5 Aug 2011

Various Reflections


Recently arrived to Ghana we have noticed the number of buildings that are in the middle of construction.  We’ve noticed the same in other African countries before.  Many of these buildings were started by organisations that ‘sold’ the project but then left it with only a few bricks and cement in place.  We don’t know what explanations they gave their investors.  Africa, a continent full of half finished buildings that are oxidising and deteriorating, with many finished buildings headed the same way as there’s no money or intention to maintain them.

European and African Standards: clichés

I was wondering what is the real meaning of standards, since everyone gives them their own meaning according to their own needs.  Orphanages that keep their children in a lamentable state, because it’s Africa and they like it like that – semi naked, eating whatever – while offering food and lodging to ‘posh’ visitors in air conditioned bungalows in the very same complex!  Sorry schools constructed with the cheapest materials and with no facilities ‘because this is Africa and they like it like this’.  Tea to substitute milk because ‘this is Africa’ and the milk makes them feel ‘bad’.  So many stupidities in the name of African clichés.

Our experience tells us and shows us that everyone wants to live in the best way possible.  That people are not happy when they are hungry.  That they cannot develop their intelligence when they are hungry.  That there’s no point in children going to school if they are hungry.  AIDS doesn’t kill, what kills is hunger and a lack of access to medical help.  That people who have nothing or very little are not happy, it’s only that they don’t know what it is to have something.

We know that some people believe that the image of a hungry child in rags ‘sells’ more than one of a happy child.  That happy children ‘sell’ little.  In Mediterranea we ‘sell’ happiness, because we believe that all the children of the world, wherever they are, deserve the same and because this happiness is real, any of our members can go and check that this is true.

For this reason Abugida has very ‘European’ standards.  Luckily (but deservedly as we have worked hard for it) the local authorities have given us free reign to manage the school as we wish.  We are not colonisers; everyone who works for us in Abugida is Ethiopian.  We supply the material means, within reason, so that Abugida can be what it is, a paradise.  We depend also on the efforts of our volunteers (the best volunteers in the world, we are very proud of them all, those who’ve supported Abugida and Sebeta) that pass on their knowledge, build, repair and do everything they can.  They work like the rest.  We don’t have volunteers who lord it around.  We offer volunteer trips of genuine support.

For the rest of our projects in Ethiopia we provide food (in total we feed more than 650 children), we improve infrastructures, we donate materials and we also employ Ethiopians.  We undoubtedly improve the living conditions of these children but we cannot do more.  There isn’t another Abugida; it’s a shame because to be in charge of the standards gives good results.

3 Aug 2011

Look at that Red Box of Chocolates, Nestle would Love Them!

 They are my “lovely chocolates” from last summer who have been promoted to infants. Well, actually four children are absent from the photo: two children repeated the course (one of them due to their age, but she is so smart; the other one did not stop crying and it was necessary to postpone her entry into the nursery); one stopped coming because of allergies, (so they told me…).  In total 26 varieties of sweet chocolates! Look carefully as it’s difficult to choose! I will come back fatter as I eat them all of every morning! I find it very difficult to leave the classroom and would stay until the end of school if I could. They are absolutely gorgeous! I love the new babies but these first ones will always be my favourite chocolates as they were my first!

Mikiyas (A-2) is a little urchin, funny and cheeky. Ermiyas (E-3) stole my heart. Every other moment he brings me a new little toy which we had previously brought to the school. Amen (B-1) drives me crazy because when I say “I love you”, he repeats to me softly: “I love you” (He does not know what he is saying, but he drives me crazy!)… A photo doesn’t do them justice, better a video.  No, not a video either, much better to be there with them! The best thing is to remember how they first arrived (or how the new ones have just arrived) and compare this to now.  Every morning they arrive clean and tidy and the teachers take care of their hygiene and check their appearance. It is necessary to be punctual and clean. They are healthy, happy, funny, cooperative, active and greedy… they drive me crazy!

Today they arrived in casual clothes. The teacher explained to me that, as they only have two uniforms they must come in uniform on two days and in casual clothes on the third. In that way they always come with clean clothes.  Before having breakfast, lunch or tea, and applying what we teach during the course, the teachers wash the hands of all the children with a jug and small bowl. They do it everyday and I love it! In this way we prevent many diseases that would be difficult to cure as there is no easy access to doctors or enough money for medicines. We promote self sufficiency as they are now infants, the teachers share out bibs and the children put them on. They can eat almost without help!

As it has not stopped raining, we postponed our plans to buy curtains, potties and socks and other outside tasks.  Instead we shall make individual pictures of each one of the class and will put them on their baskets of personal items (sponge, small towel, socks...). The teachers like this method of organization. We have already taken the photos and sent them to be printed; probably tomorrow we will receive them. Making the pictures has been beautiful! The teachers wanted the children to appear perfect in the photos, they were so thoughtful, brushing the hair of the girls, making them laugh, changing their old jackets for better ones and they even prepared a small photographic studio for making the photos (a towel as background!) I love that they take care of the dignity of the babies at all times, joke with them, kiss them…and for the teachers these are all new babies! Before leaving I have to play a little with Amen. He did not stop laughing when I picked him up (in spite of his weigh) or when I tickled to him or turned him up side down.

Another advance for this year is that the obligatory siestas have been stopped (except for the babies). Victoria has worked hard to avoid obligatory siestas after lunch and offering alternatives for their leisure time. A few days ago, I saw them watching a DVD (when I arrive back home, I will buy some English films to send them. They love them) or playing with plasticine (as today). Abugida is never boring!!

I had to take the training class in the evening (Carol was not feeling well… gastroenteritis has affected us all but was much milder for her, fortunately…) Today the topic is FOOD, so we talked about the time for each meal, what must be given in the breakfast, lunch and tea (after eating, they are all full at Abugida!); the importance of hygiene and self sufficiency at the table (or on the floor in some cases); to be patient (not to force or give up immediately; take time; to use certain strategies with the worst eaters…); the importance of taking the opportunity to introduce new vocabulary (food, cutlery, flavours, quantities, temperatures…)  This evening we have programmed the rest of meetings for the course. Apart from schedules, hygiene, first aid and feeding we are going to talk about the tutorial function with the family, activities of psychomotricity, meetings and goodbyes, various types of activities, contents depending on the age and music.  The girls have been threatened by Zeri with a final examination. Poor girls! You can see them taking notes. But it is not important, the important thing is that they attend, ask questions, participate, contribute… it is fantastic!

News is not always good news, today we discovered that our “old girl” is HIV+. She is one of the most intelligent and the funniest at school. This is very bad news! Now it is time to think and give thanks to this school because her mum has a job and some money to rent a house and the baby eats well and she is tidy, happy, laughing, joking, sharing, hugging and playing as any normal kid for her age. We have to give her seven hugs a day to help compensate!  

It is late but tomorrow will be great, I want to test a new carer for Dagem. I am falling sleep.  Chocolate kisses!

2 Aug 2011

Diary of Chaveli and Conchi from Sebeta - The School

The school is the reason that we are here and the centre of activity for our daily routine.  To describe this with appropriate words so that you can understand what we are going through, what we are see, what we are feeling everyday…is very difficult.  Because words are irredeemably associated with the meanings that we know and have formed in relation to our own experiences.  And although we use words that we all share because it’s the only way to communicate, the meaning that we want to give them is different to what we are used to; at least that’s our experience.  What we are going through is completely and utterly new to us and so therefore is it’s representation in writing.  However we’ll give it a go.

We are living in what turns out to be the nerve centre of the village.  Ten minutes walk down the main street we find, on the left hand side, a gateway with a big sign advertising this special school for blind.  The layout of the school is a little chaotic, at least we haven’t understood it all yet.  We know that there is a teacher training part and that future teachers attend the ‘ordinary’ classrooms.  That there are classrooms for the education of the blind.  In addition there are boarding huts for the blind.  During term time all the blind children board and during the holidays nearly all of them remain.  Perhaps we should call this ‘Centre for the Exclusion of the Blind’.

It is difficult to describe the aspect of all of this.  The land that the school occupies is extensive. The infrastructure as far as it goes is not bad but it is extremely badly looked after, neglected and doesn’t fulfil the basic necessities.   The internal organisation of the school also leaves a lot to be desired.  We get the sensation that so much more could be done with the budget that is available to them only with a little bit of management.

The people that we meet (teachers, some workers…) in general are very friendly and charming to us.  Everyone stops to talk to us and is interested in our stay.  They give us a knowing look when we tell them where we come from (normally connected to football).  Above all they smile at us.  Regarding the children they are for us the soul of the school, the soul of the place, of the country, of the world.  They have managed to invade and occupy our souls completely.  These children have in many cases suffered a double injustice, that given them by nature and to be condemned by society to live here! These poor children, that have nothing, absolutely nothing, and yet don’t protest, don’t complain, don’t ask, and demand nothing.  All they do is give.  They warmly greet us from the very first moment of the day with the few Spanish words that they have learnt, with their gestures of thanks, with their gestures of tenderness and with the enthusiasm which is now flowing, because for them this is all very extraordinary, the laughter and the smiles, their smiles.

For this reason, despite all the difficulties, everything that you could possibly imagine, we come to school everyday very content and happy to be able to share our time with these outstanding, surprising and marvellous personalities.

1 Aug 2011

Members Personal Account of Physiotherapy Project

Project: Department of Physiotherapy for a Rural Hospital in Ghana
At the beginning of May I opened my email and saw the following communication from the College of Physiotherapists here in the Baleares: ‘The NGO Mediterranea is developing a project in Ghana.  Part of this project is to start a physiotherapy dept in a small hospital in the East of the country just where the Volta enters the sea.  We need volunteers to help get things started and train the future local team.’ 
I immediately started to gather more information.  I discovered that the hospital Dangme East in Ada Foah was organised by one doctor, Dr Philip Narth, who works 24 hours a day all days of the year and has 30 nurses for a population of 186000.  The ratio of nurses per inhabitant in Spain is 531 per 100000 and of doctors 445 per 100000.  In this region of Africa there is 1 for 186000!  It seemed to me to be completely disproportionate.  At the level of physiotherapy it seemed clear, a hospital that cares for a high percentage of cardiovascular and traffic accidents needs to have physiotherapy.  Also to rehabilitate posttraumatic injuries, to assist the recovery of patients who have been operated, to reduce recovery time, to assist in the regeneration of epithelial tissue, burns, ulcers…these and others are the functions that we could develop. 
I also discovered that Mediterranea had fulfilled a number of other projects at the hospital, including setting up a laboratory for the hospital and building a residence for mothers visiting the hospital with their children.  I was also surprised and happy to read in the Mediterranea blog that, thanks to the generosity of some British members, the physiotherapy project already had a substantial amount of equipment in Ghana waiting to be used. 
From that point onwards things have moved quite quickly.  At the end of May we had our first meeting where we were able to learn more about Mediterranea, it’s ideas and philosophy, see some photos of the hospital and region, we covered some logistic themes like vaccines and first aid and learnt about all the documentation that was needed.  At the meeting we organised an administrative nucleus of physios to coordinate the physiotherapy side of the project. 
We followed this meeting with another some days later and had a number of lecturers from the UIB (University of Baleares) attend.  We established minimum and maximum stays for the volunteers in Ghana and agreed to group together the trips of volunteers to minimise the disruption to Dr Narth’s team in Ghana since the airport is 200+ km from the hospital.  We also allocated the different tasks amongst ourselves.  As I was not able to attend the first meeting and as someone completely new to this type of project I was hypnotised by the energy and enthusiasm of the other physios at this meeting and their desire to develop our profession into regions where it’s needed.  I also appreciated the big effort that would be required to coordinate the trips and handovers of not only our Spanish physios but also British physios who had responded with enthusiasm to a small communication from Mediterranea distributed through the Institute of Physiotherapists in the UK. 
A couple of weeks later a third meeting was held to clarify some details and to go deeper into the second part of the project which is the training that we are to provide to the locals in Ghana.  The first part of the project is immediate.  To get the physiotherapy dept up and running and we shall achieve this by maintaining a flow of volunteers to the hospital.  The second part will be a little more complex and will involve some communication between the University of Ghana’s physiotherapy dept based in Accra and the UIB, in order to launch an official training course for physios in that part of the country.
All that remains to be said at the moment is that I am sincerely delighted to have received that first email from the College of Physiotherapists and to be involved in this project of Mediterranea’s in Dangme East Hospital.  I hope to be able to share my enthusiasm with my colleagues and for us to be able to achieve both aims of this project.
Alicia Moratiel, Physiotherapist and Member of Mediterranea. 

Diary of Ale, Abugida 5, 14 July

We got down to work and then Zeri arrived with another suggestion. He had to go and give the money to the elderly people Mediterranea look after and wanted us to accompany him. So we took the gari (the horse and cart) which we have rented out at the school until 4pm (new this year) so we can use it whenever necessary.  
When we got there they were all gathered in the edir premises (the neighbourhood association). We went through the list and distributed the money to each elderly person in turn (between 200 and 400 birrs a month) which they receive to make up for their miserable pensions – those who have them (50, 100 birr). If it wasn’t for this they wouldn’t have enough money to survive. Since they are all illiterate they all had to “sign” with a fingerprint. And, as always, they went out of their way to show us their gratitude and were full of kind words for us (we were acting as representatives of the ONG).
When we finished, the representatives of the edir asked us to go and see some other elderly people (more cases of extreme poverty) who were also in need of help, so that we could inform the ONG about them.
The photo of the house is where one of the women who needs our help lives. She is a widow of around 70 years old, without children, with a pension of 100 birrs, from which she has to pay 1,50 to the state for this “house”.
The other photo was this lady of 75 who showed us her home, very small, without ventilation…except for the corrugated iron roof, which is full of holes that let the water in when it rains. She pays 7,50 birrs to the state for this house (from her pension of 150). When I ask her why she doesn’t ask them to repair the roof, I am told that if she complains then she will be out on the street as they will give the house to somebody else. She lives with a 16 year old girl whom she adopted as a child when she became an orphan.
These two cases have been approved by Mediterránea so their situation will soon be changing and they will be able to live with dignity. I loved this project supporting elderly people (very uncommon in most charities) and having seen them all this year, I like it even more. Furthermore, Mediterránea is considering starting up a day centre where these people can have breakfast, chat, play board games, get washed etc… let’s hope it goes ahead.   
We got back to the school, where our older children were standing in a ring and singing happily. Having seen what is going on in the outside world, it’s lovely to see what is going on inside the school.   
In the afternoon there was further training for the carers. The theme of the day was: Hygiene (Part 2). We talked about the bathroom, runny noses, headlice and bowel/bladder control. 


After the sleepless night we all had due to my gastroenteritis we all woke up shattered. I didn’t just feel weak, I felt dreadfully weak. I didn’t dare eat anything for fear of the tummy bug coming back.  
I went to see the littles ones but didn’t get too close as I was scared of passing on my germs. A quick “good morning”. All was under control, the carers are following the guidelines we have given them and all is going well. The smallest ones still cry at times (especially when they arrive) but they are getting better each time.
 I stayed in the storeroom (our current centre of operations) and got to work organising things. However, as usual, the older children arrived, they are taking part in leisure activities at the moment (so that they still get a roof over their heads and food) because it’s the school holidays now. So there were kisses and hugs and they were curious to know what I was doing… so I decided to relax with them for once and I showed them the photos and videos we had made during our time in Abugida. They really enjoyed it! We couldn’t stop laughing! They really seem to be so happy, even more so than last summer! I have to say, they are such rascals and comedians! Always in a good mood, always joking around, always singing and giving hugs. I am wishing that “my” little ones (who started last summer) were that age!
There were two new pupils on the training course today. Kalid and Kerim, the small twins who stayed a bit longer at Abugida today because their family was running a bit late. Today the course was on FIRST AID.  
You can picture Carol getting all excited explaining how to treat a wound with Betadine, using Zeri as a demonstration or telling about the dangers of suffocation with a bag. She was born to be on the stage! She’s incredible!  I’m so delighted to be collaborating with the school as I’m getting so much out of it!

I’m falling asleep... SWEET KISSES!!

31 Jul 2011

Diary of Chaveli and Conchi from Sebeta - Already 10 Days

Our tenth day at Sebeta and it seems that things are progressing, there is still lots to be done for us and for the school, although there is still a long way to go. Today we started to distribute some clothes to those who we considered were most in need since it hasn't stopped raining since yesterday and has become pretty cold.

We have started some oral activities with the children, such as singing, riddles, stories etc. Although they were not accustomed to this they are enjoying it immensely. As a little anecdote, we are very much enjoying listening to them singing at the end of the lesson in nearly perfect Castellano "a guarder, a guarder, cada cosa en su lugar" (to put back, to put back, everything into it's right place) but singing this without actually following the advice of the song. At the moment we are just at the stage of the song and not the action.

We also reorganised the workshop a little as we have a lot of material and need to be able to find it and use it with ease during our classes.

Nothing else to relate at the moment expect that we have now been 3 days without water and cannot remember when we last ate a cooked meal. We send you all hugs and kisses from a very small corner of the continent of Africa.

To Ghana to Prepare for the Opening of a Department of Physiotherapy

Ada in Ghana appears to be an idyllic destination for tourists who stay in luxury hotels on the banks of the Volta enjoying their water sports and for the millionaires who have constructed their mansions on the same water front.
The  locals live their lives in contrast to this, subsisting on fishing from simple boats which they take out to sea in the dangerous confluence of the Volta with the Atlantic Ocean, or working on the salt flats of Songor Lagoon, the largest producer of natural salt in Ghana.  The owners of the luxury hotels and mansions have cut off access to the river shores of the Volta (which is as wide as a lake) and are thereby impeding the locals in their fishing.  Many of the workers at the salt flats are becoming blind due to the extreme exposure to the sun which reflects off the white salt and can no longer work, bringing ruin to their families.  There are also many children working the salt flats who have been abandoned from the caravans coming from central Africa in search of salt.
Luxury and the crudest poverty live together in this area.  They live together in such a way that the salt flats are even a tourist attraction. 
Against this background the Dangme East Hospital was founded, supported by only one doctor, Dr Philip Narth and 30 nurses who between them support a population of 186000 people.  Dr Philip is a person for our gallery of anonymous heroes: he’s on call 24 hours a day and handles everything from attending a lorry full of people with multiple traumas (traffic accidents are frequent) to whatever other case arrives needing whatever medical specialty.  He’s a doctor that lives for his people.
Mediterranea started to collaborate with Dangme East Hospital in 2006.  So far we have renovated their laboratory with all sorts of material and equipment, taking over many types of medical apparatus and medicines.  We have constructed a residence for mothers to stay in when they have to travel from long distances to have their children treated.  Previously they had to sleep outside by the river at risk of being attacked by crocodiles or violated.
Now we are returning to start up a new service of Physiotherapy at the hospital, the equipment for which was generously donated by some British members who purchased some 25000 euros worth of equipment and materials.  This Physiotherapy service is very much needed due to the very large number of traffic accidents as previously mentioned and due to the high level of cardiovascular problems that the hospital treat.
After much toing and froing, including the disappearance of the person who had promised to get the department started and the search for a group of Physio volunteers who would be able to train the nurses and locals, we have at last at the point where we can start. We have a team formed and ready, from the Department of Physiotherapy of the University of the Baleares and individuals from other areas of Spain and the UK. The list is still open for any Physios interested because we are not only focussed on supporting the hospital but we also want to try and support the various health centres dispersed throughout the region that are run by paramedics and above all to help those who live far from the hospital and cannot travel.
We also have the intention to take on some social project in the area if possible and are counting on the help of Dr Philip and Kofi Larweh: http://gumucio.blogspot.com/2008/09/radio-ada.html . The untiring presenter of Radio Ada who knows his local society very well and is a great motivator of the people.
We are taking thousands of pairs of sunglasses for the workers of the salt flats to help them avoid becoming blind. Here you can see a report on this situation, focussing principally on the women workers of the salt flats: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxb2-Wh0FYg
Until we return!