Saturday, April 30, 2011

Client visits and the temple (April 27)

Our plan for today was far less touristy than yesterday, followed the schedule far more precisely, and involved far fewer incidents with the police or thieves (none). Phew.

We started off by driving one whole block to the LDS church temple compound, which has a temple (obviously), a temple hostel, a stake center, and the area authority offices.

The whole reason for this trip (beyond all the fun touristy things) is to do MPA-related field work. I’m on a team that’s working with the LDS Perpetual Education Fund (PEF), which is essentially a microfinance lending system for college aged LDS members (18–30 years old) to get a tertiary degree. The program has been running for about 10 years, but has only been in Ghana for 3 years.

One of the biggest problems PEF has been facing in Ghana (and the rest of West and South Africa) is that college graduates, who normally work on a 4-year business administration or management degree, have been struggling to find jobs. To possibly fix this, the area presidency has asked us to research the viability of pushing for fewer full 4-year degrees and more vocational and technical education programs (VOTEC), which would give graduates a more marketable skill that would then let them get a job and earn money to go to a university later. We’ll be interviewing several different VOTEC schools, church members with VOTEC degrees, and potential PEF participants to see if such a course change for PEF would be useful.

We had a class last semester dedicated to doing preliminary research for our project, but because it was all based on e-mail and Skype conversations, we weren’t entirely sure we were on the right track or doing what they wanted us to be doing. So this morning we met with the missionary couple in charge of the PEF program and a couple church employees (the heads of the career services and PEF departments for the area) to make sure we were on the right page. Fortunately, we were.

After our meeting we hung around the temple grounds for a few minutes. The Accra temple is one of the Church’s mini-temples and is stunningly gorgeous.

Accra Ghana Temple Accra Ghana Temple Accra Ghana Temple Accra Ghana Temple Accra Ghana Temple 

After our PEF client visit we headed out to the second client visit for the other team. The other team of students is working with IDE (International Development Enterprises) to improve agricultural access to urban markets. They’ve been working in India for a decade with a cool invention called the treadle pump, which allows for cheap and easy irrigation. They started importing the pumps to Ghana a couple years ago (and will start manufacturing them here soon) and they’re now trying to figure out how best to increase farmers’ income given the fact that they can irrigate during the dry season. The other team is looking at vegetable market supply and demand trends to see which vegetables would bring the most income for farmers in the north during the off season.

After checking in with IDE, we drove to a big shopping center to eat lunch and buy some groceries for the next few days on the road. The mall was pretty big—comparable to the Carrefour shopping center in Maadi—and the large expat presence totally made me envious. The grocery store (Shoprite) was eerily like a smaller version of Carrefour, and even though we rarely shopped there (stupid taxi mafia), it brought back fantastic memories.

After lunch we went to a small vegetable market near one of the (many) slums of Accra to begin the IDE team’s research. Even though we’re in two different teams, we’re all doing each other’s field work. Throughout the trip, the other team will be helping with our VOTEC visits and we’ll be interviewing people in the vegetable markets.

Our first market visit was fascinating. Ghanaian markets are generally run by a series of market “queens” who are responsible for setting the prices and controlling the supply of particular vegetables. There’s a tomato queen, an onion queen, an okra queen, a leafy green queen, etc., who each run under the control of the queen of the queens. I’m on the onion mini-team (in charge of discovering all the seasonal market dynamics of onions; good thing I hate onions), so we set off to find the onion queen. The first lady we talked with (through our interpreter) just happened to be the head queen (awesome!), who told us that she runs her market a little differently. Rather than set all the prices, she allows the individual sellers to do their own pricing and ordering—she’s mostly just the manager and an advocate at the monthly queen union meetings.

So instead of spending time trying to find the nonexistent onion queen, we went and talked to a few individual sellers and found out fascinating things about onions. During August there’s some festival where everyone in Ghana apparently cooks tons of onions, which kills the supply and shoots up the prices. Very few of the onions sold in Ghana are actually grown here—they’re imported either from Nigeria (red onions) or the Ivory Coast (white onions). Because of the presidential crisis in Ivory Coast they’ve been having a white onion crisis in Ghana and have had to import expensive onions from the Netherlands.

Conducting interviews in a crowded market was interesting. During one interview I had to stand next to a table of rotting salted fish heads; during another my elbow was basically touching pickled pig skin (next to a massive plate of pig feet). It was disgusting, but also incredibly thrilling—incredibly fun stuff. I can’t wait for our next market visits!

That evening, after dinner at the hotel, a group of us walked up to the temple to do an endowment session. The session was really small; only 15 people, including the 6 of us. The inside of the temple is incredible. The architects used traditional Ghanaian patterns, designs, and colors throughout the building, which makes for a unique and beautiful temple. I totally fell asleep during the session (jetlag…), but it was still good.

I’m so excited to be here and to be doing actual international development work—stuff that I’ve been interested in for a while but have never actually been able to do. Yeah. Not only do I get to do fun tourist stuff in Ghana; I get discover the social perceptions and marketability of VOTEC degrees and learn the intricate dynamics and politics of the local onion market. Awesome :)


  1. I'm so jealous. I wish I could go back to those markets -- such lively, colorful, smelly places!

  2. That is so awesome, Andrew. I love the temple there, too-- it really is gorgeous. And the VOTEC plan for PEF sounds like a perfect way to go. You're doing such awesome work!

  3. I know I'm going to sound painfully uneducated (and I am) but I had no idea the "tiny temples" looked so temple-y! For some reason I pictured them looking more like churches, but that is simply beautiful.

    What fun!