Being in Bolga

27 08 2008

I spent last week in Bolgatanga. Partly this was because it was my friend Sarah’s last week in Ghana and I wanted to say goodbye, and partly because I’ve got work to do there. Actually I’ve got work I could be doing in Tamale but I find it hard to motivate myself to do work without a deadline that receives little feedback. I guess always working in environments where people expected results makes the shift to a volunteer’s role quite hard.

When I go to Bolga I usually stay in a spare room in the VSO house shared by Katie and Sarah who both arrived in Ghana with the same group of volunteers as me.  This time there were an additional two occupants in the house, both recent volunteers, one only arriving last Sunday a few hours before I got there, so I was relegated to a mattress on the floor of what is usually a storeroom.

I prefer working in Bolga, partly because that is where the database work I’m doing is for, partly because my three ISODEC colleagues in Bolga seem more interested in learning and partly because there are a lot more volunteers in Bolga to socialise with, and I did quite a lot of socialising last week.

The Access database I’m building for the AGSP project is going fairly well, I’ve put it on a computer in the Bolga office and talked Jonathon and Francisca through how to use it. They seem fairly pleased and excited, and I think Jonathon wants to give it to the other organisations that administer AGSP elsewhere in Ghana so I may get an excuse to visit Sunyani and Accra. I’ve been fairly impressed with Access, although the fact that I know VB and hence VBA makes life a lot easier (for me anyway, whoever picks it up after me may struggle). I’ve created some useful forms and pretty reports and it seems acceptably robust so far and quite suitable for the volume of data. I probably need to add a bit more maintenance stuff but I have written a couple of documents with lots of pictures to explain how it works, how to get information into the database and how to get it out again. I also got to show how to do some PowerPoint stuff and a bit of Excel so, overall, a fairly successful week.

In addition to this breakneck pace at work (some days I did almost 3 hours work) I managed to get out and meet other VSO vols most nights. In fact I felt a little guilty since one of my purposes of visiting was to say goodbye to Sarah, but I guess we’d spent quite a lot of time together in Mali and Burkina Faso. The new volunteers were eager to meet up with other volunteers, there were several Peace-Corp visiting (Katie’s boyfriend is Peace-Corp) plus I wanted to meet up with some people I’d not seen for a while so I ended up out most nights. For various reasons I don’t meet up that often with the VSO vols in Tamale. In a city about five times the size of Bolga there are about one third the number of VSO volunteers. I tend to end up meeting with Fred, volunteers from Peace-Corps or CUSO and VSOs who are passing through Tamale.

Saturday night was Sarah’s leaving party. Sarah has had to define her own role in the year she’s been here; working with the Ghana Education Service to help train and improve school management in the Upper East Region. The turnout at her leaving party was a tribute to the number of connections she’s made to the local community; it was a real mix of people which had the usual Ghanaian feature of half the attendees standing up to make a speech about the host. I was nominated to speak on behalf of VSO and mumbled a few words, but about half a dozen Ghanaian’s spoke eloquently of their gratitude to Sarah. This time next week she’ll have traded Bolga for Bristol.

Sarah’s departure is part of a general exodus of volunteers I’ve met over the last year. About half of the group I arrived with have left as well as several vols I met here. I hadn’t really prepared myself for this turnover over of friends and I’ll miss (indeed already miss) many of them. It seems unlikely I’ll visit Salaga again now Marco, Helen and Vicky have all gone and Navrongo is empty at the moment. Trips to Bolga will be different, and without Steve, Dean or Jason Accra will seem empty. I guess it’s also an opportunity to get to know the new bunch of volunteers arriving in September. If any are reading this you are very welcome, and good luck with the final preparations.

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2 responses

30 08 2008
ayo

Are the VSO’s out there on one year contracts now? We were mostly on two, and I wasn’t ready to leave even after more than 3 years.

Congratulations on turning 40, but beware, it is a much bigger issue here in UK than in Ghana. I felt so old in job interviews this time round!

I am still enjoying reading your blogs, and now I have to teach about Ghana in school, it will be even more useful for updating my information.

31 08 2008
Tim Little

Hi there,

No, most VSOs are on 2 year contracts, but there are a reasonable number on 1 year, and a few where things didn’t work out or left for health or other reasons. Some volunteers never leave.

As for the 40 thing I am a little nervous, especially as I work in an industry that favours young brains. I’m still reasonably confident that I’ll sort something out though.

Thanks for the birthday wishes and complements on the blog. I’m glad you enjoy it.

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