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When I was asked to organise my first Akvo training course abroad for the WASH Alliance International, I could not believe my luck. Since I started working for Akvo I’ve been working with updates and collected data that were sent to me directly from the field. Although I’ve seen a thousand different pictures of rusty water wells and pale pink sanitation blocks appear on my computer screen, I never experienced first hand how Akvo tools are used. Now I had to prepare enumerators for the Outcome Measurement 2015 project in Ghana, one of the eight countries that the WASH Alliance International is active in, to measure the impact of the past five years of work.

Being able to lead this training session in Ghana was a great opportunity for me. For the last five years, the African continent has puzzled and amazed me. I have spent a great deal of time studying the complex political situations in different African regions, but I’m ashamed to say that until last week I’ve never actually set foot in Africa. It frustrated me that I was trying to understand the highly complex dynamics at play, without any frame of reference.

From the moment I stepped off the plane in Accra until the moment of take-off to return to Amsterdam, I tried to soak up as many impressions of Ghana as I could. The elegant ladies in beautiful dresses carrying heavy loads on their heads, toddlers tied to their mother’s back with colourful cloths, men seeking shelter from the scorching sun under umbrella trees, and the stories of my colleague Barnabas Apom (freelance consultant and founder of Researchlime)  – what could I learn from them?

Above: participants on the Akvo FLOW training course in Accra for WASH Alliance partners. 8 October 2015.
Below: trying out new field data collection skills during the workshop in a village near Tamale. 8 October 2015. Photos by Annabelle Poelert. 

P1040803 850I made it my personal mission to find out as much as possible about the challenges we face in implementing and monitoring development projects and to learn more about the political situation in Ghana. Needless to say, both have a huge overlap. While we visit a school to pilot our survey on WASH in schools, the headmaster tells me about the problems they face as a rural school. While WASH facilities are improved, he admits that a lack of school meals makes it impossible for some of the kids to attend their classes. Where one problem is solved, another one simply seems to appear.

When we get back to the hotel my colleague confirms that food insecurity remains a big challenge in the North of Ghana. Although a big food in schools programme has been launched, many kids are still not guaranteed to get meals in school. A lot of aid money from foreign donors never reaches the people it was supposed to reach. It seems corruption is always lurking in the shadows of aid initiatives.

This doesn’t come as a surprise to me, but it makes an even bigger impact to hear these words from someone that has witnessed it first hand. However, Barnabas ensures me that with better monitoring systems it becomes much harder for corrupt aid workers to keep up appearances. He’s very enthusiastic about the capacity of Akvo FLOW to capture not just sample data, but details of all of the WASH facilities that are supposed to be built. It is great to hear he feels that we really make a difference.
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Above: Akvo FLOW is being used in Ghana to record data measuring the impact of the past five years of the WASH Alliance's work in the country. 

As the plane takes off, I look back at a very special week. I’m exhausted and happy at the same time. It might be a small solution to a big problem, but I’m confident that 20 new and motivated people will contribute to transparency and knowledge about the aid effectiveness of our programmes. Also, I leave Ghana with 20 new friends, liking my job more than ever.

Annabelle Poelert is project officer at Akvo, based in Amsterdam. You can follow her on Twitter @AnnabellePoel.