Posted by Kwabena Akuamoah-Boateng, Social Media Assets Manager
Often, we hear in the news of foreign ships docking at the Tema or Sekondi ports. What we don’t get is what really happens when they are here, the impact and why they were here in the first place. This past week, I was privileged to be on one such ship: USNS Spearhead.
U.S. & Ghana Team Pose For A Group Photo Behind USNS Spearhead –April 4, 2014
As a Ghanaian working as the Social Media Assets Manager for the U.S. Embassy in Accra, I have covered a couple of workshops between U.S. military and West African countries, and I have always wondered what happens outside the classroom. My time on USNS Spearhead gave me a great insight worth sharing.
The ship was in Ghana as part of African Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership (AMLEP), partnering with Ghana to find potential violations in its waters. If you haven’t paid attention to the growing piracy, trafficking and illegal fishing in the Gulf of Guinea, then you should. There are growing violations, which countries should collaborate on to fight against, as some ships have committed similar violations in other countries’ waters.
Ordinarily you would expect such joint exercises to be between the US Navy, US Coast Guards and Ghana Navy but this was a little different. This one also included 6 men from the newly formed Ghana Marine Police, Fisheries Commission and the Narcotics Control Board as well as Naval officers from Nigeria and Togo, who were also on board to learn and share their experiences.
On our second day patrolling Ghana’s territorial and exclusive waters at about 35 nautical miles off the coast of Winneba, we encountered a vessel fishing illegally without a license and using nets that were below internationally approved or Ghana approved sizes for commercial fishing. The story was the same the next day; another fishing vessel without a license and fishing with small nets. The team of Ghana Navy, Marine Police and Fisheries Commission with support from the US Coast Guard boarded the vessel, conducted some inspections and arrested the vessel.
It was heartwarming to see how simple technologies like the mobile phone were being used. After the debriefings, I would often spot the Ghanaian Navy officers refer to the Fisheries Act 2002 on their mobile phones. I digress but as a Social Media Manager, it got me thinking how Ghana could employ mobile technologies in fighting crime on the sea.
U.S. Coast Guard & Ghana Navy Officer Overlook Juvenile Fish On Arrested –April 2, 2014
I saw really small fishing canoes deep in the Gulf of Guinea and the song “Letter to the Government (International Fisherman)" kept ringing in my ears. Maybe it hasn’t struck countries on the Gulf of Guinea yet but illegal fishing is happening on a large scale and it’s about time nations collaborate more to save our dwindling fish stock.
I will ask the hard question here. Just as with illegal gold mining (galamsey), are Ghanaians fronting for foreigners as owners of these illegal vessels?
Being on the embarkment, I have come to appreciate even more the work of seamen and fishermen. Waking up to no land in sight made me homesick. Being on the sea is not as easy as it seems. Learning how to walk and not get seasick from the rolling of the Spearhead was quite a challenge. I can only be thankful for all the advice I got before the embarkment. Let me share some advice with you. Make sure you carry some saltine crackers and some Advomine.
If there is a lesson I learnt, it would be cooperation; cooperation between countries and cooperation between agencies. I kept nodding at how the Ghanaians shared information and tactics.
As the American and Ghanaian officers on board the ship shared with me, it wasn’t just another opportunity to be on a ship but a totally new learning experience. It was the same for me too. Now, I can cross being on a ship off my bucket list, and not just any ship, a US Navy Ship. A submarine is next.
By Ambassador Gene A. Cretz
I recently visited Takoradi and wanted to share how impressed I was to see so many young people taking matters into their own hands and really working hard to acquire marketable skills that will serve them in lifelong careers. I’m proud that through a variety of American partners, Ghanaians reap the benefits of our long-standing friendship.
I was pleased to see education playing a practical, important role in shaping careers of Ghana’s youth. We started out paying a call on the Sekondi Nurses and Midwifery college. Perhaps there is no greater responsibility in this world than bringing forth new life through the birthing process. Noticing the strong confidence that the students at the college exhibited, I was curious to know these hard-working women had gained so much confidence. The answer was practice, practice, practice and more practice. American foreign assistance dollars are well-spent on training programs like these that meet international training standards. Before ever assisting with actual births, these students had the opportunity to practice their coursework over and over through simulation. Clearly, with courses like these students are being prepared to mold a brighter future for Ghana.
I also had the opportunity to visit the Takoradi Polytechnic and saw first-hand how machinery, engineering and safety operations are being taught, again with ample hands-on opportunities an important component of instruction. It was easy to see American know-how being productively embraced and implemented as I talked to an alumnus of the Community College Initiative and recent Polytechnic graduate and met the Vice Principal of the Takoradi Technical Institute which hosts the 10-year-old MIT FabLab. The application of American know-how was also evident as I toured the impressive Jubilee Partner’s Technical Training Centre. Given the expected expansion of the oil and gas industry in the region, it is reassuring to know that so many students are investing in their futures and obtaining the skills necessary to be able to fill the jobs that will accompany that expansion.
We also travelled to the Sekondi Naval base to learn about the ongoing comprehensive cooperation and training between Ghana and the United States. Maritime security has been a core objective of our military collaboration, and this base was a prime location to see how various law enforcement units connect with each other. From the Marine Police to Fisheries Commission professionals, communication and cooperation are critical. Stakeholders in maritime security collaborate on communication and analysis training in order to better understand their respective roles and alternative reporting techniques as well as to improve execution.
Nothing demonstrated the fact that opportunities exist for Ghanaians willing to study the market and take risks as clearly as our visit to Zeal Enterprises. This company employs over 170 Ghanaians, serving future generations of Ghanaians by protecting the environment and responsibly processing oil industry waste products.
The next stop of my visit was a meeting with Deputy Regional Minister Gyan who kindly welcomed us and shared some of the region’s priorities. While welcoming our visit and American private investment, it became clear that this region views infrastructure development as critical to facilitating both Ghanaian and global business growth. My meeting with the Deputy Minister provided excellent context for my subsequent meeting with civil society and fisheries representatives to hear their hopes and concerns for their community. We had a frank discussion about everything from sex trafficking to depleting fishery stocks, to education to the cost of living.
As I learned of progress at the Jubilee Partner’s offshore storage and drilling installations I also learned of ways that American companies are addressing some of the concerns raised by the Deputy Minister and the civil society and fisheries representatives with whom I had just met. And I came away more convinced than ever that American companies by-and-large stand out as models of corporate social responsibility.
I was heartened to hear how Kosmos and about half a dozen American companies are working with Safe Water Network to sustainably improve access to water to over 100,000 people in Ghana. In Atuabo the machinery and water towers are bringing clean water to 10 communities at low cost. Kosmos gives particular importance to what they term local, local content. I was pleased to learn that they not only share their business acumen with civil society partners, but with organizations like the Ankobra Fish Smokers Association. Not only does this organization of women entrepreneurs now have safer stoves to smoke the incoming fish, but they now have a meeting room and are learning techniques to maximize profits in high and low seasons respectively.
To say the least, it was an eye opening trip to the Western Region. The many private, public-private, and academic partnerships between the US and Ghana strengthen our overall relationship. In the end, Ghana’s future is in the hands of its youth and we are happy to be able to play a role in making sure that Ghana’s young people have access to the training they need to make that future bright.
By Mark Nichols, Facilities Maintenance Officer, US Embassy Ghana
On this World Water Day we’ve been thinking a lot about how perhaps no two issues are more important to human health, economic development, and peace and security than water and sanitation. Without reliable supplies of water, we cannot grow food, we cannot produce energy, and we cannot sustain the environment upon which we all depend.
As Facilities Maintenance Officer, I spend a lot of my time strategizing about how we at the Embassy can conserve more, treat the water we access better, and become better stewards of the land we occupy here in Ghana. I thought you might be interested to hear about some of the efforts we are making.
We understand the challenge of water access, and we monitor usage and continually evaluate the demands of our sanitation systems. Two wells constructed on our Embassy compound provide for over 65% of the needs of the mission and our diplomatic residences. We try to minimize our need to tap into the city water supply.
As we try to increase the use of technologies that purify water, reduce waste and pollution, improve productivity, and promote efficiency and reuse, we encourage Ghana and all residents to do the same. We thought we’d share a few ways we reach our goals.
Traditional sanitation facilities waste a lot of water. We’ve employed technology to reduce this waste. Our water closet system uses a high pressure unit that uses only 0.6 gallons of water per flush. Compare that to the conventional water closet which uses 1.5 - 2.0 gallons per flush. The men’s urinals inside the Embassy are all waterless; therefore we eliminate any need for water. We use a urinal cartridge that can last up to three months with even heavy usage of up to 50 uses per day. A conventional urinal would need at least half a gallon of water per use.
We’re also proud to have our own water treatment station on the Embassy compound. All wastewater generated at the embassy is treated at a waste treatment station. Any water discharged in the city sewer system is chlorinated and odorless.
We use timed sprinkling systems to irrigate our gardens while avoiding doing so in the heat of mid-day. We are currently trying to figure out how we can re-use all the treated waste water for irrigation, which would conserve even more water.
Many Americans are raised to understand the importance of being a good neighbor. We are committed to being good neighbors to our hosts here in Ghana, and know that by working together, we can create a more water secure world.
Posted by: Alicka Ampry-Samuel
Vendor Sorts Beans at a Market in Ghana
In Ghana, as in many parts of the developing world, women often face significant barriers to financial stability. Particularly in rural areas of northern Ghana, women are much less likely than men to earn income, have access to credit or own assets, leaving them particularly vulnerable to shocks such as drought or family illness.
That’s why Feed the Future is promoting gender equality in Ghana by training women to practice improved agricultural techniques, good nutrition and sound business management. Through a Feed the Future program managed by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), thousands of women are building skills, increasing their incomes and strengthening their status in their families and communities.
Many women in northern Ghana lack basic numeracy skills, which puts them at a disadvantage in agricultural markets where smallholder farmers exchange currency and negotiate prices for crops. To address this challenge, Feed the Future has trained more than 4,000 women farmers on numeracy in the small farming community of Gindabour, which has led to other opportunities for participants such as opening savings accounts with local banks and assisting their children with math homework.
Feed the Future also trained 5,000 women how to operate their family farms as for-profit agricultural businesses by measuring inputs and outputs, reducing production costs, using improved seeds and applying modern technologies to increase yields. Since participating in the trainings, the women have formed groups to increase knowledge sharing among smallholder farmers and provide a platform to continue learning from one another.
In addition, Feed the Future collaborated with four Ghanaian private sector companies to train 100 smallholder farmers on fertilizer and weedicide application, row planting and post-harvest handling. Today, more than 40 Gindabour women farmers from that group of 100 now have the right to cultivate land closer to their homes, a rare practice in the region that community leaders are coming to recognize as important to Gindabour’s food security. Those farmers who adopted the practices they learned in training have also doubled their yields in rice, maize and soybean crops.
“I adopted what I learned by using hybrid seeds, practiced row planting and the right way of fertilizer application,” says Esteher Mulnye, one of the smallholder farmers who participated in the training. “At the end of the season I had 25 bags of maize; now some of the women in my community come to me to learn these practices.”
As women in Gindabour have steadily increased their economic participation, they have become better able to ensure their children can go to school and eat nutritious food. They have also been galvanized to contribute to improved food security and help secure a better future for their community.
About the Author: Alicka Ampry-Samuel serves as a Development Outreach and Communications Specialist at the USAID Mission in Ghana.
Editor’s Note: This entry also appears on the Feed the Future website.
As we look forward to ringing in the New Year, I find myself marveling at all that has been accomplished from the partnership between Ghana and the U.S. By traveling through many of the regions of Ghana, I’ve been able to see first-hand how our investment and development dollars have been well spent changing and saving lives. With your indulgence, I’d like to walk you through some highlights.
Most importantly, Ghana demonstrated its ability to resolve differences through the legal system and gracefully accept the Court’s judgment in a case of first instance resolving the 2012 Election results. On a continent where conflict rips at the very seams of nation-states such as in the South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Mali, Ghanaians time and time again uphold the value of peace and demonstrate regional leadership both within their borders and through the stellar reputation of Ghana’s contributions to peacekeeping missions.
Together we have strengthened military capacity through the construction and commissioning of Ghana’s first National Marine Police Training Academy. In fact we continue to work with many branches of the law enforcement sector and have completed twenty-three training courses in the West Africa Regional Training Center that was established this year. There’s no doubt that partnership breeds success, and we’ve seen a number of successes partnering to counter drug trafficking and secure Ghana’s maritime interests. We congratulate the Ghana Navy for its recent designation as Best Performing Navy in West Africa for 2013 by the Security Watch Africa Magazine.
We understand that job creation and economic growth are priorities for most Ghanaians, and I want to assure you that expanding trade between Ghana and the U.S. remains among our highest priorities. To that end, we’ve dedicated significant time and effort to encourage further private sector partnerships in Ghana. We’ve welcomed new U.S. companies to Ghana, and we have celebrated the long-term commitments and success of other companies already dedicated to building Ghana’s economic future. We’ve continued to view the role of entrepreneurship as critical to expansion of the economy and we were pleased to announce the upcoming creation of an entrepreneurship council.
In 2013 we again reaffirmed our mutual commitment to focus on key constraints to Ghana’s economic development — access to credit and power — by identifying tangible work plans to address challenges to both. Through Power Africa, we seek to double the number of people with access to electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa. We recognize that a strong and vibrant civil society is vital for an inclusive, democratic governance structure. We’ve made progress through our partnerships with the media and USAID support of local governance structures and civic organizations. We’ve learned that two-way engagement occurs with an even greater number of Ghanaians through social media platforms and partnership with events such as BlogCamp 2013. We know that the majority of Ghanaians are under 30, and that’s why we seek to strengthen and empower the youth voice through President Obama’s signature program, the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.
Perhaps most memorable for me in 2013 are the times I’ve been able to see American efforts making a difference in the field. From the creativity and commitment of Peace Corps and Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers throughout Ghana to the important work our PEPFAR team does to improve lab quality and reach key populations, we are touching lives. I’ve been proud to attend school commissionings from Grumesa in the Ashanti Region to the Accra Municipal Authority. I’ve seen efforts to address the value chain in agriculture help a farmer in Wa improve yield and productivity, reach hundreds of small holder farmers working together, and increase the overall income of the farmers. These tangible benefits empower buying strength for families to secure adequate education and healthcare for their families.
We look forward to leaning forward with Ghana in the year ahead. Together we can expand economic engagement, reach mutually agreed-upon priorities in the education and health sectors, and find ways to improve governance and respect for human rights. We thank the people of Ghana for the thousands of ways you demonstrate friendship, through welcoming a Peace Corps volunteer to your community; private, religious and educational exchanges; or simply by sharing a plate of banku. From my family to yours, we wish you happiness, health and prosperity in the coming year.
As 2013 draws to a close, we’ve compiled a timeline of some of the top @USEmbassyGhana tweets from the past year.
This year, @USEmbassyGhana added nearly 7,000 new followers and surpassed 8,700 overall, while continuing to be an important tool for the United States Embassy to engage with Ghana and provide updates on the mission’s activities.
Take a look at some of the top tweets below, and be sure to follow @USEmbassyGhana on Twitter for news and updates in the New Year.
Posted by Cheryl Anderson, recently departed USAID Ghana Mission Director
As my days in country as Mission Director of USAID Ghana come to an end, I find myself reflecting on the privilege of serving in this position and the progress made over the last four years. This was not my first experience living in Ghana as I had come some thirty years ago as a Peace Corps volunteer, where I taught mathematics at Arch Bishop Porter in Takoradi. The joy of re-establishing relationships with students, teachers and friends combined with the new friendships made during my tour this time around ensure that Ghana will always have a special place in my heart. I’m told I give motherly advice, and I’m going to share some here as I spread some news about where USAID Ghana has been and where we’re going.
Cheryl Anderson, former USAID Ghana Mission Director
It’s nice to see the changes in Ghana. Sometimes we can get discouraged that we’re not moving fast enough here. Back then we had serious challenges with hunger throughout Ghana. Now, Ghana is one of the first countries to meet Millennium Development Goal #1 which is cutting poverty and hunger in half. There’s still a long way to go, but back then you couldn’t take democracy and human rights for granted. Ghana handled the Supreme Court case in a way that is not violent and according to the rule of law which serves to strengthen democracy. Don’t take democracy for granted – keep perfecting it. Use everything you can to fight the cancer of corruption.
I arrived shortly after President Obama’s visit and there was euphoria in the atmosphere in Ghana where he held up some high expectations. With this positive energy, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work with Ghanaians on major initiatives such as the President’s Malaria Initiative, PEPFAR, and Obama’s first development initiative Feed the Future, where Ghana’s been a priority country. We ‘ve begun feasibility studies through Partnership for Growth, to address major constraints to economic growth and development: reliable energy and access to credit. Announced during the President’s recent Africa tour in June, Ghana will benefit from Power Africa. Through vehicles such as these initiatives, we at USAID Ghana have focused on four primary sectors: economic growth, democratic governance, health and education.
In terms of food security we’ve really been able to focus our efforts on the value chain from the seeds to the table, not just increasing yields but improving access to technology, but also credit, warehousing, processing, and making sure linkages between farmers and markets are. We’ve shifted our efforts to focus on the most vulnerable households starting with the North to improve resiliency.
When I came here the latest data we had indicated that only 19% of households had bednets, and we dreamed about what we call universal coverage which is one bednet per every two people. Our latest surveys indicate that 51% of households in Ghana have one or more bednets, and we know how effective that is in preventing malaria.
In terms of addressing HIV and AIDS we’re proud be the most active donor aside from the Global Fund. Ghana’s prevalence rate for HIV continues to reduce and currently hovers at 1.37%, leaving little doubt with courage and determination together we can get to zero. We’ve been very active in family planning, as well. In the last few years we’ve seen an increase of 35% in use of modern contraception.
When I came here I would see children in the streets during the day and wondered why aren’t they in school. People would tell me maybe they were in the first shift and their school is over. I’m very proud to have been a part of the effort to found or refurbish new schools so children no longer attend school under trees and less often have to attend during shifts. We’ve built or refurbished 200 primary and junior high schools and District buildings throughout Ghana. Combined with the efforts of MCC in the first Millennium Challenge Compact, that’s nearly 450 schools that the United States has built or refurbished with close cooperation of the Ministry of Education and AMA to improve access to education. We’re now shifting our focus toward improving primary literacy.
We’ve been very sincere about the international agenda for aid effectiveness. Ghana’s own objective is to have established middle income status and being aid independent in the future. This is a fundamental part of planning, which is why we focus so much on capacity building so that all of our efforts are sustainable. Data based planning has become the norm at USAID, and I encourage you to review our recently completed five year strategic plan.
As I close, I want to encourage all who might read this to work hard to keep Ghana competitive. It’s a tall order which requires many stakeholders, especially the private sector. Make sure that girls and women are very engaged in shaping Ghana’s future because they will make it great. I thank the people of Ghana for their hospitality, forgiveness, and rich culture – Medasse, M’ani agye paa!
Posted by C. Patricia Alsup, Charge d’Affaires, a.i.
Just as we were recently compelled to commend Ghana for its commitment to the rule of law and democratic processes, as demonstrated by the peaceful resolution of the election dispute through the judicial process, we are compelled to condemn nations that repudiate international norms as Syria did last week when the regime of Bashar Assad unleashed an unconscionable chemical attack on an opposition stronghold in the suburbs of Damascus. US Secretary of State John Kerry has rightly called the August 21 attack, which left 1,429 people, including 426 children, dead, a “moral obscenity” and a crime against humanity.
On August 30, the White House released an unclassified intelligence assessment which determined that the Syrian government was responsible for the use of chemical weapons against its own people on August 21st. This assessment is based on a wide variety of sources, including: human, signals and geospatial intelligence; multiple accounts describing chemical-filled rockets impacting opposition-controlled areas; accounts from international and Syrian medical personnel; thousands of social media reports; and information from a highly credible international organization reporting that three hospitals in the Damascus area received approximately 3,600 patients displaying symptoms consistent with nerve agent exposure. We believe that the Syrian regime must be held accountable for its actions.
The Arab League declared that they have decided “to hold the Syrian regime fully responsible for this crime.” The Organization for Islamic Cooperation has said that the regime must be held “legally and morally accountable for this heinous crime.” NATO’s North Atlantic Council declared that “any use of such weapons is unacceptable and cannot go unanswered. Those responsible must be held accountable.”
Secretary Kerry has emphasized that, “The question is not what we know but what are we going to do about it?“ More than 180 countries have signed and ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, including Ghana and the United States. As President Obama noted, “The world has an obligation to make sure we maintain the norm against the use of chemical weapons.”
We urge the people of Ghana to join the international community in condemning the Syrian government’s use of internationally-banned chemical weapons and in urging the international community to hold the regime accountable for this violation of a bedrock of international norm.
C. Patricia Alsup
Charge d’Affaires, a.i.
United States of America Embassy to Ghana
Posted by Gene A. Cretz, U.S. Ambassador to Ghana.
Ambassador Gene Cretz & Northern Regional Minister Bede Ziedeng in Tamale, Ghana, May 15, 2013. [State Dept. photo by Jeanne Clark/Public Domain]
I recently had the opportunity to travel to Tamale and the environs of the Northern Region, and was happy to meet and understand the shape and contours of our many partnerships. Throughout Ghana we have broad and rich relationships, but the relevance of our development efforts really crystallized for me in Tamale.
We all know that malaria kills more children under the age of five in Ghana than any other single disease. I’m proud that the U.S. Government has a program aimed at keeping mothers and children alive. It is called the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI). Through this initiative we directly provided more than 3 million Long Lasting Insecticide Treated Nets from 2010 – 2012, and provided the technical assistance to the National Malaria Control Program to develop a long-term distribution strategy. In the village of Mogla, I witnessed how neighbors opened their homes to Indoor Residual Spraying as a key part of ending preventable childhood deaths. And this partnership, this opening of homes and hearts, between Ghana and America has truly touched me. The program involves protection for over 900,000 people. I met pregnant mothers who will be safe from the disease as well as several beautiful children under five years of age who will now live many more years when compared to the time before spraying began. The process of spraying from getting community buy-in to training the sprayers was truly impressive.
Just as progress against malaria couldn’t be made without close cooperation, goodwill, and spirit of the community members and traditional leaders, the same holds true when seeking to enhance agricultural production to reduce poverty. In Tolon-Kumbugu, we are supporting the largest irrigation scheme in the Northern Region. Through the introduction of improved infrastructure and technologies, farmers are realizing increasing yield and incomes.
Irrigation Project, Botanga, Ghana, May 15, 2013. [State Dept. photo by Jeanne Clark/Public Domain]
For me, seeing is believing, so we traveled to the Botanga Irrigation Site to learn how The Agricultural Development and Value Chain Enhancement (ADVANCE) Program, a USAID-funded project, helps the farmers to get their produce to our dinner tables. This project adopts a value chain approach where smallholder farmers are linked to markets, finance, equipment services and information through relatively larger commercial farmers and traders who have the capacity to invest in these chains staples (maize, rice and soybean) to achieve a greater degree of food security among the rural population in the North. While women still too often have to go through the back-breaking labor of planting rice seedlings hand by hand, over time, modernized farming techniques coupled with fertilizer and advanced seeds are gradually increasing the income of smallholder farmers.
Finally, we are changing lives by enhancing the quality and facilities of the Northern Region’s basic education services. Of the 38 Peace Corps volunteers currently in the North, nearly a quarter of these dedicated public servants are teaching at junior and senior secondary schools and schools for the deaf in the subject areas of math, science, art and ICT. USAID in collaboration with the Ministry of Education has engaged in a total of 68 projects in the North, including: 22 kindergarten blocks, 22 Junior High School blocks, 22 toilet blocks and 2 new District Education Offices.
Ambassador Cretz & USAID Ghana Country Director Cheryl Anderson in Tamale, Ghana, May 15, 2013. [State Dept. photo by Jeanne Clark/ public Domain]
The impact and motivation that new facilities provide struck me while visiting the Nyohini Presbyterian Primary School. The stark contrast of seeing classes conducted inside unstable wooden structures next to a newly constructed classroom offering electricity, flooring and ceilings leaves one speechless. Seeing a newly constructed latrine facility next to a dilapidated building with no sink available to wash one’s hands left me with hope and belief that through these measures clear progress would be made with sanitation and hygiene.
As the children warmly sang to us throughout our visit, and the Parent Teacher’s Association vowed to support and maintain the new facility, I left the Northern Region proud that the United States collaborates with partners on priorities determined by Ghana. From meetings with Regional Minister Ziedeng, to traditional rulers to private sector machinery suppliers, I departed Tamale knowing that the Northern Region experienced America at its best. We are not only saving lives but we are changing lives.
Posted by Gene A. Cretz, U.S. Ambassador to Ghana.
Matuto performs at the Rev. John Teye Memorial Institute in Accra, Ghana, March 18, 2013. [State Dept. photo by Kwabena Akuamoah-Boateng/ public Domain]
As we celebrate the world’s first recognition of International Jazz Day, I take time to marvel at the amazing bonds of humanity that are made through music and that reverberate in other places as well. Being a diplomat and being away from home most of the time, it’s not often that I get to listen to and share American music. Just last month, we had the pleasure of hosting Matuto, who played an organic brand of folk, jazz and indigenous music that uplifted anyone in earshot, and brought all to their feet by the time they finished their sets.
The most inspirational moments of their performances came when after just a few hours and at times —minutes — that they’d had to practice with Ghanaian musicians – Bigshot, students from the John Teye Memorial School, MUSIGA artists or Nana Boroo. The lessons that come as a result of raw, honest exchange of talent are the moments that we all treasure. In the weeks that followed their departure from Accra, I find myself looking for areas we have –and could apply the same principles to the diplomacy, educational exchanges, and business we conduct with Ghana on a daily basis.
When Americans and Ghanaians bring their well-developed talents to the table, much can be accomplished, no matter the area of interaction. We see this when tech developers sit down with farmers to get raw data about conditions out in the open for governments, academicians and civil society to analyze, such as what happened in this week’s Agriculture Open Data Initiative in Washington, DC, where Ghana lead the charge in shedding light on its nation’s data. We see it when American businesses like Belstar Development Corp. and Odulair, LLC specially equip mobile health clinics to try to improve access to basic care to thousands of Ghanaians, based on identified needs.
Through shared trust and confidence developed through our gifts such as music, we solidify the knowledge that our cultures are inextricably linked and that we have much to offer each other. Matuto achieved everything that musical ambassadors should-and much more. For Americans, Louis Armstrong led the charge back in 1956 when he first visited President Nkrumah in Ghana. Ghanaians welcomed him with thunderous applause and Ghanaian musicians joined in with dance, rhythm and harmony. Long live the enriched relationship that music has forged between our nations. Let us use what we achieve through musical exchange as a model for what we can do in other areas to enhance our mutual understanding.
Posted by – Dzid Enyonam Kwame, PEPFAR Media Specialist, US Embassy Ghana.
HIV Awareness Competition by students of school for the deaf in Savalegu, Ghana, March, 2013. [State Dept. photo by Dzid Enyonam Kwame/ Public Domain]
After recently taking up the position of PEPFAR Media Specialist, which means I work with five US government agencies, one of the key and immediate things I needed to do was familiarize myself with projects that the various agencies support through site visits. So I embarked on a trip to Tamale in the Northern region to visit some Peace Corps and USAID supported sites. On a hot afternoon, it was time to go the Savelugu School for the Blind, where they were celebrating HIV/AIDS Awareness week.
I met Peace Corps volunteer Kate Barclay near the Tamale post office and together we went to the school. Exceptionally warm, Kate’s words were heartwarming as she shared with me the activities and programs she and the kids had embarked on in order to better understand HIV/AIDS. Prior to Kate’s arrival at the school, the kids who fall into the most vulnerable group category had no knowledge of HIV and AIDS. It was quite difficult to educate them through sign language. This, Kate successfully mastered by learning sign language when she came to Ghana to best communicate with the children. We finally got to the school where over 85 kids between ages 3 and 20 waited eagerly for a hand to hold or someone to show them affection. The student eyes lighted as they saw Kate. They scrambled for her bag and attention. My eyes flooded with tears. I struggled to keep myself in check.
Some were very shabby and others very excited to see a new face. According to Kate, some of the children had been abandoned by parents and sadly had no family members to go to during school breaks, which meant they had to stay on the compound. I saw that many of them had found some comfort and solace at the school, which lacked amenities like water, not to talk of irrational power supply. From my novice eyes, some of the kids looked malnourished, others forlorn, but most maintained a glimmer of hope in their eyes. One thing was clearly evident. The kids were in a fierce competition to produce the best HIV/AIDS flag. Busily they put together and sewed artistic flags that spelt out the need to either be aware of or eradicate the HIV menace .With excitement written all over, they showed me the work they were putting together. The HIV Awareness week involved 5 different events: Flag Making, Scavenger Hunt, Relay Race, Facts, and Drama. There were ten teams of Junior High School students, with each team being led by a teacher and a student-leader.
As the students proudly competed to showcase their work to me, they touched me all over. I responded with sadness in my eyes and wished they didn’t have to suffer this fate. Some suffered multiple disabilities mostly as a result of childhood sicknesses like meningitis. Albeit, some of these students deaf and dumb, possessed varied and incredible talents that would amaze anyone who made contact with them. 85 students participated in all. There were small moments of chaos, but the students had a BLAST, and I am very proud of them. They even knew global and Ghanaian AIDS statistics, and how to spell “Immunodeficiency” perfectly.
My contact with the Kids at Savelugu was very revealing and gave me a better idea of what Peace Corps does, especially what the volunteers are involved in, what they go through on a daily basis and the challenges that confront them in their various field and the target whose lives they work to improve. I’m proud to work on the PEPFAR team and to see how they contribute to these efforts, where education for all is important.
Posted by: C. Patricia Alsup, Deputy Chief of Mission
Deputy Chief of Mission Pat Alsup engaging with Ghana’s emerging women leaders. University of Ghana Teaching Assistant Fati Mohammed prepares to share her advocacy against child marriages.
President Sirleaf Johnson (President of Liberia), Hillary Clinton (Former Secretary of State), Toni Morrison (Pulitzer Prize winning author), Sandra Day O’Connor (Supreme Court Justice), and Mae Jemison (Astronaut). Why do I begin by listing the names of these five women? These are just a few of the women who have inspired me to reach higher, pursue courageously, and to think smarter. No one wakes up one day and thinks I’m going to be a leader. Rather, we are shaped by our faith, family, community and circumstances. I view Women’s History Month 2013 as Women’s Leadership month, and I am grateful for all those who have come before me and I am hopeful that I have managed to encourage a few to attain goals they never dreamed possible.
I had the opportunity this week to meet with some of Ghana’s rising women leaders from fields ranging in diversity from engineering to fashion design, and academia to journalism. I shared that when I was in university, there were fewer educational paths to follow compared to the diverse array of degrees and educational paths one can opt to pursue today. The palpable energy created by bringing these women together convinced all of us that networking and creating avenues of support for one another will inevitably brighten Ghana’s future.
Throughout my working life, I have treasured the moments when women took time out to support my efforts, guide my thinking, or pushed me to do more or change. I am confident that the women I met today from Danquah Institute, CitiFM, Nandi-Mobile, Eugo Terrano, and the Legal Resources Centre, Ghana and so many more will make the efforts to inspire and mentor those in their midst.
When the opportunity to join the Foreign Service arose, I jumped on the opportunity to share and learn with colleagues from around the world. Whether working with women entrepreneurs in the Dominican Republic, or speaking with human rights activists in the Gambia, I began to marvel at the lengths women went to advance their families, their communities and their countries. In Ghana, I’ve been struck by the positive spirit that prevails and I’ve been inspired by meeting with emerging women leaders in nearly every segment of society.
We live and work in a world where we can ill afford to leave anyone behind. We all have a responsibility to positively impact the communities we touch. In closing, I smile thinking about the women I met this week and I return to the women who most inspired throughout my life. I believe that each in her own way, pursued her passion which served to touch the lives of countless others. I challenge you to do the same.
Posted by Sophia Bosompem, Zainab Mahama & Rita Awuku
L-R: Sophia Bosompem, Zainab Mahama & Rita Awuku
The day starts early — very early, and three of the Public Affairs Section’s Senior leaders are up and at it playing the invaluable roles of bringing Americans and Ghanaians closer one person at a time. Meet Sophia, Zainab and Rita, if you’ve not yet had the pleasure of crossing paths.
Sophia serves as a Cultural Affairs Specialist and manages a wide range of educational and cultural exchange programs. She casts a wide net across Ghana trying to keep abreast of those demonstrating promise in their studies, and a whole host of other professionals extraordinarily committed to bettering their communities. As a public relations practitioner, Zainab’s major task is to work as an image shaper for the United States. She generates a positive image by continually building relationships with journalists from varying degrees of experience, as well as maintaining contact with government officials, and media related organizations. Rita works tirelessly as director of the Information Resource Center to let Ghanaians know about the valuable available resources. She designs training sessions which fit the needs of those she engages, and creates programs where Americans and Ghanaians can frankly share opinions and views about films, literature, law, economics or politics.
In a highly collaborative environment such as ours, a typical day involves a series of meetings, striving for best management practices, making appointments, interviews, program planning, media monitoring and making sure that accurate information is provided to meet the needs of the mission community and the Ghanaian public. At work, you simply can feel so much technical competency around that one looks out for additional attributes worth learning from, such as the ability to articulate a vision, humility and courage in order to create a positive working environment.
As women with families, we strive to attain work and family balance, reviewing and appraising forward-looking strategies for our advancement and the general advancement of women through our numerous gender-related programs. Through our programs, we raise awareness and challenge women to push themselves to attain new heights, embrace an ever broader audience, or help mentor and lift up a younger generation.
After years of working at the Public Affairs Section, we have come to appreciate the uniqueness of our positions. It is the little things that can cause the heart to skip a beat, such as a simple “thank you” from a lady who finally got inspired by our programs or got the article she wanted from available databases, a woman who learnt something new from us and has a success story to tell, or the spark in a young lady’s eyes when she gleefully arrives at a programs or training sessions. Most of all what we’d like to share with you is that it is important to love what you are doing because it is the passion that drives what we do.
Posted by Stephanie Sandoval, Vice Consul, U.S. Embassy.
Stephanie Sandoval engaging US Embassy Ghana facebook fans, Accra, Ghana, October, 2012. [State Dept. photo by Kwabena Akuamoah-Boateng/ Public Domain]
As an immigrant visa officer at the U.S. Embassy in Ghana, I spend much of my day interviewing people from all facets of life in Ghana. And as a mother to two small boys, I am constantly looking for new ways to connect with my kids and imploring their cooperation for something, whether that is eating dinner or getting dressed for school. In both roles, communication skills are vital.
The visa interview plays a large role in determining if applicants are eligible for the visa they are requesting, a visa which gives them the right to move to the U.S., permanently. The goal is to reunite real families who have been separated, sometimes for years, or in the case of new marriages and adoptions, to create families.
Consular Officers sometimes joke that they see more of a local population than anyone else in an embassy. There’s a spark of truth to this joke. I speak to hundreds of Ghanaians each month. Of course, it is in a highly artificial environment—a conversation separated by glass and a scratchy microphone—yet the nature of the interaction is necessarily personal for the applicant since the interview is generally about their closest relationships. I talk with Ghanaians about their wives, husbands, children, parents, sisters, brothers. I ask questions about their past, clarify information about their relationships and listen to the responses. The environment may be artificial, but the substance of the conversation is real.
Cultural differences color the way a person interacts in an interview, so a Consular Officer must be understanding and flexible. Fortunately for my applicants, my communication skills and adaptability have been honed as a mother. One might say that talking to small children is like crossing a cultural boundary, again where good communication and flexibility are critical. Whether this means setting expectations for my three-year-old, who loves climbing sofas and bookshelves, or interviewing my one-year-old creatively to understand whether he wants milk or crayons, the required are the same as those I use for interviewing immigrant visa applicants: patience, understanding and flexibility.
I love my work because it brings together the roles I play as a mother with that as a professional. I feel privileged to be a Consular Officer in Ghana. I am glad that I can contribute in my small way to the betterment of peoples’ lives and grow as person, and as a mother, at the same time.
Posted by Gene A. Cretz, US Ambassador to Ghana.
Amb. Gene Cretz at Food Across Borders Conference in Accra, Ghana, January 30, 2013. [State Dept. photo by Kwabena Akuamoah-Boateng/ Public Domain]
As Ghanaians were glued to their football team’s prowess in the African Cup of Nations and Embassy Americans were anticipating the clash of titans in the Super Bowl, our Embassy’s focus was getting to know newly sworn-in Cabinet Members between football matches. Accra was abuzz each evening after Parliament concluded hearings for Cabinet nominees, where several nominees were grilled by Members, including the newly approved Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection. The latter’s staunch support for human rights prompted a lively public conversation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) issues. The first dozen cabinet members have been sworn in and we look forward to working with them on diversity and inclusion, and to partnering with the Government of Ghana across our many mutual areas of interest in the months and years to come.
Last week’s activities show the depth and breadth of our bilateral relationship. We opened with a Cyber-security workshop, bringing together law enforcement and government officials to chart the way forward to improve cyber security cooperation in West Africa. One goal of this conference, the second of its type in West Africa, is to build a network of law enforcement and prosecutors to promote cybersecurity and mobile security best practices, combat cybercrime, and collect and use electronic evidence. In an increasingly mobile and networked world, cooperation among international law enforcement can be the key to deterring and reducing incidents of cybercrime and related criminal enterprises.
Mid-week, more than 200 delegates came to Accra for the Food Across Borders conference, hosted by the Government of Ghana and ECOWAS. I delivered remarks on President Obama’s major Food Security initiatives in the region and urged the delegates from 15 ECOWAS countries to work with the private sector to attract more private investment into agriculture. This conference will be followed up by the USAID West African Trade Hub’s Borderless Alliance conference here in late February. Participants in Borderless review data on routes where intra-regional trade barriers have dropped, commend best practices to each other, and identify areas for further improvement. Both events are part of our ongoing engagement with stakeholders from ECOWAS member states, development partners and the private sector to devise and implement practical solutions to reduce barriers to regional trade, to get staple foods to those that need it most, and to encourage the next generation to enter agri-business. There are many related opportunities for job creation in Ghana and the U.S., a win-win for both countries, as well as the broader sub-region.
On Friday, Feb. 1, we inaugurated the West Africa Regional Training Center (RTC) for law enforcement with three dozen Ghanaian professionals on enhanced investigative techniques for Transnational Organized Crimes and Financial Crimes. The new RTC in Accra, which will be formally launched when senior management are brought on board later this year, will offer 13 training courses in 2013 to strengthen law enforcement capacity and regional cooperation in West Africa. I also did my first Facebook chat, fielding more than 250 comments and questions on our assistance programs and other initiatives.
My team finished the week celebrating youth. First, Cultural Affairs and Peace Corps partnered with the Young Education Foundation to conduct the 2013 Spelling Bee finals on Feb. 2 in Accra, a competition which promotes literacy and levels the playing field for participants from across Ghana. This year’s Ghana Bee was particularly diverse, with more than 100 participants vying for the championship from seven of Ghana’s ten regions. Peace Corps Volunteers played an essential role in recruiting and practicing with the participants at various stages of competition and building on classroom and extra-curricular activities at the schools in which Volunteers teach and coach. They also offered sympathetic shoulders on which losing contestants could cry and be consoled.
Also on Saturday, we launched Generation Change in Wa, with 45 young leaders representing more than 12,000 students and others youth who are settling in the Upper West Region. They are running small businesses, working with deprived members of their communities to develop literacy, IT and other marketable skills. These youth are change-makers in the best sense, combining community traditions, classroom learning, and social media tools to share their ideas and stabilize their communities. We are committed to partnering with youth leaders across Ghana’s three northern regions, and elsewhere in Ghana, as they contribute their energy and talents to create a better Ghana.
Big changes start with small steps. As one Generation Change member told us: “Every great thing starts with a small step.” Ghanaians are taking steps each day – sometimes big, sometimes small – to build bright futures and create a healthy, enduring U.S. – Ghana relationship.