Our Visit to Ghana with Christian Aid

12 August 2013

The “Malarone” tablets are almost finished! We have been back from Ghana for almost a week now and I find that my mind is full of snap-shots, pictures and impressions I have carried home with me. My husband Neil and I travelled to Ghana with Rosamond Bennett, who is the CEO of Christian Aid Ireland. Christian Aid had offered to take me to see some of the work which their partners are doing. When we asked if we could combine that with seeing some of the work which is supported by the Irish Methodist World Development and Relief fund and Methodist Missionary Society (Ireland) they readily agreed. Staff from Christian Aid Ghana accompanied us on all of our travels and it may well be that supportive and mutually enriching partnerships now develop between some of the Methodist initiatives and Christian Aid.

Back to the snap-shots. The first is of villagers in the Central region of Ghana wending their way through scrub land on the way from their village to an area which had been planted out with trees due to the “Woodlot” project which is facilitated by Rev Joseph Donkoh. Folk from the village had weeded the pathway that morning to make our journey easier, and we walked, men, women and children, mostly in single file, some in twos, the ten minutes or so until we got to the woodlot. There the farmers, it was mostly the women who planted and tended the trees, proudly showed us the acacia and leucaenia which will be ready for harvest in about 18 months time.

The Woodlot project was designed to enable these rural farmers to meet the financial and environmental challenges of their context.  Soil fertility is low, but enough to sustain trees and the type of tree had been carefully chosen, acacia for rapid growth and because it is excellent for charcoal and leucaenia because it produces fine animal fodder.  At the moment 57 families are benefitting from this project, and they told us of their hopes that they would gain enough money to ensure schooling for their children, and they told us of their ideas about ways in which they might develop this work. The wait for the trees to be ready for harvesting was tough for the farmers, but it was exciting to hear about the “spin off”, almost side effects of the project, of a literacy programme being run by a volunteer because the farmers wanted to learn how to read so that their skills could develop, of co-ordinating meetings and training workshops being organised.

Sewing work in Wa, GhanaThe second snap shot is from Wa, in the Upper west region of North Ghana. The picture is of a room, walls open to the street to allow air to flow through, along one side was a loom where heavy cloth was being made to be sewn into tops and dresses, in another corner were a group of sewing machines, and along the terrace outside more sewing machines. The room was full of people who told us about their lives and hopes. Some spoke verbally, others used sign language. It was a centre run by and for people with disabilities and we had been brought there by Mulcuila, who works with a Christian Aid partner called SEND Ghana.  When we asked, we were told about some of the difficulties faced by people with disabilities; of a woman who is deaf who waited all day in A&E because she couldn’t hear when her name was called; of a man who had missed the opportunity of teacher training because of red tape around his disability, but he is going to try again and in the meantime earns his living as a cobbler. However telling us about these issues was not their focus, the people in that room wanted to talk about hopes and ideas. SEND Ghana has a number of strands to its work, one of which is advocacy. In particular, Mulcuila had been encouraging this group to register for government Health Insurance which should guarantee free health care and we were told about the difference that health care had made. The voice of people with disabilities was now being clearly heard in local Government.

Wenchi Methodist Hospital, GhanaThe third picture comes from Wenchi Methodist Hospital. Wenchi is in the Brong Ahafo region of South Ghana. The picture is of bricks! The Irish World Development and Relief Fund had given money towards a new orthopaedic unit and Bernard Botwe, the Hospital Administrator, showed us the bricks which would soon become the new wing. He then took us on to another work in progress, a ward being built for women with fistulas who, because of their condition, had sometimes been ostracised. There would be space in the ward for women to prepare for and recover from surgery and space for their families to prepare meals and support them.

And as for initial reflections … the first is of the difference which individuals can make.  Joseph, Mulcuila, Bernard, Rebecca and Lucia, woman entrepreneurs from the Ghana Association for Women Entrepreneurs whom we met on another visit, all of them as individuals were making a profound impact on their communities. That influence was worked out in advocacy, facilitation, mentoring, but most of all it was seen in passionate engagement with communities and with the issues which the communities faced. It was a privilege to meet them. Last Friday morning I sat at a table in the “First Step” Café which is run by Jennymount Methodist church in North Belfast. That church community is passionately committed to its community. Around that table I listened to individuals, Mervyn, Jonny, Alison and BJ, who are having a profound influence on the young people of the area. There in a very different context, I was struck again by the impact that committed individuals can have and was grateful to God.

My second reflection, it is really a learning point, was on the impact of advocacy. Before the visit I theoretically understood that advocacy is important, now I have seen its impact. I saw it in the empowering of rice farmers, whose existing skills had been developed through further training and who had formed themselves into co-operatives with the rice processors.  I saw it in the monitoring of the “School feeding programme”. This is a government programme through which a meal is provided to each primary school child every day with the result that school attendance has gone up and local farmers are supported because local produce is used wherever possible. Rosamond writes, “SEND has been monitoring the scheme, ensuring that it is implemented fairly and accountably. Before they started doing this they found that the scheme tended to be mostly implemented in regions that were less in need of it. Now it is being implemented in the 3 northern regions where 8 out of 10 people are living in poverty.” I saw the impact of advocacy when Rebecca and Lucia told us about training for women market stall holders who were being trained in book keeping so that they could keep records and avoid being exploited in terms of taxation. Focus on advocacy changes attitudes and lives on the ground.

I am grateful to Christian Aid (Ireland) and to the Methodist Missionary Society (Ireland) for the opportunity of this journey. I suspect that my reflections have just begun!

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