‘Don’t look at the weather, look at your watch’

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As one of the first Ghanaian female students, Victoria Norgbey received a Nuffic scholarship back in the 1990s. She studied in the town of Barneveld - famous for poultry.
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Now, 25 years later, Victoria looks back on her time as a student in the Netherlands and at how it drastically changed her life. An inspirational story of an ambitious woman.

Victoria came back to the Netherlands after 25 years, invited by Nuffic to tell her story during the celebration of the Day of the International Student (17 November, ed.) to the current generation of Orange Knowledge students in the Netherlands.

Always on time

“Don’t look at the weather, look at your watch.” Victoria remembers the first tip she was given back in August 1993 when she landed at Schiphol Airport as if it were yesterday. “It was raining at the time,” she says. “At that time, Peter van de Veen was welfare officer at PTC+ in Barneveld (now Aeres International Training Centre, ed.), where I had come to do a course on poultry farming. He impressed upon me immediately that, whatever the weather, whether it was raining, the sun was shining, it was cold, or even snowing, in the Netherlands you should always get to an appointment on time. That was one of the first things I learned about the Dutch way of thinking, which was quite different to my own.”

Young children

Even before she started on the renowned poultry management programme in Barneveld, Victoria knew that her adventure in the Netherlands would not be easy. “I was 39 at the time, so I was one of the older students. I had three young children, aged 3, 5 and 7. I felt very guilty towards the youngest in particular, because I left him back home with my mother’s family for nine months and I was so far away. But, at the same time, my children were my motivation. I’m doing it for them, I used to say to myself when I looked at a photo of my children and found things hard. When, having completed my studies in the Netherlands, I returned to Ghana, tragically, my youngest son no longer recognised me. But I know that the time that he spent without his mother made him an extremely independent person.”

Despite all the hardships and homesickness, her studies in the Netherlands were a crucial turning point in her career, says the jovial Ghanaian. Her CV is now two full A4 pages long and she active in many committees.

Before she came to the Netherlands, Victoria taught agricultural skills at Achimota Senior High School in Ghana’s capital, Accra. “The Minister of Education at the time suggested that I apply for a Netherlands Fellowship Programme scholarship to study in the Netherlands. At that time, the scholarship programme was part of the Dutch government’s development cooperation policy, as is still the case with Nuffic’s Orange Knowledge Programme. For me, learning more about the poultry sector in Barneveld was a fantastic opportunity.”

Mindset and initiative

One of the main things she learned about in the Netherlands was efficiency. “As well as a lot of specific and practical knowledge about diseases and feeding schedules, I learned that you have to change your attitude and take the initiative yourself. Even now, I always try to tell Ghanaian students that you mustn’t wait for the government to solve your problems for you. There’s so much you can do for yourself.”

On her return to Ghana, she immediately turned the poultry farm that had been run by the school for many years into a commercial operation, to provide food for everyone at school on a daily basis.

National TV

It wasn’t until she was interviewed for the Ghanaian TV programme Hobby Time that she was really able to disseminate the knowledge that she had acquired in the Netherlands on a large scale. “This was a fantastic platform for advising farmers throughout the country on how to keep chickens. The programme had millions of viewers. I gave them tips on how to recognise diseases in poultry, and on feeding methods and hygiene,” recalls Victoria. “After that, I was a regular guest on the programme. I would never have been able to do this without the training I received in Barneveld. The time I spent there really was a turning point in my life.”

Since Victoria’s return to Ghana, the country’s poultry industry has become far more efficient, she says. But the sector still faces challenges. For example, Ghana still imports chicken on a large scale, amongst others from the European Union, even though the sector has the potential to be self sufficient. Since the government put a number of protectionist measures in place, the sector is slowly starting to flourish, explains Victoria.

Empower women and girls

During her career, she impacted over 600 hundred farmers of the Greater Accra Poultry Farmers Association and became the first female Executive Secretary to lead the Association and win the Best SME in Ghana in 2014.

Since she retired, she has stopped teaching. But she still works as an adviser. In recent years she has focused increasingly on the development of women and girls in the poultry sector, amongst others. “On poultry farms in Ghana, women often do most of the work,” explains Victoria. “But the farms are often owned by men. The more women are involved in the process as a whole, the more sustainable the changes.” In 2013, she was awarded 'National Female Role Model as Agent of Change’.

Outside Ghana, Victoria is also sharing her knowledge and expertise. She is Vice-President of the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) Region for African Women in Animal Resource Farming and Agribusiness Network.

‘I knew from the outset that she would go far’

Peter van de Veen from Voorthuizen still vividly remembers Victoria Norgbey, although it’s now 25 years since he first met her in his role as welfare officer at the PTC+ training centre in Barneveld. “A lot of Ghanaian students came to Barneveld at that time, but she was one of the first women,” says Van de Veen a couple of days before his brief reunion with Victoria. “Often, it quickly became clear to me what had motivated a student to come to the Netherlands. Victoria was a warm and, at the same time, highly driven individual. And, as I remember, she was extremely religious. We often drove with a couple of students to Leusden on a Sunday morning to attend the church service there. It doesn’t surprise me at all that she ultimately achieved such success in Ghana.”

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