This photo essay was created by Ashley Grzybowski as part of a media internship with jhr. This activity was undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through the Canadian International Development Agency
Adum Presby Primary School’s Class 3 is made up of 60 children: 33 boys and 27 girls, each wearing a royal blue uniform and a short hair cut. They are packed into wooden desks by threes, and even by fours, although they are only meant to seat two, sharing their textbooks and many other things in this modest classroom. The teacher, Asamoa Margaret Antwiwaa, or as her students like to call her “Madame Margaret”, recaps yesterday’s lesson by taking up the students’ homework questions. Some of the children stand up confidently to respond, while others sit quietly, dreading to be called upon. While it is obvious that many children are eager to learn, it is also clear that many students did not complete their homework or understand the material, and some haven’t eaten breakfast.
Under the Ghana’s constitution, the government is obligated to provide access to Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE). The FCUBE policy was put into effect by the Ministry of Education/Ghana Education Services in 1995. It has been adapted into various educational reforms and programmes as a strategy to reduce poverty restraints and increase enrollment by removing school tuition fees and levies on basic education for all “school-going age children” (grades 1 to 9).
Although school enrollment rates have increased, Madame Margaret touches on the other socioeconomic conditions constraining access, quality and completion of basic education for all. “There still aren’t enough learning materials in government schools and parents don’t want to buy books.” She explains that many of the pupils at Adum Presby (a government/public school) come from low income families. Their parents do not have time to help their kids with homework, and do not have the means to purchase their school materials or even to provide them with breakfast every morning. Owusu Agyamang, a Regional Public Relations Officer for the Ghana Education Services, expands, “if a parent is not economically empowered, then even though basic education is free, they are still unable to send children to school.” This is particularly true of the rural and more remote areas in the country, especially the Northern regions of Ghana, where low levels of economic development, weak social services and lack of infrastructure are prevalent. According to Ghana’s most recent Preliminary Education Sector Performance Report, access to and the importance of education in these areas tend to be more limited and less emphasized. “In these areas, there are poorer households, fewer (total and trained) teachers, low demands for education, poor infrastructure, limited community-school relationships, high teacher absenteeism, high migration, and a rigid schooling system that doesn’t account for the needs of local rural communities.” In many Ghanaian families, school-aged children (mainly girls) are often put to work to supplement household income. Sending a child to school can be seen as a loss of family wages and domestic support. As a result, some parents do not see any benefit in their children getting a formal education. [pullquote]
The deprived northern districts are all below national levels, and achievement of basic education for girls is significantly less than boys nation-wide. These gaps however, are decreasing thanks to Ghana’s recent educational reforms.[/pullquote]
Matilda Bannerman Mensah, head of the Girl Education Unit at the Ghana Education Services, adds “there are also traditional socio-cultural practices that put preference on boys’ education rather than girls’.” Arranged and early marriage, female genital circumcision, and bondage are degenerative practices that are still predominant (particularly in the deprived northern regions) and constitute some of the other barriers preventing girls’ access to education.
The Government of Ghana and the Ministry of Education are well aware of these limitations and are attempting to address the issues. In 2002, the national government committed itself to attaining the United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDGs) of achieving universal primary education by their targeted deadlines and included it in conjunction with the implementation of its national development strategy. The “Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy” (GPRS) provides a guideline for the development and execution of the latest Education Strategic Plan’s objective: 100 per cent equal access to and completion of universal basic education for all children in Ghana by 2015. The aim to ensure equitable participation in and completion of basic education has meant improving the quality of teaching and learning, the provision and management of resources, and the overall efficiency of the decentralized education management system.
Ghana’s government has introduced a number of initiatives in the last decade including: a national school feeding program, free school uniforms and exercise books, extended kindergarten services, the building and rehabilitation of school facilities, education awareness campaigns, and in-service staff training, to improve both the quality of teaching and learning, and to increase equal basic educational opportunities for both male and female children in Ghana.
Although these initiatives have encouraged more children to enroll in and attend school, only 88 per cent of primary students and 67.7 per cent of junior high students complete their education, hindering the 2015 target of 100 per cent basic education for all. Gender and geographical disparities in enrollment and completion rates remain an issue. The deprived northern districts are all below national levels, and achievement of basic education for girls is significantly less than boys nation-wide. These gaps however, are decreasing thanks to Ghana’s recent educational reforms.
Educational limitations and discrepancies stem from the lack of funding and resources available to accommodate the growing needs of students and schools within the districts they operate. “[The] quality [of education] is [being] compromised in some way,” says Veronica Jackson, the National Activity Coordinator for the Ghana Education Services. “The right thing would be to add on to the infrastructure, but it doesn’t happen that way. It all comes down to funding and resources. There are more needs to be catered for than the resources can take care of. These are all part of the challenges.”
While the largest source of funding within the education sector comes from the Government of Ghana, its share in the total national expenditure has been declining. Economic policy restrictions imposed by institutions like the International Monetary Fund’s loan agreements, have weakened the government’s ability to allocate resources where they are needed most – in public infrastructure and social services.
Increased donor share for education costs is crucial for the development of the sector and the success of its reforms. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) contributes significantly to the implementation of the GPRS and Ghana’s subsequent national development plans. CIDA is working to improve the effectiveness of aid and the coordination of development projects in Ghana through activities aimed at improving budget planning for poverty reduction, delivery of basic services, strengthening technical and management expertise, and improving public financial management and oversight. This assistance helps build the capacity for effective, transparent and accountable systems of governance for Ghana’s population; however, the collaborative effort of aid donors, development partners and the local government is required for sustainable educational improvements.
Fortunately for the students at Adum Presby Primary, the school will soon benefit from more governmental and community support. Headmaster Akwasi Agemang Duku explains that the school is shortlisted for the construction of a kitchen facility to strengthen the delivery of its feeding program and a new school building, complete with more classrooms, washroom facilities, a library and information and communication technology equipment, set to be ready by the end of next year.
“The government is doing their best. Because children are the future leaders, we put everything aside and do our best. Whatever is given to us, we have to take it…God on our side and because of the work we have chosen-and we love our work- we are managing,” says Agemang Duku.
Preliminary Education Sector Performance Report 2008, Ministry of Education, Science and Sports (MoeSS)
Drained from an exhausting, hot day, my colleague Laura and I walked sluggishly towards Achimota Senior High School. As we drew closer, the fervent commotion of the youthful crowd was distinctly heard. It filled the recently vacated school grounds with new energy and life. Upon entering the gym, we could feel the excitement and our spirits were quickly recharged.
“Set your goals for a better life,” one girl said.
“It pays to wait!” insisted another.
“Education is our access, we have the potential for leadership!” shouted many others in unison.
Enthusiastic applause and cheers erupted, followed by cultural displays of various traditional songs and dances, and the presentation of motivational speeches by the participants and their inspiring role models. They were all girls, representing the various places, faces, and cultures of Ghana. Despite the obstacles that may stand in their way, they are set on becoming the future leaders of this developing country.
Every August, the Girls’ Education Unit (GEU), a subdivision of the Ghana Education Services (GES), puts on the Girls’ Empowerment Camp in Accra. The GEU’s objectives are to increase enrolment, retention, and academic achievement of girls in both basic (kindergarten to grade eight) and secondary (grade nine to grade twelve) education. These objectives are also the guiding forces behind the Empowerment Camp.
250 female primary, junior and senior students from remote or deprived schools in different areas of Ghana are sponsored to participate in the two-week camp. Teachers and headmasters choose the participants based on their potential, character or academic merit. When the camp was first introduced in 2001, less than 100 girls were sponsored to participate. Now, with the support of several contributors, Action Aid Ghana, Plan Ghana, World University Service of Canada/Uniterra, Canadian Development Agency (CIDA) and UNICEF, many more girls were able to travel to Accra from their communities, accompanied by their female chaperones this year. Considering the Empowerment Camp’s modest beginning, its expansion and reach are promising signs of the changing Ghanaian attitudes in realizing the importance of Girl Education and leadership.
Throughout their time at camp, the girls are exposed to new experiences and challenges. They participate in a variety of workshops to discuss issues that affect girls and their access to education openly: children’s rights, child labour, self-esteem, menstruation and sexual maturation, pregnancy, and personal relationships. The girls are also given tasks and opportunities to develop their leadership skills by assisting with the organization of camp events and the general maintenance of their accommodations. Women activists, doctors, nurses, science and technology educators, and a popular local TV personality, were some of the motivating guest speakers. By surrounding the girls with inspiring and accomplished women, the camp aims to show the girls the opportunities in furthering their education and developing their leadership skills, helping them achieve their goals and encouraging them to give back to their families and communities.
Divine Akufua, a middle-aged male director within the Girl Education Unit and a key organizer of the camp, explains: “The girls’ camp creates a platform for confidence and building life skills. The camp can change the [girls’] perspectives and influence their life circumstances.”
“If you are able to raise the girls’ self- esteem, they can see that they can also do anything, provided that they have the will and the capabilities for achievement…. The camp teaches the girl[s] that [they] can be a leader in [their] family, but also in the community, and then the nation at large.”
[/pullquote] Poverty is often a contributing factor in excluding children (especially girls) from accessing and completing school. With 28.5% of the country’s population living in poverty (on less than $1.25 Canadian a day), many families cannot afford to put all their children through school. When sacrifices need to be made, it is most common for girls to bear more of the burdens.
Traditional socio-cultural practices and beliefs put preference on boys’ education rather than girls’. Girls are often the first to stay home or are put to work in order to help with the immediate needs of the family. Arranged and early marriage, female genital circumcision, and familial bondage are common practices that are still predominant, particularly in the deprived rural areas, constituting some of the other barriers preventing a girl’s access to education.
“Many people still hang on to traditional stereotypes and practices,” Akufua explains. “In this country, girls’ rights are not given any attention and women are disadvantaged when it comes to calling the shots. When you look at the socio-political job market, there are too few women in these positions… [Many people] are afraid of gender role reversal and reversed power relations.”
Cultural stereotypes and attitudes can then create tendencies for women (specifically young girls) to feel inferior and push them towards domestic, labour intensive and low-paying work. Dorcas Ewusi-Ansah, Deputy Director of the Girl Education Unit, refers to low self-esteem as a significant reason why many girls do not aim high in life. Without encouragement and support to pursue their dreams, many girls are left without confidence and unconvinced of the benefits that further education can bring.
Ewusi-Ansah asserts: “If you are able to raise the girls’ self- esteem, they can see that they can also do anything, provided that they have the will and the capabilities for achievement…. The camp teaches the girl[s] that [they] can be a leader in [their] family, but also in the community, and then the nation at large.”
“Many more males must advocate for women’s rights. Because most men call the shots, men have the voices. If they say it, the perception is that it is true or right,” says Akufua.
The Government of Ghana recognizes the issue of equity in education and the obstacles that prevent many children, especially girls, from receiving quality education. It has committed itself to the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), particularly those aimed at: achieving 100 per cent universal basic education completion and eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education as part of empowering women and promoting gender equality by 2015.
Free compulsory universal basic education has been mandated in Ghana and nation-wide strategies that place the needs of girls and women at the centre of education policies have been implemented. Gradual improvements are evident: gross enrolment rates have increased to 104 per cent in 2008 and gender parity has been achieved largely in initial access to primary education. But, boys are still more likely to stay in school longer, especially at the secondary and tertiary school levels. The enrolment rate of girls aged 11-16 is lower than that of boys by almost eight per cent. Five per cent more boys than girls on average completed junior high in the last five years. Despite the National Government’s best efforts to remove barriers for girls, a persistent gender gap in education participation exists and the Government of Ghana’s Millennium education targets are far from being achieved.
“From this program, I will be able to teach my sisters and colleagues about how to take care of themselves. They can [also] become future leaders.”
[/pullquote] Like in many other developing countries, donors and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play a substantial role in fulfilling children’s rights to education in Ghana. Their contributions include capital infrastructure, donations of materials, training programs and stable funding that is channelled through the Government’s education plans, budgets and projects. NGOs and donors have clearly been vital to the continued operation and successes of the GEU and the Empowerment Camp. And the impacts are obvious.
Siratu Borsu was one of the girls sponsored to participate in the camp and someone I met at the beginning of the two week program. Borsu, an 18-year-old in her second year of junior high (grade 7), is from a small community in the Sissala West District of the Upper West Region of Ghana. She comes from a family of 30 brothers, 5 sisters, a father and his 4 wives. Since Borsu is the eldest daughter, her illiterate mother pushed for her to be sent to school; a rare opportunity for a rural girl and one only a couple of the family’s children could enjoy. After two weeks at camp, she exuded confidence, found a new sense of pride in herself, and believed in the opportunities that education could bring her. She, like many others, was ready to return to her community, armed with strengthened leadership skills, empowered by her experiences, and eager to continue and complete her education.
“After camp, I’m sure I’ll change my character to be more good at school. I have to study hard and be bold if I want to be a journalist,” said Borsu. Thankful for her experience at camp, she added, “From this program, I will be able to teach my sisters and colleagues about how to take care of themselves. They can [also] become future leaders.”
There is a strong belief among the GEU directors and its collaborators that girls are best placed to advocate for their own education, especially within their own communities. Some of the camp’s past participants have gone on to articulate their goals, apply for scholarships, and sensitize their communities and families about the value of girls’ education through the formation of Girls Clubs. With assistance and guidance from teachers and GEU district officers, these Girls Clubs have helped build the self-esteem of girls and their capacity to exercise their rights in decision making both in the home and at school.
Patience Gamado, a National Coordinator of the Uniterra Programme in Ghana, believes that being a part of the clubs, “is empowering for the girls. It is transforming. Their confidence levels are higher. They are more interactive and making the best out of their time in school.”
Overcoming the barriers to girls’ education requires the collaborative effort of government, educators, NGOs and donors (both locally and internationally) in changing traditional practices that hinder girls’ development and potential. If Ghana expects to reach its Millennium Developments Targets by 2015, it needs to further support and educate its females who make up half of the country’s population. Strengthening the capacity of the GEU and its various partners will help ensure that girls are guaranteed their rights to education and opportunity.
Simply put, empowering females “Allows women to speak and stand up for themselves,” says Akufua.
Comprehensive Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Analysis: Republic of Ghana (May 2009), World Food Programme, Republic of Ghana, and Ghana Statistical Service
Preliminary Education Sector Performance Report 2008, Ministry of Education, Science and Sports (MoeSS)
It is quarter to twelve on a hot summer afternoon in July. Hundreds of children, those enrolled in the school, and others from the surrounding community ranging in ages, are filtering slowly into a bare classroom at Biihe Primary School in Ghana’s Upper West region. They are following two female cooks wearing bright, colourful smocks and carrying large basins on their head. As you enter the classroom, there are children scattered everywhere. The sounds of hungry children crying, teachers shouting directions and clanking tin bowls and cutlery fill the room as the cooks serve three-ladle-full portions of ground-up maize, micronutrient powder and oil mix to the children. In front of the large bowls of food, many children stand in line waiting to be fed, while the others sit on the floor or benches to finish their meals. Although every child receives an equal serving, many attempt to get a second helping. As the food gradually disappears, the lines of hungry children are still forming. Their boney, meatless limbs, extended bellies and reddened hair are very noticeable; all signs of malnutrition and hunger. As it turns out, many children in this rural community, as well as many other areas in the Upper West, come from families that make up a large majority of Ghana’s population who are extremely poor and food insecure. For many children at this school, the lunch they are served is often the only meal that they will receive that day. The only thing keeping many of these children in school, and fed, is this single, daily meal.
Food is widely available in Ghana, but it is not accessible to all. Five percent of the population or 1.2 million people are food insecure; they have very limited access to sufficient and nutritious food. This coincides with the 28.5 percent living in poverty (on $1.25 CND a day or less).While the national average is lower than other developing countries’, food insecurity and poverty remain disproportionate among the country’s regions. During Ghana’s colonial rule and even post-independence, the three northern regions (Upper West, Upper East and Northern Region) have never been the focus of major economic growth and development initiatives. Expansion has been a slow-moving process and a variety of other factors, such as natural disasters, refugee resettlement, and the instability of the global economy have affected these areas considerably in recent years. As a result, many people, especially women and children, whose families’ livelihoods depend mainly on low-yielding and labour-intensive agricultural practices, are deprived of their basic needs and left vulnerable to conditions of poverty, hunger, malnutrition and inequality. Consequently, the Upper West is one of the poorest areas in the country. On average, poverty affects over 95 percent of the rural districts’ populations, and over 89 percent in the region’s few urban areas. As a whole, 34 percent of the population is food insecure, the country’s highest rate- this number continues to grow. When combined, conditions of poverty and food insecurity create a trap that is difficult for people to get out of on their own. Therefore, many families cannot provide their children with daily meals, let alone afford their healthcare and education that are critical in sustaining their welfare, food security, and guaranteeing their futures. Many children need to help their families with household or farm labour; as a result, they often miss school for lengthy periods of time or do not attend school at all. Even though basic education (kindergarten to grade eight) is free in Ghana, many children are still kept out of school.
The World Food Programme (WFP) is a non-governmental organization (NGO) assisting the Government of Ghana and actively tackling malnutrition and poverty in the three Northern regions. The organization donates approximately 23,407 metric tons of food (estimated at a value of $19.6 million US dollars) to Ghana. In joint effort with UNICEF and the Canadian International Developing Agency (CIDA), WFP provides food-based assistance for over 102,000 primary school children and 10,000 junior school girls in over 370 schools in communities where food insecurity is highest, and primary school enrollment and gender parity is lowest. Basically, the program has a threefold objective in mind: improving school enrollment, attendance and retention; reducing short-term hunger and malnutrition; and boosting domestic food production by using locally-produced food for school feeding, and providing a ready market for local small scale famer. The overarching goal for the school feeding program is to alleviate the effects of poverty, hunger and malnutrition in the northern regions in the long term.
The joint collaboration and active participation of the programmes’ actors (or development partners), including schools, parents and local government officials have been essential in its effectiveness. People within the schools, communities and the local governments share responsibilities in implementing and managing the program efficiently, by donating their time and contributing extra resources to cover supplementary costs and to make up for any losses (transport and cooking of food, supplying additional ingredients and firewood etc). With this collaborative approach, WFP’s donations are not merely a handout but an attempt for communities to take ownership of the program and pilot their own development, eventually eliminating the need for WFP and assistance in general.
I met Headmaster Adams Awudu, from Sankana Primary School, another rural community in the Upper West, to discuss the school’s WFP-assisted feeding programme that began in March 2009. The successes are obvious; enrollment has increased significantly, from 483 students last year to 586 this year, the drop out rates have fallen, student transfers have increased and the children’s academic performance has improved. “The children are very happy to have the food. When they are at home, sometimes they have nothing to eat. We provide them with food. Many [of them] switch schools just because of the program,” says Awudu with pleasure, adding, “The feeding programme is helping a lot. When [the children] are eating, they open up their books and they are learning. It [the programme] encourages them to come to and stay in school.” Despite these obvious achievements, challenges for the programme and the school still remain. Sankana Primary and many other schools I visited lack the necessary facilities (kitchens, dining halls, toilets) for cooking and feeding their children, and to accommodate the increased enrollment of students and their needs. Insufficient funds, lack of resources, infrastructure and means of transport (most communities are only accessible by long stretches of uneven, dirt roads) make seemingly simple tasks like delivering food to the schools very difficult.
The Government of Ghana recognizes the obstacles that prevent many children from receiving quality education and having their daily nutritional needs met, and has committed itself to the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals of halving the number of people living in poverty, and achieving 100 per cent equal access to universal basic education by 2015. The National Government has made gradual improvements in realizing these targets. To help reduce poverty restraints while improving the quality of education, the National Government introduced a capitation grant that covers school tuition fees and levies, facility construction and repairs, free school uniforms and exercise books. Since 2005, it has also been providing nutritious lunches for children in selected schools nationwide through its own feeding programme with similar objectives as the WFP’s feeding programme. But although the Ghana School Feeding Programme (GSFP) also works towards poverty reduction and food security, many have criticized it as being mismanaged and not reaching those who need it most, particularly the food insecure in Ghana’s poorest communities.
Vera Boohene, a National Information and Public Relations Officer of the WFP, asserts that food security has not been the main priority of the National Government in selecting the schools to benefit from its feeding programme. “Food insecurity should be at the top of the agenda because you just don’t get the maximum of a child who is hungry. They can’t learn and they are unproductive.” The WFP and the GSFP work collaboratively in some schools in the Upper West. In these schools, the WFP provides food for three school days, while the government is supposed to shoulder the other two and eventually fully take over. But, in many of the schools, this commitment is lacking. Boohene explains, “We expected the government to expand their coverage and come and partner with us in more schools. That hasn’t happened yet. We are trying to pitch in so that they come and join us in the most deprived regions and schools…Because we know the value of the programme, we don’t want it to be affected by any political concerns.”
I met with Seidu Paakuna Adamu, the recently-appointed and highly-demanded National Coordinator of the GFSP, a few weeks ago in Kumasi on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Schools had just closed for the summer break a week before and Adamu had finished his evaluation tour of the feeding schools in the region. Only four months into his executive position, Adamu was fully aware of the program; its successes, its goals and more importantly, its shortcomings. “Since it first started in 2005, the program has expanded from five pilot schools to 1,900, reaching over 657,000 school children,” said Adamu proudly, but admitting, “we did get some of the targeting wrong.” He explained that the selection of some schools (particularly middle class areas in main cities) were not as deserving of the programme compared to many schools in deprived areas of the country. Although he acknowledged the necessity of putting more feeding schools in the three northern rural regions, he mentioned the difficulties of withdrawing the feeding programme from recipient schools. “We need to concentrate on the poorest communities. We are trying to retarget the programme and make sure that it remains more even and focused…Expansion is needed but present recipients still need support too. [Present] communities are interested and concerned about any changes.” As phase II of the GSFP is set for September 2010, a national assessment exercise is currently underway. Adamu explained, “We have started to collect figures. Once we get our figures right and the spread [of schools] in the rural regions, then we can look at poverty areas and fill in the gaps. We are raising this issue with the Ministry of Local Government to discuss it and retarget it to make sure that the objectives of addressing poverty are strictly adhered to.”
Despite the many challenges rural communities face in the Upper West, their determination and resiliency are very inspiring. Although these communities have not received sufficient government support, they are working as best they can with the meager resources they have. With the rural community’s eagerness for improvement and engagement in assistance programs, such as the WFP’s initiatives, the potential for further growth and progress in the Upper West is promising. More attention and support for these people and the northern regions are greatly needed.
Adamu concurs: “We hope that the government will be able to provide one hot meal to each school child in the country. We haven’t gotten there yet…As of now, what we are trying to do is strengthen the management of the program [by] getting the right staff to handle it. Then, we can look for the funding to expand the project as we go along. We have a lot of children who need to get on board.”
Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis: Republic of Ghana (May 2009), World Food Programme, Republic of Ghana, and Ghana Statistical Service
The Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy II (GPRSII) (2006-2009), Ghana National Development Planning Committee
Dakurah Rubby is from Sankana, a small rural community in the Upper West region, where many families(including her own) depend highly on agriculture and small-scale farming as their primary source of income. Dakurah is 14-years-old and the eldest girl in her family. Typically, she would have been withdrawn from school over her brothers to work for the household or the farm. Instead, she will be entering her final year of junior high school (JHS) in September, leading her closer to realizing her hopes of becoming a nurse one day. Dakurah is one of the 10,000 JHS girls from food-insecure communities benefitting from monthly take-home rations (8kg of cereals, 2 litres of oil and 1kg of iodized salt in each package) donated by the World Food Programme (WFP) over the past two years.
The Upper West region is one of the least developed areas in Ghana. Its population, along with the Upper East and Northern region, makes up 70 per cent of the 28.5 national poor living on one dollar US or less a day. Factors such as a low, or “lean”, production season (March- September) and susceptibilities to adverse weather conditions (floods and droughts) prevent abundant year-round harvests in the region, leaving many families unable to access sufficient and nutritious food or meet their other basic needs. For many, education is considered a luxury, and not a necessity when battling these realities. When sacrifices need to be made, it is most often the girls who bare more of the burdens.
Matilda Bannerman Mensah, head of the Girl Education Unit at the Ghana Education Services, adds , “there are also traditional socio-cultural practices that put preference on boys’ education rather than girls’.” According to Mensah, arranged and early marriage, female genital circumcision and bondage are degenerative practices that are still predominant (particularly in the deprived rural areas) and constitute some of the other barriers preventing a girl’s access to education.
Food assistance in the Upper West aims to alleviate the effects of poverty, hunger and malnutrition, and the inequalities such conditions can lead to. Therefore, WFP’s take-home ration programme not only provides an income transfer and food relief to girl recipients and their families, but encourages their equal access and regular participation in school. In order to qualify for the ration package, girls are obligated to attend school 85 per cent of each month. According to the WFP, girls’ retention rates have doubled to reach 99 per cent attendance, with significantly fewer girls dropping out of assisted schools and continuing to higher education. The programme gives many females the chance to receive an education and pursue their dreams; opportunities many of them in the rural areas normally do not have. Even families who maintain very traditional beliefs are beginning to see the importance in formally educating their girls. “Most parents know that they will benefit more by sending a girl to school,” says Rosalia Babai, the Upper West Regional Coordinator of the Girl Education Unit.
As helpful as it is, the programme is unfortunately in its final phase and is supposed to be replaced by the National School Feeding Programme by the end of the year. Vital programs such as school feeding, that help address basic human needs, and that improve people’s access to equal participation and opportunity in society are crucial to the development of the country. As the National Government aims to develop Ghana into a middle-income country (by reducing poverty and accelerating the country’s economy), it (together with development partners) will need to strengthen the systems supporting its people, particularly the youth, who make up 50 per cent of the country’s population- Ghana’s capable workforce and it’s future leaders. For the northern population, further social support is needed to alleviate the burdens of poverty and to allow people (young and old, male and female) to live dignified lives.
Whether you spend two days or two months in Ghana, one thing you quickly realize is the dominance of religion and politics that is present in everyday life.
For the last two weeks of our internship at Kapital Radio, we have switched out of the newsroom and entered the heated realm of politics on Mufty’s daily show “Straight Talk” to maximize our experience in radio broadcasting. Although his show is always focused on politics, this week was especially politically-fuelled because of the recent elections to vote for a flagbearer for the New Patriotic Party (NPP), the main opposition party in Ghana. Campaign representatives, political journalists and social commentators were some of our featured guests on the show who debated the abilities of the NPP leader candidates. Amid the discussions, the focus remained on who would make a better leader for the party based on their personality traits and life experiences rather than addressing who would improve the country and best represent the people of Ghana and their needs. Although the primary is a closed vote that is not open to the public and the leader of the party is decided by its member delegates, I am not aware of any attempts made by the major media houses or the campaigners to include public clout on the selection of their democratic presidential hopefuls. I have always defined good democratic governance as an obligation for politicians to represent a nation’s people and provide the support in addressing their essential needs. According to G. Shabbir Cheema and Linda Maguire, specialists from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the UN Development Programme, “when governance is democratic—that is, infused with the principles of participation, rule of law, transparency and accountability, among others—it goes a long way toward improving the quality of life and the human development of all citizens.” Although personality does matter, I think it is important to look at actual political experience and capabilities, public opinions and preference when it comes to choosing a potential democratic leader (for a political party and for a nation). So, although the flagbearer of a party is voted ‘privately’, it is still important to assess public opinion on and personal capabilities of candidates in choosing the potential future leader of a nation.
As a result of the media only concentrating on the candidate’s personalitiesrather than their political platforms and action plans, it seems that some people have not aligned themselves with any particular candidate that they feel would best represent them. When I asked several very bright local friends and colleagues who support the NPP who would make the best party leader, I was surprised by their slightly apathetic response. They did not have much to say and expressed their content with whoever would be chosen “by God’s will.” They left the decision up to fate rather than demanding more public participation and sway (even if only by appearance) in the selection of their democratic government figures. Moreover, when I asked a colleague whether he would support Nana Akufo-Addo (his preferred candidate in the NPP Primary and the re-elected leader of the party) in the upcoming 2012 Elections, he responded that making the lengthy trip back to his community in the Volta Region (since Ghanaians are only allowed to vote in the region where they originally registered) just to cast his vote would be “unlikely.”
Christianity is one of the main religions here in Ghana and after attending a few two-hour long services (one Presbytarian, the other Evangelical) and a gospel concert with friends, I realized how seriously many Ghanaians take their religion. Their devotion and faith in God is impressive and inspiring. However, I still think that some things in life should not be simply left up to fate. Considering Ghana is one of the most consolidated democracies on the continent, Ghanaians are given the rare opportunity to freely participate in politics compared to other oppressed or collapsed African countries (such as Somalia or Zambia). It worries me when some people do not fully utilize the right to take part in the government of their country, directly or through freely chosen representatives; this includes Canadians too. If the public puts pressure on political actors and their parties, there is potential to have democratic leaders in power who actually represent citizens’ needs. For example, some Canadians exercised their right to take part in government or party leader selection when their strong opinions helped sway the change from Stephen Dion to Michael Ignatieff as the Liberal Party leader a few years ago, stating that they did not trust Dion to lead the party to victory. As Article 21, Section 3 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.”
Mr. Asa Yaw Atakora, Vice President of the Ghana Society of the Physically Disabled (GSPD) was one of the featured panelists on this week’s segment of “Know Your Rights,” which focused on the rights of disabled persons. As a disabled man himself, he shared the realities of being disabled with the listeners and criticized the lack of support available for most disabled persons in Ghana.
Since Ghana is still a developing country, disabled persons face many challenges. Inaccessibility in many (if not most) buildings and homes is common, educational institutions for the disabled are few, and social services (i.e. means of transportation, therapy, subsidizations) are inadequate. Also, with maintained roots in traditionalism, many members of Ghanaian society continue to stigmatize the disabled. For instance, disabled persons are not allowed in the Ashanti King’s palace, as it is considered a bad omen for the King to see these people first thing in the morning. Some extreme traditionalists even consider people with mental disabilities as possessed by demons who need to be exorcised or tortured to be “cured.” However, even people with more modern views continue to see persons with disabilities as helpless and useless, or victims of their own “defected” bodies. Although they may be challenged physically or mentally in some capacity, Atakora defends, “disability is not an inability.” Disabled persons are just as capable of contributing productively to society as any “abled” person.
Even though the Government of Ghana (GoG) is party to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and has recently signed the UN Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, it (like in many other developing or developed countries) has yet to prioritize safeguarding the rights of all its citizens. Social violations of rights, especially for the vulnerable in society (including disabled persons), continue. The reason, as Atakora explains, is mostly political and a matter of “rhetoric”. Atakora criticizes that although the GoG says it is “making a better Ghana for everybody”, their focus remains on economic prosperity and development which benefits the privileged and powerful minority and ignores the needs of the unprivileged and average majority. The lack of commitment from government and the constant changes in elected and appointed officials have made securing the rights of Ghanaians (especially the vulnerable) and sustainable social services a daunting task. The disabled as Atakora, says, are “working with all odds against us.”
As is the case for many of Ghana’s social services, the GSPD is also crippled by lack of government funding. The organization’s work and influence relies solely on the external support it receives from organizations and donors such as DANIDA (Danish International Development Agency), and its occasional advocacy and access to free publicity in the media. Atakora was very grateful to be a guest on the show and to receive the much-needed air time to talk about the rights of disabled persons (a rare topic in the politically debated climate of media in Ghana) without having to pay a publicity fee.
“We do not need your sympathy,” he insists. Instead of pitying persons with disabilities, he requests that Ghanaians reach out and offer them their support.
Dr. Charlotte Abeka, a former chairperson for the United Nations and a frequent “Know Your Rights” guest, stresses the importance of putting the human being at the centre of one’s attention and action. While many governments have ensured the political and civil rights of its citizens, Abeka insists there needs to be a reorientation of economic, social and cultural rights in society to include the most vulnerable and ensure their “right to development.” When it comes to inequality and social injustices, Abeka claims, “We are all at fault. We have become so individualistic that we only care about ourselves.” In every country, the government and its institutions, media or any privileged or “abled” person, all have the larger capacity and responsibility to influence, address injustices, and make positive social changes for all, and more importantly, the vulnerable.
Following our interviews in Accra, Laura and I decided to travel to Wa (in the Upper West Region) this week to do field work for our CIDA assignments. We headed to the bus station in Kumasi Sunday morning after being advised by a local transit worker to arrive early in order to secure our seats. Eight hours later, the bus was finally filled to capacity (more passengers joined us along route to sit on stools in the aisles) and we embarked on our journey on the only main road that connects the three Northern regions (the North, Upper East and Upper West) to the rest of Ghana. We arrived six hours later in the sleeping town, where late night taxi drivers, roaming dogs and bleating goats were the only signs of life. We settled into our guesthouse by the local air strip and rested for our upcoming days of filming, interviewing and new experiences.
The next few days were packed. We were fortunate enough to be driven around by Abdul Karim Shehu, an Upper West officer of the World Food Programme (WFP) and his driver Sadu, to rural districts where the organization was running its current assistance programs in joint effort with UNICEF and CIDA funding. We visited various schools and communities, and witnessed how supplementary feeding programs, child welfare clinics, and milling and fortification projects were ensuring access to education, health services and acting as a source of income for many children, women and their families.
According to Vera Boohene, a Reports/Information Assistant at WFP Ghana, close to 50% of the food insecure population in Ghana is located within the three northern regions. Throughout Ghana’s colonial rule and even post-independence, the regions have never been the focus of major economic growth and development initiatives. Expansion has been a slow-moving process and a variety of other factors (natural disasters, refugee resettlement, and the instability of the global economy) have affected these areas considerably. As a result, many people whose live livelihoods depend mainly on subsistent and labour intensive agricultural practices are deprived of their basic needs and left vulnerable to conditions of poverty, malnutrition and inequality.
After speaking with local teachers, school children, farmers and women’s groups, and meeting with government officials and representatives from other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), it became clear that aid programs and development projects are helping to improve their conditions. The joint collaboration and active participation of development partners have been essential in the effectiveness of these programs. However, delayed construction, insufficient funds and the lack of resources, infrastructure and means of transport (most communities are only accessible by long stretches of uneven, dirt roads) are some of the reoccurring challenges these communities and their district governments continue to face.
With the presence of a vast and lush landscape of natural resources in the region mixed with the community’s eagerness for improvement and engagement, the potential for further growth and progress is promising. More attention and support for these people and these regions are greatly needed. Currently, the road to development is still a long and bumpy path.
One of the many advantages of travelling is the opportunity to experience diverse cultures and, participate in cross cultural exchanges with locals, immigrants and other travelers. These encounters with differences and the unfamiliar are incredibly enriching. It allows people to connect and learn common values, while understanding and accepting each others’ differences. Beliefs, behaviours and norms can also clash within inter-cultural and cross-cultural environments. As we continue our development research for CIDA and our journalism internship at Kapital Radio, we are observing the role of traditional attitudes and practices in the developing context of modern Ghana first hand. Two events this week revealed the complicated balance between both worlds.
We were fortunate enough to witness some traditional drumming and dancing performances at the National Cultural Centre in Kumasi. Wearing their familial Kente cloth, performers moved fluidly and in synch with the drum beat to honor the tribal Chief and director of the Centre. As customary music and dance was expressed to pay tribute, a less conventional offering was also given-spectators, performers and other elders also paid their respect with donations of cash. They stuck low denominations of Ghana Cedis (the local currency) on the Chief’s forehead as an offering of their respect and support for the Centre, the Chief and the culture, as he continued dancing all the while
After the performance, we browsed the stalls of art that were set up for sale in the open space of the compound. Vibrant colours and images were displayed in paintings, carvings, beadwork and in the traditional Kente cloth representing the many family clans and tribes of the diverse Asante peoples. I chatted with a Ghanaian Asante artist from a small rural village named Bobo, who was selling his paintings and thread art representing traditional village life. As we exchanged personal stories, I asked him his opinion on whether material forms of art and culture lose their intended meaning when they are reproduced. He explained that his paintings had much more significance than what the symbols and activities represented. His work was the realization of skills and talents of his ancestors, passed down through generations. Bobo’s work symbolized the bonds of his family, their history and their traditional values. Selling his art was also Bobo’s method of earning an income. Living back home in his village, he did have many viable opportunities. He moved to Kumasi in the hopes of succeeding as an artist and to pursue a degree in business at Kumasi Polytechnic College. For Bobo, it is important to support his family and community and maintain his culture, and he can achieve this by selling his art. The reproduction of his art and culture clearly had more meaning than I expected.
Although we come from two different upbringings and have different plans in life, we bonded over our common values for family and honest friendships. By the end of our conversation, I grew appreciative of Bobo, his life and his art. He did not ask me to buy any of his work, but only requested that “[I] return so we could spend more time learning from one another.”
This week we also learned about the gender equalities that can result from traditional patriarchal thinking.
For the past month, we have been helping plan and produce Up Front, a youth talk show on Kapital Radio that airs Saturdays from 8-9 pm. Last week, we discussed whether teenagers need parental consent for dating. In recent local news, a 16-year-old girl was shot and killed by her own father for disobeying his orders by dating a boy he did not approve of behind his back.
Many people called in to express their thoughts and opinions regarding the issue, but something one of our panel guests said really stuck out. She referred to the incident as “an unfortunate accident.” However, she justified the father’s actions, explaining that the girls’ disobedience in dating without consent had led to his violent reaction due to emotional stress.
This traditional way of thinking is embedded in the minds of many people. Although it is important for one to maintain one’s traditional values and customs, tradition does not override human rights. Ghana, as a state, has committed itself to protecting these rights by signing on to various human rights doctrines, and enacting various rights protection acts. Regardless of traditional rationale, the aforementioned man has his daughter’s blood on his hands.
Next week, Laura and I are heading to the field- the Upper West Region, one of the least developed areas in Ghana, to work on our priority issues.
On top of our duties at Kapital Radio, our other obligations involved in this overseas university internship is to produce insightful media that creates awareness about complex development issues in Ghana and the efforts in place to address them.
Billions of foreign aid dollars are pumped into the “Gateway to Africa” annually with elaborate plans for growth in mind. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) is one of the main aid agencies working collectively with the government of Ghana and a variety of partners (the International Monetary Fund, intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations) to fund sustainable development initiatives within the country. CIDA supports national priorities and programs in the areas of governance, health, basic education, private sector development and environmental sustainability that aim to tackle the global challenges set out in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): 1) eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, 2) achieving universal primary education, 3) promoting gender equality and empowering woman, 4) reducing child mortality 5) improving maternal health, 6) combating HIV/AIDS and other diseases, 7) ensuring environmental sustainability, and 8 ) developing a global partnership for development. The aim is to achieve these goals by 2015. In the networks of assistance, the actors are numerous, the projects are endless, and the numbers of people that they intend to reach are extensive. Whether it’s education, private sector development or governance, the priorities are all multifaceted and interrelated; their root causes and problems directly or inadvertently affect the others. In order to develop an economy and create new industries, infrastructure, support systems (i.e. social services and finances), regulatory bodies, education, training improvements and collaborations between sectors need to occur simultaneously. Well-orchestrated programs and collaborative efforts are then required for lasting positive societal changes.
When trying to make sense of the realities of development work in Ghana, I am left feeling somewhat overwhelmed. There are no clear-cut ways to deal with the issues and achieving the (somewhat overambitious) MDG goals by their target deadlines — a seemingly daunting task. Local professor and Head of the Economics Department at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Appiah-Nkrumah, offers a practical suggestion, “You can’t look at eradicating poverty, you have to look at reducing [it].” Sustainable change doesn’t just happen easily and instantly. Development plans and efforts need realistic goals and deadlines, and the necessary strategies to achieve step-by-step results.
Since 2003, a pragmatic national growth and poverty reduction support program in Ghana has been put into effect and the government is working within its means (and networks) to improve the standards of life for Ghanaians. More efficient management and collaboration of different institutions, policies and their programs are coming together to provide necessities, capacities and opportunities for people to better their situations, for reducing regional disparities and social divides within the country, and while propelling the economy one step at a time.
I’ve spent the first three weeks examining policies and gaining a better perspective on the background and complexities of development issues and efforts. Now I am beginning to book interviews with the people involved and, more importantly, the people affected. From now on, the issues will hopefully start to make more sense. Just one day of observing the daily activities at a local primary school and interacting with the inspiring teachers and their aspiring students (and future doctors, teachers, nurses and the potential President of Ghana) has given me more cause and motivation for exploring the issues of removing barriers to achieving equal access to quality basic education in Ghana. Stay tuned for more personal connections, more depth into the issues in our upcoming blogs and articles.