Greetings From Ghana!

Greetings from Accra, Ghana! The Live It! project that will be taking place here this summer is the renovation of a school called Sakyikrom United Primary School (SUPS). SUPS is located in the Sakyikrom-Adoagyiri district, Eastern Region, Ghana. The school has 240 pupils from grade 1 to 6, and employs 10 staff. In addition to the communities of Sakyikrom and Adoagyiri, the school also serves the neighbouring villages of Amoakrom, Alafia, Akraman, Zabon and Zongo.  Since the school was built in 1944, it has not undergone any repairs and is in bad shape.

For the last couple years, SUPS has been under constant threat of closure. Rain pours through holes in the tattered roof into the classrooms, making it uncomfortable for pupils to learn and teachers to instruct in the school building.  During the last rainy season, a tropical storm caused a tree to fall onto the school and through its roof.  The already decaying roof began to let in even more water. The desire of teachers to ensure students the opportunity of education and the desire of the students to learn is so strong that they continue to use the school building.

This project, which the team has dubbed SUPS 1-4-7 (One School for Seven Communities), aims to reinforce the structure and repair the roof, so the pupils and teachers may be safe and SUPS may continue to run. Since we have received the Live It! Fund and are able to carry out the renovation of SUPS, the local government has agreed to keep the school open.


I left MSP on July 5th, and arrived in Ghana late on July 6th. I was received at Kotoka International Airport by some friendly faces. Among these were members of the SUPS 1-4-7 team; David, Kwame, Mariama and Daniel.  David and Kwame are both professional contractors and will be lending valuable knowledge to the building process. They also both happen to be my uncles.  Mariama and Daniel are my friends from high school (RCNUWC) who have come to help with the first two weeks of the project. Mariama (Sierra Leone) will be representing  LEAF (Living Environment and Future). LEAF is an RCNUWC environmental organization. Daniel (Nigeria) is the representative of DROP (Do Remember Other People, can you tell we love our acronyms?), an RCNUWC non-profit with the mission of school-building-schools.  Some other members of the SUPS 1-4-7 team are Rhoda (RCNUWC), Pharez (RCNUWC and Luther College), Sulemana and Abdulai, who joined us the following day. They are all from Ghana. I have yet to the capture them on camera, but will include them in the next post. Pharez was not able to join us in Ghana this summer, but has played a vital role in the planning of the project since last year. 


From the left: Kwame, David, Mariama and Daniel.

Monday, July 7th, we had a meeting with the chief of Sakyikrom and his entourage, members of the official local government, the headmaster of SUPS and some teachers to formally begin the project. Sakyikrom is a very traditional community, so it is important for us to respect and observe traditional order as we carry out the project. We began the meeting with the elder of our household, my grandmother, welcoming the delegation from Sakyikrom with a bottle of Schnapps. Then the visitors made their way around the room, greeting each of us. After a prayer by a priest from Sakyikrom,  my grandmother informed the visitors that the young people had a desire to improve the condition of SUPS.


My grandmother giving the traditional welcome to the delegation from Sakyikrom.


From the left: The Chief of Sakyikrom and the priest who accompanied him.

After the introduction, my grandmother opened the floor to the team. We each introduced ourselves, informed them about Live It!, DROP and LEAF. We thanked them for welcoming us into their community. We discussed the timeline for the completion of the project and the potential for a longer relationship with the Sakyikrom community. Kwame and David then addressed the technical aspect of things, explained the repair process in detail. They closed by adding that we would need the community’s help to make this happen.


From the left: Daniel, me and Mariama.


David (in the denim shirt) explaining the repair process.

The chief’s right hand man then stood up to share the chief’s response. He informed us that the chief had heard us, and that everyone from the Sakyikrom delegation had also heard us. He thanked us for thinking of their community and informed us that we were welcome to work on the school. He added that the chief would rally up community members to participate in the process. The Sakyikrom priest closed the meeting with a prayer. Then everyone moved around the room, shaking hands with each other to seal the agreement. We let them know we would be coming to Sakyikrom the following day. Then as the elder of the household, my grandmother wished them a safe journey home. The ball is officially rolling and it is exciting!

In the next post, I will share what we found on our first visit to SUPS. Stay tuned :)

- Dubie, ’16

What is La Colmena?

So where did we leave off? With the taller de boxeo?

With planning our summer school classes for kids?
colmena verano propoganda color flowers copy

With the construction materials for the greenhouse?

With the days of classification of library books accompanied by cookies and coffee?IMG_0140

With the continuation of the mural painting?

With the great success of the jewelrymaking class?

Photos don’t need words. I can hardly find the words. I am incredibly happy. Everything we’re doing is beautiful. Finding money to pay the rent can be tight, but Pato got back from his annual week of tourguiding anesthesiologists the other night and was stunned by all the momentum we’ve been pouring into the library, the orchard, the vibes of the house. It only takes a week away to forget the reality that we’re constructing, and a lifetime to develop it. Shoutout to Chad Topaz, here I go on take 2 of my calc quiz.

Love and song,

Pregaming the Tuesday night meeting

Esteban keeping his neck safe from the ozone danger of the library lightbulb.

Ruth left yesterday :(

It was great to have her here. Some day soon we will receive her photos and recount to you all how the last few days have been, visual aids and all.


Hitting up a barter market  at UNAM.
Approval from the landlady to build the greenhouse.
Silkscreen workshop nearly functioning!
Adopting a dog for a week to find it a home.

Love til next time,

Work, work, work!

Fifth Week of Work!

I cant believe this is the fifth week of work! We have finished the digging of the first main line supplying one half of the total homesteads. In the past two weeks we’ve had one meeting which went by quickly because we wanted to spend more time on the sites. We presented the progress report, encouraged people to buy taps because it is nearing month end.


This is the first source filled with its first water






Dilemmas at work!

In the past two weeks there has been slow progress in the project relative to the speed with which we started. There have been numerous problems that have arisen due to a clash between traditions and development. The building of the second source has proven to be more of a speaking challenge than it is a physical one. The first issue was that the source is located on a boarder between two chiefdoms, Mbabane and Hlophe. People from the Hlophe chiefdom were claiming the water to be theirs, therefore reported a respected man Mr. Zulu (who is working with us) to their chief for taking their water and distributing it to the other chiefdom. Luckily, Mr. Zulu was not laid any serious charges and the matter was resolved. The second issue arose when we were digging the trench that leads to the second source. We dug it such that it passed through a forest before it entered the source. A man who has a homestead nearby was very unhappy with this as he claimed that the forest is his and we should not have dug at a place that was not appointed by him to us. After a couple of days of talking to him, he finally agreed to the trench passing through the forest. The final issue is that we don’t have any builders available. This has led to the building of the second source to be put on hold for a while. The builder we had for the first source found a job and no longer has time to help with the building. We have, however, secured one builder who promised to help only on weekends though.

Picture of us putting soil on top of the pipes




So far, what we have been doing was digging trenches and putting pipes and taps for homesteads that were already with their material. After the resolution of the first two issues two days ago, we started clearing the second source, getting it ready for the builder to start building the dam.

Pictures below show the site of the second water source and a few men starting to clear the rocks.



Pictures below show the clearing of the first water source so that grass can be grown on the surroundings.

P1000997 P1000998 P1000999

Playing catch-up

Over the last few days, we hosted a tough crowd at a neighborhood meeting, undertook the noble act of networking, went on vacation, and got home again in time to plan more comings and goings. No worries if that’s all a bit over your head, just think how mareada we must be feeling.

Welcome to the online gallery of the bicycle workshop of La Casa Naranja, a fellow collective way up north.
This is a mural they invited community kids to come help paint on the workshop walls. Of note in the bottom right corner: silkscreen print station!

Karen, the same author of our outside mural, showing us around the shop.

Tools galore.

“From the garbage to your legs.”

Did I mention that we made the trip over there to attend their fundraiser dinner to support their bike joust event? I know what you’re thinking, what a dope event, why not have one at La Colmena too?

Great call! They actually asked us while we were there if they could host another fundraiser in La Colmena, July 18. We were so honored that Las Bicis Piratas (a group usually ubicated out of Casa Naranja, a far older and wider-known collective than we are. Are we a collective? We’re a space, a group, a push to share) wanted to have an event at our place! We’re still figuring out the logistics, but look for updates on this late July.


So that all happened on Friday. On Saturday, we were scheduled to have our first of three neighborhood meetings about La Colmena and finding out best how we can fit the needs and harness the creative energy of our surrounding community of Portales Oriente.

We’d done our homework of going out and inviting the neighbors.

preading the word to the community.

But unfortunately only a total of 7 people came, all at different times. It was cool because we gave all the push we had. Meetings that droned on late into the night trying to figure out who we are and what we’re doing here, how we fit into this community, what our bigger goals are, and how we want to manage our summer school courses coupled with door-knocking and flyer-posting and cooking a feast of a meal including both red and green rice, chipotle hibiscus flowers, beans, and hibiscus water in our efforts to rally community support in the work we’re doing. Or at least feedback. The discussion now has shifted to how we can get folks to come to our next planned meeting which is in July. Ideas anyone?


Another thing we did Saturday was head out for a just-ouside-the-city vacation to Ixtapaluca, where we built a slumber house, visited some pyramids, and checked out another far-out collective, this time to the east, called Kontracultura.

iew of the hill from the hill.

o the Kontraculturas started as an occupation of a theater in a park in Ixtapaluca where they now give free workshops (like us!), have a free-lending library (like us!), put on shows and events (like us!), and help manage the little farm that was started in the park they’re in around the same time as them three years ago.

Here’s their theatre. Kids of all young and adult ages were playing on it just in the short time we were there.

This is what the rest of their park looks like, somewhat. They have an agreement with some municipal office for being there, but things are sounding pretty bad for a lot of the neighboring public spaces like this one. Take the basketball courts across the street, for instance. The municipality is planning to shut it down, undergo major renovations–so major that they will be enclosed hereafter and people will then have to pay to use them. Questions like who these new spaces will be targeted towards, who will be employed to work in these spaces, and how that will affect the health of the community were on the tips of all tongues.

his was our tourguide through the Kontracollective. Here he is showing us around the farm at the bottom of the park.

Zax with the animals for adoption.

irds and pig.




Back in La Colmena, we are trying to hang all the more out. English class today was a hit–we made phrase booklets. Amaury’s lentil soup was delicious. The sprouts are growing all the more every day. I think I finished my calculus homework for the week. If there’s anything else new, I don’t even want to hear about it.

With love and sleepies in the eyes,

Taking care of business

Today I got to show Ruth around UNAM and point out all the places I knew from when I audited classes there last year. It was beautiful to go back; even some of the hallways of the metro stations graced me with a bit of nostalgia. We didn’t just go for the sightseeing though–we went to get. stuff. done.

Stuff 1: making 100 copies of the flyers we’re going to distribute to every house in the vicinity inviting them to our community meeting where we’ll serve free food and check in on the neighbors about the project. Have they noticed La Colmena at all in the last year? How has it affected them? How can we approach the projects of the library and orchard to be most accessible to them? What overall feedback would they give us about the project to make it the best for them?

Interlude: walking across the campus (or city?), we saw a tilted truck wedged into what once was a fine square plate of metal on the sidewalk.

Stuff 2: finally, we made it to the cafeteria roof-gone-hydroponic orchard in the school of science.

Angel and Anna kindly showed us around the place.

In greenhouse 1, there were lots of healthily germinating lettuce. During mass production season (aka when the cafeteria’s open and consuming hella lettuce), 75 kilos of lettuce are produced weekly in this greenhouse.

This is the model our greenhouse is based on, but ours will be half the length and width, using the same screen for walls and accomodating the same ventilation system. From our greenhouse, we’re anticipating to begin production with 15 kilos of lettuce a week.

Next up, greenhouse 2. Here they grow tomatoes with a window that opens at the peak of the roof and wires rigged up to support the climbing vines. Soon to come: photos of my own upside-down growing tomatoes!

Greenhouse 3: cacti. They’re cultivating tons of gorgeous species of cacti, including some types that grow spikes of different shades of pink and some that are almost extinct.

Greenhouse 4 had aeromatic plants, but we weren’t allowed in.

The roof was made to support the weight of this project, but it has undergone various reparations to keep it up to snuff. These tiles were put in just last year:

Another greenroof highlight was when Anna showed us her germination station.

They germinate sprouts by the kilo, alfalfa out the ears!

Here’s what a bag of the coconut fibers looks like that we use with little red rocks to make the substrate for the hydroponic plants:

Wishlist for our orchard: gingko tree, lavender, and a germination station.

We raced home through the rain via metro in time to say goodbye to the bookbinding teacher and listen to the singing class students do their warmups. As we sat in the kitchen and watched the tea boil, we also ruminated over what it would be like to enlist an industrial stove to la Cocina Economica Zangano. But this sounds like a project for another day. If not tomorrow, when we’ll distribute flyers for the community meeting and move all the plants from the patio to the front of the house and make that broken tv into a flowerpot, then maybe the next day.

Thanks for reading this blog, Rachel! Can’t wait to see you here (or in Chicago)!