Brendan’s Blog

Saturday, 29 June 2013

I am not sure if they have always been here, or if the season has drawn me to notice them more. Every morning, as soon as the sun has made any form of notice of its arrival, the birds come alive. Its noisy chatter that i just don’t think I had registered before because i don’t think it has been there before. I am assuming that the rainy season bringing cool mornings and the birds need to build a home has brought about the tremendous noise that greets me each morning.

What I do know is that its amazing! it is amazing because these birds live here all year round, yet it seems it is only nesting season that you really notice them, every other time they are quiet, going about their business in a unobtrusive fashion and not drawing any attention to themselves.

They are making themselves targets now though. The chief left his house the other day with a piece of timber in the shape of a ‘Y’ with rubber elastic between, a stone lined up as he moved across the school playground as if he were a Lion stalking some prey, swachenegger in robocop. Some of the teachers produced their own weapons as well (I cant remember what you call these things, is it catapult or sling shot????), and formed a pack as they hunted the small finches that were going about their business building their homes. No one from what I could tell had managed to kill any, though if they had I know that there are many here who like a good bird for dinner.

Which brings me nicely onto one of our volunteers who did have more success. She managed to stand on a small ckicken that had hidden itself under one of the steps leading out to the showers. poor llittle blighter was half alive and Jo, the volunteer was beside herself. Bee picked it up and took it to the bush, I took my machete and lopped its head off. It was not until an hour or so that I realised that that was the first thing that I have intentionally killed. Or at least it is as far as I can recall.

Last firday was a difficult day for me. My grandmother was buried in the west of Ireand. I had found out a week earlier but when it came to getting flights and transport the whole affair was going to cost around 2,000 pounds and I simply do not have that. Many friends helped me raise enough money and I am so grateful to them, but the cost even if I had managed to raise such an amount of money just seemed too much for a two day trip to Ireland. It may sound incredibly harsh and I know I will be judged for it, but I know that 2,000 can be used for such amazing good that it seemed somewhat selfish to use it for a trip to Ireland. I know that this was my grandmothers funeral and I was devasted the moment I found out I could not afford the flights, but at such a high cost it seemed like it was the only decision Ii could have made.

Anyway, time to go do some work.
Posted by Brendan Quinn



Thursday, 20 June 2013
Foundation at Gboloo Kofi

Foundations being excavated at Gboloo Kofi for the new junior high school that we are building.
Posted by Brendan Quinn

It has been a few weeks now since the last of the volunteers left. I have spent this time on my own in the village rolling out the educational programme we have developed. Also, there has been time to reflect and prepare for the next volunteers, though they are not volunteers, rather they are Neil and Steve.

Neil is the CEO of Village by Village and my immediate manager. Steve is a guy who comes out every so often to service the land rovers, make sure I have not ran them into the ground and ensure I know about rear differentials, swivel pins, prop shafts, greasing universal joints and many other words that relate to the vehicles that I do not know. He is exceptionally good at his job.

Anyway, the time on my own was interesting, you find out a lot about yourself on your own and I discovered that I can quite easily without any hesitation be in bed at 6.30pm. That may seem ludicrous but believe me when I tell you that once the sun goes down, you have had your stroll through the vllage and wished everyone a good evening, there is not oo much to do after that. The village descends into darkness as the sun dissapears from the sky. You cant watch TV, reading a book is by head tornch and work is near on impossible. so, more often than not it is bed!

I have also been very busy during the day. We recently built urinals, toilets and water harvesting facilities for a school in a village called Anamenampa, which is about as remote as you are gong to get here. Before we came, the headteacher told of staff not wanting to urinate or defectate in the bush, but obviously, when nature gets the better of you, at times, staff would have to do that. And sometimes, children woud interrupt. It is far from acceptable, but moreover, it is the disease and illness that is cuased by such things that affect individuals and communities. As part of the Behavioural Change Educational Programme we have developed, we use statistics like 4,000 children die everyday in Africa from completely preventable illnesses. This for me is a shocking statistic.
Posted by Brendan Quinn



So much going on……
So we have begun proper our volunteering season. AND…….we have begun building the new Junior High School in Gboloo Kofi.

That may not seem like a lot but believe me, it is!

Since the departure of Steve and Neil, I have been alone here in the village. It was fantastic having Neil and Steve here as it ended a month long session of being on my own. Whist I like the peace and the simpleness of time on my own I have to say that without distractions such as tv, Internet, and all the other things that come with having electricity, it can get a little monotonous and repetitive. Believe me though, there are times when I love not having such things!

Still, Neil and Steve came just at the right time and we had a great time and it was good to be able to interact again with people of my own culture, I think it is impossible for me not to have that at some point throughout the year, and indeed, having the volunteers here at the moment has again changed things and has really made the place feel like its home. That may sound weird but I guess it people who make a home not the place.

Anyway, the 3 volunteers arrived in the village on Sunday. They are Joanne, William and Robert. All from the UK. They have arrived just at the right time as on Monday we started the excavations for the new JHS (junior high school). That in itself is enough to take up all my time so it is great that the volunteers are independent enough to just get on with stuff. Joanne is teaching and doing work with the clinic when the mothers come with their babies to be weighed. Robert is teaching one of the classes at the primary school and William is out everyday on site with me as we swing our picks and shovels in a manner that we hope disguises the fact that we can not work anywhere near as hard as the Ghanaians! I am quite sure I am not disguising anything!

So this is our first week of building. We have managed to dig out the foundations for which I seem to be getting a lot of comments about how deep they are. I am quite sure that as soon as they hit anything that looks like clay they stop digging thus meaning foundations could be just beneath the surface. So when I have dug down much deeper into the really good stuff they seem to think I have lost some part of my brain. It’s all good banter though and today was really good, we had 25 men working from the community on what we call here asafo juma (communal work) which happens on the taboo day, that being Wednesday. We have a lot achieved but we also have a lot to do and designing this building as we go means I am always only just a step ahead, but my, I have string lines all over the place and trenches being dug with steps in to accommodate the gradient of the ground. It’s testing me, especially since I spent most of my time dealing with the money on jobs in the UK, not the actual setting out and digging. But, I would be lying if I did not say that I was not enjoying it, I am loving it! Challenging, taxing, really hard physical work, but I do love it and get to the end of each day feeling as though I have earnt a cold beer, or at least a warm one.
Posted by Brendan Quinn



Sunday, 21 April 2013
Kwesi Bruni & Church

My name is Kofi! Well, it’s not, it’s just what Ghanaians call me. Usually, within your first week of being in Ghana someone will ask you what day of the week you were born, and typically us westerners have no idea. For a Ghanaian this is an essential bit of information and goes to make up part of your identity.

So within a week of arriving in Ghana it was quickly established that I am Kofi, which means that I was born on a Friday. However, when walking through a market or on a Tro Tro, riding myotorcycle or even sitting outside my home, I often hear “Kwesi bruni” being yelled at me. It seems that the first white settlers arrived on a Sunday and so every white man automatically gets the name Kwesi for Sunday born, not the actual day you were born.

As a bit of cultural information here are the names:

Boys and the day they were born

Monday – Kojo
Tuesday – Kwabena
Wednesday – Kweku (a personal favourite)
Thursday – Yaw
Friday – Kofi
Saturday – Kwame
Sunday – Kwesi

Girls and the day they were born

Monday – Adjowa
Tuesday – Abena
Wednesday – Akua
Thursday – Yaa
Friday – Afia
Saturday – Ama
Sunday – Akosua

Anyway, I had visited the Methodist Church at Abenta this morning to see if I could recruit a member of the leadership to sit on the committee we have established for building the new school at Abenta. I succeeded in this task and Francis became the 6th member of the committee. Job done I decide to stay and join in with the worship that morning only to be introduced to the church as Kwesi Bruni! I had to correct them, dabi dabi,(no no) I am Kofi Bruni! They had a good laugh at that and continued to call me Kofi Bruni. I stayed and enjoyed the service. The church is part of the falling down school, the blackboard behind the church leaders full of the maths lesson that was taught last Thursday before the schools closed for their end of term vacation.



Wednesday, 3 April 2013
The Chief

In a room full of chickens, goats, a dog and a girl asleep behind an old broken school desk, I met the Chief of Abenta.

The house, or palace as it is correctly known, is a mud brick building of the old type. The roof is covered with corrugated sheet that has been rusting since the day it was erected, monsoon rains followed by scorching sun in the dry season has rendered it to a short and inefective life.

“Agoo Agoo” I said, the traditional way of calling attention to yourself when wanting to enter a house. It literally means “knocking”, and since I could find no front door it seemed very apt. Nothing happened. “Agoo Agoo” I said again which still brought no stirring from inside. I turned to the area immediately outside the house and appealed with my hands and eyes to those who had now stopped pounding casava. All eyes were on the obruni speaking their language.

From a room on the left a man in his 70’s brought two plastic chairs. There was an awkward moment. Siting there, I remembered there are all sorts of traditional procedures and etiquette that I should now be embarking upon. “Akwaaba” (welcome) he said as he held out his hand to shake mine. “Med ase paa” (thank you very much) I responded as we clicked our middle fingers.

“I have come to ask your permission to stay in your village this weekend to learn the mind of the people and see if we might be able to work together”. I was in full flow, African accent turned up to full pitch, hand gestures indicating respect and sincerity.……….

Nothing.He did not speak English. I went back into the room to find another man standing next to the Chief who smiled and said in broken English that he can help. We talked and agreed my impending visit. I am to arrive in Abenta this Friday at 5pm. Success!

I finished my visit by securing the accommodation of the chiefs brother, a small building where I shall have to take a thin mattress with me or sleep on the bare concrete. I left the village feeling elated, all goals achieved. I am looking forward to Friday but I would be lying if I said I was not apprehensive. I hope that the visit is positive and that I am welcomed.

As I climbed into the Landrover a young boy came bounding across the track, “obruni obruni the chief want to know if you are coming at 5 in the evening or 5 in the morning and what day will you be coming”?

Let’s see what reception I receive on Friday!
Posted by Brendan Quinn



Tuesday, 2 April 2013
Abenta – Impending…..

It’s 4.30am, the moon is only half way across the sky but somehow in an hours time the sun will be taking over and the day will begin.

I am lying here thinking about what the weekend will bring. It has yet to be organised but already my thoughts are beginning to focus on the potential. How will I feel? How will I be treated? What will it actually be like living in a remote village in Ghana for 2 days on my own as I try to establish if there is enough desire, commitment and need to warrant us (village by Village – integrating ourselves into the village. If this goes well then it could mean the building of a new school, a new well for water and a base for the charity. If it goes badly then this could be one of the most significant experiences of my life! Actually, either way, I am quite certain this will be a weekend that I am not going to forget in a hurry!

Lying here in my bed typing this on my phone is starting to raise some emotions within me. Questions abound……

1. Will I be safe?
2. Who can I really trust?
3. Will I be told what I want to hear and not necessarily the truth?
4. What the hell am I going to eat?
5. How do I connect with people who will be so different to me?
6. Where will I sleep and will it be shared accommodation with all manner of insects and animals?

There are so many unknowns.

It is because of the uncertainties and the fact that this is Africa and not a sleepy English hamlet with a local pub, roaring fire and obligatory dog asleep in front that I am apprehensive, I am excited also but in these situations it is hard not to feel some sort of vulnerability.

As part of the lead up to this we have been in touch with the chief and the elders. We have held a community durbar (a meeting where the community speak their mind about the needs and issues affecting the village) which has highlighted the need for a new school and a well to provide water to the community. It is without doubt that the school is in very bad shape and it seems the lack of investment in maintaining a half decent school building has left the community feeling somewhat despondent about the future. I can understand.

Some years ago, an initiative between the Ghana Government and the European Union saw the commencement of a building project to provide the village with a new school. Today, what remains of that effort is a half built concrete structure that is overgrown and decaying. “The builders left one day and never came back, they even left their cement mixer”. It is shocking that the community have been left with nothing. And, what a complete waste of money!

During the durbar the community said that they had lost faith in the promises of others. It is not hard to see why when their own Government and the European Union could not honour their promise of a new school. Instead, it seems all they achieved is to create a people of cynicism and anger. I can relate to that, I too am angry that a half built building stands almost taunting the village every day. I too am angry that the promises of others have amounted to nothing and have tainted development work with these people.

We need to learn from that and I hope that we do.

I don’t know how the two nights that I will be living there will feel, I don’t know what is going to happen or even if I will feel safe, but I hope it gives me a greater understanding of the people and their willingness to work with us to make a difference.

I will be visiting the village today to make the arrangements for the weekend. I will post some pictures here so you can see the place I am talking about and the school.

Alas, moon has disappeared, the mice have stopped scampering around in the ceiling above, it must be time to get up!

Posted by Brendan Quinn



Sunday, 24 February 2013
Accra – A love / hate relationship

Well hate might be a strong word but it would be true to say that there are many aspects about Accra that I do not like. I travelled from the village yesterday (Gboloo Kofi) to Accra to visit some friends and catch up with others. However, I had forgotten how busy and noisy Accra is. Traffic is simply chaos and they have no regard anyone on a motorcycle! It’s a bit crazy, especially when I compare it to the village life and how peaceful that is.

I can’t be too down on Accra, it’s the capital city after all, and there are aspects about that crazy unpredictableness that I love, but for me now, village life resonates far more with me. It may not have electricity, phone signal or excellent coffee, but it is a wonderful place to live, gorgeous scenery, quiet life and a beauty all of its own!
Posted by Brendan Quinn at 10:24



Waakye (watch-ay)

Feeding time at Tinkong school where I am attending the PTA meeting and a drama on the importance of hand washing. Waakye (pronounced watch-ay) is typically eaten with the fingers so this is a great time to speak with the students and remind them about washing their hands before they eat.
Posted by Brendan Quinn



Saturday, 2 February 2013

So I am here, in Gboloo Kofi, in the Eastern Region of Ghana. It’s been a great first week, a lot happening, so much to do but it has been good. We have 5 volunteers with us all helping us to maintain the centre, teach children and roll out the hand-washng programme we are doing. It’s been early mornings, and early nights.

It’s a gorgeous place where I live. I love it, the lush vegetation and the dusty tracks. Accra was good, but for some reason this feels much nicer. Accra is a crazy place – people everywhere, cars, noise and all manner of things on top of each other. Here, in Gboloo, it is not so. Even Koff Town (Koforidua) feels more sedate and relaxed than Accra. Accra is great for visiting, but after living 2 years there I feel as though I have done my time there.

We have started our hand-washing programme. We are painting schools at the moment and preparing lesson plans to help teach children that they need to wash their hands and how to do that properly. There is a lot of work to do and we are building a new school building later in the year also which means i am going to be busy beyond all belief. But i love it.

Just rode on my motorcycle into Koforidua which is about 40 minutes from our village and it felt great, really good to be out in the sun on the open road. I do love it here and cant wait to really get my feet under the table and do some good work.
Posted by Brendan Quinn



Saturday, 26 January 2013
Blazing hot sun!

Yes, I have returned to Ghana and I am here, less than 4 hours off the plane in an internet cafe in Osu. I am staying in Accra tonight as I am picking up two volunteers from the UK who will be coming with me up to the village tomorrow. I am shattered, I really can not sleep on the plane at all! So its been a long 30 hours with no sleep yet so I must desperately get some sleep in this afternoon before I pick up the volunteers. So, 4 hours back and it feels very much like home. It all feels familiar, and as if I have not been away at all and then, all at the same time, it feels like I have not been here for months. It has been 4 weeks on the nose.

So, 10 things you forget (I forgot) when you go back to the UK that hit you as soon as you return:

1. The smell of Africa, damp, dusty and unique. As soon as I stepped off the plane it engulfed me.
2. The incessant attention from all Ghanains.
3. People who try to help but actually hinder and then want paying for it when you did not want their help/hindrance in the first place.
4. Driving standards – shocking.
5. The smell of open sewers. Joy!
6. The heat
7. The lack of anything resembling a personal space.
8. Taxis hooting at you all day long
9. How amazing air conditioning is!
10. You take your life in your hands each time you get on a tro tro.

Just a little snippet of my first 4 hours.

No doubt, assuming i can get internet signal at some point in the future, I will continue with this.
Posted by Brendan Quinn