Sunday, October 09, 2011

Taking HIV To The Radio

Ever since this past May when I attended the All-Volunteer conference I have had an interest in doing something on our local radio station. One of our since-departed volunteers explained how he went about getting a monthly show on the air at a radio station near his site and what he did to educate people on the disease of HIV. Personally, I had no secondary project on hand to report back on and there are two radio stations in my town so it seemed like a good idea to check them out. I even went so far as to tell others that I was thinking about doing such a thing, but my words spoke much louder than my actions. I hadn't done a lick of work to make it happen.

Worse, the radio station that is closest to me is three minutes from my house by bicycle. There was no excuse for me to not stop by and ask around about the possibility of appearing on a program, or getting a slot made available every so often. Yet day by day, I would ride right past the building, a giant tower protruding into the sky with an antenna at the very top just calling out to me, "I'm here, come on in." And I kept riding.

What if they said, "Yes, sure, come on tonight," then where would I be? The fear of them saying yes or no was keeping me at bay for some reason. Silly, but I have been thinking about it and not doing anything for over three months.

Finally, I was writing down my to-do lists one day and I put on the list the following item: Call a fellow volunteer and ask him about the radio station that interviewed him. My mind suggested that I would need an "in", and maybe this other volunteer would have a name or a number that would set the ball rolling down the hill. It was also a lot easier to call a friend then to go in cold, or so I thought. Over two weeks later, (yes, it was at least that long before I checked off the task) I made the call. His response was something akin to, "I'd just go and ask the first person you see if you can speak to someone." Oh. That simple eh?

Yes, it was that simple. By the end of September I had stopped avoiding it and just pedaled my way through the iron gate to the miniature compound and removed my bike helmet and asked the first person I met if there was someone I could talk to. I was speaking to Joseph, the security guard, and he said that I should go inside. I tried to explain myself to Patience, the secretary inside the main room of the building why I was there. She nodded, smiled, and then said let me get the station manager. (This was going rather well already, four minutes in to the task). I met Jos and in no time he was telling me that I was welcome and that not only did he like my idea of an HIV-themed segment, he offered up the varying time slots and programs that might a good fit.

"Why didn't I do this sooner?" I was thinking. If I could have, I would have excused myself and walked somewhere private to kick myself in the backside. It wasn't necessary though, as all was working out nicely. Eventually in a day or two I got to meet the program director of the station and we went over what was possible and it was agreed I could start by doing two things. One was the health program that aired on Wednesday nights from 8:00 to 9:30 in the evenings, "Our Health, Our Wealth". It seemed like a good fit for the HIV education that I was interested in. He then suggested a program about business that was to air on Mondays and possibly talking with the host of that program to see what we could do in terms of exchanging ideas on what business was like in America versus what it was like here. Great! Let's do it.

Then I got to thinking that I might have to fill an hour of time on HIV and business. I was determined to get a bit of a running start on my HIV knowledge as quick as I could. I met with the host of the health program and Rita suggested a few questions that she might ask, and I told her what my focus would be for the program for her to review. Our preparation meeting went well, and later that day (Wednesday of this past week) I was on the air with her in a very tight little room filled with recording and audio mixing equipment. Thankfully it was air conditioned and we were ready and comfortable.

The first part of the show is the discussion between the host and the guest and the last half hour is reserved for calls to the station about the topic. At the outset I was very nervous as I had no idea who was listening in, I wasn't sure of what I was going to say precisely after her first question, and I knew I had to speak really slowly or else no one was going to understand me. Five minutes past by and everything felt fine.

It was more like talking with a friend who was just curious about this and that rather than speaking to 100 people at once. When I answered one of her questions she would refer to the notes she made of my answer and then translate that answer to Ewe so all the listeners would understand what I had said. It also padded the first hour wonderfully. I was waiting for the switchboard to light up with phone calls after 9 o'clock, but it was lit up by a little blip of a light. We had one caller, and that question was a good one: Can an HIV+ person have a child? I said yes but that transmission was a possibility if it was the mother who was positive, and Rita mentioned that if the man was the one who had the virus then possibly artificial insemination was the way to go. Good call Rita! Thus the end of our callers. Only 27 minutes left to fill.

The program didn't quite go the full hour and a half as we ran out of questions and callers by about 9:15. It was still a lot of fun and I am hopeful of turning the appearance into something consistent. After we concluded the broadcast I thanked Rita for her performance and for helping me out with the nervousness at the beginning. The producer of the show gave me the audio recording of the broadcast on a USB drive and I thanked them both profusely before I walked out the door.

During the next day I had two teachers come up to me and say that they had heard me on the radio and congratulated me, so I can confirm that at least two people were listening to the broadcast. It was fun and I am eager to try it again. The next program is the business one this coming Monday. My hope is that is goes off smoothly like Wednesdays edition.

Until next time Hohoe, this is Fo Kwaku wishing you a good evening and a sound sleep.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Being Busy Is A Good Thing

As September came to a quick close I found myself having to write out lists of things that I ought to do. Back in August I was pressing myself a bit to find things to occupy the days while the students were away. Now I am getting caught up in four or five things at once and it is a good thing.

Firstly, the students are back and milling about the campus a lot now. The third-year students were the first to arrive and they attended a week-long lecture on what is expected of them during their tenure as a teacher in the area schools around the Volta region. It was great to see some familiar faces again and I had a terrible time of remembering names (for which I am so ill-equipped with names that I know and have heard before, let alone try to figure out which is Enyanam and who is Dziedzorm (both of those names I did remember as they are very sweet ladies who stopped by the lab often enough so as I could etch their names into my brain)). Lots of smiles and lots of fun while the third-years stayed on campus.

I attended one of their lectures in the building close by to my house on a Thursday. There were not many teachers present for this lecture so I stood out a little by my late arrival and the fact that I was the third teacher seated, but it went well. One of the teachers leaned over to me while the speaker was finishing up with her presentation and let me know that I would be allowed to do the closing prayer for the assembly. I pleaded as best I could to not be the one to do this (for those who know me, the reason would be obvious) but it became clear that she was not letting "no" be an answer. I jotted down something to say that sounded religious enough, and then made sure to include a bit of humor. It went something like this: "God, grant us today the humility and serenity which You have given us through our entire lives; and Lord please keep our third-year students safe for ever and ever -- or at least until they get back from the bank with their school fees. For this we pray, Amen." At the Amen part the entire room exploded with "AHHH MEN!!!" and laughter. I don't know if the joke went over well, but they were happy to be done which made me happy in turn.

Out with old, in with the newer. Or something like this as the second-year and first-year students arrived in the following week. The new faces were immediately put to work and the campus started to become a little less overgrown with grasses and weeds. No one attends the college without bringing their favorite machete and they were using it well in the early days of this week. I didn't get to meet any of the new students in classes as they were too busy working, but during the following week I will be able to greet them and introduce myself. Already a few know me by the name Fo Kawku (my best spelling of what is a symbol in that looks like a backwards 'c') which is fine by me.  A few have even trickled into the lab to check email and let the family know how they are doing. I already have a very capable student who can fix hardware issues quite nicely. He repaired computers for a living at a business here in town and brought that know-how to the school by fixing an ailing computer from our school's typing pool. I was impressed since I was stuck on how to resuscitate the patient before he showed up.

Students returning to campus was the easy part and required very little of my time. I happened to get involved in a few other things that have had me busy. Our school here is desperate for a web site and I am trying to help out by coordinating the committee responsible for launching the site by December. So far we are not really sure if we can afford (through school funding) to purchase a domain and then buy hosting space on a web server. I hope to find this out first before getting too far into the "building" part of the site. The worst case scenario that I see is just putting up a few pages for free at a site like Still, it is nice to have some tasks to take on and get done.

With a web site being built my hope is to organize and grow an ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) club for the students on campus. In the dream world that I occupy there would be enough interest in the club to support an HTML boot camp where the students themselves would maintain the hypothetical web site that St. Francis operates. If that were the case, then when either my counterpart or I leave there will be people ready to train the next class on how to make updates to the site. Again, that is a bit ambitious. For the near-term the ICT Club would be there to allow those students who are interested in taking their understanding of computers and communications a bit further. The classes which I teach just get their feet wet in some software, but there is a ton to learn out there in the world of communications and this might be the right forum to see what interests the students and to give them what they want. Another possibility is to take this club and have them be a part of a dialogue with younger students back in the U.S. through the Coverdell World Wise School program. I am working with a teacher to try and create a bridge between the two classes demonstrating what it is like to live and learn in each culture. This might be a way to introduce video recording and editing to the students and a neat way to see how the other country does things. During the first week of classes here I am going to advertise the heck out of it (the ICT club) in the hopes of having a few sign up.

Most volunteers get involved in something outside of their main duties and up to now I really hadn't approached a secondary project. It could be for the best that I had some time to think about one and hear different ideas for projects which lead me to a previous volunteer's work directing a radio program in his community speaking about HIV and educating people about the disease. My own fear of speaking in public be damned, I went to the local radio station in town (we have two here) that is closest to St. Francis first and met a very receptive station manager. He was supportive of the idea and his warmth and smile made me realize that this wasn't going to be the fight that I was picturing to secure air time for such educational segments. He directed me to the program manager and I met the same positive response. I am taking some time to gather more information so that I can actually speak competently on the subject, but they were asking me about stopping by and giving some perspectives on life and the difference between Ghana and America. This sounds like goal number two in Peace Corps' mission statement to me, so I feel quite excited about it and very thankful that the radio station was open to it.

On a very small scale I have been lending my cartoon talents to the SWAT Malaria initiative sponsored by a few other PCVs here in Ghana. The illustration of a woman stabbing her little baby with a mosquito looks pretty good if I do say so myself. Each cartoon is meant to convey an idea that we are protecting ourselves from malaria by taking certain steps and the stabbing-a-baby picture is just a striking image to go along with that campaign. There are a few others to complete, but so far it seems to be working out. My hope is that the group sponsoring the campaign is all right with the drawings. My biggest challenge is to render in cartoon-form someone suffering diarrhea. That shall be high art.

There are a few other things that are going which may not be big deals but make me feel like I am getting some things done. St. Francis typically does the timetable for all of the teachers and students by hand, leaving one person to try and solve all the conflicts that arise when accounting for many many classes spread throughout the week. Now we have software at the lab that might be able to remove the tedious aspect of the work and get a schedule that won't have conflicts right from the very start. If it does not work, then... well, I am hoping that it works from the get-go. More personal goals involve struggling with the guitar, making small improvements on my Turkish with the help of a very understanding (and pretty) coach, and then a teacher workshop focused on giving everyone basic internet skills and using the machines in the lab.

Indeed, keeping busy and then some.