October 10, 2002 - The Randolph Reporter: Ghana RPCV Gregory Poff returns to Ghana

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ghana: Peace Corps Ghana : The Peace Corps in Ghana: October 10, 2002 - The Randolph Reporter: Ghana RPCV Gregory Poff returns to Ghana

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Ghana RPCV Gregory Poff returns to Ghana

Read and comment on this story from the Randolph Reporter on Ghana RPCV Gregory Poff gave up the relative affluence of Randolph to spend his summer vacation in the impoverished African nation of Ghana at:

Gregory Poff returns to enjoy African Peace Corps experience*

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Gregory Poff returns to enjoy African Peace Corps experience

By CLAIRE KNAPP, Staff Writer October 10, 2002

RANDOLPH TWP. - Assistant township administrator Gregory Poff gave up the relative affluence of Randolph to spend his summer vacation in the impoverished African nation of Ghana.

Poff visited friends he made while serving in the Peace Corps five years ago in Ghana.

"The Peace Corps not only gave me the opportunity to learn, but the opportunity to contribute at the same time. I received back 100-fold what I contributed in knowledge, kindness, and generosity of people who were willing to give of themselves," Poff said. "It is a fantastic opportunity. Anyone even remotely considering it should do it."

Poff, 31, of Franklin Township, Somerset County, graduated from Dickenson College in Carlisle, Pa. where he studied policy and management with a concentration on public policy.

He later went on to attain a master's degree from Rutgers University. Part of the requirements for the degree with the Rutger's International Fellowship Program was to spend two years with the Peace Corps.

"At the time, Rutgers was the only university in the country with a public administration program that combined a one-year intense academic program with a two-year commitment to the Peace Corps," said Poff on Oct. 3. "The Peace Corps work then became the focus of your thesis."

Three Goals

Poff said that upon his graduation from Dickenson, he had three goals: to live abroad, earn a master's degree, and to hike the Appalachian Trail.

"I've accomplished two and I'm still working on the third," he said, referring to a trek along the trail that he plans to someday make.

Poff joined the Peace Corps in Sept. 1995 and, after three months of training, was sent to Ghana in West Africa.

He was assigned to a town called "Walewale" in the northern region of Ghana where he worked for the local government of the West Mamprusi District Assembly.

Poff said a district is similar to a township. The Mamprusi District encompasses about 120 villages in an area similar to the of Morris County, with a population of approximately 12,000, he said.

Poff was attached to the district's newly formed water and sanitation department as part of a World Bank project to decentralize rural water supplies.

"The project was meant to enable local sections of the district to have control of their water supplies, and was facilitated by local government," said Poff. "I acted as a sort of consultant and worked with local officials to develop new water supplies. The program also taught local masons and contractors how to develop new wells and construct latrines."

Poff said Ghana is a developing country with kind and gracious people. The environment is that of savannah grassland, and is relatively dry. Lying just north of the equator, it is very hot with an average year-round temperature of 96 to 97 degrees.

Accra is the capital city and is quite metropolitan. However in the outlying districts, where the farmers live, there are many hardships and few modern conveniences.

Before the initiative to dig a new well in Walewale, the women of the village had to walk about a mile to an open well that served as their nearest water supply.

Once the water had been hauled by open bucket from the well it was poured into large pans. Each pan, filled with water, weighed about 100 pounds. It took two women to lift the water-laden pan and place it on the head of another woman who would then bear the heavy burden to her home a mile away, Poff said.

The task was performed at least twice each day.

The new well was built within a quarter mile of the village, greatly reducing the burden borne by village women. It was also a sealed well that, unlike the old one, would not become easily contaminated, Poff said.

To construct one well, it took 12 men working 12-hour days over a period of six weeks. The well is dug by hand, one-bucket load at a time.

One of Poff's destinations on his trip was to visit the first well he had helped to construct.

"It is absolutely wonderful to be able to go back and see that people's standard of living has improved," said Poff. "The well was still in good working order.

"The people gave me an incredible welcome," said Poff. They were so genuine in their welcome."

Poff said that growing up in New Jersey, he had seen a relatively great amount of wealth. He knew there was poverty elsewhere and had worked with his father in the Habitat for Humanity program during college.

"But even in the most impoverished areas of America, I knew there were sections of the world where people had less," said Poff.

Formerly a British colony known as the Gold Coast, Ghana gained independence in 1957, becoming the first black nation in sub-Saharan Africa to achieve independence from colonial rule.

The country is named after the ancient empire of Ghana.

Divided into 10 administrative regions, Ghana contains three major cities. The capital, Accra, has a population of 1.7 million. Other major cities include Kumasi, Sekondi which has an artificial harbor and was the first modern port built in Ghana, Tema, Tamale, and Cape Coast. About 37 percent of the country's population live in urban areas.

Accra has a varied appearance with modern, colonial, and traditional African architecture buildings.

English is the official language and is universally used in schools in addition to nine other local languages. Primary and secondary education is free and compulsory between the ages of six and 14. Vocational institutions and several universities are also available.

As part of his three-month training before being assigned by the Peace Corps, Poff was instructed in Dagomba, one of Ghana's more than 35 tribal languages.

"In the city, everyone spoke English," said Poff. "But rural farmers in the area I was in spoke Mampruli, a sister-language to Dagomba."

Poff made two good friends during the two years he spent in Ghana. One, about his own age, was the district planner, Elike Banibensu, who is now a technical advisor in Accra.

The other and perhaps closest friend, is Paul Shaibu Katampu, 40, an ordained Anglican priest.

"Paul's name is interesting," said Poff. "He took "Paul" when he converted to Christianity in his 20's. His middle name, "Shaibu, is his original Muslim name, and Katampu is his traditional Mamprusi name."

"Paul has a newly constructed church that was being inaugurated the day I was leaving to come home from vacation," said Poff. "A Canon priest had even come all the way from England to attend the ceremony."

Poff was only able to spend a short time visiting old haunts and friends last month, but with current technology he is able to keep up to date with them through e-mail.

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