Month 1 – Hugging Pineapples

October 29th, 2014

Kristin is a Field Advisor for Literacy Bridge. She currently lives and works in Jirapa, Upper West, Ghana providing guidance to the Literacy Bridge field team on programmatic work and operations.

On September 16 I groggily arrived in Accra after a fifteen hour flight from LA to Dubai and a seven hour flight from Dubai to Accra. On the plane, right as the wheels touched down, a group of about ten Ghanaian men started singing in harmony. At first I thought the airline was playing gospel music to welcome us and then I turned around and realized the sound was coming from the back of the plane. The singing got louder and more spirited, largely ignoring the flustered Emirates flight attendants who were frantically trying to keep a sense of decorum as more people joined in. I laughed, happily breathed in the music and thought…it’s good to be in Ghana.

It’s been a little over a month now since I arrived in Jirapa from Accra. To get here I took a 12 hour overnight bus to Wa and then a minivan (called a Tro Tro) from Wa to Jirapa. During the trip my seatmate and I (a college student), kicked back, talked about American music, shared candy and watched the hilarious Ghanaian films that blared throughout the night and seemed to all revolve around some version of a love triangle while trying not to look at the road (at the speed the buses go, it’s best just not to look). A few years ago when I moved to Paris someone told me “when you move somewhere alone, you’ll never forget the person who picks you up when you arrive”. So true. I will never forget getting off the bus in Wa and being warmly greeted by Fidelis and Toffic, two of our staff members and then being greeted by many of the other staff members when we arrived in Jirapa.

Kristin with a few of members of the LB team

Kristin with a Few Literacy Bridge Ghana Team Members

I’ve had a wonderful time over the past month getting to know the staff and the town. I’ve sampled various local dishes, gone to the colorful Sunday market and have learned how to properly ride a motorbike (don’t hold on to the driver!). I’m also adjusting to the heat and intensity of the sun (I recently got burned wearing 70 SPF sunscreen) and am working on learning the local language, Dagaare. I’ve been staying in a Catholic guesthouse for the last few weeks but this week I moved to an apartment near the office. I’m looking forward to having a kitchen where I can experiment with cooking with local ingredients.

In the Upper West the staple crops are yams, maize, beans, rice, millet and groundnuts (peanuts). These are sturdy crops that can be dried, stored, and sold throughout the many months here where it is too hot and dry to grow crops. Most farmers understandably turn to these reliable crops and grow far less fruits and vegetables. Other than maize, the vegetables mainly consist of okra, cabbage, and tomatoes (I know, they are technically a fruit) and the fruit is mainly oranges, although I did see a few watermelon at the market recently. I am a fruit and vegetable lover through and through and realized how much I’ve taken for granted having easy access to an abundant variety of vegetables in all the places I’ve lived in the US and abroad.

In fact, one afternoon I was sitting at my desk in the office when in walked Fred, our Field Manager, with a pineapple. He saw a lady selling them (who we haven’t seen since) and knew how much I’d enjoy having fresh fruit so he bought one for me. I was so touched that he thought of me and so excited at the sight of it, without thinking, I grabbed it and hugged it. The next day I brought a plate and knife to the office and cut the pineapple and the staff and I ate it. Whether it was the company or the pineapple itself, it was definitely the best pineapple I’ve ever had.

Things I’m loving right now, in no particular order:

  • - Spending time with the staff
  • - Marianne Elliott’s online yoga course 30 Days of Yoga for Aid Workers (I’m on day 24 and highly recommend any of her courses and her book Zen Under Fire: How I Found Peace in the Midst of War)
    – Fried plantains
  • - The Sunday market and buying local fabric there to have a dress made
  • - My Kindle. I recently finished The Goldfinch and just started The Brothers Karamazov

Farming in Ridges: Our Most Powerful Agriculture Message Yet

October 14th, 2014

Hi! My name is Fred Braimah, a Field Manager at the Literacy Bridge office in Ghana.

Fred Photo

In Ghana, especially in the Jirapa district of the Upper West Region, about 65% of the total population depends on farming for a living. However farming in the Jirapa district over the past years has been faced with numerous challenges, such as lack of infrastructure (telephone, electricity, road network etc.), inadequate financial power, illiteracy (majority of these farmers cannot read or write in any language), limited number of extension workers (the ratio of agricultural extension workers to farmers is low), poor radio and TV reception in most villages, and more.

To improve farming and increase productivity, the Ghana Food and Agriculture Development Policy (FASDEP) has identified educating farmers to adapt to new and advance techniques of farming and increased agriculture extension services as some of the best ways to improve agriculture production in Ghana. However due to the low number of agricultural extension workers, some farmers have never seen an agriculture extension officer. In addressing this, Literacy Bridge’s Talking Book Program is acting as an intermediary between the farmers and agricultural extension workers.

Over the years Literacy Bridge, in partnership with Ministry of Food and Agriculture in the Jirapa District, have been sending out messages on modern techniques of farming including land preparation in ridges to rural farmers who have no access to agriculture extension services.

Farming in ridges is one of the most effective ways to improve crop yield. In the upper west region, especially in the Jirapa district, farmers grow maize, millet, and other crops in mounds. Unfortunately mounds cannot hold water for a long time and therefore is not good for areas periodic rainfall.

Mounds vs Ridges

Mounds vs Ridges

 

Ridges help improve crop yield by preventing erosion, providing for easier control of weeds, making fertilizer application easier, and more. Farming in ridges does not require extra tools or expenses, making it very cost effective and easy to implement. In fact, farming in ridges is so effective the 49 communities where Literacy Bridge operates have implemented this technique and are all now farming in ridges.

In 2013 Madam Azaadong Mwinnasong, a female farmer from Baazu where Literacy Bridge operates, won the Best Female Promising Farmer award. Madam Azaadong Mwinnasong said she won the award by listening to the Talking Book and implementing the farming in ridges technique which has increased her crop yield.

The interest of every farmer and the nation as a whole is to increase crop yield every year. However this cannot be achieved without educating farmers to adapt to new modern techniques of farming. This makes Literacy Bridge’s Talking Book Program very significant in increasing crop yield in rural Ghana.

Meet Kristin, Literacy Bridge’s New Field Advisor

September 10th, 2014

Hello Literacy Bridge family!

My name is Kristin Bongaard, I’ve been recently hired as Literacy Bridge’s new Field Advisor. This is a short-term position based in Jirapa created to aid the Ghana program team – particularly the Ghana Program Officer, the Ghana Field Manager and the US Program Director – in managing the coordination, implementation and development of the Talking Book Programme in Jirapa as the program scales up over the next year.

Kristin BongaardDSC02002

I will be moving to Jirapa in late September and I couldn’t be more excited to work with the talented and dedicated staff who have brought the Talking Book and its life saving messages to people in need. I am proud to be a part of such a dynamic and successful team and I can’t wait to join them as we continue to grow the program.

I come to Literacy Bridge from PATH, an international non-profit focused on global health innovation. My interest in international development started at the age of 17 when on an exchange program to China I stopped in a rural village and saw women washing clothes in the muddy water that ran down the side of the road. As a young woman the disparity between the opportunities I had in my life and those of the women in this village made an impression on me and sparked a lifelong interest in development and human rights. Part of what drew me to Literacy Bridge so many years after that experience in China is the positive impact the organization has on women and children. In addition, the organization’s devotion to improving the lives of farmers really struck a chord with me as I come from a farming family. I grew up on a small farm in North Carolina and my father’s family have been farmers for generations in Mississippi where I spent many of my childhood summers tending to chickens, cattle, horses, and goats (I’ve developed a talent for picking vegetables, carrying feed sacks and mucking stalls over the years!). Agriculture and nutrition are a passion of mine and I was thrilled to find an organization like Literacy Bridge that combines my interests in health and farming.

This is the first of what I hope will be many blog entries as I catalogue my experiences in Ghana over the next nine months. I’m eternally grateful to the field team and the Literacy Bridge headquarters staff that have done so much to make my journey there possible.

Stay tuned for more updates when I land and get settled in Jirapa!

Best,

Kristin

The Talking Book Program Difference

February 13th, 2014

By Literacy Bridge Program Officer Fidelis Da-Uri Awonodomo

“With the increase in awareness creation with the small radio (Talking Book), I think husbands, other relatives and even pregnant women themselves know the benefits of  antenatal and postnatal services. You can see a lot of them at the monthly child welfare services even in the farming season. In the past, men have little or not knowledge about these services but they are informed now”.  Madam Jocelyn Irengbong

Madam Jocelyn Irengbong is a community health worker. She assists community health nurses during child welfare services in her community. She has two children. Given her youthful age, she has a lot of interactions with peers who are pregnant or are breastfeeding babies. Jocelyn said there has been an increase of pregnant women and nursing mothers coming out for antenatal and postnatal services in her community.

The Talking Book Program evens the playing field between wives and husbands by providing both with access to critical information on maternal and child health. The Talking Books are rotated throughout entire communities participating in the Talking Book Program. Families in the communities have access to the Talking Book for a full week during each rotation with new updated health messages. Men who are unable to attend prenatal and antenatal visits with their wives are able to listen to Talking Book lessons on maternal and child health and how they can contribute to the health and well-being of their family.

See related blog: Cultural Beliefs and Values — Barriers to Maternal Health

A Success Story from Nyeni

February 13th, 2014

by Literacy Bridge Program Officer Fidelis Da-Uri Awonodomo

Nyeni is a farming community in the Jirapa district. It has no health facility and pregnant women have to walk to St. Joseph Hospital in the district’s capital for antenatal services. Thanks to a corporate sponsorship from ARM,  Literacy Bridge was able to bring the Talking Book Program to the residents of Nyeni.

Late last year, I went with Literacy Bridge field coordinators Fred Braimah and Augustina Kpedekuu to see how the people of Nyeni are using knowledge gained from the Talking Books. Our tour took us to Prica Diko-ang’s house. Prisca was about nine months pregnant.

Prisca said that she delivered her first two children at home without going to the hospital. She said that she believed that there wasn’t a problem with women delivering at home since it is an age-old practice in the community. After listening to the Talking Book’s audio drama on the importance of delivery at the health facility, songs on the importance of antenatal care, safe delivery and child welfare, she realized how little she knew.

When the time came for her to deliver, Prisca wanted to deliver at the hospital since it would help her deliver safely without complications. She called for our Nyeni community agent Zingvillaa Mathias, who with her husband sent her to the Jirapa Hospital. She delivered twins — a boy and a girl. Unfortunately, the boy did not survive.

Our program team recently went to visit her to see how she and her baby are faring. This was what she had to say. “I am very thankful to you. Your small radio really encouraged me to deliver at the hospital. Although I lost one, I have been thinking what might have happened if I decided to deliver them at home, again, as I did with my other two children.”

Cultural Beliefs and Values — Barriers to Maternal Health

February 13th, 2014

By Literacy Bridge Program Officer Fidelis Da-uri Awonodomo

In societies where there are high literacy rates, education and advocacy play a role in preventing negative cultural practices. Unfortunately, in societies with high illiteracy rates, negative cultural practices are common and can result in preventable deaths.

This is particularly true in developing countries where high percentages of illiterate populations live in impoverished rural communities. Negative cultural beliefs, attitudes and practices are barriers to access for life-saving information and services, including maternal and child health services.

For example, men in rural Ghana are the family heads and final decision makers who control the family economic resources. Although health workers make every effort to educate women on child and maternal health issues, husbands should be targeted as well. Whether or not a pregnant woman goes for antenatal and postnatal care and whether or not she delivers in a hospital is largely dependent on the husband’s support.

See related blog: The Talking Book Program Difference

Matilda Banongle & The Talking Book

January 27th, 2014

We first spoke to Matilda Banongle in 2012 when the Talking Book was introduced to Gyangvuuri residents. She was seven months pregnant at the time with her fourth child. Matilda said that her first two children were delivered at home and the third was delivered at the hospital.

Literacy Bridge’s program coordinator, Augustina Kpedekuu, followed up with Matilda to see how she was faring. Matilda said that, because of the Talking Book Program, “I knew it was important to deliver at a health facility. Matilda said that she suffered with the fourth pregnancy more than the other three pregnancies because she was in labor for four days. Despite her prolonged labor, Matilda chose not to take a local concoction called mansugo to speed delivery because a Talking Book message from a local nurse explained that mansugo is known to cause miscarriages. Matilda delivered a healthy baby boy named Babongnoba.

Matilda said the Talking Book taught her that “…the baby should be continuously taken care of.” She learned to practice exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. She also learned the proper handling of a baby during breastfeeding to avoid the baby taking in only air — the nipple of the breast should be inside the baby mouth during breastfeeding. Matilda said that she also learned the importance of going for the monthly child welfare program.

She said Babongnoba is growing very well. The Talking Book is teaching her how to take care of her children from the time they are conceived until they are grown up.

Matilda said that she has seen difference the Talking Book has made with pregnant women and women with newborn babies in her community. “Now women know the importance of ANC, proper breastfeeding, personal hygiene and how to take care of their children — something many women did not know before the Talking Book came to the community.

Best Farmer Awards Two Years in a Row!

December 20th, 2013

Farmers from our Talking Book communities did it, again!  This is the second year in a row that our farmers have captured Best Farmer awards during Ghana’s National Farmers Day – a day of celebration to honor farmers for their hard work and accomplishments.

Gbare-Naa Avielezie from Jeffiiri was named the Best 2013 Farmer in millet cultivation. Gbare-Naa spoke to Literacy Bridge Program Office Fidelis Da-Uri Awonodomo after the awards ceremony. “Last year no one from the Ministry of Food & Agriculture came to our village,” Gbare-Naa said. “We have been listening to agriculture messages on the Talking Book about better methods for farming since last year. Gbare-Naa was awarded the title for demonstrating his knowledge of the agriculture ministry’s best practices in millet farming. “I am happy to receive this honor. Thank you for the Talking Book.”

Azaadong Mwinnasong won 2013’s Most Promising Farmer of the Year. She said that the Talking Book “is telling us to use ridges, to sow in lines and should not delay with weeding. This is what I did.”

Last year, farmers from our Talking Book Program communities won two of the four major crop awards in the Jirapa District.  We are very proud that our team of farmers, staff, volunteers, and donors have made this success possible yet again.

Albertina’s Story

December 10th, 2013

Literacy Bridge is one of the 20 highlighted Washington state based organizations working globally featured in Seattle International Foundation’s 2014 Global Giving Guide. Literacy Bridge’s story of Albertina Dery from the guide is reprinted below with permission from the Seattle International Foundation.

 

In a remote village in the poorest region of Ghana, Albertina Dery recently gained access to life-changing knowledge. She learned to fight malaria and other devastating diseases by properly utilizing bed nets to prevent deadly mosquito bites. She learned to create organic fertilizer to increase crop yield, therefore increasing her food source and income. During her last pregnancy, for the first time, she learned the importance of attending prenatal care visits, delivering her baby in a hospital, and practicing exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of her daughter’s life.

But until recently, life-changing knowledge like this was inaccessible to Albertina. Without health and agriculture experts in her village and without the ability to read and write, she lacked the information necessary to learn the best ways to protect her kids from chronic malnutrition.

Now through a simple and durable audio device, the Talking Book Program is placing knowledge from top local health and agriculture experts, right in Albertina’s hands. Each month she can listen to new interviews, stories, songs, and dramas that give her the information she needs. She can also record her feedback to improve the quality of future recordings. With the power of life-changing knowledge, mothers like Albertina are building a better future for their children.

Since 2007, Literacy Bridge has delivered 500,000 on-demand health and agriculture lessons to 24,000 of the most impoverished people in Ghana.

Monthly Updates from Literacy Bridge Community Agents

November 28th, 2013

Written by Shichen Liu and Xingru Tao, Literacy Bridge Communications Interns and University of Washington 2013 Evans School candidates in Public Affairs

In each community that we are in, we hire and train a local resident as our community agent to coordinate the Talking Book Program. Along with a number of duties such as managing the household rotation of Talking Books throughout the village, community agents conduct informational interviews with the residents to assess their experiences with and thoughts about the Talking Book.

     

Here are some excerpts from the community agents’ monthly reports.

What do people generally like about the current messages on the Talking Book?

“Information about the protective measures on health issues (pregnant mothers should be delivered to hospitals or health facility)”  — from Zengpeni Community Agent

“They learn about the new method of farming…and how to protect themselves against diseases and how to protect pregnant women…they also like the ways of protecting their animals against diseases”  — from Yibile Community Agent

“New method of farming, proper seed sowing, how to protect animals from diseases, the way of keeping ourselves from malaria” — from Yibile Community Agent

“Generally, all the messages on the Talking Book are welcomed” — from Ving Ving Community Agent

 Describe how the households are using the TB?

“Most of the households use the Talking Book at home after they return from farm work. Usually men like to carry it everywhere and women listen to it with their children.” —from Beehee Community Agent

“About 65% of households listen together during meal time every evening and mostly wives listen to the Talking Book device with children…. “—from Duori Degri Community Agent

Please describe the problems that people are having with the Talking Book

“Some members of the household have trouble identifying the symbols on [the face of] the Talking Book.” – from Gozu Community Agent      

                     

Editor’s Note: There are no words in Dagaare for “arrow”, which is currently used on the face of the Talking Book. User feedback has resulted in a new faceplate icon, which incorporates symbols that are easily recognizable to the families in our Talking Book communities.

Talking Book Success Stories

“Some households do not always want to give back [the Talking Book] and always told me to give them another day because some of them do not have a radio, and add to that, the information given to farmers are not always being presented on radio.” “For those who do not have radios in the house, it gives them the chance to the new method of farming”  — from Yibile Community Agent

“People adopted the good ways of farming, e.g. plowing and sowing maize in lanes…It brings household together because people come together and share ideas about the Talking Book…”  — from Ving Ving Community Agent

This feedback compiled by our community agents helps us understand the strengths of the Talking Book Program as well as uncover the areas that can be improved upon so that we can better serve our Talking Book communities.