Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Grasscutters -- Not Lawnmowers

So far I've written very little about the actual work that I do here in Ghana.  Mostly this is intentional.  This is a personal blog that I'm using to share my thoughts with friends and family, so I'm being pretty candid, sharing the good and the not-so-good parts.  In work, just as in life, there are moments of good and there are moments of not-so-good.  However, I'm the member of a generation who is constantly hearing the message, "Don't write about your boss/students/coworkers/company(insert any work-related entity here) on the internet. It is public, it is permanent, and it will come back to bite you in the ass." But it's not as if I'm just living in Ghana -- I am actually working, so I figure to have a true picture of my life, I should include some examples of my work. 

One of original assignments back in the fall was to create a School Improvement Team (SIT).  Basically, this is a group of parents, teachers, students, administrators, community members who collaborate to find creative solutions to school problems. Manye's SIT is called the MAC, Manye Advancement Committee, and back in November, they decided that they wanted to start a grasscutter farm at the school.  Now, this isn't as crazy as it sounds. First of all, grasscutters are not lawnmowers -- they are a large rodent whose meat is considered a delicacy here in Ghana. They are named grasscutters for their large teeth which cut the grass that they eat, and grasscutter rearing is a newly developing and profitable industry (actively encouraged by the Ghanaian government). 

(googled image of a grasscutter)

Given the abundance of challenges at Manye, you might wonder what makes this a solution? Well, to put it bluntly, Manye's problems all come down to money.  I'm not saying that inundating the school with money will solve the problem, because it won't. First, the money has to be used effectively, and the money has to be a stepping stone, or leverage to implement other changes that will improve the quality of teaching and learning. But those changes can't really happen without money. At least at Manye, and here is why:  when I arrived in the fall, the school was struggling to raise enough from school fees to pay the salaries of the teachers. Try asking a teacher who hasn't been paid in 6 weeks (and whose monthly salary is only about $80 to begin with) to stay late to learn new ways of teaching. Try justifying spending money on teaching and learning materials (like maps, books, science equipment), when employees aren't being paid. 

But let's get to the point. The MAC decided to start a grasscutter farm to breed and sell grasscutters, and then use the money to provide scholarships to committed but financially challenged students.  Hopefully these scholarships will both encourage students and supplement the school's finances. 

ANYWAY... yesterday, the first grasscutters arrived! 3 males and 3 females, which will soon be joined by 6 more females.

(Prince and Rockson helping transport the cages from the fabricator to Manye)

(Mawusi, Tetteh, Elorm, Rockson, and Sir Sam helping set up the cages)

(Alex and Mr. Tamaklo and 4 of our grasscutters in their special transportation cage)

Here are some fun facts about grasscutters that I never would have known without this project. 
  • A male grasscutter can mate with up to 4 or 5 females.
  • Grasscutters eat maize stalks, cassava sticks and peels, elephant grass, and a variety of other scrap foods. 
  • Grasscutters don't need water to live! Just kidding, they do.  But they often manage to get enough water just from the foods they eat. (Ours are going to have water bowls, just to be safe). 
  • Grasscutters are indestructible.  They don't get sick, they don't die, they don't have any problems. Once again, just kidding. But this was one argument used by a parent who was lobbying for the grasscutter project back in the fall. Pretty impressive sounding, isn't it? 

Getting into the field of "educational consulting," I thought I would be spending most of my time dealing with teachers and students, teaching and learning with some management thrown in.  I never knew that I'd learn about animal husbandry and I never imagined I'd become familiar with an animal whose name sounds like a teenager's summer job. But something I've learned is that education is not as simple and telling kids to attend school and teaching teachers to teach.  Each community or school has its own characteristics that may create deep-seated obstacles to these desired outcomes.  In the States, you probably wouldn't see animal rearing as a way to improve the quality of education... But here, it often takes unorthodox (aka WEIRD) ideas to solve problems.  And the fun part of my job is seeing these creative solutions actually get put into place.


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