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From Britney, Lisa’s niece, after just returning from volunteering in Kongo, Yakote, and other communities in the Nabdam district of northern Ghana:

At a meeting for our new feeding program at Piitanga Primary School, the headmistress referred to women as the “live wire” of the community: if the wire is broken, the village has no power. This metaphor really rings true in rural Ghana! In fact, the value of women in their communities is what the work of Yakote Women Farmers is all about.


Let’s start with the school feeding programs, my focus on this January trip to Ghana. I think these are a great model for programs that are based around the commitment of community members. First of all, the cooking is all done by volunteer mothers at the school. For 20 weeks or more, they spend hours preparing food for around 150-200+ students, 3 days per week. At the planning meetings for the feeding programs, even more mothers turned out to show their support. Many of these women appeared with their babies strapped to their backs, a common sight even among women working as nurses or teachers. All of the families must send their kids to school with firewood for cooking and some small change for soap, which is not insignificant considering that many can’t afford to put food on the table. The success of the feeding programs demonstrates a very strong, long-term community commitment to keeping their kids in school and giving them a chance to improve their lives, and it all starts with the mothers.


Another project for this trip was Marilyn’s annual ‘Goats for Girls’ purchase. The middle school girls who receive goats are able to pay for their school costs by raising the goats’ offspring and selling them. Successfully raising the goats and saving the money for school requires a lot of dedication from these young girls. Hopefully, having a sense of ownership over their own education will keep these girls motivated through high school and maybe a training program or university, before they go on to become the new generation of women that contribute to their families and villages.


The basket weaving cooperative, soon to expand from Kongo to Yakote, the shea butter group in Kongo, and the Yakote women’s savings groups are all examples of local women taking initiative in creating opportunities for themselves. YWF has worked with Mondo, an Estonian nonprofit, to provide guidance and a market for baskets and shea butter. Unlike most large distributors, all of our exports provide a reasonable wage to the women; with hard work, they earn enough that they can make a significant contribution to their families. Victoria, one of the the original basket weavers in Kongo, has been supporting her four children for the past 20 years through her basket weaving. Don’t be fooled: She weaves every day until late at night, and was even working while we were over for dinner at her home!


During my time in Ghana, I was continually struck by the cheerful hard work of all the women with whom I worked. Janet at the nutrition center is just as committed to her at-risk newborn and pregnant clients now as she was before she started volunteering full-time 15 years ago. (She was finally hired 2 years ago.) The women at Piitanga Primary, our newest feeding program and school building project, giggled as they grabbed my hands and pulled me through the market to make sure we got the best deals on the food they would be cooking for their school. Some of the basket weavers insisted that I learn to weave, and couldn’t contain their laughter as they witnessed my disastrous attempts. These women truly make the most of all the assistance we can give, spreading it as far and wide as possible. It has been an honor to work on projects that are focused on long-term change and that are truly community driven – these women are amazingly capable, hardworking, and generous and all they need is an opportunity to use their skills.

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School lunches begin! We purchase enough food to provide lunches 3 days per week, for 20 weeks during the dry season. This is a time of year when food supplies run low for subsistence farmers in Ghana. 

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Rice and beans were prepared and served this Friday to 175 students at Gunwagre Primary. The ingredients for this dish are brown rice, white beans, 1 gallon vegetable oil, 1/2 gallon red palm oil, 1 liter canned tomatoes, 7-8 balls dowa dowa (a locally grown seasoning), red peppers, and iodated salt. 

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Marilyn is addressing the members of Yakote Women Farmers at this meeting in the final days of the trip.

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The trip to shop for goats was done this week. Every year YWF distributes 10-12 female goats to girls in middle school. As the goats reproduce, the girls will sell the goats to help pay school expenses.

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The bikes for community health workers are ready for distribution.

After two weeks of shopping for the Nutrition Center, Guanware Primary, and Gorug Primary, Britney delivered the last load of food to Piitanga Primary on Saturday.

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Heading back to Kongo after their last day shopping: Britney with two of the mothers that will cook at Piitanga Primary (b/w and orange dresses), Rabi (pink/brown dress) and Janet (bright green) who are indispensable in coordinating the large purchases in the Bolga market. 

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Once the food is measured and transferred from basins to large bags, the sheep move in to search for any spilled rice or beans.

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Delivering the final load of food to Piitanga. Space in this cement building has been donated for storage. 

38 Bicycles

Marilyn has received funding to purchase bicycles for 38 of the 170 Community Health Workers in Nabdam clinics. They frequently travel to remote homes to monitor the health status of children and pregnant women in regards to vaccinations and communicable diseases. We hope to buy more bikes in the future.

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Marilyn in Bolga, loading the 38 bikes for delivery to clinics. 

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Bicycles in Ghana are expensive, they average $53/bike. These are all used bikes from China.

Scenes from a weekend

Britney has discovered she loves the cacophony of the Bolga market when she made food purchases for the Nutrition Center on Friday. This the shopping list she used, she found a 10% inflation in food costs over last year. FYI, 1 dollar equals 4.2 GH cedis.

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Back in Kongo for the weekend for a bit of relaxation she took some photos of scenes from the village and nearby countryside:

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A typical soccer “field”.

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Husband and wife, dry season farmers, prepare to take tomatoes to market. Britney and Marilyn are organizing a farmer training to discuss common problems among those farmers with our foot irrigation pumps. For example insect control, composting for fertilization, and protecting crops from livestock.

Relaxing in the village:

A mother and daughters                          Girls playing a clapping/jumping game

Britney reports she is enjoying her time in Ghana and wishes they were staying longer!

In the days before traveling to Bolgatanga and purchasing food, we always meet with each of the schools and the nutrition center to discuss plans for the year. In the past week Britney and Marilyn met with the staff, community elders, PTA, and cooks at each location. Today, Friday, Britney is on her first of many trips to purchase the food!

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Marilyn and Britney meeting with staff and PTA at Piitanga Primary – The lunch program is just beginning this year at this school. The parents have brought some food from their farms that will be used in lunch program, in addition to the food we will purchase. This community is dedicated to educating and feeding their children. We are working to fund a new school at this site.

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Some of the women who will do the cooking and clean up at Gorug school, along with the PTA president. The community grew 500 pounds of beans (worth $150) to contribute to the lunch program. The mother’s who cook are all volunteers.

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This is staff, community elders, PTA, and the cooks meeting with Britney at Guanware Primary where we have provided a lunch program for many years. The students who originally started in the Guanware lunch program are now in high school.

 

 

On January 10th, Yakote Women Farmers has an experienced crew going to Ghana: YWF President, Marilyn Schuster, along with Lisa‘s niece (Britney), and two former Peace Corps volunteers.

 

How we are using your donations:

To minimize undernutrition and stunting, we will expand our lunch program at a third school this year, Piitanga Primary.  This is Britney‘s second trip as a volunteer with us, she will spend nearly all her time in the markets buying food staples for the lunch programs at all three schools and for the Clinic Nutrition Center for malnourished children. The YWF food budget for this year is $9,600. Just to give you an idea of scale, this January she will buy 5,250 pounds of rice, over 4,000 pounds of white beans, as well as 8 huge baskets of dried fish, 275 liters of fresh, red palm oil, 12 buckets of dried hot peppers, and 3,000 pounds of ground cassava – all of it produced in Ghana.

In an exciting new project, we are working with another charitable organization, Framework International, to fund construction of a cement block classroom building for Piitanga Primary. Classes at Piitanga are now either outside or in a tiny, three room mud clad structure built by parents. Between our reserve funds and the funds of Framework International, we hope to construct a 6 classroom cement block structure.  A preliminary estimate shows construction costs of $40,000 for six classrooms. Believe it or not, we need to raise only $5,000 more to reach the $40,000 needed. So, YES, we do still need donations. THANKS to everyone who has already shared in making this construction possible. The families of Piitanga are so very grateful and appreciative of the opportunity for their children.

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Due to a shortage of classrooms, the 1st grade class currently meets outside at Piitanga School.

Tax deductible donations can easily be made by Paypal or credit card at www.yakotewomenfarmers.org