Part of the JF program is to go and live in a village for an extended period of time and do what we do best... learn.  I spent the the last week in the village of Zakoli staying with the family of Alhassan Alhassan.  He is a successful seed grower and one of the biggest farmers in the Yendi district, with about 70 or 80 acres of land and his very own tractor.  His brother, Swali, and his two sons, Muhammed and Abukari, do most of the work, and he hires Konkombas* from down the road to supplement his family workforce. 

Alhassan and his workers in his field of maize (Alhassan is on the left).

Muhammed taking a break from sowing rice.

Zakoli could best be described as a village on the fringes of development.  The main road, which connects Yendi to another major centre called Saboba, passes about two miles north of the village proper.  However, most of the people have moved closer to the road to take advantage of the new infrastructure.  When I went to visit "old" Zakoli I found it largely abandoned.  Crops of maize are planted in between delapitated huts and compounds.  There is still a functioning borehole and school, as well as plenty of arable land, but people only come to briefly use these resources and no one stays for long.

"New" Zakoli is littered with dormant road construction vehicles; bulldozers, fuel trucks, and front end loaders.  Contractors are currently in the process of maintaining the road, but I did not see them in action during my visit.  I asked Muhammed why they are not being used and he tells me that they ran out of diesel.  Someone was sent into town to buy more.  That was five days ago.  The sheer lack of urgency or surprise is a clear indicator that I am indeed living in Ghana.

Most of my time in Zakoli was spent helping out on the farm.  I spent two days helping a group of Konkomba girls apply fertilizer and sow maize and rice.  Bilingye, Nemon, Gmajeban, Niangbejae, Lamisae and their friends are from the village of Nyombulginae and are employed by Alhassan in the rainy season.  They are between the ages of 11 and 14 and not attending school, likely due to lack of money.  (Although primary school is free, there are other costs such as transportation, uniforms and books, as well as the opportunity cost involved with having employable children).  The future holds very little promise for them as many girls in the area often marry young with little education and begin having children over frequently.

Alhassan, his two sons, the Konkomba girls, and me.

Bilingye, Nemon, Gmajeban, Niangbejae, and Lamisae

Talking with my little sister in Canada, I am shocked by the stark contrast between the summer of a Canadian teenage girl and the group of Konkomba teenage girls.  My little sister has recently finished grade 9, and is occupying her summer time by doing what most Canadian teenage girls do, hanging out with friends.  She is also attending science camps and improv camps, as well as doing chores around the house.  Her mind is preoccupied by the future of her schooling and what electives to take; Home Economics or Art?  Drama or Industrial Arts?  Should she take a spare?  Next year holds Science, Math, English, and Social Studies at the very least.

Although poverty is often reduced to the quantitative and numerical efficiency of incomes, I feel that this situation is more clearly defined in the realm of opportunity.  A typical Canadian girl has far more opportunities to choose from and take advantage of than the typical Konkomba girl or rural Ghanaian girls in general.  The Konkomba girls' lack of education is an extreme detriment to their future choices and opportunities. 

Is opportunity something that development should focus on?  If so, what is the best way to improve the opportunities that these girls can take advantage of?  Should development subscribe to economics and wait for opportunity to "trickle down"?  What about rights and freedoms?  Perhaps an even bigger question... how long will these girls have to wait before they significantly benefit from development?

*The Yendi District has two main tribes, the Konkombas and the Dagombas.  Yendi, the city, is mostly occupied by Dagombas, while the surrounding villages are a combination of Konkombas and Dagombas.