Ghana Summer 2011 Blog

University of Ghana, Legon
June 6, 2011 to July 15, 2011

Last Day of Classes

Kavita Chandra

July 14, 2011

For the past few days, all of the instructors have been extremely sad that it is our last week together and today is our last day of classes! We've all come to love Accra and the people we have come in contact with, especially our students.

It has always been my dream to be a professor at a university. However, attending MIT for the last three years and constantly having exams, p-sets, and sleepless nights, I have forgotten a lot of what I love about learning. A lot of students enter a MIT bubble of their own world and forget everything else, which happened to me. At times, I have been more concerned with getting a p-set finished, instead of learning the material! Needless to say, I was a little lost.

At first, coming here was just as confusing: having to barter for food/taxis/everything, not knowing why everyone was yelling "Obruni" at me, trying to use a fork to eat fufu, etc. I was the quintessential ignorant westerner. Now, after six unforgettable weeks, names like banku, waakye, and kelewele do not sound like foreign fuzzy animals to me, but rather delicious Ghanaian delicacies. I have also acquired a knack for getting cheap taxi rides, despite their exorbitant starting price. Though I do not use this skill as much because, as of recent, I am less inclined to take taxis; we now take trotros wherever we go!

Of all my adventures, along with many misadventures, the thing I will miss more than anything is the kindness and benevolence of the Ghanaian people. The people here are always willing to help, and are overly friendly. At first, coming from the US, I thought that everyone here was just trying to solicit money, but I have come to realize that Ghanaians are just genuinely nice people. I am glad that the generosity of the Ghana, namely our students, has allowed me to shed some of my New England cynicism.

Today, the class presented us instructors with some beautiful African clothing to remember them by, but I would not have needed any tangible item to remember the cherished memories we shared. These people are some of the brightest, kindest people I have ever had the honor to know. Learning about their determination to succeed is a more valuable life-lesson than any business model I could have taught them. I have complete faith in every person in the class to overcome any hurdles they face, solely because of who they are innately as people. I cannot wait till tomorrow when they reveal their final product at our showcase!

You've never been there?

Racheal Chimbghandah

July 6, 2011

My taxi experiences in Ghana deserve their own blog post.  Ghana has more taxis than any other African country I've been to, I honestly think that the density of taxis is comparable to that of New York City.  It is so easy to get a taxi, getting to your destination however, is another story.  On one of the days during my first week I hopped on a taxi to go to Google's offices.  I had an address to the place and told the taxi driver where I was going, and he asked me to get in.  After driving for an hour, he turned around and said "Miss please where is the place?"  I didn't know whether he was serious so I proceeded to tell him that my destination hadn't changed, I was still going to the address I told him an hour before.  He was nice enough to tell me that he had no clue where it was, an hour later.  I was upset as my unintended tour of Accra had made me late for my meeting.  Over the next few weeks I came to realize that taxi drivers generally do not know where they are going, a problem compounded by the lack of addresses in most of Accra.  You would think with this newfound knowledge I'd begin to ask for clearer directions.  Anyway I had to go to the Nigerian consulate and told the driver the necessary landmarks, he said he knew where it was.  After driving for an hour, the driver asked me whether I'd ever been to the Nigerian consulate, to which I replied "no".  He stopped the car and said "You've never been there?  Then how are we going to get there?"  Needless to say, it took another hour before we finally located the consulate, I'd almost given up.  Now I leave a 30min 'getting lost' buffer period during my travels.

 

Using your head

Michael Yu

June 30, 2011

During our stay, we've been careful to drink only bottled water to avoid getting sick from tap water.  Indeed Chase, Austin, and I already experienced unpleasant stomach illnesses that, we believe, came from eating pasta we cooked with tap water boiled for an insufficient amount of time.

The other night we ran out of bottled water, so Austin and I went searching to buy more from little stores stationed along the main street near our house about a 1/2 kilometer away.  These stores are no bigger than the size of a newspaper kiosk in Manhattan.  Up to that point, we've been buying our water from either the Accra or the ANC mall, so we were uncertain how far we'd have to walk on the street before finding a store that sold water.  

Fortunately not too long into search, we bumped into one of our students who was just getting off a tro tro.  Turns out that he lives very near us in East Legon.  He helped us buy water from one particular shack by speaking with the owner in a native language.  At first, Austin and I thought the shack already carried water on site and we'd be given the water almost immediately, but we ended up waiting for over 5 min.  Eventually we saw a 6-8 yr old kid come over to us carrying a box of twelve 1.5 Liter bottles on his head.  At 1 gram/mL water density, that's 18 kg (~40 lbs) of water on his tiny head!  We realized that the owner had probably sent the kid to fetch water from elsewhere.

After bidding our student goodnight and thanking him for helping us, Austin and I, each now carrying a 40 lb box of water, trekked over the ditch-laden mud road back to our house.  We carried the boxes in what we thought was the obvious manner: letting our arms hang down and gripping the box from the bottom.  However, as our arms got tired during the 1/2 kilometer walk, Austin suggested that we carry the boxes the same way as the kid back at the shack -- on our heads!  Of course, if a 6-8 yr old kid could do it, we can too, right?  Yes, but not without good posture and a good neck and upper back workout =).  Moreover, the numerous ditches in the wet mud road back to our house did not make things any easier.  By the time we got back to the house, we were both exhausted, myself in dripping in sweat.

We now have a better appreciation of all the Ghanaians who carry heavy loads on their heads at ease.  They aren't limited to kids fetching water, but they also include the countless folks on the streets of Accra we've seen trying to sell snacks, toys, and even empty luggages resting on their heads.

Halfway

Michael Yu

June 23, 2011

I hate to sound like I'm counting down because we are having so much fun here, but we are already half way through the program.  Time is flying by so fast.  This week has been yet another eventful week.  Students have officially begun working in their teams, going forward, all labs will be done in groups.  This teamwork process mimicks the real  world and it's important that students get acquainted to working in teams.

In other news, Kavitha and I had lunch at Bush Canteen on Thursday, and guess who sat next to our table?  Asamoah Gyan.  Yes, the famed football player.  He asked to take pictures with us (haha, it was the other way round).  Gyan had the weight of Africa on his shoulders during the World Cup last year, and it felt great meeting the man who made Africa proud. We will document more celeb sightings.

Back to business, this week we've been talking about business plans, in preparation for the final deliverable.  We will continue on this topic for a few more sessions until we've covered all the major components of a business.  Looking forward to next week. 

 

MEST Graduation

Racheal Chimbghandah

June 15, 2011

This past Saturday on June 11, the entire group of instructors was invited to the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST, meltwater.org) Class of 2011 graduation ceremony. Racheal and I met with Edward from Nandimobile earlier in the week, which is located at the MEST Incubator site. We met with all of the entrepreneurs there, and it was truly inspirational! Every one of their companies had come out of MEST and were located in the incubator site, just a short canopy bridge walk away from the institute. Most of the companies had to do with mobile applications, and we are hoping that a few of them could come inspire our students. We want the student to see that entrepreneurship in Ghana is not only a possibility but a reality! All the students at the institute were also very interested in meeting our technical instructors as well (Chase, Michael, and Austin).

Edward graciously invited us to come to the ceremony, and we came promptly at 1:30 pm. Unfortunately, we had never heard of African Standard Time, where events start about an hour after they actually are supposed to start. However, it gave us time to meet with all the disguinshed guests that were at the event as well as allowed the technical team to meet with the students that Racheal and I met earlier in the week.

The ceremony began around 2:20 pm, and we heard speeches from many brillant minds including, but not limited to, Brian Flynn, Jorn Lyseggen, etc. Their speeches extremely motivating! We hope that when some of the members of MEST come to speak to our students that they will be just as inspired.

We are looking forward to meeting more dedicated entrepreneurs in the weeks to come!

Already in week 2

Racheal Chimbghandah

June 14, 2011

Last week was a very eventful week.  We welcomed all the students onboard, and began classes.  Some students had been confused about the start date and so did not show up to the first lecture.  We tracked them down and had everyone attending class by midweek.  We had two entrepreneurship classes in which we talked about the basics of entrepreneurship, and spent a lot of time brainstorming new enterprise ideas.  The students enjoyed this exercise and some of them will implement their ideas in the Android Developer Challenge for Sub-Saharan Africa.  This week the Entrepreneurship class will continue to focus on Idea Generation, and will also have a session on Creating Effective Teams.  We will also have our second guest speaker, Mr. Theo Agbeko from Airtel.

Fun times in Ghana, more to come....

Classes Begin

Kavita Chandra

June 7, 2011

Yesterday, after a long red-eye flight, Michael and I (Kavita) arrived in Accra! It is our first time in Africa and we were greeted at the airport not only with our peers, Racheal and Austin, but also by a large heat wave. We drove through Accra back to our beautiful home, which was unlike anything we expected!

Today, Tuesday, was Michael and my first day of classes. Yesterday was an introduction to the class and the instructors taught some basic Linux/Unix commands. Today began with the technical team setting up the computers in the lab along with everyone's personal laptops and finished up teaching more commands.

Then around eleven in the morning we had our first guest speaker: Bridgette Sexton! She is a project manager at Google in Ghana, and works on technology outreach across Sub Saharan Africa. She spoke to the class about the growing expansion of Android use in West Africa and the world at large. Ghana is not as reliant on Andriod applications as some parts of the world, but rather people here rely on word of mouth. Bridgette introduced the students to the Android Developer Challenge in Sub-Saharan Africa that invites people to create their own applications that could be applicable specifically for their own country. We encouraged all our students to apply to the contest, for more information please feel free to visit the following website (http://code.google.com/android/adcafrica/).

After Bridgette's insightful lecture, we broke for lunch. All the instructors sat down for our first meal together at a restaurant called "The Basement" where we had native Ghanian food, such as jollof rice. It was really filling and delicious!

After coming back, we played an icebreaker so the students and instructors could get to know each other better! Each person paired up with someone they didn't know and had to introduce them to the class. Some of the introductions were quite hilarious, with one student even claiming he was a better football player than Prince Boateng!

We are looking forward to the rest of the week and the start of the entrepreneurial lectures tomorrow!