Well, I have made it one month in Ghana! I have struggled to start this post because I need the tone to reflect something different than our previous posts. Where as most of our posts provide comical interludes about our adventures and misadventures around the world, I hope the content of this post, and some more to follow, can provide you with some perspective on life and the abundance we all to frequently take for granted.
So without further ado…..Welcome to Atebubu (Ahhh-teh-boo-boo).
The town of Atebubu sits about 160km or 3.5 hours drive north of Kumasi. We arrived in Atebubu on Monday, March 21 to resume work on a school feeding project (more on that in a second). After seeing mostly partially constructed concrete houses or clay/mud huts for the majority of the drive, I was pleasantly surprised by the house in Atebubu. They just found the house a week prior so there is some nesting to be done but overall great for Atebubu. Unfortunately, the house does not have running water, so we depend on rainwater collected in large outdoor tanks for bathing and flushing the toilet. It also lacks a kitchen, so we rely on street food…which well, isn’t that reliable from a food safety perspective…so most days I buy $1.25 of rice and beans and pray my GI tract is agreeable. I also enjoy local mangos almost everyday. There is no clean drinking water in Ghana, so we buy small plastic bags of water and we look forward to getting a refrigerator to keep them cold. So most days it feels like some type of glamorous camping….which, thankfully, I have some skills to handle.
Before arriving in Atebubu, I knew very little about the scope of the project I would be working on but over the course of the first few days, I learned much more!
The project is a school feeding intervention that involves feeding 6-9 year olds a breakfast of porridge with 1 of 4 different nutrient powders added. The intervention aims to evaluate changes in growth and cognition between the different groups. The project currently runs at 5 primary schools and feeds 7 classes of kids…about 450 total kids everyday!
When a new school starts the program, several important things need to happen. First, we must hold a parent consent meeting to make sure the parents know what we are doing and make sure that they are okay with their child getting one of the powders. They must take place in the local language, so often I do not know what is happening but it looks like most parents that show up will also give their consent. The next step involves enrollment measurements and cognitive testing. Through a variety smiles and gestures, we take their height, weight, and a handful of other measurements. The third step is cognitive testing, which requires the most time. With the help of native speakers, kids are individually guided through a battery of cognitive tests on a tablet computer. This generally attracts a lot of attention considering only about 2% of homes in the region have computers and there are no computers at the schools.
Overall, the enrollment process takes 3-4 days and also requires finding a cook and assistant for the school to help with the powders and keep track of the kids each day. So once everything is in place, we get to start feeding the kids!
The first day of feeding can be summed up as chaotic! First we have to get all the kids to come to school early…at 6:45am! Luckily for these parents, the schools are in small villages and kids get themselves to school on foot by themselves or with a friend or sibling. So as some kids trickle in, we have them go back out and find their classmates and get them to come. Attendance is generally much better after the first day because they are excited to have a hot, free breakfast!
The majority of the chaos comes from getting the kids separate into their groups (based on which powder they will get). They are each assigned a color bowl and we work on getting the kids to learn their color…they are eager to learn anything and everything so it can be quite fun but definitely energy consuming. They also have a variety of names and don’t always go by the name we have from the teacher, so some detective work is sometimes required. Once they are eventually identified and all sorted by color then they can eat! The chaos continues each morning for the first few days until they learn their colors and eventually have themselves arranged by color before we even arrive (kids are amazing).
The warm and excited smiles of the children and helpers makes the early mornings well worth it! Maybe I am turining into a morning person…..not so fast 😏.
Here are some pics to give you some perspective of the schools and children. The classrooms are barebones with desks and a blackboard. Some have old magazines and 1-2 random posters on the wall with shapes or colors but resources are very very slim. Most schools have regular classrooms, although one location we visit has their first and second grade under only a sheet metal roof with no walls…we are curious to see what they do when the “rainy season” is in full swing……