Staying in Accra over the Christmas holidays with friends I found myself in a discussion surrounding a serious barrier to development in rural Africa that I had seen in Zambia, this time the context is Ghanaian but the issue still remains the same. The issue is getting educated human resources for development (doctors, teachers, agric. extension workers, or business people) to remote areas and keeping them happy. When I was in Zambia, I was in the remote community of Kacholola, there I first encountered the barrier of this “remoteness deterrent”. Many of my friends were teachers because when I first arrived in the community I was not conversant in Chinyanja (the local dialect). The teachers all taught courses in English. None of the teachers were from Kacholola, and few were even from tribes in Eastern Province.
I was in love with Kacholola and was thrilled with working in a remote area, but I was working here by choice. I didn’t take long to realize that almost all of the teachers resented the location of their teaching post. The place was ‘bush’.
“We are suffering here, there is no light, the water hasn’t flowed in years.”
“This place is just boring.”
Most teachers studied at teachers colleges in the cities and come from the urban forty percent of the Zambian population, where more creature comforts are a regularly accessible, provided that they can be financed. In Kacholola this was not the case. I didn’t have to look far to see how some people almost felt cheated by having been posted to a job in the ‘bush’. It was also often negatively affected the way that people work. How can you really commit to students or projects or initiatives if deep down you are praying for a transfer the following week?
In Ghana, I noticed the same phenomenon with some National Service Staff. Upon completing university, all graduates must complete one year of mandatory community service for their nation. Our project were given several. We have seven field offices and I can remember hearing some grumbles at the training from students saying “I just hope that I am near Accra”. It wasn’t all of them and to be fair some were passionate about far off postings too, but it brought me back to this barrier that I had seen before: If people in remote areas lack extension services the most and they are the least likely places for qualified staff to want to work, then how do we send people there that will work at a high capacity?
Over Christmas I was hanging out with some new friends that were also recent graduates. After having pondered the “remoteness barrier” in a few contexts, I was quick to judge when someone said “I am in my national service year but I refused the position that was in that isolated northern part of Volta Region.” I was also quick to challenge, and quick to judge.
“But you know that place is really remote, even the nearest hospital is sooo far.” My mind was still judging and my ego brought out a feeling of how “hardcore” or “badass” I am in that I wouldn’t complain over such a situation and I strive to get to the frontlines of the field. Amid my questioning, another friend brought me back down to earth.
“You know my friend I introduced you to a couple of days ago? The one who is not ‘all there’ mentally? He suffers from spinal meningitis. There was an outbreak in the village where he was carrying out his national service and he was infected. He was completely normal before but he hasn’t been the same since. The vehicle would only leave for the town with the proper hospital once per week. And the national service program has no extended health coverage. You like to work in bush and it’s your choice but its different when it’s not.” It is also different when my employer provides an extensive health insurance plan and his does not.
..And so my ‘badass’ ego shrank back down as I realized that I was sounding like an overpriveleged foreigner that thinks he can solve complex problems so easily.
But checking my privilege still didn’t address the fact that many educated people would prefer not to work in places very far from enjoyable amenities. Unfortunately, these are also the locations where so many underprivileged farmers live.