Wednesday, August 31, 2016

"Lights Out"

Sala and Madame Gladys persevering in the face of "lights out"
So, we’re two thirds of the way through our placement, embarking on the final push before we hand over to the next cohort. Following some initial frustrations with the scale of the office work and the lack of hands on experience, we are finally seeing our efforts and planning coming to fruition.

Just over the last week we have worked with local physical education (P.E.) teachers and the Disabled People’s Organisation (DPO) to build on their existing knowledge and training, allowing them to take away new ideas which will, we hope, help with efforts to enhance the lives of people with disabilities (PWD’s) in the community. Furthermore, we have completed all of our religious sensitisations, across the various churches and mosques of Sandema, which we estimate to have reached over a thousand members of the community! A successful couple of weeks, with further DPO and teacher training, together with a community sensitisation in the town of Wiaga to look forward to.

Of course, there have been challenges along the way. Perhaps foremost among them has been the ever-present threat of ‘lights out’. A phenomenon which, according to our southern ICVs, is largely limited to the northern regions of Ghana and has been an ongoing issue over the last four years.

Whilst the issue is not limited to when it rains, this is the most common cause/justification for lights out. However, the issue appears to stem from a lack of capacity in the local electricity grid with demand far outstripping supply. We have the pleasure of visiting Sandema during the rainy season (June-August), which admittedly offers sweet relief from the Ghanaian summer, but which brings with it the added challenge of regular power cuts that, without the use of a generator, can bring life grinding to a halt across the community.

Community millet deliveries fail, shops close, the potential for opportunistic crime increases and perishables are lost. The impact of lights out is exacerbated by the lack of advance warning from the Volta River Authority (V.R.A), with no broadcasts or announcements of any kind, which means any chance to mitigate potential damages is lost. As we have now reached election season, this is a hot topic for those campaigning across the Upper East Region (U.E.R), with the people of the U.E.R crying out for greater representation on the national stage.

At a project level, with the onset of lights out, we find ourselves unable to use the office Wi-Fi, laptops and phones cannot be charged, youth clubs – most notably our inclusive ICT class – can’t go ahead as the children do not turn up and our project partner, the Presbyterian Community Based Rehabilitation team, faced with the same challenges are unable to get on with their own activities.

The challenge caused by the loss of power has held our work in the community back on a number of occasions, with entire work days being missed as a result. In particular, our preparation for the Inclusive Sports training was severely hampered by regular power cuts across the week preceding the workshop. To quote Mr Maxwell, our Project Coordinator, ‘Rainy season is a challenging time to come and work, as very little goes ahead without a hitch’. 

Paul dealing with "lights out" in the office
As with most things, there is a positive to be taken from the challenge. At LIFE, we have been brought closer together as a team to ensure that we get the most out of the resources at our disposal in the time between power cuts. Resourcefulness, ingenuity, team work and resilience are all attributes we have fostered as a team in response to the challenges posed by ‘lights out’. It is remarkable to observe the sense of camaraderie that comes from a shared frustration.

Furthermore, it has been extraordinary reflecting on our modern reliance on electrical devices. When you are unable to charge your phone for 48 hours, or use your laptop, tablet or television, you realise just how dependent we are on them on a day-to-day basis. I have found that being without them encourages further engagement and participation in the community, as a team and at home. There is much to be said for a period when we’re not tied to one device or another, the relationships that are built and the conversations that otherwise might not have happened merit paying attention once in a while. Sandema is a beautiful place, especially when not seen through the lens of a camera.

The ‘lights out’ challenge has proved a significant obstacle to our success in Sandema, but not an insurmountable one. The work we have achieved so far in the face of opposition and the friendships forged, links back to our project and the work we do with championing the rights of PWDs. It is an uphill battle, but one which we all need to strive towards achieving.

Team work at its best

Joda Pow & Paul Asiawon

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