Posted by: mhirdyounger | September 12, 2014

The Value of Experiential Learning – Guestpost

Another guestpost from AgEx JF Aliya Lakhani who joined us from the University of Alberta chapter of EWB! 

I hear, and I forget

I see, and I remember

I do, and I understand.

—Ancient Chinese proverb

As a 5th year engineering student with only a few EWB meetings under my belt and no formal training in development theory, I was given the opportunity to work in Ghana for 3.5 months with EWB’s Junior Fellowship program. I was tasked with facilitating the restructuring of the Internal Attachment Program (IAP) at Ohawu Agricultural College (OAC), one of the 5 public agricultural colleges in Ghana. The IAP is a graduation requirement set out by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) that mandates that first year students spend 6 weeks gaining practical farming experience on campus. In previous years, students spent the first two weeks of the program working on the campus farms after which they paid laborers to maintain the farms. The colleges expressed an interest in modifying the existing program to better achieve the objectives set out by MoFA and this year adopted a structure resembling my co-op engineering program whereby students were placed in farming communities surrounding the college and get to experience the lifestyle of a Ghanaian farmer. At OAC, the students were placed with both medium size and large scale commercial farmers in rural Ghana for 16 days.

Over half of the Ohawu students were raised in urban areas and for most this was their first exposure to rural farming. They were faced with many of the same challenges that I faced as a Canadian working in Ghana: the language barrier, the need to quickly adapt to and navigate a new set of cultural norms, and being away from many amenities that had previously been taken for granted. While I was struggling to remember to eat only with my right hand, send out multiple reminder messages on the day of a meeting, and bucket bath, the students were learning community entry strategies and fetching water from boreholes in the morning. In our respective placements we were obvious outsiders whose presence was met with a mixture of apprehension and curiosity and whose purpose was always questioned and never fully understood. Our words and actions constantly filtered by the knowledge that we represented a much larger group: the students their college and me, AgEx and maybe even westerners as a whole; as a result there was an almost tangible pressure to have all the answers. Though there were many tough days, I was inspired by the growth that I saw in the first year OAC students over the course of the IAP as they overcame the challenges that they faced.

From my conversations with farmers, students, and lecturers I was convinced that the students gained much from the community stay portion of the Internal Attachment Program. Before the IAP many of the students perceived rural farmers to be uneducated, unintelligent, and lazy. Even on my first visit to the communities to see the students on the 4th day of their immersion it was evident that students were challenging their assumptions about rural farming livelihoods. And after working alongside a farmer for 16 days, not a single student still thought that farmers didn’t work hard. As their hosts exposed them to the day to day socio-economic, personal, and technical challenges of farming, the students gained understanding and empathy for the rural farming livelihood, a trait that is invaluable in an agriculture extensionist whose role it is to disseminate information and change the behaviors of farmers to improve their lives and decrease their vulnerability. Students gained the ability to innovate, think critically and problem solve as they searched for solutions to the problem with which they were presented while working in a resource constrained environment and often they were challenged to determine the root causes of the problem. Partnering with farmers through the problem solving process, students improved in their ability to communicate meaningfully with the farmers through language and cultural barriers. As students returned from their community stays and reflected on their experience, they were able to define aspects of the experience that they enjoyed and use this to provide clarity on the career path they will pursue upon graduation. Students built a diverse knowledge base and skill set during the course of the IAP that will serve them in agricultural entrepreneurship and extension.

It took until my return home for me to realize that I have taken away from my placement many of the same things that the IAP taught the students. Supervising the students during their community stay and talking to the host farmers I was directly exposed to the ramifications of some of the inherent flaws in global food systems, chiefly the distribution of profit in the value chain. On my village stay I was exposed to the vulnerability of rural farmers and the thought of my host family being affected by poor yields or illness motivates me to change this. I was also able to better understand the role of NGOs in Ghana’s agriculture sector, speaking to individuals who benefited from interventions and those who were negatively affected by them. Completely immersed in Ghanaian culture, I experienced and witnessed the struggles faced by Ghanaians, barriers to accomplishing their goals. Operating in an unfamiliar environment allowed me to gain confidence in my decisions and forced me to become adaptable and resilient. I learned how to work with cultural sensitivity and gained skills in cross-cultural communication. I found that my work entailed searching for and treating the root causes of problems and to address these problems with limited resources. Living in Ghana has challenged me to put curiosity before judgement, to ask questions and evaluate the validity of the assumptions behind the judgement. Just like the students staying with, working with, eating with and learning with farmers, the value of my own placement was in the opportunity to see, feel, hear, smell and to relate personally. To learn experientially.

Thanks Aliya for sharing! 

Posted by: mhirdyounger | September 8, 2014

Most Significant Change Stories – Internal Attachment Program 2014

To end off this series of posts detailing the Internal Attachment Program (a program that AgEx supported to increase agricultural students’ experiential learning with and from farmers), below are a series of Most Significant Change stories. These are stories of how individuals have been impacted by this program, what they have learned, skills they have built and how they have changed. Taken individually, these stories are inspiring. Taken together, they represent a broad change in the education and training provided by Ghana’s agricultural colleges.

Stories from Students 

Christina, Student, Ohawu Agricultural College (OAC)

“The program is a really good opportunity to learn about farming techniques that are used in other parts of Ghana. Working with the farmer I saw how to sow watermelon for the first time. On campus, we do weeding and it is boring, but out in the communities we are learning so much the work is so interesting. I work hard because I want to be a pig farmer. When I get my allowance I am going to use it to start a business. Where I am from in the North, many people will buy the pigs. Even though the farmer I was with was only planting watermelon, he took us around and showed us mangos, pineapples, and the piggery. He saw that we were eager to learn so he gave us many opportunities to experience new things. Even just living with the community was so interesting. When we watched them cook and saw the children playing together outside we knew that we were in a completely different place. Next year I will tell the first year students who are working with farmers to comport themselves and enjoy their time in the communities because it was so interesting to learn all that I did.”

Bishop, Student, Kwadaso Agricultural College (KAC)

“I have learned a lot about prioritizing problems, now I can prioritize a lot of problems. And also going into our villages around Kumasi, I personally went with my group to Asombo. I learned a lot about personal relationships between farmers and different people. Now I can relate to different people. I also learned about different cultures.”

Andrews, Student, OAC  

“The farmer we were attached to was there on the field with us most of the time and he became a friend to us. He always made himself available to answer questions. If he didn’t know it already, he would call someone and ask. He taught us so much, I never realized what goes into farming. This was the first time I had ever seen an onion seed. I learned how to plant, nurse, transplant and take care of the plant. I could easily grow my own now. I am not from a farming area but I am inspired to getting a small garden so I can practice what our farmer taught us. When I told him of this plan, he told me that he is always available to answer question and help me. He even said that he will provide me with seedlings. I want to start my farm and I learned things that will help me do this that cannot be taught in the classroom. For example I never knew that finding labor was so difficult. I think that we created a social relationship with the farmer, but also with the community. After my work was done I would spend time learning Ewe from anyone who was willing to teach me. For me, it is clear that the program allowed students to gain so much practical experience and created stronger relationships between the communities and the college.”

Stories from Communities

Farmer from Apimamim Community, KAC Program

“In the first place, a link has been created between the college and our farming community.  They have come to expose and explain our farming problems and with them we have been able to find a solution to [the problems].”

Togbe, Farmer, Avalavega Community, OAC Program

“I am a rice farmer and the chief of the village of Avalavega. I had a boy called Emmanuel come to me for the attachment program. The first day, we went to the farm together and the water was so high. I asked him, “have you seen anything like this before” and the boy said no. I told the boy to come sit on the platform in the rice fields. He didn’t want to go so I went up. He soon joined me. We sat there and I told him that we have problems scaring the birds away. I showed him my sling shot and told him that someone has to sit here day and night to scare off the birds so they don’t eat the rice. He asked for the sling shot. I told him to go make his own. This is practical work. This is the point of a practical attachment. Soon enough he was sitting on the platform with me using the slingshot he made to scare away the birds. He asked me, when do we go home? I told him that we have to stay here all night to scare the birds away. Emmanuel asked me,  ‘what do you do if you are sick and can’t stay here all night?’ I told him that in that case the birds eat our crops, this is our problem and I tasked him with solving it. Anyone who solves problems and endeavours to solve them is valuable. Their age, education level, background don’t matter. Everyone can learn from others.”

Agboada Joseph, Farmer, OAC Program

“I didn’t want to come today but I thought about the students and the hard work they put into their time with the farmers and in putting together this presentation day and I came. I am happy that I did. I remember in my time at university there weren’t any practical attachments for us. I was fortunate to be the son of a farmer so I knew what it was like to farm in the field. Somewhere along the line I realized that you just need to see and do things for yourself to get it. These students are our next generation of farmers. This program is a novelty and a success. Sometimes what is in the book is not the most correct. We know from experience that what we do gives better yields. Students getting this hands- on knowledge that is the value of the program.”

 Stories from College Staff

Albert Tagoe, Lectuer, OAC 

“The farmer based student internal attachment program was a success overall. There were some challenges but we learned from them and will be able to improve the program for the next year. The students gained a lot of perspective about how farming really is. At the beginning of the program some of the students were complaining to me about going to a small community. For a lot of them it was their first exposure to farming and their first time living in a small community. By the end of their stay with the farmers they were asking to stay there for the remainder of the attachment period. They really enjoyed themselves. For some of them it changed their attitudes towards farming completely. They realized that farming can be profitable and that they could start their own agribusiness and succeed at it.”

Alhaji Musah, Administrator, KAC

“The involvement of EWB in the practical attachment really encouraged the students to see non-Ghanaian nationals taking interest in farmers and it motivated students. The students who did the practical attachment, without doubt, will be a better group of agriculturalists. We’ve talked to them and we see that they are quite different.”

 Ernest Afenyo, Lecturer, KAC

“I think it’s obvious that all the lecturers are very appreciative of the new things that are happening here, like the practical attachment program. I think that the students are also being encouraged to bring out their own potential more now. All along we’ve thought ‘how much can students actually do? What do they actually know?’ Now we are realizing students have a lot of talents and abilities that we weren’t aware of. Some of them did such a good job on their presentations. Some lecturers even commented that the students were presenting during the I.A. in ways that are better than the lecturers themselves! This has really helped bring out students abilities and helps them become more motivated and they are starting to see themselves more as stakeholders and less as vessels for the lecturers to just pour information into. Lecturers know that they now have to be on their toes and be current. They are more motivated to stay more up to date in their own knowledge with this push for more innovation.”

To learn more about the Internal Attachment Program, see this post. To see a JF’s story of his experience supporting this program see here and for a great photo see here.

Posted by: mhirdyounger | September 6, 2014

Internal Attachment Program in a Photo


601140_10151575751501972_1249873644_nThey say a photo is worth a thousand words.

Today’s guestpost is from JF Sarah Saroop who joined AgEx from the EWB University of Ottawa chapter.  She supported the piloting of the Internal Attachment Program at both Damongo Agricultural College and Animal Health and Production College, which enabled agricultural college students to do community placements with farmers for strengthened experiential learning. Her photo and caption below were featured in the FSN Weekly Newsletter.  


DAC Community Presentation (1)


Description: As a part of the Internal Attachment Program, Damongo Agricultural College students are embedded in the communities in the West Gonja Region to identify agricultural problems farmers face. After determining appropriate solutions, students return to their host communities, share their knowledge and practice their extension skills. In this photo a student uses technology to illustrate the identified problem and solution to the community’s chief.

Also see guestposts from AgEx JFs Mark Eskandar and Millicent Maaleeku. See here for more info on the Internal Attachment Program and here for stories of the program’s impact.

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