communities through peacemaking strategy’s in Kenya & Rwanda after conflict in these 2 country’s).
The final day of my adventure and an easy train ride to Edinburgh.
Before I left to get my train (and my aunt to go off to do the things she had planned) I had a few quick problems to sort that my aunt & uncle had with their laptop. I also had a WhatsApp from Eddie making sure I had arrived back in the UK, he also advised he had been diagnosed with malaria (he had been feeling unwell my last few days in Ghana).
Train home was busy – standing room only (though I managed to get a seat) for the 1st few stops. Once past Newcastle was a direct run to Edinburgh. My brother then picked me up and my Ghana adventure finally ended.