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Opinions of Friday, 9 August 2019

Columnist: John Vigah

Bad perception about Africa changed; the experience of a Belgian intern in Ghana

When she decided to undertake her internship in Africa – specifically on a plantation in Ghana, many of her course mates and friends threw cold blanket on her resolution - painting an off-putting image of the continent.

She was made to believe how primitive, dangerous and crookish Africans could be as she weaved a disturbing tale with a heart-rending tapestry of killings and kidnappings.

“Most of my colleagues chose Europe and other parts of the world to do their mandatory one-month internship and they were shocked when I mentioned Africa.”

Daringly, 19-year-old Belgian Salomey Thonon – a second-year Bio-Engineering student of the Catholic University of Lavain, Belgium (UCL), decided to throw caution to the wind to have a “personal feel of Africa” – and its challenges.

That courageous journey has brought her to Darmang-Ahwerase area in the Nsawam/Adoagyiri Municipality in the Eastern Region, and for the past three weeks, Salomey has been working tirelessly on a predominantly-fruits-based farm owned by Ghanaian philanthropist Mr Edmund Kwabena Nkansah – who works with the Ministry of Finance.

Mr Nkansah, a former District Best Farmer, has farming investment of over 110 acres of citrus and coconut plantation and other agricultural investments.

Salomey got in touch with the farm through her cousin who had returned from Ghana months earlier, thus, nurturing the dream to also savour the “African experience.”

The voyage was a tough one.

“In order to accomplish my dream of having my internship in Africa - Ghana to be precise, I had to work for a month and save some money, aware of the challenges I may have to go through,” she told this writer.

According to her, she was utterly determined to explore Africa – especially Ghana – and know the culture, traditions and customs of the people as well as know the growth of agriculture in a developing country.

Fortunately for her, Salomey was linked to Mr Nkansah – who went to the Accra Airport with his wife to pick her up – ultimately taking care of most of her expenses.

“Right from the airport, she wanted me to take her straight to the farm as she was all-too eager to start work the following day,” Mr Nkansah, who was adjudged the 2009 Akuapim South District Best Farmer, recalled.

Mr Nkansah further showered praises on the young Belgian, describing her as “one of a kind, focused and a hardworking lady who was always delighted to excel.”

Indeed, the energy and zealousness with which she weeds the outgrown grasses, sprays the crops, off-loads the farm produce among others – as witnessed by the Ghanaian Times, erroneously paints the picture of a veteran in her elements.

“She has surprised all of us. Salomey looked that fragile and feeble when my boss Mr Nkansah brought to the farm and I wondered whether she could do anything. But trust me, she does everything we do on the farm,” the Farm Manager of 15 years, Kwabena Ntow, said.

Asked why she decided to work on the farm and not a white-collar-job area, she said, aside the fact that she wanted to have that experience, “I believe agriculture is the backbone of the economy of a nation and thought I would end up motivating the youth to enter into this area of development.”



As a matter of fact, Akua Salomey, as some of the farm workers and inhabitants of the area prefer to call her, became popular in the Damang community, barely a week after arriving - preferring sometimes to walk long distance to the farm.

“I walk freely without looking back because nobody would hurt you as I was made to believe back in Belgium. Instead, the people are lovely and they would always greet and share jokes with you at every opportunity.”

Salomey described Ghana as a fantastic country, promising to return at the slightest opportunity. The Bio-Engineering student said she would be leaving Ghana “with lots of dazzling memories on my mind.”

“Aside the wonderful, kind-hearted people I came across like Mr Nkansah and his wife and workers of their farm, I have learned how to plant cassava, harvest yam, spray crops to mention only a few.

“Overall, my impression of Ghana is totally different and I feel very proud of myself for daring to make the journey. It would interest you to know that I can now eat some of the local foods like banku, fufu and light soup, plantain and also enjoyed some bush meat as well as took coconut for the first time in my life.”

Mr Nkansah hoped the story of Salomey would change the mindset of the youth with regard to farming.

“This young lady is coming from an advanced country where the usage of modern technology on the farm is the ideal way, but she has been working in our mechanical environment as if everything was normal and I just hope our youth would be inspired by this story.”

He advised the unemployed youth to consider agriculture as one of the best income generating opportunities.