Join us on our faith journey as we follow Jesus to Ghana, West Africa!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

December 2011 Newsletter Released

Mary Kay writes:

After several late nights at the computer, our next newsletter is finished and will be going out via e-mail, or you can read it at the last link.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

GE, meet Ashesi. Ashesi, meet GE.

Charlie writes:

On Tuesday, December 13, Ashesi celebrated a new partnership. The General Electric company, a world-wide conglomerate with 300,000 employees, arrived with three managers and three recent Ashesi alumni who have worked at the company for less than two years, to kick-off the relationship (there are only 24 GE employees in Ghana).

Mr. Abu Sulemana is GE's new Africa CIO. Abu, a tall, poised, and handsome gentleman, was raised in Ghana, educated at KNUST (first class in Civil Engineering), later earning an MBA in the UK. Moving to the US, he worked with Amersham Health, which was acquired by GE in 2004. Mr Sulemana had just moved from Princeton, New Jersey the night before, planning to live and work out of Accra. He offered to teach on project management at Ashesi, claiming he had some wonderful stories about IT projects around the world he had managed.

Mr Patrick Awuah, founder and president of Ashesi University College had spoken at a GE training event near Washington, DC, triggering Mr. Sulemana's interest in the college. Some visits later, GE's HR organization determined that Ashesi met the criteria for becoming an "Executive School," a list that includes over 45 US colleges the likes of Boston College, Boston University, Bucknell University, Clarkson University, Clemson University, University of Connecticut, Cornell University, University of Dayton, University of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of Michigan, Northeastern University, University of Puerto Rico, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Syracuse University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Case Western Reserve University, University of Cincinnati, University of Illinois, Indiana University, University of Miami, University of Notre Dame, Pennsylvania State, Purdue University, University of Wisconsin, Stanford University, University of California-Berkeley, Duke University, University of Florida, Georgia Tech, University of Maryland, Michigan State, North Carolina A&T, North Carolina State, Ohio State, Prairie View A&M University, Texas A&M, University of Texas, Tuskegee University and Virginia Tech. According to the University of Dayton, nearly 70% of GE interns and college hires come from this small list of schools.

Mr Kunle Olaifa, GE Africa's HR executive, defined the goals of the designation as a strategic university partner. Ashesi becomes the second such college on the continent, along with Strathmore College in Kenya. These schools are willing to work with GE and will see GE investing corporate & business resources to proactively build a sustainable employment brand, recruit & measure results. We were pleased to hear the comment that Ashesi hires had some of the "best ROI" of their African recruiting campaign to date.

One of the reasons Ashesi came to GE's attention was its focus on ethical leadership. Key qualifications included academic excellence & GE cultural fit, and the gender balance at Ashesi. GE also applauded Ashesi's goal of drawing students from a broader geographic area, an initiative supported by the Master Card Foundation.

What was most encouraging to me was the realization by GE that finding bright people in Africa is not particularly hard, but that GE's "DNA" of integrity is trickier. One of the alumni hires admitted that her experience at Ashesi exposed her to a community that expected ethical behavior, making it easier for her to "fit in" at GE. All in all, it made for a very encouraging morning.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Thanksgiving - Considering Africa's "Middle Class"

Charlie writes:

This had to be the strangest Thanksgiving for me in many years. Both Mary Kay and I worked, since it is not a Ghanaian holiday. Ken and Mary Kay joined friends at the home of other friends for a turkey dinner (including the requisite dressing and sauerkraut). By the time I arrived after the daily bumpy ride down off the mountain at 7:15pm, the only food left was pizza (well, I did get some pumpkin pie and dressing, too).

Lest I throw myself a pity party, Lloyd Amoah, one of my co-workers at Ashesi, sent along a link to the following report by the African Development Bank. The report, while many months old, shocked me with the idea that "middle class" for Africa includes those who make more than USD 2 per day, and making over USD 10 per day puts you in the "upper class." When I consider that I spend more than the lower amount on lunch each day, it puts my complaints in perspective!

Yet, the claim by AfDB is that incomes rising into that range have a large number of positive impacts on governance and lifestyle. People with something to lose tend to me more concerned about the government protecting them from abuse or theft. They also begin to save, and consider investing in their children's education. Birth rates go down. Health improves. And Africa has been moving in that direction.

There is still far to go. Last week, Lloyd also forwarded the text of an address that Kwaku Sakyi-Addo, the entering CEO of the Ghana Chamber of Telecoms made at their recent inaugural meeting. As he fussed Telecoms is no Tobacco Industry before the National Communications Authority, which had just fined all the mobile operators big bucks for "poor service quality," he stuck a nerve for all of us up at Ashesi. He commented:

Chairman, there are external factors peculiar to our third world environment, and over which mobile operators have little or no control, but which impact the quality of service; factors that you will not find in the First World.


Power outages and diesel thefts also prevent base stations from functioning without undue interruption. It’s extremely unlikely that you’ll run into a man on the M1 in the UK or along the autobahn near Berlin trying to peddle diesel by the gallon to passing motorists.

This lack of infrastructure and the costs to private operations for services that are taken for granted in the US have concentrated our minds out in Berekuso. At the recent "Town Hall Meeting," Patrick expressed his frustration at the huge expenses that Ashesi is now incurring because of roads, electricity, and water. Most of the staff refuse to drive to the campus for fear of ruining their vehicles, and the entire campus has been afflicted with over-voltage and blackout-induced failures, including the destruction of the pump that provides us with drinking water from our private borehole. This last week, the University elected to run the Administration block off diesel backup after measuring voltages from 100 to 400 volts on a nominally 220 volt system. And he announced that the school has had to pay 4500 GHS (about USD 3000) to have water trucked up the hill for sanitation over a two week period. This is a huge burden when you are trying to run a "first world" operation in a "third world" context. And to juxtapose these charges with the idea that a "middle income" begins at $2/day, which would represent working "four years" to pay for two our last two week's worth of water...

I'm just pleased to be working with folks that are trying to do their best in this environment.

But even more so, that God sent his Son to be born in barn and laid in a feeding trough!

Have a Merry Christmas

Philippians 2:5-11 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"Dead Aid"

Charlie writes: I've been reading a book that I had seen
in Schiphol airport on the way back from The Mission Society's
eastern hemisphere meeting. The author, Dambisa Moyo, is an
economist who was born in Zambia, but then schooled in the
USA and UK, later working for the World Bank and Goldman
Sachs. Her thesis is that the reason Sub-saharan Africa
has floundered for the past fifty years is the trillion
dollars that the World Bank and developed nations have
dumped on them. The insidious unintended consequences of
aid (dependency, corruption, opacity, etc.) have left
those countries in worse shape than they were before the
aid began.

The excerpt below really rung true for me this week:

Although Africa is at the centre of the universe in the
area-accurate Peters Projection Map (occupying a much-coveted
proximity to the industrialized hubs of Europe and America),
it takes way too long to transport goods on its
nonnavigable rivers, impassable bridges, and pot-holed roads.
Besides, to state the obvious, no profit-seeking company can
afford to bet on Africa's unreliable power and erratic
telecommunications as the source of its manufactured
inputs. Of course, were Africa's dire infrastructure predicament
remedied, its chance for higher-valued trade (thereby distancing
itself from the tag of commodity exporter) could dramatically

as Ashesi struggled today with limited electricity. There
were a series of strong rains yesterday, and the power was
coming on and off all afternoon. Apparently, the circuitry
connecting the four backup diesel generators to the property's
circuits require that fuses be physically removed to isolate
the generators from the mains. During the repeated ons
and offs something was ''spoilt'' on three of the four.

Since starting at Ashesi, I've really begun to depend on
Courseware, the Moodle-based LMS (Learning Management System).
It enables me to set and collect all the assignments as well
as posting all the lecture slides which Ashesi is trying to put
out there so that Google and webometrics will find them and
credit Ashesi with a variety of learning resources. Of course,
if the electricity is out, the server (and the phones, printers,
canteen cash register, projectors) will also be out. I lectured
using my laptop on battery to review my slides, but had to
do a lot more writing on the board than I typically would have.
And we resorted to ''sneaker-net'' to distribute Assignment 7 on
a pen-drive to all the student laptops.

Tonight, I was able to log on from Cantonments, so apparently
the lights must have come back on!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sub-Saharan African Economics

Charlie writes...

Today at Ashesi, Dr. Augustin Fosu, who is deputy director of the UN WIDER (World Institute for Development Economics Research) center in Finland, delivered a lecture on the topic of how Sub-Saharan African economies have fared during the credit crunch and ensuing bad times around the world. The story was actually rather encouraging.

Apparently, since the mid 1990's, the GDP (and to a lesser extend, GDP per capita) for Sub-Saharan countries have moved upward at a rate nearly equal to those of the Asian Tigers and BRIC countries. Even during the credit crunch and trade shocks following those events, their economies did not dip as deeply, and even seem to have been more resilient to the dip, recovering more rapidly than other countries. Ghana, in particular is really heating up, as a Ghanaian in the diaspora mentioned here, it has been reported the fasting growing economy in the world this year!

As an expert in econometrics and the data collected by the UN and World Bank, Dr. Fosu had published articles in refereed journals noting that this improvement seems to be coincident with a blossoming of democracy across the continent. If countries are able to navigate the change from autocracy to democracy without descending into chaos (which he admits has happened in several countries), they become more appealing to FDI (Foreign Direct Investment). In early, destitute conditions, external aid is vital, but many of the countries in SSA are now moving beyond such overwhelming reliance on outside help, and are growing well.

Also encouraging is the observation that finally, it seems like this rising tide is starting to float more boats. The reduction in abject poverty is becoming noticeable in many countries, including Ghana.

He cautioned that the distortions of the oil boom and gold price increases might not be managed well for the further support of the poor in Ghana, but was encouraged upon visiting here (he will be a visiting scholar at University of Ghana, Legon this year) to hear debates in parliament about the use of oil revenues. Transparency will likely be an important issue.

When asked about how such money should be spent, he admitted that the strict "savings only" approach used by Norway would not be appropriate in Ghana, as there were still major development challenges needing funding. As it seems everyone who visits Ashesi remarks, he highlighted an improved transportation network. The US Ambassador had mentioned he felt like "fufu" on his way up the mountain, and I have already reported on the bone-jarring trip the Ashesi staff endure twice a day.

Today, I noticed on the way out that the first sandy place which had been absolutely awful in the morning had been smoothed out and filled with more sand this evening. Why sand is used still escapes me, after tonight's rain/dew the place will likely be back to the prior condition. There is also some work being done on the crater pictured at the head of this post.

23 Be sure you know the condition of your flocks,
give careful attention to your herds;
24 for riches do not endure forever,
and a crown is not secure for all generations.
25 When the hay is removed and new growth appears
and the grass from the hills is gathered in,
26 the lambs will provide you with clothing,
and the goats with the price of a field.
27 You will have plenty of goats’ milk to feed your family
and to nourish your female servants.
from Proverbs 27 (NIV)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A New Beginning - Ashesi University

Charlie writes...

This Monday was my first day at Ashesi University. After five years at Methodist University, I was ready for a change, and the Ashesi approach to private tertiary education in Ghana was and is compelling.

Ashesi, which means "Beginning" in the Akan language, was founded in 2005. Next week, students will be joining us on a brand new campus in Berekuso, atop a hill overlooking Accra. As you can see from the photos at the last link, the facilities are in a lush, somewhat cooler climate than the lower elevations. The first phase of construction has the library at the highest point, with three other wings containing faculty offices, administration, and classrooms. Adjoining the Founder's Quad is the dining area. The hostels (dorms) which will house 60 male and 240 female students, (out of this year's expected population of 500 students) are below that. The rest of the students will be renting space elsewhere and commuting.

WAEC (West Africa Exams Council) has delayed the testing and reporting of WASSCE (West Africa Senior Secondary School Certification Exams, the analog of SATs in the USA) results this year. Thus, Ashesi's admission decisions will be delayed and our first year students will not be coming to the campus until October 24.

I am glad to be in an office with a window out onto the central courtyard, with windows that open on two sides for ventilation. So far, I have not turned on the air conditioning, but all the rooms are so equipped. They were able to provision computer and email on my first day, impressive!

Alex Inkoom, the HR Manager had organized a two-day program to orient new staff. We heard from the founder, the dean of students, academic dean, facilities manager, librarian, nurse, as well as the career services and IT directors. We also saw a quick run-through of Ashesi's computerized LMS (Learning Management System), called FOCUS. It is based upon Moodle, which I had already used.

I was inspired by the founder's address, which outlined the mission and some of the strategic decisions that have been made recently. It was refreshing to hear that Ashesi will not copy the recent explosive growth in size of both public and other private university colleges. Knowing that a school of 500 to 2000 students is an entirely different place than one of 5000 or 10,000 is important. The impact on the students can be significant in a smaller school, as I have been reading in the book "Colleges That Change Lives" by Loren Pope. With any luck, the new campus will greatly increase the number of candidates applying for admission. Coupled with a limited population, this could mean a student body with fewer students from the lower half of their high schools.

This term I will be teaching Quantitative Methods. Fortunately, the content is rather similar to a combination of the statistics and Operations Research classes I have been teaching at MUCG. Also, I share an office with Andrew Nunekpeku, who has taught the class before, and who will be teaching the other section. Still, starting on Monday will be a challenge to my organizational skills.

Much of the staff is riding Ashesi's GET (Ghana Education Trust) Fund-supplied bus back and forth to work, which is a good thing since the road to Berekuso from Kwabenya looks like a minefield. Ken says the video looks like an amusement park ride! In one section, half the road has completely washed away. Mary Kay has been dropping me off at 6:40 a.m. and picking me up at 6:45 p.m. from the former campus, which will be the first stop for the bus until Ashesi establishes a smaller satellite office in Accra somewhere for admissions processing after the new year.

Thursday, the IP telephones were labeled and plugged in, and the network engineer was programming the main switch. He trained us on how to use the new phones this afternoon.

At lunch Thursday, a fourth-year student working on a research project with the dean asked me what brought me to Ghana. He was a bit surprised when I answered "God did," but was interested in hearing about The Jackson Journey.

Lamentations 3:22-23 Because of the LORD's great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Light of the World

Mary Kay writes…

Easter Saturday was a Red Letter Day for the village of Fawomanye near the coast of Ghana between Winneba and Cape Coast.

My first interaction with Fawomanye was in the fall of 2007. I went there at the behest of friends from Arizona State University to assess their water situation and determine whether or not the village water supply was suitable for treatment using ceramic pot filters. I journeyed out with my test kit to take measurements of turbidity (off the charts), bacteriological contamination (yes!), and other potential contaminants (not really). I was watched with close scrutiny as I took water samples, mixed in reagents, used test strips, etc. I met under the fig tree with the chief and elders to discuss the potential project and ascertain their level of interest.

The village elders were impressed with my scientific props (in restrospect, this must often look like alchemy to villagers). And they were interested in the promise of help in treating their water supply. The village did have one borehole, but the pump was broken, and they were not really interested in fixing it, as the water was too salty to drink anyway. They did use the water to make cement/mud blocks for building, but they could use the nearby pond, which was currently their source of drinking water, for that, too. But at the end of the day, the oldest man in the village engaged me in a long discussion of what the village really needed – electricity. All of this was in Twi, so I probably only got every third or fourth word, but as there is no word for electricity in the local language, I did get the gist of the subject. He was pointing toward the high-voltage transmission lines that could be seen in the distance and was asking why, if power was so close, they couldn’t have it. And could I help?

Now, I am a Water Engineer. I did take one Electrical Engineering class in college, but only because I had to. All I could think of was to say (in my halting Twi), “Yε bisa Nyame.” (We will ask God.) I left thinking that they were a bit ungrateful not to be more thankful for my water help, and what could I do about electricity anyway? But I guess it never hurts to ask!

Now 4 years later, in the strange ways often ordained by God, they have electricity. My generous friends at ASU and Desert Cross Lutheran Church have raised the money to purchase power poles, street lamps, and to subsidize the electrical wiring of homes. I have joined local delegations to visit the Ministry of Energy and the Electricity Company of Ghana to advocate for their service. It has been a long and sometimes frustrating journey, but sometime this week, the lights will come on for the first time!

But the more exciting part for me was to be able to testify to the village about God’s glory on Saturday. As we once again gathered under the fig tree in the center of the village, I gave thanks to God for the provision of electricity. But I also reminded the village that Jesus is the Light of the World, and that if we follow Him, we will no longer walk in spiritual darkness (John 8:12). Furthermore, if we are following Jesus, we are called in turn to be light to those in darkness around us (Matthew 5:14-16). So I asked the villagers to see their new-found electricity as a reminder that they are to be light to those around them to the glory of God.

May the people of Fawomanye and I never forget that we are called to be Christ's light in a dark world!

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12, NIV)

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16, NIV)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Easter Lamb (and Goat, too!)

Charlie writes,

During a recent trip north, Mary Kay was presented with two animals by the chief in Sekote. A partner church in the USA had sent funds to construct a new secondary vocational school there, and he wanted to express his appreciation for the gift. To reject the animals or even offer them to hungry local people would not have been honourable. So she arranged for the animals to be parked at the local pastor's place, and then ferried back to Accra on the deadhead return of a Pure Home Water supply run. For those of you who did not grow up around animals (like me), you can tell the sheep from the goats by which way the tails stand (tails up, like the white goat to the left, tails down, like the brown sheep on the right). Since she was up in Tamale when the cute animals arrived at the house, she texted me to deal with the situation.

Mary Kay suggested I just take the animals to the local butcher, which in retrospect would have been best, but our day security man said he knew a local butcher who did housecalls. So on Wednesday, he came over with the torch and the two of them butchered the sheep and the goat for us. After slitting the throats, the next step is to burn the fur off. In the north, they would just throw the carcass into the fire, but here in Accra, you use a flame thrower that hooks into the LP gas tank we use for the stove. The smell is quite strong, but it is much easier and faster than trying to shave the fur off.

The heat doesn't help the smell of slaughtering - I can see why they waited until winter to butcher hogs on "Little House on the Prairie". Fortunately we did not have to smear the blood on our door jamb and lintel as we are already covered in the blood of the Lamb! Thank goodness we don't have to practice ritual animal sacrifice anymore!

Then, the hide is washed with Key soap and water. The results are then cut with a sharp knife into various pieces, including ribs, legs, and neck. I washed the pieces a second time in the sink, then sealed them in ziplock bags before loading them in the deep freeze.

Should have double-bagged, as more blood leaked out of some of the bags, and Mary Kay and I had to spend an hour emptying the deep freeze and washing all the other bags which had frozen blood over them, tossing food which had been spoiled by contamination by the blood. Also had to defrost and chlorox the deep freeze. Then, the electric phase powering the deep freeze went out, so we had to crank the generator to get the meat frozen.

Not sure what we will do with the meat, which all still has hide attached, but that will be an adventure after Easter. We'll be sharing a treasured ham, brought from the US and NOT butchered by us, with Michael and Darrell when they spend Easter evening with us before traveling on to Kumasi for their missionary mobilization conference. Have a blessed Easter!