Tuesday, December 09, 2008

My Christmas Wish

It's a few years later, but I couldn't help but feeling like anyone checking back in on this blog would understand my reasoning here. Because after thinking that there wasn't really anything I wanted for Christmas, I decided that the best way to celebrate the holidays was to give something back to people who really need it. I'm asking you to help me raise money for Engineers Without Borders.

My page is at http://www.giftofopportunity.ca/Bryn

There you can see what's on my holiday wish list, and if you support any or all of my wishes, please contribute what you can. 30% of your donation will go to the UNB chapter (where my involvement with EWB began and where I was given the opportunity to work in Ghana), and 70% will go to the national programs, which coordinate Canadian engagement and implement real, effective projects on the ground in Africa. Less than 10% of the organisation's funds go to overhead and all money fundraised is taken very seriously -- I know that with my entry level job in Saint John, I'm already making more money than either of EWB's CEOs (and they live in downtown Toronto)!

I've set a personal goal to raise $1000.00, which is really ambitious, but I hope can be made through a wide variety of small donations; even just $5, $10. Every little bit counts, and from my experience with EWB in Ghana, even just small amounts of money as inputs for farmers can catalyze great change.

Your donations can be anonymous if you want, and as a registered charity your gifts can be given charitable receipts. If you have any questions at all, please don't hesitate to ask. As you probably all know, EWB and the farmers I met in Ghana are dear to my heart, and nothing could be a better gift for me this year than to invest in them and the work they are doing.

Take care,

Monday, February 05, 2007


Hello everyone!

It has been just over 5 months since I returned and I recognize that the blog may be difficult to navigate. Not all of my entries show up on the main page, though they're all accessible through the monthly archive links (they're down a little bit on the right hand side of the screen).
I thought that I would link to some of the entries that many people found the most engaging or interesting, I think that they offer interesting glimpses into my experiences this past summer:
If you have any questions, comments, concerns, or requests don't hesitate to email me at bryn.ferris [at] gmail.com


Sunday, August 20, 2006

Bless This Mess

Men yell directions in tongues I don’t know
While the women sell the world on their head
The children could be unhappy without fancy toys
But they fashion their own instead

White World Vision trucks drive past
Clean and shimmering in the light
Nearby a rusting lorry carcass
Provides a contrasting sight

“Nansaalah!” screams a nearby child
As I smile through water sachet
Goats fight atop a nearby mound
Each hoping to rule the day

The scent of eggs frying two stalls down
Reminds that I still need to eat
Meanwhile the kids playing football
Forget they have only bare feet

Ahead the women are pounding fufu
Sleeping babies slung to their backs
Open-palmed beggars stumble forward
Pleading for what they lack

A young man seats himself down beside
And invites to join in his feast
I’m left to ponder over roasted nuts
How the most generous have the least

Across is an entrepreneurial boy
On whose scale we can each weigh
He records the results on pieces of scrap
And asks a small fee to pay

In the distance the mosque calls for prayers
While “Matthew 10:12” drives by
Past open sewers and broken buildings
A sunset graces the sky

And as darkness descends on the town
The chaos still functions nearby
I’m left to lie back on the wooden bench
And breathe a contented sigh

For all the insanity this land brings
There’s an eternal calm with the pride
Provided that in your football match
The second goal is not offside

Regardless of how it may have seemed
Four months is simply too short
To enjoy a land so peaceful and free
And completely obsessed with a sport

Soon I will leave this life behind
Board the plane for the Promised Land
And hope to myself on the long flights back
That the projects are going as planned

But no matter how hard this has all seemed
The challenge is in my return
To cope with the lifestyle I’ve always lived
The society that needs to learn

Forever holding a piece of my heart
This place is so quiet and blessed
A hell of a summer I’ll never forget
Ghana; bless this mess

Friday, August 18, 2006


An entry about Bryn’s send off party that he doesn’t have enough time to properly write, featuring:

A meal prepared by the Nansaalahs.

A planned hockey game with bedposts that didn’t quite work out.

The incredibly cute son my RAAP’s director in his own tiny traditional smock.

A delicious goat and chicken.

A reversal of gender roles, with the men preparing supper.

And not finding it easy.

Two traditional dance groups.

The white guy attempting to dance.

Some beautiful Ghanaian gifts.

Some Canadian love and appreciation.

And a picture I took in Wa that is so awesome that it needs to be included in the blog, regardless of how irrelevant it is..

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


I hardly had time to finish breakfast this morning when suddenly a pickup truck with some 20some people crammed on board rolls up in front of my house. Most of the passengers are from Hain; their clothes are much more ragged than usual and they all have hand hoes slung over the shoulder. In the driver seat is Evans, RAAP’s director, who is sporting the biggest grin I’ve ever seen and screaming “we’re going farming!”
I quickly grab a hat and hop on the back, somehow finding a place to sit among the mass of bodies (who are, incidentally, all laughing at the fact that the white guy is going to try to farm). After exchanging greetings the conversation immediately goes to a level of Dagaare I can’t quite follow so I’m left to retreat into my head and admire the scenery as Evans blazes down the dirt road at a speed that can only be described as “unsafe.”

After a few kilometres (and several additional passengers) we turn off of the main road and head off into the bush. The ride immediately gets a lot rougher; everyone in the back grabs onto someone across from them, creating an interesting yet effective web that prevents us all from being flung from the truck. Occasionally I glance forward to see where we were going; I literally can’t see the ‘road’ that we’re driving along. The path seems to be nothing more than a series of bushes and rocks that are slightly smaller and lower than those on either side of the trail. I am a little uneasy about this, but no-one else seems to mind.
Eventually we reach our destination: a couple straw huts and a few dozen acres of maize and groundnuts. We all jump off the back and join a few dozen more farmers who are already marching off towards the groundnut field. The women stay back at the huts and begin preparing the massive amount of food and drink that will be needed in a couple hours. Off to my right I notice a line of women heading towards the huts carrying massive containers of water on the head. I’m told the stream they’re coming from is at least 3 kilometres away.

As seems to be the case with all Ghanaians, the farmers are invariably in a good mood throughout the walk. Off to the left I can see another group making their way to the same farm. Meanwhile many more farmers go shooting past us on either side, completely unfazed by the fact that they are riding over grass on rickety old bicycles that have no brakes. Ahead one of the men starts a chant that I can only describe as a Dagaare alternative to the Seven Dwarfs’ favourite song.

We arrive at the field to see that fifty or so farmers have already started to weed. Spread out over several acres, they look as if they are farming at random in all directions. Every minute or so someone starts shouting a random half-song, which is only sometimes answered. I could never quite make out what they were saying and for some reason I never bothered to ask. Whatever it was, it seemed to keep everyone in good spirits, which I imagine was the point.
While we are walking to the far corner of the plot Evans explains to me that all this land is owned by a local man named Moses. Several years ago Moses helped Evans’ family farm their land and so now he is trying to repay the favour; most of RAAP has come out to spend the day weeding. All told, over 100 people from all the neighbouring villages have come together with the hope that together they can finish all of Moses’ thirty plus acres of land by the end of the day.

Upon reaching our section of land I discover that the farming is not as random as it first seemed; the entire process is coordinated by a few farmers who mark out “contracts” for which each farmer is responsible. Once he is done his area the farmer is free to either help others or rest until everyone has finished their respective sections. Not only does this ensure that everyone does a comparable amount of work, but it also makes many people work faster since they see it as a race to finish their contract before the farmer next to them does.
In less than an hour we finish up the first field, which looked to be just over three acres. Everyone then fans out and works his way back towards the cooking hut, weeding anything that gets in his way. Before noon hits we’re done another six or more acres, finishing all of the groundnut fields. At this point I’m beginning to feel a little more than exhausted (everyone else seems just as energetic as when they started). Much to my relief, I discover that we get a brief break before moving on to the maize fields.

As the women serve everyone drinks before lunch I’m reminded at just how well religions mix here. The farmers divide into two groups, with the predominantly Christian group taking pito, the local alcoholic drink, and the predominantly Muslim group taking a mix of water and ground vegetables. Everyone then reassembles and breaks into a series of smaller groups, where giant tubs of beans and rice are served and quickly devoured. The meal ends at 1pm and all the Christian farmers relax for a few minutes while their Muslim counterparts begin their prayers.
Once the prayers finish everyone assembles again, throwing their hoes into the middle of the circle. Several of the leaders then rearrange the hoes into three piles that represent the three different maize fields that we are to finish by the end of the day. Though I spent years picking road hockey teams in a similar fashion, I’m baffled by the process because, unlike our hockey sticks with varying colours and brands, every one of the 100+ hoes is the same model of unpainted wood. My questions and worries are met with laughs and stares; every farmer knows exactly which hoe is his and finds it without hesitation.

We break off and, for the first time, I am given my own contract. Sort of. I work as hard and fast as I can, but I can’t help but notice that my section is getting done a great deal slower than everyone else’s, despite the fact that the farmers around me often farm a little bit into my section. This doesn’t come as a surprise, mind you, but it is rather frustrating since I am working at a furious pace and am becoming completely exhausted; a nice reminder that I can’t possibly understand (much less perform) the amount of physical labour the average villager has to do for their daily food.

I should mention, if you haven’t already noticed in the photographs, that the day was overcast and very cool by Ghana’s standards. I am very, very grateful for this. Though the clouds made my hat mostly useless, they saved me from the agony of working under a harsh equatorial sun. (I should also point out that a dozen or so farmers were wearing toques for most of the day, which was more than a little amusing to me.)

By about 2:30 we finish up our maize field, only to find that another group, who had much rockier ground to work through, isn’t quite half done theirs. We immediately rush over and help them complete the remainder of their field in an amazingly short period of time; a few acres can’t stand up to a hundred farmers who are determined to finish and go home.
As the last sections were being completed I walk over to Evans and Emmanuel, another RAAP employee, who were discussing their thoughts on the day. As I was approaching I could overhear Emmanuel saying “the unity alone is enough to make me happy.” I couldn’t agree more; there was a good natured, optimistic atmosphere that made the huge amount of work bearable. The sense of community and camaraderie was almost overwhelming and never once faltered throughout the whole day.

Once our work finished everyone crammed onto trucks and bicycles and raced home to get cleaned up before the sun set. (The bucket showers were certainly needed!) After we washed we re-convened in the evening, where four goats were killed in our honour. The village elders thanked us all for our work, and the day finished with a huge feast around a roaring fire, with plenty of songs, drinks and dances. By the time I got home the moon was already high in the sky and my body felt like it was going to fall apart before I could drag it to its bed. I made it, though, and as I crawled under my mosquito net I collapsed on the mattress and thanked my lucky stars that this was only a one day affair; I definitely don’t have enough strength left in me to do it all over again tomorrow.

Unfortunately, the other hundred some farmers aren’t so lucky.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Food Aid

I’m finally back in front of a computer screen; I spent the past week in the remote farming village of Zingpen, farming and generally trying to mimic a rural farmer’s life the best I could. I’m not sure that I succeeded as a farmer, but I can confidently say that I learned and saw more in that single week than I have in most of my placement. There's so much that happened that it's hard to know what to write about.

The one moment I'll definitely never forget was when I had the great fortune of witnessing the arrival of the infamous US Food Aid.
Each term the Catholic Relief Services and USAID supply the village’s primary school with two metric tons of imported US Sorghum to help feed the students at lunches.This food takes a lot of pressures off of the families; since the kids are in school they can’t help their families farm, and so a reliable source of food is essential.

This community is completely made up of farmers—even the teachers go farm once their classes end.

They are good farmers too, especially given what inputs and conditions they have to work with. Yet they’re seemingly caught in perpetual poverty. Throughout the week my probing about the farmer’s difficulties almost always resulted in the same answer: lack of market access.How much money does it cost to ship two metric tons of food from North America to the middle of nowhere in the upper corner of Ghana?

Would the money be better spent buying the abundant (and slowly rotting) crops of local farmers, instead of just dumping our produce on villages?

I don’t have the answers; just scattered thoughts.

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

One Month Left

With only a month left this placement has suddenly gone from unbearably long to ridiculously short. My return to Hain has been really great for my spirits, and I’ve been able to eat and drink much more enjoyably this time around. I’m realizing that there are a lot of people and little things that I will really miss about this place when I leave. This will undoubtedly make for a bittersweet last month; I’m very excited to return home and see everyone but the fact that I will never again be here or see these people again is slowly starting to sink in.

In other news I’m leaving for another village, Zingpen, to go farm for a week. The plan is to spend the week living “exactly” like (as close as possible) a farmer in the village. I’ve told them I don’t want any special treatment with foods, beds, or workload; I’m sure my requests will largely be ignored but I’m going to try and emulate their lifestyle as much as possible. I approached my NGO with the idea a few weeks ago, but now that the time has drawn near I’m both excited and terrified to go. There are so many doubts I have about my health, strength, the food and water, whether I will behave appropriately… On the flipside, though, it goes without saying that I will learn a hell of a lot and likely develop a true appreciation for the lives of rural farmers. I’ll try to journal on paper while in the village, but I don’t know how privacy or time will work, so I may never get the chance to write out my thoughts. We’ll see I guess….