Friday, August 26, 2016

Bet you appreciate those Shakespeare lessons now

Hey, so for all of those readers who don't know who I am, I'm Abbie. I'm one of the team leaders here at the Income project. So this is my second time on an ICS placement. My first was as a general volunteer in Burkina Faso, now I’m here in Ghana as a Team Leader. Being in the international development industry provides an oddly fascinating way of looking at things. You notice things that challenge people, that you would never even think about in your normal day to day life. One of the things that keeps creeping up here and within many developing countries is illiteracy; something so obvious but not something that I would think about if I were doing the same sort of work in the UK.

   Our project here at TradeAiID revolves around building up crafts work to create sustainable businesses. In laymen's terms, we are trying to help people put food on the table by selling their crafts work. This may seem easy but it has definitely come with its difficulties. The craft work these people produce is amazing, the baskets, fabric, smocks and leather possess so much talent who wouldn’t want to buy them. This isn’t the issue though. The issue is that they have been neglected an education. How can you calculate profit if you can’t count? How can you keep track of what you’re spending? How can you keep records of sales if you can’t write them down? Now you see the issues we’re facing.

According to UNESCO, the literacy rate for Ghana is 76.6% quite high in comparison to some other developing countries such as Ethiopia with 49.1%, Burkina Faso with 36% and Niger with 19.1%. So to the untrained eye Ghana’s statistics sound pretty impressive for a country in the developing world. But what’s not shown on the statistics is the areas in which the majority are literate and the areas where the majority are illiterate. We work in the upper east region, a part of Ghana considered to be very poor and vulnerable. The statistics here don’t show that a lot of people can’t or couldn’t afford to go to school beyond the point of free schooling (up to primary school). You see, we’ve met a lot of people on this project who freely say that in this region in Ghana illiteracy is rife, especially amongst adults who would have worked through their childhood to support their family. It’s such a shame to see this still affecting people in 2016.

   When we met with one of the groups who weaved baskets they told us that they had recently had book keeping training, they then went on to explain that they hadn’t used it because they didn’t know how to read and write. They also didn’t know how to make simple calculations. In which case, what was the point of that training? I don’t mean that to sound sarcastic or judgmental I literally mean, what was the point of it? Our mission here is to help these communities build on their businesses, to ensure that they can put food on the table, to help them expand and be successful. In which case, this book keeping training had no use, no productivity and no sustainability.

 What we need to do now is find an alternative. To think logically: we aren’t teachers, we don’t have the skills to teach people how to read, write and count. So what we have come up with is finding a method of book keeping which runs on symbols. No numbers, no words, no writing. The symbols will be used to symbolise a number in which the workers can put a symbol to indicate what they have spent and what they have sold. They will know that some symbols represent a higher number than others meaning that they can easily identify profit and loss. Of course this plan isn’t without its complications and challenges. We’re not naive enough to think that this is flawless, but we’re here to help people and we’re here to try and ensure each person can provide food for themselves and their family. All we can do is try – and if that doesn’t work try again.

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