Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Time flies when you're having fun!

I can’t believe it is March already.  It seems only a few weeks ago the four of us UK volunteers arrived in Sandema, with Festus, eager and excited to start a new project.  And now, 8 weeks later Jenna, Poppy, and Will are on the countdown to departure day.

In the past 8 weeks, the team have visited 13 Chiefs and their entourages of elders, and sub-chiefs; 4 women’s groups, 5 Disabled People’s Organisations, 4 schools, spoken to many people at the District Assembly, attended a local Feok festival, and met a famous (blind) guitarist (well, famous in Builsa!).  That doesn’t include appearances on the radio or any of the things we have done that are non-project related! The month of February disappeared in a blur, interspersed with trips to sit on crocodiles and hang out with Elephants and Baboons in Mole National Park.  We have been sang to, danced for, had our accents laughed at, teased for our names (Jenna means eggs in Buli, and we are forever explaining that Poppy is not a small dog!), and had our hands shook by hundreds of wonderful, and gracious people.

There are only 2 and a half weeks left to work on the project (the last week will be spent debriefing, packing, saying goodbyes, and travelling to Accra).  We have a few tasks remaining, including visiting St John’s Integrated Senior High School, in Navrongo (a school which welcomes children with disabilities alongside their able-bodied colleagues) and Gbeogo School for the Deaf, in Tongo, Bolgatanga.  As this team draws to a close I am starting to think in more detail about the next team’s activities, and so these visits to these schools will help formulate ideas and identify ways in which we can develop Feok-based activities for people with disabilities to participate in.  I want the current team to be involved in kick-starting this process so that there is some form of overlap between teams; it will almost be like handing over the Olympic flame as it journeyed across the UK, and visiting these schools will certainly help.  This team have been instrumental in laying the groundwork for the LIFE project, and will be key figures in the remaining weeks in advocating for improvements to the festival, and more importantly, for the inclusion of people with disabilities.  (The next team will (hopefully) build on this by introducing some disability-friendly, and Feok friendly, activities to the Builsa district.)

Our main remaining task, then, is to bring all of the Chiefs, Assemblymen and women, Disabled People’s Organisations, schools, women’s groups, key opinion leaders, and inspirational people with disabilities together and report our findings.  This is both incredibly exciting but also quite terrifying.  On the whole there has been a great deal of positivity directed towards the inclusion of people with disabilities from everyone we have spoken to, and I don’t anticipate there being any resistance from the Traditional Council and District Assembly to the development of activities (I do anticipate them telling us we can do what we want, just don’t expect them to pay for it!).  However, for there to be any point in including people with disabilities into this festival, there are some issues regarding the festival itself that need to be addressed.  It is this bit that makes me nervous.

The Paramount Chief of the Builsa District, until 2006, was a man named Azantilow.  He was incredibly well-liked and respected, not only in the Builsa District, but across Ghana, and around the world.  The Queen and the Royal Family were apparently big fans also.  There is a story that Azantilow refused to die until he had spoken to the Queen one last time, and so an ex-pat NGO worker was drafted in to imitate the Queen to give Azantilow her best wishes.  Some versions of this story say the ex-pat was made to wear a wig, but Azantilow had gone blind in his last few years, so I’m not sure how true this bit is.  Azantilow, glad to have received the Queen one final time, died the very next day, aged 106. Unfortunately, the responses from our interviews, questionnaires, and focus groups suggest that the Feok festival has never been the same again, and since Azantilow’s death, there have been several disputes and conflicts between the current Paramount Chief and the Builsa Community Chiefs.  Whilst we do not necessarily aim to address these issues at our meeting in a few weeks, they are something we intend to raise and hope to set the wheels in motion for resolving them.  I’m just not sure how happy the current Paramount Chief, Azantilow’s son, is going to be when we raise them.  Mum, I might be home in a few weeks if the Chief doesn’t like what we have to say!

So, all the sections of the report have been written and we are now in the process of editing it all together, and putting together our conclusions and recommendations. Tomorrow will be a big planning day for the meeting as we finalise venues, catering, guest lists and start work on the meeting agenda!  It might be the last two weeks, but this team still have a lot to do!!

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