The University of Rhode Island and the University of Cape Coast in Ghana have developed an important, life changing partnership, as part of two major USAID projects: the Sustainable Fisheries Management Project (SFMP), and the Analytical Support Services and Evaluations for Sustainable Systems (ASSESS) effort. These programs are designed to cultivate relationships between universities that make a real impact on the global community, and they’re off to a very promising start. President Dooley was invited to visit Ghana and see these projects first hand by Domwini Dabire Kuupole, vice chancellor of the University of Cape Coast. Upon his return, President Dooley took the time to share with us some insights into this important trip.
First, we wanted to know some of the day to day activities of the President’s time in Ghana. We knew he had a lot of work to do there, but we wondered if he had time to explore the sites and familiarize himself with the local culture.
“It was very fast paced” President Dooley affirms. “But one of the most inspirational parts of the whole trip was meeting the people we’re working with in the country.” President Dooley visited may different groups that are actively working to cultivate sustainable fishing practices in Ghana. This included a tour of the mangrove reforestation project, which is vitally important to maintaining coastal fisheries. The mangroves, a variety of trees and shrubs, are being deforested for firewood, which is extremely problematic to the ecosystem. The firewood is, however, an essential part of the fishing economy. President Dooley learned more about this while visiting with a women’s collective. In the traditional organization of the Ghanaian fishing economy, all the fishermen are men. They travel between one and one hundred miles off the coast of Ghana in 25ft long wooden canoes that have only a small motor attached. These fishing expeditions can last up to five days. When they return, it is almost exclusively women who buy the fish. “The women who buy the fish are called fish mongers. They buy it, salt or smoke it, and then sell it very inexpensively.” This is not an easy lifestyle for the women. As President Dooley elaborates, “many women have the additional burden of trying to raise their children by themselves. If their husband is a fisherman, he is away a lot, and many of the women are separated or single. These women also live a very transient lifestyle, traveling up and down the coast to follow the fish. We are working with this collective to improve the lives of these women.” Projects to help these women include a school being built for young children, both as a way to educate them and keep them safe from child trafficking. A bathhouse has also been built for the women, as well as a place to sleep. “These women spend most of their days in little sheds with the ovens they use to smoke the fish, or directly in the sun drying the fish with nets. So we’re also trying to develop more efficient ovens that have better ventilation and that produce more smoke with less wood, as that would help with the deforestation issue.” President Dooley adds that he found his meeting with this women’s collective very valuable, “It was interesting to meet with them and see them and hear their stories.”
The University of Cape Coast is not the only university with whom URI partners to make a global impact on the world. The URI Graduate School of Oceanography also has programs in the Azores, Cuba, Indonesia and Vietnam, but Dean Corliss stated for an article for the GSO that the partnership with Ghana is the “most advanced.” We asked President Dooley if he could elaborate.
First, President Dooley wanted us to realize the scope of the two USAID projects happening in Ghana, which total about $24 million dollars, roughly $12 million each. “Twelve million dollars sounds like a lot, but you’re helping universities develop programs and research. They’re working with local fisherman so they can monitor their own catch, and training them to recognize if fish are about to spawn or not, and hopefully convincing them to practice policies to preserve the fish,” and thus create a sustainable fishing economy. President Dooley also pointed out that there was a similar project done in Senegal, which is also in West Africa. Funding received for USAID projects is designed to enable universities “to go in and do a massive intervention” Dooley explained. “The goal is to build up the capacity of the country to continue the work. That’s what happened in Senegal. Those policies and practices are still going on. The same goal exists for Ghana. When we leave, the University of Cape Coast will be fully prepared to do the work that we’re doing. Students will have earned PhD’s, and they will work with NGO’s. They have already identified 6-8 students who will come to URI for at least a semester. But this is an intensive early stage.”
President Dooley continued, “The second project, ASSESS, [Analytical Support Services and Evaluations for Sustainable Systems] works with Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST). That project is to develop a framework for very large scale assessment of how well these projects work. So far these projects in West Africa have not been systematically assessed and that university, along with many faculty and graduate students at URI, are working to develop assessment technologies, tools, and methodologies in order to evaluate the success of these programs. It’s unusual to have two projects of this magnitude going on simultaneously.”
Excited by the fact that students from the University of Cape Coast had already been selected to come study at URI, we wanted to know if this would be a two-way exchange. “Absolutely!” President Dooley replied. “Reverend Dr. Joseph Quainoo has already taken students to Ghana and is himself a graduate of the University of Cape Coast. Hopefully we’ll also be taking other groups of students there for three weeks at a time so they can actually get involved in these projects. Students in Cells might want to get involved in mangrove rebuilding or the fisheries projects, and even students from other disciplines may want to get involved with assessment or community building. Hopefully as soon as next January we will have one, maybe two student groups going to Ghana. There will also be opportunities for graduate students to do their research there. The universities in Ghana are strong. They are not nearly as well equipped to do the work as a typical research university like URI, but they still do very good work.”
We also wanted to know more about President Dooley’s experience speaking to hundreds of Ghanaians on the importance of relationships between intellectual universities. President Dooley spoke about the unique opportunity at the end of the lecture for an open question and answer period. “You didn’t have to submit questions beforehand; people could just walk up to the microphone and ask. There were a lot of good questions from faculty, students, and community members.” The President elaborated that some of the questions included: How progress could be made, given the difficulty of the economy and the level of poverty that exists? How can we afford to go to university? How can we get jobs after we graduate? “These are hard questions,” President Dooley, acknowledged. “They’re hard questions even in America. But for these students, it’s an even more challenging environment. The young people have a lot of ambition and goals to improve their country, but opportunities are limited. There were also questions about URI’s plans for working in Ghana in the future, and what opportunities there will be for students to come study here.”
This made us wonder, given the extreme level of poverty in the country, how Ghanaian students might afford to attend URI. “The national language of Ghana is English,” President Dooley explained. “The students there are very capable, and they would be eligible to apply for Teaching and Research Assistantships. Some might also be funded by the government of Ghana, and we might provide some additional support just to strengthen the partnership. One of our fundraising goals as a university could be to develop fellowships or teaching assistantships for international students to come here. The European Union already does this in a major way. America doesn’t do that to anywhere near the same extent, and it’s something we might want to look at.”
Thus, it seems the future of the partnership between the University of Rhode Island and Ghana is bright. In addition to looking forward to the day when Ghana’s fishing economy has become self-sustaining and is regulated and maintained by its own scholars, we can also look forward to a rich, ongoing intellectual exchange between communities in the form of mutual study abroad programs, beginning as soon as January!
To read more about the president’s trip, including more information on the two USAID projects, the other partners involved in these expansive endeavors, and further details of his speech, check out President Dooley’s blog, Global Impact for Good, and the accompanying links.
Photos used were taken from the President’s blog post, with permission.