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2010 August

News and Updates from our Chapter

31 Aug


Chitsime – A Well

August 31, 2010 | By |

Update From The Field

One of EWB’s new African program volunteers, our Grand River chapter’s Don McMurtry, has started a really interesting blog.  It will follow Don’s progress and challenges during his four months in Malawi as an EWB Professional Junior Fellow.  You can read his first post here below, or on his own site “Mudzi Madzi“.

Two days ago, after a three hour mini-bus ride south from Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, I arrived in the town of Balaka. An EWB colleague who accompanied me on the 6 am departure from Lilongwe’s chaotic bus “terminal” (two tiny block sheds in the middle of a large grassless field filled with people, busses and cargo vans, recounted standing for several hours on a jam-packed coach, so our trip was far less uncomfortable than might be expected.

While in Lilongwe and again here in Balaka, I have been staying in guest houses that offer a variety of room types. The one on Lilongwe had as many as seven people; here at the Chitsimi Hostel it costs 500 Kwatcha per night (about Cdn $3.33, including breakfast) for a four-person shared room. Single rooms are available as well, but I am happy to meet others. It is my hope to soon find a family in a nearby village that will accept me as a guest and where I can still walk a convenient distance to the office.

Balaka’s District Water Office (part of the Malawi Ministry of Irrigation & Water Development) will be my base of work for the next four months. On Friday morning, my second day in the district office, Mr. Nkwate (a Water Monitoring Assistant) was asked by Mr. Mapsere (the District Water Officer, aka his boss) to take me to Utale to visit a rural health station. It was very helpful to meet some of the dozen “health surveillance assistants” who work in that area as I slowly assemble my understanding of how water services are provided in rural Malawi. It also made more clear how interdependent the Health and Water departments are, just as they are in North America.

Unlike most districts in Malawi, Balaka has a substantial gravity-fed pipe network reaching into rural areas as well as bore-hole wells equipped with hand pumps. As the district population has grown, less water, sometime none, makes it to the more remote edges of the almost three decade old network. There are other reasons for taps being non-functional as well, but I don’t yet have a more comprehensive systemic understanding at this early stage. Most of the Utale taps fall into the non-fuctional category.

Tap water in Lilongwe and here in Balaka is drinkable. Chlorine is added to the water as it enters the distribution network near the reservoir dam but one can imagine there is a drop-off of concentration in various circumstances. The scent of water from the tap is welcome.

At the health centre I learned about HTH, the chlorine powder added to water for drinking. Rural people without piped water add a teaspoon of HTH into a 20 litre container to make the water safe.

Nkwate gave me some riding instructions as we departed for the health centre on the back of a District-owned motorcycle. Twisting along dirt paths and roads, at times bumping across railway lines, was a reminder that I must spend a portion of every day doing back strengthening exercises or I run the risk of a recurrence of my lower-back disk injury. The brain-bucket (aka motorcycle helmet) EWB had me purchase while we were in Toronto for training was one of the more essential things stuffed into my bag.

17 Aug


Canada’s Chance To Lead Global Food Aid Reforms

August 17, 2010 | By |

Important opportunity for Canada to lead reform in global food aid governance

This week’s enthusiastic recommendation is an excellent perspectives piece recently added to the website of The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI).  This article, Canada’s Chance To Lead Global Food Aid Reforms, describes why the rules governing “international food aid need serious overhaul, and Canada is well placed to do something about it.”

On April 20th this year, I attended a CIGI Environment and Resources Noon Lecture Series presentation by Jennifer Clapp:  “Over 1 Billion NOT Served: The Global Economic Crisis and Food Governance”.  It was a fascinating and very informative talk, and I was hoping to summarize a few of the main points for one of the EWB member learning sessions in our chapter this autumn.

How much better to have so many of the important points from that lecture presented so clearly and concisely by Dr. Clapp herself in this essay?  This information is relevant for EWB members and others interested in current news and perspective on how international food governance impacts hunger and poverty.

(Photo credit – IFAD/ Piero Tartagni)

15 Aug


Culture Shock

August 15, 2010 | By |

Update From The Field

One of EWB’s African program staff, Grand River chapter’s Erin Antcliffe, has posted another intriguing new entry in her blog (August 13, 2010) .  You can read it here, or on Erin’s own site “What am I doing here?   Reflections on my role in Ghanaian development.”

Erin writes: 

I met John while at a meeting in the garden of a local guesthouse. “Hey, Wayne, how is it?” he greeted us. “Hey, John, long time! How is Accra?” replied Wayne. Wayne, our team leader, introduced John as an employee in the M&E department for MoFA in Accra. He sat down to join us and his animated personality soon made us forget our meeting.

John had come to “the north” on a data collection assignment for MoFA National. Apparently all districts had been asked to submit some data on the farmers in their area, but hadn’t been doing so. John came to find out why, and to assist the districts in submitting the data.

He is young, maybe 30 years old, born and bred in Accra. This was only his second time traveling north of Kumasi. Last time he got very sick on his second day, so this time he had packed his white pick-up full of bottled water and food from Accra. “But John, they sell bottled water in Tamale.” “Yes, but it’s not the same quality as what we have in Accra. You never know what you’re getting.”

As his driver chauffeured him north, out of the lush green forests of the south and into the savannah of the north, he marveled at what he saw. “People actually live in mud huts here! Some don’t even have electricity! Me, I can’t imagine living without a microwave.”

He stopped the driver a few times in villages to talk to people as they passed, but they couldn’t understand each other. “You mean there are people in Ghana who don’t speak Twi??” Twi is one of Ghana’s major languages, spoken by many people as a common language even if their local language is different. But is mostly found in the south.

Through an interpreter, he had a conversation with an old woman in a village. “I asked her how old she was, and you know what she said? Ten! I mean, I didn’t expect her to know her exact age, but ten? She doesn’t even understand the concept of numbers!” The fact that someone in Ghana can live her whole life with no formal education is unfathomable to John.

“How can you live here? I don’t know how you EWB people do it.” “But John, this is your own country. You don’t think you could live here, in the north of Ghana?” “No no, I wouldn’t be able to do it. I could go to your country, Canada, and live in the north there. It would be an adventure! For you people, living in Ghana is an adventure. But I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t live here.”

11 Aug


Building Water Systems, Not Just Wells

August 11, 2010 | By |

Stories from the field ~ Development in Ghana

There’s a really interesting new EWB Special Report  by Toronto Chapter member Daniel Olsen, on the website of The Ontario Society of Professional Engineers.

Definitely worth a look.  And you might also want to bookmark Dan’s blog:

Through Dan’s Eyes:  Stories from the field – Development in Ghana, Africa.

04 Aug


This Week on the Farm – Video Blog Episode 2

August 4, 2010 | By |

Video Updates From The Field In Ghana

From EWB Grand River Chapter member Ben, posted July 26th

Hey Everyone ~

Thank you so much for all of the great feedback from last week’s video. It was definitely a boost to my week!

And no, I don’t just do that Ghanaian accent for fun. I remember giving a fairly good closing remark (I thought at least) to a workshop only to be met by a circle of blank stares and unenthusiastic claps when I finished. I asked my boss why and she told me – “Everyone thinks you’re very nice – they just can’t understand anything you say!” Dery’s a bit deaf in the left ear which only compounds the problem. Hence, the thick (da tick) Ghanaian accent.

Episode 2 is now here – delayed due to very slow Internet on Friday. You can watch it .

Also, if anyone is interested in sending a video message or asking some questions that I can share with Dery and the rest of the family they would be very appreciative. He’s interested in what is going on in Canada as well!