Utah State University Extension community development specialist Steve Daniels recently returned from a trip to Ghana, Africa, where he and other international colleagues began the process of setting up a rural development Extension program in two pilot communities.
Working out of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, a university similar in size to USU, Daniels’ group worked closely with the Bureau of Integrated Rural Development (BIRD) headed by Paul Sarfo-Mensah.
The project, “Taking the University to the Grassroots,” is spearheaded by Daniels, Sarfo-Mensah, Jens Emborg, photojournalist and professor at the University of Copenhagen, and Gregg Walker, communication professor at Oregon State University.
USU Extension Vice President Ken White said the collaboration of the two institutions can benefit from the USU Extension model, which is among the best in the country.
“It allows us to disseminate programs and information from the county level all the way to the international level,” he said. “In addition, we have student exchange programs that allow USU students to visit Ghana for education and training and their students to come here. It’s a great cooperative effort.”
Daniels said one of the communities they worked with, Afamaso, is what might be considered a standard Ghanaian rural community, which means no power, no running water and no pavement. The other, Kenyasi, has been heavily impacted by a surface goldmine where the town was essentially replaced with a goldmine, so they have moved the town and built replacement housing and other infrastructure.
Daniels said the group is making a long-term commitment to learn how USU can assist these two communities with their needs.
“I have been lobbying pretty hard for them to adopt a concept called asset-based community development, which is used extensively here in the U.S.,” he said.
The appeal of this concept is that communities can drive the development process themselves by identifying and mobilizing existing, but often unrecognized, assets thereby responding to and creating local economic opportunity.
“Part of being a rural community in a post-colonial society is, they feel, like the authority and opportunities to do anything are all external — through the national government or USAID or the U.N. or the World Bank — but they certainly don’t think of themselves first and foremost as an agent of their own local development,” he said. “The era of big bucket international aid is likely over, so they will have to learn to do community development for themselves, with their own assets.”
Daniels said the project leaders did a workshop on the KNUST campus for faculty where they introduced the concepts of asset-based community development, then spent time in the two rural communities. When they conducted site visits, several faculty members from KNUST in varying disciplines joined them.
Daniels said they had a community meeting in Afamaso where there were about 35 community participants, and they talked about what the community needed or wanted.
“They decided it was a hospital,” he said. “I could give you many reasons why that just won’t work. They don’t have the population, and they first need electricity and running water. So I reframed the question for them. I asked them what they could do for themselves in the next five years in the area of health care.”
Daniels said after discussion, they decided they could set up a network of local women who were trained in a variety of public health issues and could do either small group instruction or even house-to-house visits discussing food safety, prenatal care, infant care, sanitation, STDs and other health issues that affect quality of life in rural Ghana. They could do that for themselves and sustain it.
He said training is something the universities could provide. One member of his team is a public health expert and could easily organize the kind of basic training, fact sheets and support material that could help the women redistribute the information.
“They made a transformation from ‘We need a hospital,’ that is a big dollar infrastructure to, ‘We can make a direct, appropriate intervention in health care issues,’” Daniels said. “That’s the key to asset-based community development. They become the agents of their own development strategy and activities.”
Daniels said the notion of taking the university out to these communities is a big culture shift for the Ghanaian people. On the field tour, a number of young faculty members felt if they were really going to help these communities, they would have to go visit them regularly, maybe a couple of times a month.
“I asked what would happen if we had university faculty who lived in these communities and spent their whole career there,” he said. “Their response was, ‘Why would anyone do that? If you can be faculty rank, you want to be in the city.’ I told them that many would be people who grew up in these communities, went on and got a master’s degree and then came back to serve their community. What I was giving them was a model of the Extension agent.”
The thought of having university faculty who live and are posted in the communities was hard for them to comprehend, he said. To them, serving those communities meant visiting on occasion, not having somebody fundamentally embedded in the decision-making process of the community.
“One question they had was how to best reach the adults,” he said. “I told them they should involve the kids. This can be done through the 4-H program model we have. We have a unique, interesting opportunity to export a hundred years of Extension and they can take advantage of the structures and processes we already have in place.”
Sarfo-Mensah was recently in the United States on a study tour and stopped at USU. He said he is fascinated with the way USU delivers its Extension and outreach programs, and particularly the way the faculty members work from their communities around the state.
“Moving forward in this collaboration with support from colleagues here, one of my biggest desires is to be able to embed a system similar to what USU Extension does at KNUST and have our Bureau of Integrated Rural Development as the main driver,” he said. “This will help us to make a very far-reaching impact on community development and poverty reduction in our rural areas. Indeed, this is one of the areas our vice chancellor is keenly interested in — deepening KNUST outreach programs and activities.”
Daniels said he would like to go back to Ghana again and provide assistance in asset-based community development and help them get up to speed as the concept evolves for them. From USU, he has been staying in contact through email and helping them find resources.
“It will be interesting to see how the project evolves,” he said. “As someone who does Extension work, it is really gratifying to be able to offer assistance in a place where getting clean water and kitchens inside the houses is still what they’re working on. We have pressing issues in rural Utah, but they really do pale in comparison. You see a lot of impacts of American culture in Ghana, and they have a lot of American products there. It’s nice to think about Extension work as one of our exports as well.”
Writer: Julene Reese, 435-797-0810, firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact: Steve Daniels, 435-797-1255, email@example.com