Posted by: mhirdyounger | September 5, 2014

Piloting within the Colleges – A JF Experience

IMG-20140623-WA0001Earlier this week, we had a guestpost from Junior Fellow Millicent with her perspective on the problem of the ‘hidden effects’ of agrochemicals on farmers. Today, we have a guest post from Mark Eskandar! Mark joined AgEx from the EWB Ryerson chapter out of Toronto. He shares his experience working with Damongo Agricultural College on piloting the Internal Attachment Program, a program that got students to learn with and from farmers in their local communities. 

This is from Mark:

The Internal Attachment Program

Ghana has 5 public agricultural colleges.  Most of the time I spent in Ghana was at one of these colleges, Damongo Agricultural College (Dagrico).  EWB was invited at Dagrico to help initiate and facilitate changes to a key program that the college runs in the summer after the first year students have completed their winter semester exams, the Internal Attachment program (IAP).

The IAP addresses a need for students to complement their theory heavy first year with a hands-on learning style. As you can imagine, experiential learning can frequently be of more value in agriculture than textbooks. The IAP sounds like a great way of getting the students to actually learn how to farm and identify real-life agriculture problems..

The proposed change to the program that I was supporting at Dagrico was to incorporate a community stay within the 6 week practically-focused program. This change was first initiated the previous year at another agriculture college. Seeing the relative success of this community stay portion of the IAP at Kwadaso Agricultural College, Dagrico decided to try it out.

My First Day 

Going into the first planning committee meeting the second day I was at the college, it was very clear I was new to the environment and line of work. After around 15 minutes, all the committee members had arrived and were eagerly waiting to see what the new kid had to say. I opened my laptop, reviewed my notes and was just about to start writing my main meeting objectives on the white board behind me. I looked at my meeting notes again and realized that they said everything I wanted to say, but not in an appropriate tone. My notes read like a how-to manual of how I perceived the IAP should look. Once I looked up at the room full of lecturers and experienced administrators, I realized that this isn’t my home, this isn’t my school, this isn’t my program—it is and should be theirs. My paragraph long objectives now became one word topics of discussion. Being in that meeting really helped me put into perspective how big of a system I was working in and what my role is.

The Program at Damongo Agricultural College

The general objectives of the IAP turned out to be fairly similar to Kwadaso’s from a year before. The main goal of the community stay was to allow the students to actually live with farmers and develop a better understanding of their work, livelihood, and challenges. The hope for this was that the students would develop more empathy for farmers and not trivialize their significance.  The students were tasked with determining one major problem the farmers were facing and develop a solution to this problem with the aid of a lecturer.

The Learning From My Side

To be honest, I didn’t find the work itself that challenging. I enjoyed the liberty to facilitate the program as I saw fit and the ability to back track and right my own mistakes. Although the work wasn’t challenging, adapting to be productive in a new system was. When someone would make a suggestion or a comment, it was seldom superficial. A passing comment, such as “Oh Mark, you are very confident today” can be interpreted as, “you pushed too hard in the meeting today, next time be more open”.  I’d say the hardest part for me was sifting through all the different opinions of different stakeholders and ensuring that we included everyone’s perspectives in a thoughtful and respectful way.

In The End

I’d say overall I am pleased with how the community stay portion of the IAP actually happened. By no means was it perfect, but hey, neither was I! I was really proud to engage in discussions after the first batch of students came back about their findings and their changed opinions of farmers.  Hearing students say to me, “Oh Mr. Mark! We will suffer with the farmers. We beg, do not send us there!”  before the community stay  and  “Mr. Mark! Please when will we go to visit the community again?” after it helped me see the value in the program and give my summer a sense of worth.

I can’t say that I came back to Canada a different person, but I did come back a more informed person on the workings and significance of the backbone of society, agriculture.

Thanks Mark for sharing your perspective and experience! Also see guestposts from AgEx JFs Millicent Maaleeku and Sarah Saroop. See here for more on the Internal Attachment Program and here for stories of the program’s impact. 

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Responses

  1. […] see guestposts from AgEx JFs Mark Eskandar and Millicent […]

  2. […] Millicent for sharing! Also see guestposts from AgEx JFs Mark Eskandar and Sarah […]

  3. […] Program, see this post. To see a JF’s story of his experience supporting this program see here and for a great photo see […]

  4. […] more about our work at the colleges, check this out.  For a JF experience working on this program see here, and for a great photo click here. To read stories of the program’s impact, make sure to […]


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