o p e n i n g

[ 19:59 saturday 28 october – jisonayili , northern ghana ]

a moment to write , my keyboard illuminated by a chinese kerosene lamp i bought in the market this afternoon . kerosene is in short supply at the moment but my friend iso led me to a pump which had secured some , apparantly the only one in tamale . as we arrived there were about a dozen men clustered about it with large oil drums . then some kind of argument broke out and service was terminated . everyone moved away from the pump as the fracas continued .

we asked whether we might have a gallon and were told that the mechanism had broken and no more could be dispensed . but one of the attendents called to a trader the other side of the street , sporting particularly snappy shades , who agreed to sell us a gallon at an acceptable price . he decanted from his drum into a jug and from there into my plastic can .

of course there was nothing wrong with the pump . what had happened was that one of the traders had bribed the attendants to sell him the entire remaining supply , establishing a monopoly which would enable him to charge inflated prices . hence the anger of the other would-be retailers . apparantly this is typical .

ann cotton (www.sse.org.uk/people/ann.cotton) and tony flower arrived from britain nine days ago and departed at lunchtime today . it’s been marvellous seeing ann at work here . she treats everyone as an equal , in contrast to many development professionals from the west who , i regret to observe , are often appallingly patronising towards africans . ann works with passion , vigour and generosity . the results speak for themselves . there are already hundreds of girls here and in zimbabwe who have had an education they would never have had without the support of camfed and its local partners . some of those girls have now set up successful businesses with help from micro-credit schemes . a climate in which families resist sending their girls to school is slowly changing .

dr flower is a writer and researcher , a former apprentice of michael young . he’s worked on all kinds of things over the last couple of decades and is now the london representative for the joseph rowntree reform trust and the chairman of the mutual aid centre amongst other things . he works from 18 victoria square , the queen anne house in bethnal green where the institute of community studies and its progeny , including sse , have lived for the last fifty years (photo at http://www.sse.org.uk/london) . i’ve bumped into him from time to time over the last couple of years but this is the first opportunity we’ve had to get to know one another . i look forward to seeing more him during my six months working in bethnal green .

ann and tony were here for the opening of the mandela development centre , which took place on wednesday . i was flat-out in the lead-up to this trying to track down various consignments of equipment from britain , training people , familiarising myself with the situation in northern ghana , setting up systems in the centre and so on . we managed to get eleven pcs set up and networked in time for the opening , by which time the building was just about complete . the high-power system for media production was frustratingly absent , a situation which persists . but at least we have now established its whereabouts : the customs service at accra airport , who have demanded an extortionate fee for its release .

on the day there were three hours of speeches in a kind of impromptu parade-ground outside , interspersed with dances , music and recitals . i was whizzing about like a dervish , documenting it all and sweating like a pig . the previous weekend i’d helped train four girls from one of the camfed-supported schools to use a digital camera and minidisc recorder , and given them some practice conducting interviews . they spent the day swooping on unsuspecting government officials and local chiefs , taking their photograph and questioning them on the region’s problems , the need for effective vocational education and the opportunities offered by the centre . i felt ever so proud of them , knowing what appalling barriers they’d surmounted to get into education , watching them interrogate the bigwigs with complete assurance , armed with these high-tech tools they’d mastered in a trice . they did a fabulous job . once the big system arrives i plan to work with the girls and their classmates to build a website telling the story of the day .

after the preliminary shenanigans the ribbon was cut and people surged into the building . the computers aroused great interest from a crowd who with few exceptions had never encountered one . i gave about twenty introductory training sessions then and there before i was exhausted . such impromptu sessions over the past weeks have been precious in helping me discover what approaches are helpful to effective .

now the building’s finished we must all turn our attention to structuring courses , recruiting and training tutors and installing management . there’s still a long way to go before my work here is complete .

: cH

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