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2010: Jeff Lohr's Trip to Ghana

  Arrival in Accra 

Stepping off the plane onto the tarmac this close to the equator and only three weeks in advance of the vernal equinox when the sun would be at it's hottest at this position on the equator, my initial reaction was that the heat was not as bad as I expected.  Little did I know that this 95.F degree day was arctic like compared to what I would experience during the rest of my time in Ghana but more on that later.   After running the gauntlet of  authorized and lets just say unauthorized airport personnel, I was excited to be greeted at the gate by my dear friend and our Ghanaian project director Abubakar.  What would follow in the weeks to come would be a life altering experience for this woodworker turned humanitarian.

Jeff Rafani and Abu
Key Moringa Community Founders

While in Accra and before taking the roughly 3 hour trip in-country to get acquainted with our Moinga Training Center, volunteers, and staff, we had two important calls to make. First would be to the Accra office of  Nana Kweku Adu-Twum II (Chief of the village of Breman Baako) to thank him for his support in donating the 9 acres of land on which the Moringa compound has been built.  Later that evening we would meet with Rafani Shauib.  Rafani, a big, charming, and gregarious man, is Moringa Ghana's legal council and founding Ghana Board of directors chairman.  In addition to Abubakar, the Moringa project owes much of it's success to the clear and sound guidance of this dedicated professional who like Abu is a man of unquestionable integrity. 

  Trip to Breman Baako

Goats In Accra
Abu Navigates Downtown Accra - Yikes!

Abu at the wheel of our Moringa Community truck weaving through truly scary Accra city traffic that would make even a New Yorker cringe, I was amazed to learn that Abu had never driven a car let alone a truck before taking the wheel of our Kia flatbed diesel only 15 months earlier. Abu never lied about this mind you, Moringa USA thankfully just never thought to ask if he knew how to drive before the USA BOD allocated money to purchase the truck (another example of Abu's can-do attitude).  The picture that was emerging of Abu's leadership skills was sharpened every day I was there. 

  Moringa Bridge 

Moringa Road
Only a footpath in 2008,  We now drive back "Moringa Road" and over "Moringa Bridge to reach the Moringa School of Trades Compound. Jeff Lohr Crossing Moringa Bridge

Our Moringa Volunteer Built Bridge

After a three hour drive into the central region of Ghana on roads that ranged from reasonable blacktop to rutted, dusty, and culvert riddled dirt roads, we arrived at the village of Baako and took a left onto the path that would cross the bridge that Abu and our Moringa volunteers built with their bare hands about one year earlier.   Having grown up around water and small streams like what our Moringa bridge crossed, I was struck by how securely built this feat of engineering clearly was.  Remember, none involved in the bridge construction had an engineering education.   All were just local workman who, under Abu and Yusif’s (Abu’s second in command) guidance, constructed this marvel that had no trouble bearing the weight of our truck to safely cross over the creek.  Then it was uphill for another roughly 100 yards to where I got my first glimpse of the Moringa Community School of Trades near the top of the rise.

First sighting of our hard won Moringa Community Center

Moringa Community Center East Side
Moringa School of Trades - Eastern Elevation

As we approached the crest of the rise, there rising up out of the parched Ghanaian dry season earth stood clearly the finest constructed building in all of Bremen Baako.  It was far bigger and much grander than I anticipated it to be.  I was dumbfounded and humbled by what the community had built with the relatively meager funds Moringa USA supplied. I believe it was Victor Hugo that said: "Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid."  This project certainly was bold, but it was also pure of heart, and thus, mighty forces did indeed come to our aid.     

Remarkable leadership and a hardscrabble gorilla work ethic: The essence of Moringa.   

Jeff Abu Quaino Bob
Jeff, Abu, Quaino, Bob and Felix shovel sand for hand mixing concrete to build lumber drying shed.
Jeff and Sowah
Jeff insuring , Abu, Quaino, Bob and Felix shovel sand for hand mixing concrete to build lumber drying shed.

All that have followed the Moringa project from it's birth (summer of 2008) cannot help but marvel at the remarkable progress we have made in such a very short time.  This has all been done on very meager funding and even less in way of tools and supplies.  However, what we do not lack is "people power" which can be remarkable when practical oriented, everyday working men and women are involved.  I am sorry to perhaps repeat this, but what has always been so humbling to me is the remarkable leadership and selfless dedication to his fellow man that Moringa has in our Ghanaian project founder and project director, Abubkar Abdulai.  Between Abu and his right hand man, Yusif (who I secretly refer to as the "enforcer") and Abu's formal staff of Joanna,  Isaac, Sowah, Sarah, and Ebo as well as  key volunteers including Kate, Hackman, Felix, Quaino, Bob, and others, the Moringa workforce is stellar. All dedicated selfless people who's lives are clearly dedicated to service.

It didn't take me more than a day to figure out my job and the purpose of my trip.  Number one task was to encourage Abu's visionary principles.  I am pleased to say that for the most part, everything on that front was clearly well in hand.  What was needed was help with distribution of staff responsibilities and long term planning to enable Moringa to realize it's goal of self sustainability.  Additionally it was important for me to reinforce Abu's message that Moringa is a Ghanaian village owned and operated organization that is simply fortunate to have USA support.  In short, the staff and villagers are key to determining the future of the Moringa Community School of Trades. The success or failure of their school and associated community center rests fully on the Ghanaian community's shoulders. Yes Moringa Ghana is very fortunate to have Moringa USA's support but the clear long term goal is for Moringa Ghana to eventually stand on it's own feet.

As for the technology side of Moringa, naturally the carpenters were unsure what Mr. Jeffry's Thirds World Machine Shop (MJTWMS) could do.  After 5 days there opinions changed dramatically.  This new invention now commands great respect after demonstrations from the master that created it.  It was amazing to watch this unfold as it was just as if a light bulb suddenly clicked on right over each of the carpenters heads.  This is the kind of moment a teacher dreams of.

 

Jeff Speaks to Villagers
Presentation to villagers
Ball Mason Jar Canning Presentation
Proof positive of the effectiveness of home canning
W. African Fine Dining
Daily dry season dining in February 2010.
This will be much different in February 2011 through Moringa's home canning program and Mr. Isaac's Moringa garden program.
Message from America to Bremen Baako

Up until my visit in February 2010, it is stunning to comprehend that over one hundred people labored so hard for 18 months of their lives to build the Moringa Community Center for no pay and nothing other than the hope Abu had given the people. This enterprise was the embodiment of the inscription that my wife Linda and I loved so well that we carved it into the concrete walkway to our house: "Patience is bitter, but its fruit sweet."  If we did things right, MoringaCommunity.Org would enable
the village and surrounding communities to preserve their farm produce in time of plenty to save it for time of scarcity and thus greatly improve both the economy and health of the people Moringa served. What could be sweeter than to feed yourself from your own garden?

A
lthough Abu had organized demonstrations of the home canning process in October 2009, my visit in late February 2010 would be the dramatic proof of how well this process worked and how it had the potential to change the lives of so many households in Ghana.  On February 20th, 2010 at Mr. Jeffry's and Abu's presentation to the village and the ceremonial recognition of our key volunteers, we opened jars of delicious tomato sauces that had been canned and left unrefrigerated in tropical heat for four months.  I want all to know that the flavor and freshness of this preserved sauce was without a doubt the finest meal I had had in my entire fourteen day trip to Africa.  Arriving at the peak of the very hot dry season in February, our daily meals mainly consisted of just boiled cassava and if we were lucky, perhaps a dried been sauce that we dipped the cassava slices in to add a little flavor to this otherwise very bland and often bitter tuber root. This is a diet that is depressing in every dimension. This time of year, with the exception of bananas that I would positively come to crave when available to me, cassava was the general daily chow.  With the exception of a few Madam Joanna's special and secretly prepared meals served to me exclusively, meal time in Ghana was not something I particularly looked forward to. I am not a fussy eater and I am sure at harvest time food is very good in Ghana.  However dry season fare, in country, left little to look forward to.  

Royal Palace Visit

Kona Royal Family & Palace
Baako - Kona Family Royal Palace Visit

It was my pleasure to pay tribute to the Kona Family Royal Palace and it's tribal leaders that have so helpfully embraced the Moringa Project with donation of the grounds of our 9 acre compound and it's encouragement of villager support.  There was the most extraordinary protocol in how we formally greeted one another.  First, Abu and I were formally welcomed to the palace with each of the Royal family's people greeting Abu and myself followed by Abu and I formally greeting the family council and tribal elders. Gifts were exchanged and Abu and I then launched into our presentation of the vision of the Moringa Community School of Trades project and how we planned to implement our programs into the village.  What Abu and I made clear was that the villagers of Bremen Baako would be the first to gain the benefits of the programs we planned to offer before any outreach to surrounding communities would be considered.  Moringa has a big debt to pay in way of gratitude for how the people of this village so fully vested themselves in the project.  Once we believe we have satisfied this debt, then and only then can we reach out to other communities and focus more on making our trade school project self sustaining. The best part was that I got a 750ml bottle of Schnapps.  Turns out Ghana produces Schnapps locally... go figure..

Africa's school fundraising equivalent to typical American school's candy sale.

Road to the local school
The Long Dirt Road to the Village School
Baako School of Rocks
School Project Fundraising - Ghana Style
African School Kids See Laptop
Children's first look at a computer and very likely the first look at an Obruni 
Baako School District Classrooms
  Some of the public school classrooms

Nearly everyone in the USA has one time or another fallen victim to a middle school or high school kid selling candy to support a school project. In Ghana, this idea was turned inside out, and I was astonished at what I saw at the school yard.  All who have followed the construction of our Moringa Community Center know that the local Baako area school kids collected our concrete aggregate stones one at a time on their way to school. That's right, the kids walk for miles and miles to school each day along the dirt road pictured at right that Abu and I at least 30 minutes to traverse by truck.  The heap of stones in the school yard pictured was the haul for this month. The school sells the stones to builders to purchase school supplies such as notebooks, chalk, pencils and what not.  I spent about two hours at this school on Feb 24th 2010 visiting each of the 8 classrooms that covered grades 1 through 6.  The smaller grades of 1 through 4 each had 30 plus kids in a class.  As the grades and ages grew, class size became significantly smaller. This, according to Abu is due to two reasons. First the higher grades cost $5/week instead of the $2/week of the lower grades. Additionally, as the community is primarily a farming community, as children grow older and bigger so does their ability to labor in the fields and in the coco tree stands so the family will have difficulty overlooking such an asset within the family dynamic.  The poverty is so intense there really is not much of an alternative for this issue. 

In my time at the school, I would say the respectful and disciplined nature of the children was most striking. (I am an ex-public high school teacher so trust me on the accuracy of this observation.)  All the kids seemed to be happy and energetic but clearly all felt highly privileged to be able to attend school. There was no electric in or anywhere near the school so lights to read by or even fans to cool the students and staff in the extremely hot equatorial weather were nonexistent.  With the exception of a handful (at most 25 in total) of thin paperbound readers, there were no books to be had in the entire school. Some students were fortunate to have composition books for doing their lessons and exercises but clearly those few kids had gathered an extra bunch of rocks to be awarded such a privilege.

In Moringa's dealing with the school, we had sent boxes of supplies such as paper, pencils, notebooks, and typical type supplies but the harsh reality is that the school is miles and miles away from our center. A trip through the bush overland on roads that are more times than not impassible during the rainy season is a full day's trip for our project director and our truck. I witnessed this as the road was in terrible shape even during the dry season. (It did not rain one single day while I was in Ghana)  Compounding the egress issues to get to the school, cell phone communication to the school's staff is near impossible as the school is in a completely dead zone for microwave transmission. I had a trip to the school as high on my to-do list during my travel in Ghana and it took Abu four days of abortive attempts to raise someone at the school with no connection.  Finally we just showed up but I am so glad we did as we were the cause of huge excitement.  Likely I was the fist obruni (white man) that has ever visited this remote school and more than likely I may have even been the first white man many of these children had ever seen.

Road damage

Trip to the vulcanizer
A Trip to the Vulcanizer
Monthly truck maintenance
Regular Dirt Road Truck Maintenance 

The conditions in W. Africa are not just harsh for humans, it is particularly hard on vehicles. As mentioned, traveling to the school where Moringa got so much of the rocks needed for our concrete required hours of travel on washed out dirt roads. Such conditions take a hard toll on our beloved Kia 6 wheel diesel project truck. Our "baby blue" is extremely well maintained by Abu. This truck drives the wheels of progress for our project and Abu treats it like a parent would treat a child.

While suffering significant delay due to a leaking tire in our travels to and from the school, knowing how tight Abu manages the small amount of funds we send each month, it should not have surprised me that there were no spare tires.  (I say tires-plural as our six wheel truck requires different size tires front and rear).  Regardless, Abu took it all in stride and it was off to the village "vulcanizer" to make an emergency / temporary repair with his special tire repair scissors.   Ok, I'll let the photos do the talking here.  Improvising is what Moringa is built on, why should fixing a tire while still on the truck be a surprise.  

Trip to Cape Coast and Port City of Takoradi   

Abu & Staff's Baako Apartment
Abu's Staff Kibbutz - Down Town Baako. 
Buying Mortar & Pestle
  Buying a Grinding Bowl from a Village Girl
Buying Bananas
Supporting the local economy.

 On Sunday Feb 21, we set out from Baako for Cape Coast which was the first leg of our trip to Takoradi where Abu and I would be making a  presentation at a Rotary Club. (yes amazingly there is a Rotary but more on that later).  Leaving the village we first stopped at the two room "apartment" that Abu rents to house himself and our staff.  There we collected Sowah and Ebo who we would be giving a lift to their more remote homes.  Checking out these luxury accommodations (top photo right) that I like to call the "kibbutz", I was amazed yet again that five of our key staff lives here while working on the project with only one mattress between them. The mattress is used in shifts while others sleep on the concrete floor.  This was however a deluxe unit as it was within walking distance of the borehole for bathing.  Everyone takes pride in being cleanly and well groomed despite the hard labor and extreme heat. 

After dropping Sowah and Ebo, and supporting the local economy by buying some bananas (my one and only favorite Ghanaian food), we where back on a paved road so we could now cover ground at light-speed compared to the normal pace of our travels on the dirt roads.  

Abu and I had pretty much laid out a daily itinerary and we were due in Takoardi on Tuesday night for our presentation to the Rotary Club there.  This trip was important to us as it would also give us time to pickup sheets of particle board needed for fabrication of more Mr. Jeffry's Thirds World Machine Shops.  Also, after seeing the conditions in which our staff had endure each night after a hard day's work on the Moringa Compound, I was determined to buy four foam sleeping mats and also a fan for cooling Abu's staff kibbutz interior which was stifling hot.

The Abdulai Family Neighborhood in Cape Coast 

Abu's Mother and Father
 Abu's Family Home and Mother.  I am certain his father, upper right, would be very proud of Abu.
Auntie Grace & kids making palm oil
Auntie Grace and her children and nephews make render palm oil.
Hussein's Dress Shop
Abu's Brother Hussein's Dress Shop

 I was delighted to met Abu's family, and had an opportunity to watch palm oil being made by Auntie Grace ( once again reminded how impossibly difficult life is when everything simply must be done by hand). Palm nuts are dry--extracting the oil is tedious and difficult. Yet an important source of income using what is available. Since Linda makes soap, I will never again look at the palm oil she purchases without an understanding of what it took to get these nuts to give up their oil.

The most fun while in Abu's family neighborhood in Cape Coast was ordering clothing from Abu's brother Hussein. The fabrics are spectacular, the colors and patterns are intricate and very attractive. Although Ghana is best known for the Kente cloth, the experience of buying hand dyed fabric and batique in the market and then (after consulting with Hussein), bringing home pieces of clothing that embody Ghana was so much more satisfying that a suitcase full of souvenir T-shirts.

After sending the night at Abu's home in Cape Coast, it was off to the port city of Takoradi.  We had several reasons to make this trip.  Primarily we were scheduled to speak at the Takoradi Rotary Club meeting Tuesday evening.  As Moringa has enjoyed some funding from Montgomery County, PA Rotary clubs, we remain hopeful to involve a Rotary Club in Ghana so that Moringa my qualify for leveraging of funding through the International arm of Rotary International.  There are very specific hurtles Moringa must achieve to enable consideration of such leveraging.  I'll report on the Takoradi Rotary experience in my next installment of this travel log but wait until you hear the story of shopping for project supplies while in Takoradi.  This story alone I am confident will astound the reader but this event is only one of many astonishing things that happened during my final week in Ghana.

Stay tuned for my summer installment which will include Moringa's Ghana Forestry Commission inspection, launching our home canning and woodworking programs, Moringa's planned expansion into self-subsistence agriculture, beekeeping, and weaving trades.  In short, Moringa is progressing at astonishing speed, unfettered by typical inside-the-box thinking to rout out poverty through practical and achievable, "locally appropriate" economic growth, one village at a time.

Please Stay Tuned into Moringa and please Donate today!  We need your support.

Thanks for reading,
Jeffry

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