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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!

28 Jul


This Week on the Farm – Video Blog

July 28, 2010 | By |

Video Updates From The Field (Literally) In Ghana

From EWB Grand River Chapter member Ben, posted July 18th ~

After a long hiatus I’m excited to announce a series of videos about life on the farm in Seripe. I’ll be filming a few short clips each week and uploading them to youtube (yes it’s possible, it just takes about a day).

You’ll have to bear with me – the first episode was completely impromptu and my video editing skills are poor, but I hope you enjoy it!  Check it out on Youtube.

Also, if you have any questions or suggestions of things to film for an episode, I’m taking requests!  This episode doesn’t do a very good job of introducing Dery, the farmer I’m staying with, so I’ll work on a quick intro piece so you get to know him and a bit about where he’s at.

I also took off to Tamale for a week of team meetings and left the camera with Dery, so expect an episode about ploughing as soon as I can get the editing done.

Thanks for reading/watching!

16 Jul


Engineering Ghana

July 16, 2010 | By |

Update From The Field

One of EWB’s African program staff, Grand River chapter’s own Erin Antcliffe, has posted a fascinating new entry in her blog (July 16, 2010) .  You can read it here, or on Erin’s own site “What am I doing here?  Reflections on my role in Ghanaian development.”

Dear Readers:

I haven’t posted for a long time. I know. I didn’t mean to leave you all in the dark. But as time continues to pass, I find myself digging deeper and deeper into Ghanaian life, farming, MoFA, etc. and getting farther and farther away from life in Canada. I was always frustrated as an EWB chapter member in Canada when volunteers in Africa would say they “couldn’t relate” to us in Canada anymore. But now I see what they mean. Have I forgotten what it’s like to live in Canada? To work tirelessly on the other side of the ocean to raise public awareness about development and lobby our government to improve aid? To go to the grocery store and buy food from all over the world? Well honestly… yeah, I kind of have. I mean, if I think hard about it, I can remember what it was like. But the problem is that I have to think hard – it doesn’t just come naturally anymore. I have to actually TRY to relate my experience to what it’s like in Canada. And that mental effort has prevented me several times from writing on my blog.

But no more. I don’t think it’s an adequate excuse. My job isn’t to get lost in Ghana, it’s to experience Ghana and bring those realities to you in Canada and the rest of the world. It’s to see good development, and bad, and be able to share the difference. It’s to evaluate the impact of our work on Ghanaians and to see where we can make improvements.

So I’m back on the blog train. I am aiming to go back to posting at minimum every 2 weeks. I will also try harder to make short snappy posts on things I’m thinking, seeing or reading about – they don’t all have to be epic. I will remember that just because I’m used to seeing women carry 5-ft. tall things on their heads and discussing agric. development projects with district directors doesn’t mean it’s not new to you! And so I’m making an effort to share more of those things with you again.

As always, if you have any questions, comments, feedback or requests, please PLEASE let me know! You can comment on a post or contact me directly through email or the Contact form on this blog. I’m always happy to hear from you and would love to be given more direction on what you want me to write about!

Thanks for reading,   Erin

Though I’m working with Engineers Without Borders, I don’t do much “traditional” engineering. I hope most of you reading this know that already, but if you’re wondering why, check here. However, I have found the opportunity to flex my engineering muscles in a few cases, which I wanted to share with you below.

     My untrusty moto 

This is my moto. It’s a piece of junk. It’s 3 years old and it’s been ridden into the ground by the previous 3 owners. I have had so many problems with it – spark plugs not sparking, horn not honking, tires going flat, brakes squealing, lights breaking. I’ve had to replace the engine block, connector rod, chain & sprocket, rear tire, clutch handle and headlight. It’s a pain in the ass. But on the bright side, I’ve developed an intimate knowledge of this rudimentary two-stroke machine. Ghanaians (especially men) are always surprised when they see me sigh after a failed attempt to start the moto and pull out my tools. They still rush to help, and I’m always grateful, but I’ve learned a lot about fixing my own moto and regularly do it myself. Just give me some coveralls and call me a mechanic!


As I mentioned previously on this blog, I live in a village called Zuo which is about 5 km outside of Tamale. While we’re lucky enough to have lights (electricity), we’re too far away from the city to have flowing water. It’s amazing how much you take this for granted in Canada, where you don’t have to walk far and carry water back every day. As I also previously mentioned, the women here carry amazing amounts of water from the dam every day, neglecting the broken borehole in the middle of the village. Though I try to fetch my own water, I am not nearly as strong as a Ghanaian woman and I am constantly being assisted, which makes me constantly feel guilty.

    Bucket engineering 

Luckily, the rainy season has provided a way to assuage my guilt in the form of – you guessed it – rain! Pure water, falling from the sky – it’s an amazing thing for which I have a new appreciation. I am also lucky enough to live in a place with a Polytank, the huge black plastic water storage tanks which are ubiquitous in Ghana (and you would have seen Kingson, the goaltender for the Black Stars, promoting these monstrosities on TV during the World Cup if you were watching in Ghana!). A rainwater collection system is set up so that the water streams from the roof to the eavestrough and falls into the Polytank. Ingenious! Except it doesn’t work. The Polytank is placed just a bit too close to the house and against a cement something so that it can’t be moved further away (I haven’t identified the purpose of this weird cement structure yet, it’s a mystery). When there is a light rain, it falls gently into the open mouth of the Polytank. But when there is a windy downpour (ie. a LOT of water to fill my tank), the water races off the end of the eavestrough, overshooting the Polytank. It took a few rains and a pitifully low water level in the tank for me to figure this out.

Sooooo last time we had a huge downpour, instead of running inside away from the rain, I ran outside! I was moving buckets here and there to catch the rain, and even standing up on the cement-mystery to catch the water pouring past the Polytank in my bucket and dump it in. Finally, after standing there for a while, wearing only a Ghanaian cloth wrapped around me, soaked to the skin and freezing cold (yum!), I used my engineering skills: I found some rocks and propped my bucket up so it would be stable, but on an angle, where it would catch the water and overflow into the Polytank. Ta-da! In this way I FILLED the tank – I’m set for life! (Or at least until I move out.)

Bonus: I also washed my hair outside in the rain that day, which made me very happy.


    The view from the road 

This last one is not so much about using my engineering skills as it is about pointing out someone else’s lack thereof. After a particularly bad storm last week, I went for a run and noticed something odd flashing at me from the roadside. It looked like a giant sheet of metal was caught in a tree. What??

Upon closer inspection, I realized that it was the roof of the local primary school, folded and bent and leaning up against a tree. It had blown off in the storm like a big aluminum parachute. Whoever built this school did not account for the pressure that builds up from the incredible winds that come in the rainy season. It made me wonder: who had built this school? A donor that didn’t know the weather conditions? A local NGO without enough budget to securely fasten the roof? Or a government employee that didn’t have the capacity to design it properly? I have no idea, but with all the people building schools around here, it must be a common problem.

     The bent school roof 

02 Jul


Afrofest 2010 in Toronto

July 2, 2010 | By |

Discover Africa in the heart of Toronto !

AFROFEST is a free celebration of African music and culture presented by Music Africa and held annually in Queen’s Park in downtown Toronto. This year the festival takes place on the weekend of Saturday July 10th and Sunday July 11th, the final weekend of Africa’s first World Cup of soccer.

Afrofest is a showcase of the richness and diversity of African culture.  It is an event of song, dance, drumming and theatre, featuring world-renowned African music acts as well as dozens of highly-rated African musical groups based in Canada. With a bustling African marketplace, food and craft vendors, artistic displays, a Children’s Village, a drum stage, music workshops, and organized fun and educational activities for youth and children. (All preceding text from the Music Africa website).

When you check out the event details online at Music Africa, be patient, as it can sometimes take a while for their home webpage to load.  If you make it down to this fabulous festival, please pop back here and share your comments.

11 Jun


Africa Podcasts From BBC World Service

June 11, 2010 | By |

Get the latest BBC World news, features and analysis from Africa

This week’s suggestion is to stream or download one of the well-produced Africa-focussed podcasts from the BBC World Service.   These excellent audio files are a handy and effective way to keep informed of some major news topics and analysis, while fostering our connection to and our awareness of life in Africa.  

Don’t feel you have to wait until you have time to listen to a whole episode.  You’ll be pleased by how much you pick up from just hitting “play” and listening for a few minutes once a week while cleaning your (insert one:  kitchen, litterboxes, car, bathroom, spam folder … ).

Africa Today presents “daily news and analysis from the BBC’s Focus on Africa and Network Africa.”

This Week in Africa gives you “a look back at the people and events that have made the news in Africa this week.”

The African Perspective podcast is “a weekly African documentary, which takes an in-depth look at life on the continent.”

31 May


Support Grand River EWBers making a difference!

May 31, 2010 | By |

In West and Southern Africa, Engineers Without Borders is improving access to clean water and critical infrastructure, increasing farmers’ yields, and supporting business opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs. We invite you to participate in this exciting change, by connecting with and supporting the work of EWB Grand River volunteers in Africa.

More Grand River Members in Africa

As of Fall 2010, EWB-Grand River will have a record-breaking five members working as part of EWB-Canada’s African Programs teams in Sub-Saharan Africa. Don McMurtry and Mark Soares will be participating in the Professional Junior Fellowship Program, using a four month volunteer commitment to actively contribute their unique skill sets to our partner organizations in Africa, as well as  the Grand River Community and Work Places upon their return in December 2010.  Erin Antcliffe, Ben Best and Alyssa Lindsay will all be working as African Program Staff, having made long term (one or more year) commitments to their African volunteer positions.

More Opportunities to Connect and Contribute

EWB-Grand River’s increased volunteer support provides unique opportunities to connect with rural development efforts and better understand the challenges being faced by those living in poverty, for our membership and the Grand River community at large.   It also means that your support is needed more than ever before as our volunteers develop and carry out these exciting programs.

In addition to ongoing support of our African Partner Program, EWB-Grand River has set a fundraising goal of $3000 by August 2010 to meet our Professional Junior Fellowship fundraising targets.

We ask that you consider making an investment in the work of your Grand River colleagues, and  donate to support their work in building African capacity.  All contributions are welcome whether it’s $20, $50, or $500.

You can donate conveniently and securely through our Donation Page.

More Impact and Positive Change

Our membership has provided great people to contribute to some of the biggest challenges facing our world today, but they can’t do this without the support of their home community.  Your donation will ensure that our volunteers have the financial support they need to meet these challenges.

All of the funds raised by EWB- Grand River will be supporting the Rural Agriculture Programs in Ghana, where Engineers Without Borders is working in partnership with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture to build the business capabilities of small scale rural farmers and increase innovation, production, and profits in the long-term. You can read more about the work that we are supporting by visiting our African Programs Page.

Thank you in advance for your generous contributions.


The Grand River Leadership Team, on behalf of our African Volunteers and Partners