Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Project RISE Update - December 2009

Hi everyone,
I know it has been some time, but we wanted to give everyone a Project RISE update. As I wrote months ago, me going to Ghana back in August to start the system was merely the beginning of a long process to help the people of Ekumdipe. Naturally, with a project like this, we need to check on things from time to time to make sure things are going well. I knew I would not able to make the trip again this winter, but luckily, another Harvard student, Darryl Finkton (Director and Co-founder of the African Development Initiative) indicated to me this past fall that he would be more than happy to check things out this December. Now that Darryl has been to Ekumdipe there and back, he wanted to share his thoughts on the progress of RISE and the irrigation system. Enjoy!


To continue with project RISE, I recently made a follow up trip to Ekumdipe this past week. After flying into Tamale airport, I met with Dr. Bawa Demuyakor. We filled up the gas tank and began the three-hour drive to the village. Most people are confused at how long it takes to arrive at the village from Tamale, given the relatively small distance, until they see the roads (or lack thereof). Dr. Bawa swerved around crater-sized potholes, glided across the sand latent paths, and threw on the breaks as cattle jumped from the nearby grasses onto the street. But even his skill was not enough for the terrain and the unkept road got the best of our truck, leaving us stranded about 5 km from the community. After fruitlessly trying to fix the truck, Dr. Bawa contacted people from Ekumdipe who eventually picked us up on motorbikes and transported us one-by-one to the village.


Once there, we first spoke about the progress of the trial irrigation pumps. Oddly enough, the rainy season lasted longer than usual, slowing us a bit. The ground needs to be dry in order to begin planting so we had to wait longer than we expected to start the trial planting. However, because it is so important to show that it is possible to farm during the dry-season, we went ahead and began farming on the damp soil.


Things are progressing quite well, and despite this being the dry-season, there are crops growing in Ekumdipe! There are tomatoes, carrots, onions, and many other vegetables that until now, were a rarity in the community. After seeing the successes in the farms, we held a community meeting to talk about the difficulties and forward planning of Project RISE. The farmers were eager to continue their trailblazing work, as all of the community is watching with skeptical eyes to see if they truly can grow vegetables during the dry season. They claimed that now that the home being built in the community (house-building is a communal affair in Ekumdipe) is nearly complete, they can dedicate even more time to the project. After discussing more of the nuts and bolts of RISE, we all left the meeting eager to keep our substantial progress moving forward.


The next big steps will be seeing the crop yield in March. So keep your fingers crossed for the next three months everyone!!!


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Day 9


Day 9

So here it was. This was the day that I finally left Ekumdipe. This of course was a bittersweet moment for me. I had grown very fond of the people we were working for, but also I found myself longing for some of the basic things of life that you get used to as an American (a toilet, warm bath water, and electricity, etc). The tallying for the surveys was finally completed and the information was ready to be analyzed at a later date. The team of ten was properly assembled and energized. They now knew how the pumps would work, and more importantly, they were aware their responsibilities. There was not much for me left to do. All that was left was to wait for the dry-season to come in and unfortunately that will take place in October when I am far away.


With this portion of Phase 1 completed, I made my rounds to most of the members of the community and said my farewells. All of them gave thanks and many of them told me to thank the Americans and to tell them to continue to think of them and to continue to help this town. I assured them that if they did their part, they could count on us doing ours. I was happy to hear even members of the community that were not initially chosen to be in the first group of 10 speak words of encouragement and hear them mention how they would stay on top of those selected to make sure they represent Ekumdipe well in the project. Finally, the “bus” came around and I waved goodbye one last time. Of course, there was a general understanding that this was not a goodbye and more of a good luck and see you later. RISE was not created with a one-time August work session in mind; this is a sustainability project with a long term vision. Phase 1 is officially on its feet and underway and I’m very excited to see how the people of Ekumdipe rise to the occasion in the coming months.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Day 7

Today was a key day for the Project. The hardest/biggest part was now behind us. The chosen farmers had already gotten the opportunity to see the demo irrigation system in action, and the community was now charged to see the full system in action once the 10 farms were developed in the dry season.


However, there was a vital portion of RISE that still remained to be seen: the mindset of the people. I knew that no matter how sound and effective this irrigation system could be, it would all be for nothing if the mentality of the farmers was off. Well, I wanted to seek out what this mentality was currently like, and I figured interviews/ questionnaires would be an effective way of accomplishing just that. Initially, I used a questionnaire given to me by a Harvard professor. During our first interview, however, I saw that some of the questions did not get to the heart of what I wanted to know so I altered them accordingly as the conversation continued. Of course, I don’t speak Nkumuru (the language of Ekumdipe) so I had a translator for every interview.

(Here is a video of us doing some of the first interview) 


The results were pretty solid with a general consensus on most of the questions. Also, I was relieved to see that all 10 participants had indicated that they strongly agreed that Project RISE was a worthwhile endeavor and would end with positive results. Since it all starts with them, it was important to see that they believed.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Day 6 part 2

Okay everyone, so here is the moment we have all been waiting for... the implementation of the irrigation system. I have been waiting for this moment for over a year now, since we first came up with the idea for RISE. After the town meeting was completed and our message was communicated to the chosen farmers, all that was left was to show them how to system worked. Now, I want to clarify something. As I stated in the last post, Project RISE, phase 1 will initially include using an irrigation system to develop 10 farms for 10 farmers for dry-season farming. Unfortunately, the dry-season in Ghana does not start until around mid- October, so it did not make much sense now for us to go ahead create the 10 farms now. Rather, we thought that it would be best that we make a demo farm now and use 1 pump and some pipes to display how the final system would work. Now, first we had to transport the supplies over to the site.

Next, it was time to go to work. 

When we got there, some of the members of the community were still working on clearing land for the farm. This labor was part of the deal that was established during the initial Project RISE proposal, and of course, the members of the community were more than happy to help. When I got there and saw the work being done, I asked one of the guys to give me a hoe so I could put some sweat in too. Everyone got a good laugh in as the American had to bend down low and struggled to move the ground around. 
After the land was cleared, we started setting up the system. The system was pretty basic. On one side of the pump, we stuck a green pipe with a filter at the end into the body of water. On the other side, we attached the blue pipe that would transport the water to the farm site. Once everything was set up, all that was left was to switch the machine on. We gave it a yank and saw it go to work. We all watched with anticipation as we saw the blue pipe quickly fill up as the line went towards the farm. A bunch of us ran down to the end of the line to see the final result, and with joy, we saw the water pouring out of the pipe onto the land. The irrigation system worked. I wish I could describe in words how good it felt to see that water flow but I'll probably never be able to. Project RISE was officially working.

(Flow water, flow)

(Here's a video of me following the system from the source down to the farm site. I guess I got a little excited at the end haha)

Day 6

Today was a great day. It was time to get to work on the system. However, before heading to the ground and getting down and dirty, we needed to establish some rules with the community members. Now, for some of you who may not know, Project RISE is a multi-phase project. The trip that I am currently on is phase 1, or the pilot project. Before we attempt to incorporate the irrigation system with the entire community, we have decided to use a test group of 10 farmers/10 farms first. These farmers have been chosen based on criteria that takes into account their work ethic, their roles in the community, and the tribes or groups they belong to. This morning we had a group meeting that included me, the 10 farmers, and Professor Bawa and Mr. Ayariga from the University of Development studies. Basically, the Professor translated and communicated my message to the community members. This project was to help them help themselves. We have given them the means to start dry season farming, but it was up to them to make sure that the project is sustained and eventually expanded. He emphasized that irrigation systems like the one we are building have succeeded in the past and mentioned that if they showed signs of a lack of commitment, the pumps and pipes could be moved to a different community. It was apparent that members of Ekumdipe got the message. 

The head linguist then spoke on their behalf to me (in English now) that they felt very grateful to be selected for this project and were going to do whatever they could to make sure it would succeed and expand. Finally, Dr. Bawa asked me if I had any words for them. My mind was racing and so many parts and messages that I wanted to give about the logistics of the project came to mind. However, I eventually decided to speak words of encouragement instead. You see, I have studied these subjects in school for some time now. I was familiar with what the effects that technological advancements and labor efficiency could have on total productivity. I knew the sociological theories that have developed over the course of history on how the “haves” of a community interact with the “have-nots.” However, what I was observing now was not something that could be simply read and understood from a textbook. Living in a community that many of them believed was forgotten and abandoned by their government and the rest of Ghana, they were now being hit with the fact that people far away in America were thinking about them enough to try and pool resources to give them a new chance and opportunity with this project. They did not want to let those people down, they did not want to let me down and you could see the hope in their eyes. Rather then speak about the logistics of the project or how there would need to be a tax system eventually to sustain the pumps, I decided to take a different direction with my words. “I want you to know that I believe in you. My team believes in you. And finally, a whole lot of other people back in America that gave to this project believe in you.” Later, Dr. Bawa told me that they wanted me to go back and tell these people in the U.S. that they were deeply grateful and that is what I’m doing now.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Day 5

Okay! Sorry for taking awhile to get these next posts out everyone. It took a couple days for us to get out of Ekumdipe back to the city Tamale ("travel complications"). And today, I have been battling a tag-team of a stomach virus that I must have picked up in the village and a nice little fever with it too. But no worries, after a trip to the local hospital and a shot to the behind, I'm good to go! Now, it's time to give some updates on what I've been up to these past couple days. Of course, I could post everything all at once now, but that would be no fun. I'm going to leak the blogs little by little over the next few days so nothing gets rushed. I guess I'll start with the trip in...

Aug 14 - Day 5

Today we finally made the trip from Tamale to Ekumdipe. This was quite a trip to say the least. The first leg involved a trip south to the trading town, Salaga. After, we took the second leg to community. The trip took about 3 hours total (2 hrs from Tamale to Salaga and 1 hr from Salaga to Ekumdipe), however if the roads had been even somewhat decent, the trip would have taken half the time. The roads were either ruined with potholes scattered everywhere or they were not roads at all and just dirt paths. Eventually, we came up to the Daka River, which I had become familiar with by now through the many pictures I had seen over time. Finally, the truck started to slow and I knew we had arrived. At this point, I was not surprised to see the level of poverty and development in the community given that I had now been in Ghana for 5 days and had seen countless communities during our travels, however seeing Ekumdipe in person still had a large impact on me. This was the town that I had planned this project for over the past year. This is where I was going to live and work for the next few days. As soon as we exited the vehicles the members of the community immediately started to congregate towards us. They were expecting me and they knew what I had come to do. It was time to go to work.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Day 3-4

Hi all,

Since I wrote so much on the last post, I think this time I will try and let the new videos do all the talking. Enjoy!

(The first is a video of us taking a bumpy ride out of Accra towards Kumasi. I'll never take paved roads for granted again)

(The second video is us taking the road from Kumasi to Tamale at high speeds)

(The third video is of me taking a walk around with my uncle around his farm outside of Tamale. Of course, I can't forget my cousin, little Jimmy)

(The fourth video is a brief tour of my late grandmother's community. This one kind of speaks for itself)

Sorry for taking a little longer to get the posts for these last two days out. We just got to Ekumdipe today so internet has been a little rougher. Tomorrow, we really get to work on the system and I'll give you a chance to see the community yourself.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Day 2

“Wow, so this is Africa.” Those are the words I thought to myself as I looked out the window and saw our plane finally break through the clouds. Having been on a substantial amount of flights before, I was accustomed to this moment of the trip being accompanied with a view or gridlocked streets, cars scurrying everywhere, and modern buildings lined up perfectly into various neighborhoods. However, this time was different. This time, I saw dirt roads, buildings scattered here and there, and land, lots of seemingly unoccupied land.


I had been preparing myself for a trip back to Ghana like this for some time (I have not been back since the age of 2), however the shocks just kept coming. It was great moment to walk out of the airport and see many of my family members assembled for a welcoming. Apparently, I was a little bigger from the last time I was in the country so everyone got a big laugh out of that. After getting my luggage into the Project truck, it was time to see the city.


Seeing Accra was a huge shock. I had prepared myself to see the village of Ekumdipe eventually, but perhaps I overestimated what the capital city would be like. All the family members that I had met overtime in the U.S. used to preach to me about how advanced and westernized Accra was. It was supposedly the most urbanized area of the entire country and possibly in the entire continent. And being a guy raised in the small town of Buford, Georgia, I felt like I had low expectations for urbanization.


Right off the bat, I saw perhaps the expectations were not low enough. Immediately outside the airport, I saw two kids squatting around the bushes nearby. 

(In many places, Accra shows signs of being a modern, westernized city)

I asked my uncle what they were doing, and he laughed and informed me that the nearest bathroom must not be near enough. Much of Accra definitely seemed like bustling a western city  (especially considering Ghana has been independent for barely 50 years),but it didn’t take long to get to the dirt roads on the outskirts of the city. 

Also, at every stop sign there was a group of young men and women actively trying to sell off goods that ranged from snacks to ties to Barack Obama’s autobiography. Along with these culture shocks, I was also quickly hit with some of the major things that I felt are holding Ghana back.


Naturally, after getting to the dirt roads and seeing some of the levels of poverty in the area, I was shocked to see a Mercedes roll by. I thought it must have been an anomaly, but it didn't stop there. Luxury vehicles from all over the world continued to pass by. That kind of contrast bugged me, and the feeling was elevated later.

 As we moved further through the area, I saw a more prominent version of the inequality around. 

We started to drive by some mansions, houses so nice that they could probably hold their own in many U.S towns, however, right across the street from some of these houses, I saw some of the most run down communities I have seen in person in my entire life. 

The disparity between the two left an uneasiness in my stomach.It seemed wrong. 

 Being in New York City all summer, I was used to seeing varying scales of wealth in close vicinities, but this was a level I was not used to. 

I was struck by another problem later. My father and uncle bought me a coconut to drink from and I joked that I wanted to see the receipt to the purchase first and we all laughed. However, I pondered over this later. We had just made a purchase to a final good and service, however the government would never know about it. By definition, this transaction should add to the nation’s GDP, but it never will officially. It will also never be taxed to contribute to the government’s revenue. As I looked around and saw the abundance of men and women side-selling items all over the area, I realized that there were a lot of similar transactions that must occur in Ghana that fall into this same category.

 (A picture of a man selling hubcaps on the corner. These purchases would most likely be untaxed and are probably tricky to account for in GDP)

If these transactions are not accounted for, then it must be extremely difficult to try to calculate the country’s GDP. I told my uncle and he agreed that it was a large problem. I then replied by saying there must be a solution and asked him what it was. He quickly agreed that there was a solution, and after pausing and smiling to himself, he told me that I should think about it more because it was my responsibility to find it. The comment stopped me in my tracks and sent me into thought. If we would all look at the problems we see in the world and take them as our personal responsibility to solve, the world would be a much better place.


That is whole idea behind RISE. Although, the problems of Accra bugged me and I felt that they eventually would need to be dealt with, they are not the reason I took off on this trip to Africa. In the north, there is a village called Ekumdipe that experiences less wealth disparity than Accra because the entire community is impoverished. All of the roads are dirt and none of the buildings have electricity. With the way things are now, there is not much of a timeline for things to get better. The cycle will just continue and continue unless there is some stroke of luck and someone decides to personally donate/invest in the community or the government decides that Ekumdipe’s development will be somewhat vital to Ghana’s prosperity in the short term. However, all of these events are out of the control of the citizens of the township. Project Rural Irrigation System for Ekumdipe aims to put that control in their hands. I wish I could say that after these next couple of weeks I can eliminate the poverty in Ekumdipe or any of the areas surrounding it, but that is far from the truth. The truth of the matter is that doing so will probably take years. Also, Ekumdipe is realistically just one of the many many communities in Ghana and Africa experiencing similar levels of poverty. Even if I could solve the problem in this one place by the end of August (which I can’t), it would still exist in hundreds of places all of over the country. So why bother? Why even try to make a dent in a problem that is so vast and daunting?


It all goes back to what my uncle said in the truck earlier this afternoon. It is up to all of us to be the solutions to the problems that we see in the world. I can’t beat this one by myself, but if I can permanently improve the lives of even 100 people in Ekumdipe, if I can inspire one boy to work his way out of his village through determination and education just as my father did from his, if I can inspire even 5 more people back home in the US to get up from reading this blog and to attempt to tackle the problems that bug them the most in this world themselves, or if I can establish a precedent for a village nearby to attempt to create a similar irrigation system, then this has all been a success and the work put into this project was all worth it. And of course, this project is way bigger than me. I am forever grateful to all of the friends and family who donated and supported this project and for the support of the institutions back at Harvard that have made it even possible for the it to even make it to this point (Professor Higginbotham and Professor Charles Owu-Ewie and the rest of the Department of African and African American Studies, Professor Freeman of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and the our team in the African Development Initiative).


Tomorrow, we leave Accra and take a 10-hour drive north to Tamale. I’m sure that I will probably be even more shocked by the journey tomorrow than I was by the one today and I will be sure to keep you updated about it on the next post. I promise to keep the rest of posts shorter!




Monday, August 10, 2009

Day 1

Hi all,

Thank you so much for coming to our blog. Today, I leave for Ghana and Project RISE officially begins. Please stop by from time to time over the next few weeks for updates as the project continues, and of course, any kind of donation to our project at www.projectrise.org is greatly appreciated.

Adam Demuyakor