Small But Significant Steps

12 Dec

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During my time in Kpandai, I was universally loved by small children and older children, but there was a certain age range in between that was typically scared of me. The pictures above are of the son of the women who sold me beans for lunch pretty much every other day I was in the district (Madame Say-wa).    Over my four months in Kpandai, we finally got to the point where he wouldn’t cry when I came close to him.  Small but significant progress.

If someone took a cold and calculating view of the impact I have managed to achieve during my placement, all of the steps might appear small.  I myself measure my success in terms of personal relationships and I believe that, when viewed through this lens , my progress was significant.  I mean this both in terms of my influence on others and their influence on me.


This week began with wrapping up loose ends and my final goodbyes in Kpandai.  The picture on the above left is my friend Nhial.  I actually said goodbye to him last week, as he had to leave Kpandai for a meeting, but I have included him again this week because our friendship was one of the parts of my experience that I most value.

As was my friendship with Paul from Nchanchina, who I originally met when he hosted me on my village stay.  Paul had hurt his finger badly a few weeks earlier and he had been a bit discouraged about not being able to start on some of the plans for his farm that we had been discussing.  I had been really discouraged too, but that changed on my last day in the district when the picture above and to the right was taken.

The picture was taken right after my final AAB meeting with the farmer’s group that Paul is a member of.   In the background are his 2,000 yam mounds, which is a significant number.  He accomplished this by using his meager savings to hire labour, which is a huge step that we had previously discussed on several occasions, but I had previously thought he was not yet ready f0r.  He also told me that he had started keeping written records and he was feeling confident about his ability to achieve his goal of saving enough to be able to go back and finish high school.  It was a really gratifying moment.


This week I dropped off the second pilot set of children’s blocks at Madam Marta’s preschool.  I built a sample castle as the children’s excitement grew (above left).  They then thanked me by singing me a song.  That evening, Madam Marta and her nephew Albert presented me with a traditional Dagomba smock (above right) and we talked about our personal goals and about the next steps for some of the initiatives we have been discussing. 

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I ended my last full day by screening a movie for the children who have been showing up on a regular basis at my place (above left).  I also gave them each a small Canada pin and took their individual pictures, which they loved.  I’m really going to miss the children of Ghana.  Their smiling greetings every morning as I walked from my house to the office ensured that I started every single day in a good mood.

My Director surprised me by offering to drive me back to Tamale on Wednesday, which was great news as it meant that I was able to miss the bus.  This also meant that we had the opportunity to go to dinner that evening  I’m really looking forward to keeping in touch with him both as a friend and to support the initiatives that we have started together.  He also surprised me with a gift of a Dagomba smock and then he taught me a bit of the traditional dance where you swirl it about (above right).

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On Thursday and Friday in Tamale, I quickly switched gears to engage in EWB debriefing and strategy discussions.  I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the long term volunteers and my fellow short term professional volunteers.  Apart from new personal friendships, it’s been really inspiring to see the work that everyone is doing.  For example, in the picture on the above left, a young Ghanaian National Service volunteer is giving his final presentation about the work he did with his EWB coach, which had obviously sparked something within him.  At the end of our sessions, I had the opportunity to share what I have learned to help guide EWB’s overseas strategy, which I really appreciated.

At our final goodbye dinner, each of the the short term volunteer’s coaches crowned us as a chief and gave us a chief’s hat.  My coach, Erin, crowned me as the ‘Chief of Personal Impact.’  I was really touched by this, as I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be chief of. 🙂

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During our going away dinner, a senior policy advisor to the Vice President of Ghana that Dan from EWB’s G&RI team works with stopped by to say hello.  He said he was flying to Accra the next day and asked if anyone needed a ride.  That’s how Jason, Mark S and I wound up on a special Ghana Air Force flight with a bunch of high rollers and dignitaries (I’m not clear whether or not it’s actually the Vice President’s plane…).   It was a huge stroke of luck, as the hour and a half flight was much better than the 13 hour bus ride alternative.

When we arrived in Accra, the three of us caught a bus to Cape Coast so that we could unwind on the beach for a day and a half before returning to Accra to catch our flight to Toronto for our final debrief next week.  That’s where I sit now, writing on my laptop under a palm tree on the beach in this tropical paradise in the shadow of historic Cape Coast castle. 🙂

This week has been a whirlwind, but it’s also been a great opportunity to reflect on the many new friendships I have been blessed with: Nhial, my Director, Madam Marta, my EWB team mates, and many more.  I am truly a lucky guy to have met so many amazing people.

4 Responses to “Small But Significant Steps”

  1. Ayshe December 12, 2010 at 10:22 pm #

    I think small but significant steps are important too!

  2. kyle December 13, 2010 at 4:10 am #

    You’ve done an incredible job communicating your experiences back home with this blog. It sets a high standard future volunteers should strive for. I’m certain your work both overseas will have a lasting effect. Similarly, by sharing your story through this blog, your work communicating and connecting Canadians to Ghana has been top notch. I look forward to hearing more when you’re back in town.
    Thank you, I’ve really enjoyed it.

  3. Gary December 14, 2010 at 5:11 am #

    What a great experience. Thanks for taking the rest of us along.

  4. Cat December 15, 2010 at 1:46 pm #

    What an adventure Mark! Thanks so much for letting us ride along with you. It must have been very hard to leave but you know your time there was worthwhile and you touched many people, including us. You did great and you did so much good.

    Good luck with your transition back to life in Vancouver. Big hugs from England.

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