#CITITRENDS S04 EP 23: MAde in Kumasi: Skills Development, Innovation and Knowledge Sharing with Yaw Adu-Gyamfi

Show Promos-8There has been a lot of chatter from the Ashanti Regional capital of Kumasi.

Chatter that centres on technology and growth and innovation.

There has also been a lot of chatter regarding the difficulties that technology entrepreneurs face. There has been a lot of conversation about how some of those problems can be solved.

Yaw Adu-Gyamfi is a co-founder of Centre for Social Innovations (CSI) and a man with extensive experience working directly with communities and young people, focusing on skills development, innovation and entrepreneurship.

He also coauthored a research paper titled: SKILLS DEVELOPMENT, KNOWLEDGE AND INNOVATION AT SUAME MAGAZINE, KUMASI. 

He joined me to share insights from the research paper and much more.

Enjoy.

 

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Of Idiots and Sentimental Fanatics: I am alone

Find an escape

Find an escape

There is a loneliness that is felt beyond the deepest places of your person. A loneliness that plays tricks on your mind and leaves you wondering… guessing… imagining… It is a loneliness i have felt for days.

It refuses to leave me. Let me be. Let me dream. Let me live in peace.

Hi, i am Nigel.

I know it has been a while. I have been busy. I got a new job.

Deal with it.

This loneliness i speak of, maybe you have felt it too. It is the sort you feel when surrounded by dozens yet feel for none. The sort where the sight of your words pouring out onto your keyboard appear more fulfilling than the groaning of lover long lost. It is the sort of loneliness that eats at me.

Everyday.

I feel alone. Weird i should say that. As though there was a marked difference between being lonely and feeling alone. Is there? I believe there is. There should be. I refuse to accept that i alone feel this.

I feel alone. I say it again… for effect.

I feel like too many people to so many people and almost no one to myself. I feel lost within myself and yet find myself come alive upon the prompting of another. I feel like the spoon lying next to the saucer after the stir. I feel like the carrot underneath the snow when snowman comes tumbling. I feel like the illuminated ‘no smoking’ sign when the lights in the plane go off.

Like i said, i feel alone.

It is a feeling long since nurtured within myself. I remember in my undergraduate years as i sat before a lady professing her admiration for my warm heart. She was attempting to counsel me. I felt for her.

I had been forced to speak to someone because of ‘the way i was’.

How was i? I wonder.

Doesn’t matter.

I spoke to her. It felt weird. On one hand, i knew what i was doing to her. She required me to provide commentary on her seeming random questions. Once i obliged, she will light up like the daughter of the morning sun and propose further lines of argument to which i will be expected to provide some more commentary. This, i believed, was to cause an illumination of my true purpose thereby set me on the path of eternal enlightenment.

Or some other rubbish hocus pocus like that.

Being alone sucks... a whole lot

Being alone sucks… a whole lot

On the other hand, i badly needed someone to get to the bottom of my unending desire to be accepted as i was. Every soul knew me differently. Same name though, but just different.  I spoke in measured tones to some and in loud and cheering voice to others. I slapped some on the back and gently caressed the hands of others. I ate like a king around some and yet scrambled for crumbs with others.

How was i going to explain this to her without coming across like a complete loon?

So i did not.

I sought in her questions prompts and studied her with caution for visual cues. I paid closer attention to her mannerisms than the spirit of what she spoke. i gave here the answers she sought and she gave me the all-clear i required.

The thing is from time to time i connect with individuals who get to the heart of me. It did not happen with her. I think i have spent too much time trying to get to know people and being what they want me to be to the point that i have forgotten the joy of being me.

Scratch that. I have forgotten how to be me. Whether there was ever a me, i am not sure.

Yet, i remember how years long gone i will find delight in the thought of waking up alone in a home far away. Removed from the craziness of the day and engulfed by the richness of the now. I dreamt of the day when my silence in the art of the spoken will not be a hindrance to the revelations from my written ones.

Rubbish.

No one gets that bag of tosh. No one wants to be with someone whose dream of a life is that of a wandering hermit. No one wants a life with anyone with that sort of life. So now i dream of my life and live out that of another.

Like i said, I feel alone.

Get your bearings right

Support comes in all shapes and sizes.  Photo Credit: Rumela Basu

Support comes in all shapes and sizes.
Photo Credit: Rumela Basu

It was in the Kervan Palace Turkish Restaurant in downtown Glasgow that I realized how lost a man (or woman) could get. I realized just how easy it was for people to get so enveloped in their ‘issues’ that they tended to neglect the world around them. They did not see that the elements of the universe just kept going on and on and on despite their woes.

Damn the universe!

Can you not see that a man is suffering? Can you not see that losing his girlfriend to his best pal and missing the bus to his new job interview because he was finding out about the loss is an unfair move? Can you not see that denying her access to the internet minutes before she hands in her final assessment could be regarded as plain cruel?

Anyway, that is just to let you know that you can be unfair. Back to my epiphany.

I realized in that restaurant (and in the car as we struggled along the M8 into the city earlier) that i, and human race, waste a whole lot of time being pushed around by things we cannot control. We get flustered. We lose hair. We palpitate. We don’t even eat sometimes.

Know the destination. Plan to get there. The rest will fall in place. Photo Credit: Rumela Basu

Know the destination. Plan to get there. The rest will fall in place. Photo Credit: Rumela Basu

It gets so bad that we do not eat!

The road trip into the heart and the highlands of Scotland taught me something. There are things you cannot do ANYTHING about!

Eight people drove for 48 hours in 72 hours in two cars with one thing in mind; EXPLORE SCOTLAND. Over 3,200 miles of road was covered. In three days those eight people got only 12 hours of sleep. They spent over 570 pounds on fuel and realized just how bland the meals served in 10 different rest stops along the way could get.

The eight people journeyed from Cardiff to Edinburgh to Inverness. They got lost in their quest along the Loch Ness trail and ‘pretended’ to see the monster. They grudgingly and eventually settled for some good food and free wifi in a restaurant in Portree and walked quite a few miles to discover the breathtaking Fairy Pools near Carbost, a village on the south shore of Loch Harport on the Isle of Skye. Those same eight people travelled long nights and sung songs in Hindi and ‘Twi’ (Ghanaian language) as they sought refuge in Loch Lomond.

Those eight people ended up, however, with one thing. MEMORIES. Memories that will last a lifetime.

Those eight people chose to enjoy themselves silly. They chose to bond with each other. They chose to do the ‘Macarena’ in the backseat of a vehicle guided by the power (or lack thereof) of Google Maps. They chose to tell each other the stories of their families and friends in countries so identical they could be siblings. They chose to smile through the pain of not peeing for hours because the drivers of the cars they sat in needed ‘spotters’ of speed cameras.

The point here is this. In life, there is only so much you can do about the things that happen around you. There is no point getting messed up about those things you can do nothing about. You cannot control the steering wheel of the car approaching in the other lane at breakneck speed. You cannot control the algorithms that feed your phone with GPS coordinates and leave you miles from your destination. You just cannot.

What you can change is your attitude to these things.

Plan what you can. The rest is out of your hands. Stop stressing!  Photo Credit: Rumela Basu

Plan what you can. The rest is out of your hands. Stop stressing!

Like the eight road trip junkies, you can allow the beauty of the Fairy Pools to dazzle you and inspire you to write poems. You can allow the snow-capped mountains on the Isle of Skye to amaze you and get you screaming like a 5-year old. You can drive an automatic car for the first time in your life in a foreign country. You can fall on your bum and laugh out loud about it as tens of strangers walk past. You can even learn to say “I love you” in Bengali (Ami tomaye bhalobashi).

Get focused. You know what you can control.

Get your bearings right!

Hello Inverness

The sights of Inverness

After over 1000 miles of nestling in the backseat of a silver Vauxhall Vectra and a blue Mazda3 Takara. After over 10 hours of driving, close calls and rediscovering friendships. Finally, Inverness, we meet. 

The guidebook next to me describes you as a city in the Scottish Highlands and one of Europe’s fastest growing cities. I am reading about your traditional beach resort of Nairn and the mystery of Loch Ness and even Charlie Chaplin’s supposed Scottish hideaway! Yet, as i walk along Young Street and hear River Ness flowing freely underneath, I am convinced there is more that meets the eye than the words in a guide book.

I am here with seven friends. We initially got lost trying to find Winston Guest House because you had not informed us about the road construction works and subsequent closures. However, driving on your roads is delightful experience I must say. The only downside is the drunk young men who speed past people like us screaming strange obscenities. 

Take a walk on the wild side

Take a walk on the wild side

My friends, in case you were wondering are Neeraj Krishnan. He is like the dad around here. You should see him when he is in his element. He has a good heart and a humble spirit though. You will like him. There is Aparna Rajagopal. She does not speak much, but her silence can sometimes speak more than a pack of wolves. 

Chakshu Rani and Nidhi Kajie are a couple. I know my supposed ‘snoring’ might wake them up in some 20 minutes, but then are the cutest bunch you will get to know. They are perfect for each other. You should have seen them earlier today when Chakshu was driving along the A70. Her long stares were met, though briefly, by his quick glances. CUTE!

Then there is the ‘terror’ of the group Anugrahe Hadke and her Housemate Samruddhi Pisal. There is a third musketeer called Aabha Koley but she couldn’t come. Anu (that’s the way we choose to call her) has an arsenal of cuteness, a big laugh and great sense of humour. She constantly ‘terrorised’ Neeraj through the journey with one liners and stories and was a disc jockey at a point. We are grateful for the like of Samruddhi though. A calming presence. It was weird how at almost every service stop, she switched cars. Guess she was spreading her love for all around. 

Now back to you, Inverness. 

The Inverness Castle

The Inverness Castle

Your restaurants along Bridge Street look inviting from the outside, but i am yet to taste any of their cooking. I am used to being spoilt by the cuisine from Cardiff so you will have to work harder. I am only going to let this McDonald’s burger and its accompaniments issue slide because it’s our first meeting. 

If there was another way to put what i am going to say next, i would have done so. The Inverness Castle looks magical under the light of the full moon. Despite the chill of the night, my gaze never wavered from its magic even when the giggles of some of the ‘town girls’ drifted past.

In a few hours, i will be expected to rise again for a proper tour of your true character and hopefully it will be different from what these sheets of paper are telling me. 

I have to be frank with you though, you are located in a land that is flowing with sights that turn heads. At every corner, grown folk like us studying for postgraduate degrees kept turning in our seats and ‘oohing’ and ‘aahhhing’ all over. Look, you have to understand something; you just simply can’t have that many snow-capped mountains, rivers with wildlife drinking from it, landscapes that literally come alive as the sun goes down and expect us to do nothing but just stare at them. 

We took pictures. There is said it. We took lots of pictures. Deal with it.

We are glad to be here, though. We love it here. 

PS: There is a girl, lady, woman, individual here as well. She is one of us but i wanted to save her for last. She is the most excited of the bunch. She actually got me to go out after 12 just to take pictures. Can you believe? This happened while everyone was getting into bed! Who does that? Then again, i have to admit. I will not have been on this trip if it was not for her. You will like to meet her. She is in the one with the broadest smile who thinks the moon should be in her pocket for safekeeping! Rumela Basu.

Contrasts and Comparisons

Making ends meet in Grahamstown is never easy, especially when it gets cold

I could almost see a tear in her eye as she spoke to me. The passion in her voice made it quiver and her constant slapping of her hands to emphasize a point didn’t help either. Her natural hair, her slim physique, her gestures and brown slippers gave nothing away of the strong views about how much she wanted to change her country.

I met her in the streets of Grahamstown while searching for food. She had two friends with her (I will come to them later) and I guess the talkative part off me took over immediately. It was her response when I shared a joke with the group that got me to ask my first question when we were seated in the lush sitting area at Hill Street manor.

She said “As South Africans, we think that the struggle is over. In terms of history, I think our history will always be relevant for today because it is informing the present. But at the same time I think that, especially with black people, I don’t think we have maintained an eye for the main chance. I think now we feel we are in a democracy now, we can go to school, now we are fine; I don’t think we are hungry.”

She is 21 years old. I did not know this at this point so pardon me. I just sat there and wondered to myself, “what an amazing mind”.

We were speaking about Grahamstown and Rhodes University and drawing parallels were there were some to be drawn and understanding why when she walked through the streets the people felt she belonged to another world.

She told me the people in the town, which is a street from the university, felt like the school was in a bubble. A sacred sanctuary for a privileged few who were very different from them.

Made me think about my city of Accra. A town, more metropolitan, more chic, with many lights than Grahamstown but with much the same contrasts. The poverty and rich living side by side, the literate and illiterate side by side, the filthy and clean side by side, the cheap and expensive… yes side by side.

Here words hit me: “I think it’s because we have forgotten what hunger feels like that we’ve become like this. That whole sense of entitlement.” Like someone owes us something. Like I have been living here for 20 years after my great grandfather lived here with his great great grandfather who acquired the property from his ancestors.

Anny (the only other guy who walked with us that afternoon) has said to me earlier that day, “South Africa will have been worse than Grahamstown if the black people had ruled South Africa”. Much like what I hear a lot of Ghanaians say a lot of time; “why did Nkrumah rush our independence”, “why did he have to say self-governance now?”

Nomonde Ndwalaza’s (that was her name) words explained it to a point “It’s important, the context, and it is important to understand why people see things the way they see them”. So why do we see things that way then? Why do we feel like we deserve something and yet never work to keep it or maintain it? We felt we deserved independence. We fought and bled for independence.

So what, now we don’t deserve good roads? We don’t deserve clean water? We deserve malaria and cholera to exchange batons in and out of season? We deserve over crowded city centers and deserted towns and villages where the production of the fuel for the powering of the nation happens?

A woman with a great mind worthy of exploring

Nomonde again “we need to keep trying and we need to be aware that intentions don’t translate into actions. We have a lot good intentions but at the end of everything we need to be doing stuff… We need to be moving because if we are not moving then there is no point. We are wasting money. It’s important that we say “what are we trying to achieve”, and at the end we look back and say “did we achieve it or not?”

Truth. Wish I could say it better but then, can i? When we leave the office knowing full well the script is poorly written. When we refuse to properly clean the fish the client will be coming in for at lunch time. When we throw the bag out of the window!

“Intentions don’t translate into actions”.

She went on “I think that we need to be critical of ourselves all the time. I feel like people find it hard to criticize each other. As people, do what you can when you can, don’t wait for people, don’t wait for that moment and don’t wait for yourself.”

I could have ended here but then I knew i won’t forgive myself so I asked her about her people and their government. I asked her because it seems everywhere the people blame the government for all their woes. The government this and the government that.

“Does the government of South Africa know its people?”

“I think the people think that the government knows them especially with voting patterns; I think people will rather vote for a black man rather than a white man. It’s more instinctive and intuitive more than it is rational”, she started off.

Then she said “I think our leaders are generally desensitized. They are leading from a distance. This thing of saying that I have to be poor to understand poverty, it’s very problematic…  The values that informed the struggle for freedom in South Africa are not shared anymore or they have been lost. Where they are living the good life and keeping everything to themselves and are not sharing anymore.”

She did not cry, but I did. Not there, of course not. But when I sat and wrote this piece. When I thought about how in Obuasi it was ok for the ‘white people’ to be on the hill while the ‘black people’ were at the bottom. How they had their break time 30 minutes before ours. How the swimming pool had to be cleaned out when the ‘black people’ had used it so the ‘white people’ could use it. How it always felt weird my ‘black friends’ gave me messages to pass on to my ‘white friends’.

It might have been amusing as a child, but now it just makes me cry.