Author Archives: Alyssa McDonald

About Alyssa McDonald

Alyssa McDonald is in her first-year of Creative Communications at Red River College and her third year at the University of Winnipeg for Communications and Human Rights and Global Studies. Growing up in Minnedosa, Manitoba, she helped start a non-profit organization benefiting education in Ethiopia and set up its communications strategy. She now works in social media strategy and development, where she outlines ways to effectively promote and engage using new media. McDonald currently lives in Winnipeg and enjoys movies, travel and current events.

Children walking from school

The drive to protect Ghana’s youth

Two schoolchildren start their walk home down Secondi Road in Takoradi, Ghana. Photo by Alyssa McDonald

 

 

Francis Donkoh waited on the meridian while a police officer stopped a busy street full of afternoon traffic for him to cross the zebra crosswalk. He was walking home from school with with a group of friends, including his sister Anne Marie and cousin Melissa.

It was then that a vehicle leapt onto the meridian and crushed eight-year-old Francis, taking his life.

Road accidents kill and injure more children in Ghana than disease and conflict combined. It kills more children than diseases like malaria and HIV/AIDS worldwide. It is an epidemic. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), injuries caused by road traffic are the leading cause of death worldwide among youth aged 10 to 24 years old.

On January 21, 2011, Chris and Fanny Donkoh heard a commotion outside of the house they share with their extended family and went to investigate.

“As a young couple, we didn’t expect for this to happen to us,” Chris said.

Chris and Fanny Donkoh in their house in Takoradi. Photo by Raquel Fletcher.

He walked no more than 20 meters before realizing it was his children lying on the road in front of him. Fanny was right behind.

“When I got to the accident site, everyone who knew us… everyone who had seen what had happened… they were just looking at me,” Fanny said, recalling the day of the accident. “I went over to the scene and saw Francis was in Chris’ hands, dead.”

Fanny was brought back to their compound which they share with Chris’ parents and brother’s family, while Chris stayed with his son’s dead body. At this point,  they had not heard news of their daughter Anne Marie and niece Melissa. With rumours starting to circulate that the girls had died, Chris went to the hospital.

“Anne Marie was there and alive but she was still recovering from the shock,” Chris said.

Someone who had seen the accident helped Anne Marie and Melissa get to the hospital. Knowing an ambulance would take too long, they tried to convince a taxi to take the girls for help. Numerous taxis refused to take the them because they were bleeding so much. They resorted to a tro-tro, a long public mini-bus to take the girls to the hospital. The Donkoh’s say they still are unsure of who this good Samaritan is.

Anne Marie with the Donkoh's youngest son Antonio. Photo by Raquel Fletcher.

Thirteen-year-old Anne Marie walked away from the accident with non-life threatening injuries and remained in hospital for three months. Melissa was flown to a military hospital in Accra, Ghana’s capital city, but died a few days later. As far as the Donkohs know, Anne Marie is the only surviving child of this traffic accident.

The Donkohs decided to take action by founding the Francis Donkoh Memorial Road Safety Foundation. “We want to spread awareness to youth to save our future leaders,” Fanny said about the foundation in Francis memory.

According to Chris, the foundations main message is “if you are not trained to drive, please for heaven sakes, do not drive.”

Their voice joins other awareness campaigns about the importance of road safety. The WHO and United Nations have named the next ten years the ‘Decade of Action for Road Safety’, spanning from 2011-2020. They have started the Make Roads Safe campaign, which reaches out to countries all over the world, but specifically to developing countries where 90 per cent of these deadly crashes occur.

Ghana’s National Road Safety Commission (NRSC) has already started making changes to their educational programs under the campaign. Along with their traditional school visits, they are also talking to Parent Teacher Associations (PTA), holding community outreach nights and advocating for road safety to be put into primary school curriculums.

Henry Asomani, NRSC Western Region planning officer, said 23 per cent of all pedestrian fatalities in Ghana involve children below the age of 16 years, most happen while children are walking to or home from school.

“We are visiting [PTA] meetings and telling them, ‘Please don’t allow your children to cross busy roads. If possible, take them to school, if you can’t, let an adult bring them to school,’” Asomani said.

Chris now drives Anne Marie to and from school every single day. He said this is not just for her safety but she finds it difficult to forget the accident. “Every time Anne Marie gets to the junction, naturally she just remembers the moment of the vehicle, speeding off. Its not easy,” Chris said.

The family has remained in their house and therefore is close to the memories of that day. “Where we stay, right where the incident happened, the memories will forever be there,” Fanny said. “Anytime we go outside, to go to work or to church or wherever… you still have to recall what happened on that day.”

A road safety billboard in Northern Ghana. Photo by Alyssa McDonald.

The crash that killed Francis and Melissa was caused by one large truck not recognizing all the other vehicles were stopping to allow the children to cross. The vehicle kept going full-speed and pushed the vehicle in front of him onto the meridian, which trampled the children waiting to cross the street. A total of six people were hit, including Francis, Melissa, two school friends and a grandmother walking her grandchild home from school.

The man who caused the accident ran away from the scene. The truck was traced back to his employer who told the Ghana Police’s Motor Traffic and Transport Unit (MTTU) the identity of the man who was driving the truck.

Chris and Fanny say the driver was arrested, went to court and has since been released out on bail. They chose to not go to the courts

“I am not really sure who killed our children, whether he was a liscened driver or not. But I don’t want to know that,” said Chris. “We don’t know his fate, but whatever happens to him does not bring my son back. That is our mentality now.“

The Western Region MTTU says they will charge those who they believe cupable for road accidents. The top reasons for the crashes are speed, inexperience, alcohol, and bad road conditions. Takoradi used to be a quiet city but with the recent oil dicovery has changed it into an ‘oil city’. There are now workers coming in daily with tankers, large truck and all other automobiles. The falling down city now has traffic jams that clog residental streets.

The crosswalk where Francis died. Photo by Alyssa McDonald

The road where Francis was killed is one of the busiest in Takoradi, it connects suburbs like Airport Ridge to the main market circle. The Donkoh’s home is the second compound off the street in Airport Ridge, one of the most expensive areas in the city.

Although Ghana has the fastest growing economy in the world according to Economy Watch, its infrastructure does not meet its economy. Many of the roads have potholes that make traffic slow to a crawl. This combined with unlicensed drivers and no control of alcohol consumption makes for a deadly combination.

When I was traveling in Ghana, we would drive quickly down the windy roads that cover the countryside. There were always families walking or children selling goods on the shoulder. On more than one occasion I looked over to see how fast the vehicle was going only to see the speedometer was broken.

Most people travel in a tro-tro, Ghana’s most widely used form of transportation that holds upwards of 15 people. If the tro were to crash, the 15 people in the aboard’s fate would not be a happy one. All, including myself, were not wearing seatbelts and small children sitting on the laps of their mothers.

The highways in Ghana are undivided and take steep turns. Every 15 kilometres or so, a red Toyota sign appears at the side of the road which says ‘Overspeeding Kills. ‘x’ number of people died here last year’. I saw the ‘x’ range from four to thirty.

The NRSC teaches children how to protect themselves from car accidents. Indira Apronto, head educator at the NRSC, goes to Ghana’s Western Region schools to teach children how to walk or play near roads. In the classroom, she asks them to show her how they walk by the roads and then the class acts out scenarios where cars would veer at them. This is how children are taught to protect themselves.

Melissa (left) and Francis (right) graves in the Takoradi Cemetery. Photo by Raquel Fletcher.

“They admit that they do some of the wrong things and then we talk about it,” Apronto said. “We follow up and we get to know that they are changing their route. It takes some time to change behavior, but they do change.”

NRSC teach them the school children lessons like always walk on the outside of a parent or adult. Then, if a car does veer at them, the adult is more likely to get hit than the child. Although this may sound horrifying to most Canadians, this is what Ghanaians have resorted to in order to save their children.

Every time a child is hit, their right to education, to play, and to live is in jeopardy. Mothers like Fanny have lost their child forever and will never forget.

“Definitely with this experience, there will be that kind of… missing your son, day in and day out,” she said.

Four Babies and a Mother

[pullquote]”They are human like myself so they should be given the necessary support. Even though they are not my family members, that is what our organization is all about, helping humanity.”[/pullquote]

Imagine preparing to have one baby without realizing that you are actually pregnant with quadruplets.

Without the same ultrasound technology as in Canada, many pregnant women in rural Ghana do not know they are carrying more than one child. This was the case for Rebecca ,whose family grew by four in March 2007.

There was no celebration. No offerings of a reality show fame. Just four new mouths to feed.

Already living in poverty with no skills or training, Rebecca , 32, moved her seven children to Takoradi to try to get help. With the help of community members she has remained there with the quadruplets, now four, and one of the elder children.

The father of the children is off working on a cocoa farm. Rebecca says she does not know where or when he will return. He does not send her money to help support the children.

Older sister Vida

Without government social support, Rebecca relies on community groups to help provide for her children. Community Integration Initiative Foundation (CIIF) is an organization set up to help families like Rebecca’s. They have recognized the fact that children need to proper access to food, shelter and education. They want to teach Rebecca some skills so she can care for her family down the road and no longer need assistance.

“If we are able to help the parent, then with a little support from us they can also take care of the kids,” says Justice Agbanyo, the director of CIIF.

“They are human like myself so they should be given the necessary support. Even though they are not my family members, that is what our organization is all about, helping humanity.”

Rebecca says their living conditions are hard on the children, especially during rainy season. “When it rains, the roof leaks badly,“ says Rebecca. “We have to wait until the rain stops and then wipe up the floor. After the floor is dry, we can lay the two mats down to sleep on.”

Rebecca with her quadruplets Gifty, Shadrack, Marshack and Abedneso

There is nothing on the walls but an old calendar and a picture of the quadruplets – Gifty, Shadrack, Marshack and Abedneso – in traditional wear.

Vida is the third oldest child in a family of seven. She is eight years old and can’t read, write or understand basic English words. “I want to go to school,” Vida says though a translator, “I want to earn money to help my family.”

Kindergarten education is free in Ghana, but Rebecca says that fees for books and uniforms prevent her from enrolling the children. That is the main reason why CIIF’s wants to help to provide education for the children.

Multiples account for less three per cent of births worldwide but since the 1970s, Ghanaian women have a higher rate of natural multiple births according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. This means that Rebecca is not alone in the surprise of having more than one child.

To the Book-Mobile: Ghana’s Library on Wheels

For many rural children in Ghana, a community library seems like a far away dream. However, a mobile library is giving rural children access to books and computer lessons by delivering them right to their school.

Students enter the mobile library that is visiting their school

The children and youth are excited to get inside the mobile library and anxiously wait in line for their turn. When they get inside, they will have access to books ranging in subjects like mathematics, literature and student government.

Nana, a 20-year-old student at the secondary schools, wants to be a nurse when she finishes school and borrowed ‘Sexually Transmitted Diseases” to aid in her education and inform herself.

Nana explains why she picked a book called "Sexually Transmitted Diseases"

“I took it because I want to be a nurse and know more about sexually transmitted diseases, says Nana. “At this time in Ghana, sexually transmitted diseases are becoming more common so I want to know how to prevent myself from getting these kind of diseases.”

14-year-old Marie took a book on fairytales because she thinks the stories teach her how to be humble and will help improve her English.

When the mobile library arrives in the rural communities, it visits all the schools in the area, including kindergarten, primary and secondary. It only visits schools without a community library.

For many children here, stepping inside the mobile library was their first time in any library.

“At times, this is [the children’s] first time holding a library book. Some of them have not even thought about reading a storybook,” says Ben Koranteng, one of the librarians that travel around with the mobile libraries to the small communities.

“They have heard of ‘library, library, library’ but they don’t know what a library is. Then seeing a library on wheels. It is amazing to see the children react to borrowing books.”

The Ghana Library Board started this project in two districts as a way to bridge the gap between the educational access of rural and urban children.

Ghana Bar Association Educates Children on Their Rights

The rows of children that came to hear about their rights

Knowing what rights you do have is the first way to recognizing when someone is abusing them.

The Ghana Bar Association recognizes this fact and has set up workshops centered on teaching school children about their rights and responsibilities.

“I think that the program is good because I want to be educated about my rights,” one child said. This child was one of hundreds that filled room, all in different colours representing their different schools.

The children were asked to prepare questions about their social and economic rights to ask several lawyers who volunteered to visit children. One by one, the children would stand up and ask their question to the lawyers.

Many of their questions were about their rights as children, specifically when looking at child labour. Many school age children work for their parents after school, selling the market or streets. They asked about hours and what are appropriate jobs for them to be helping out with.

One child asked about helping at his parents restaurant business because it serves alcohol as well as food. The lawyers told him that as long as it is before eight o’clock and he does not serve the alcohol, it is okay for him to help his parents out.

Child labour is defined through law as a person under 18 who is deprived of health, education or development. It also prohibits children from working after eight o’clock at night.

Other questions were based around the family. One boy stood up and asked, “if my parents get divorced, do I have the right to choose who I live with?”

A child asking a question about his rights to the panel of lawyers

Joseph, 12, enjoyed the workshop and learned more about what makes a good citizen of Ghana, saying, “doing the program, I got to know my rights and learned that every right also goes with a responsibility.”

The Ghana Bar Association has chosen child rights as its theme for the month of July.

Tourists Prop up School in Ghana’s Stilt Village

The school in the village of Nzuluzu would not be able to function without tourism.

One of the three classrooms in "the stilt village"

The 500-year-old remote village is built on the water, held up entirely by stilts and only accessible by canoe. Each day, tourists from all over the world make the 30 minute canoe trip to the ‘stilt village’ to observe the culture and infrastructure. But their trip means much more to the town than visitors, it means money for education.

Along with a few jhr interns, I made the trip to the town for an adventure. Upon arrival, we were asked to sign the guestbook and make a donation to the primary school. We obliged and gave a small donation to the school and according to resident Mensah Athur, the school would crumple without donations like ours.

The school houses 120 students from kindergarten to Grade six. They only have one government-funded teacher for all the students. Seeing this was inadequate, the school has hired three community teachers to help that they pay for out of tourist donations.

“Every tourist that comes here helps with a donation to the community,” says Athur who runs the Kasapa Guest House and greets visitors as they enter the town. “If tourists stop coming here, there won’t be any donations to pay the teachers with. The school would collapse.”

Athur says the school, in fact the whole town, relies on tourism for development. The major industries of farming, fishing and gin-making, would not support the maintenance of the town, let alone provide extra funding for the school.

In 2000, the private tourism companies/workers were pushed out to make way for the Amanzuri Conservation and Integrate Development Project. The ACIDP collects tourism fares that go directly to projects in the six communities.

The project proposals only cover maintenance of infrastructure and small business loans. So the community made the decision to collect donations at the beginning of each trip to support their sinking school.

Kids being kids in front of the camera in Nzulezu

Getting Schooled on World Refugee Day

Today is World Refugee Day and I have never really recognized this day before.

Yes, perhaps I would have retweeted a Tweet about the day, or even posted a story about it to my Facebook wall, but it would not have resonated like it does now.

In my time in Ghana, I have visited the Ampain Refugee camp twice and met with refugees about their experiences with the ongoing political and ethnic struggle going on in the Ivory Coast. I have mainly been interested in what the education is like in the refugee camps.

Ampain houses over 5000 Ivorian who fled the political unrest and now ethnic persecution in their home country. The UNICEF supported primary school educates about 800 students in temporary wooden structures with tarp roof and walls. Last Thursday, the camp got a donation of desks and white boards from the Christian Conservatory of Ghana so the children no longer have to sit on plastic mats on the ground or learn from tarp walls made into makeshift blackboards.

The former 'blackboard' for the secondary school (in the window, you can see the blue tarp of the primary school)

The volunteer teachers still only have limited books and school supplies to try to educate the school, which is seen as a safe haven for the children. Most of the children have been directly impacted by the trauma of the unrest and move to the refugee camp.

When I visited the camp briefly last week, we heard there had been an incident earlier that day. I learned later that it involved a dispute at the charcoal distribution and the police were called in to interfere. To try to regain power, they shot their guns in the air, which caused more havoc, especially for the school.

The children were taken aback by the sounds of the gunfire and ran into the bush for cover. Many children refused to come out of hiding prompting a ‘Missing Children’s List’ to be drafted and a search team organized. All ten ‘missing children’, some as young as four, were eventually talked out of hiding. The next day, many of the students did not attend classes.

“[The children] went to the bush to hide when there was gun shooting because when [they] were in Ivory Coast, during the war, they would have heard all the gunfire and learned to hide themselves,” explained Jacob Ahoua, who is coordinator of the refugees for the camp and established the school as an assistant of community service.

“Most of the children of the camp are traumatized because they heard of the noises of war. Some have seen their father or mother killed. So this event was a bad experience for the children.”

After hearing this story, visiting the primary school and meeting the people of the refugee camp, I definitely view World Refugee Day in a new light.

A child draws in the sand outside her tent at Ampain Refugee Camp

For a first hand account from the people at Ampain listen to Raquel Fletcher’s, Ivorians Seek Refugee Status in Ghana.

The Ghanaian Social Network

Social media has taken the world by storm and Ghana is no exception.

Facebook is everywhere. When walking into an internet café in Ghana, it is hard to miss the blue and white pages of the poplar networking site on the screen of almost every single computer.

“Social networking is the single most important activity among Ghanaian internet users,” says Mac-Jordan Degadjor, a Ghanaian social blogger.

Degadjor uses social media on different platforms including business, connecting with peers and addressing misconceptions and sharing information about Ghana to others.

Almost 93 per cent of Ghanaians that have access to the internet are registered on Facebook. This access to the internet is growing as more and more people are getting internet on their phones.

“I use Facebook to communicate with friends and clients as well as get links to vital information,” said Razak Cofie, a marketing manager and DJ for GoodNewsFM in an interview over Facebook. “To me, this vital information is anything that will interest our listeners or my friends, and that will enrich me as well. It ranges from social issues to anything that might concern the average person.”

Businesses and politicians are finding Facebook as a way to connect with the youth market. In the 2008 Ghana election, CPP candidate Dr. Papa Kwesi Nduom implemented a social media strategy as a way to target youth voters. Clubs and organizations, like jhr’s chapter at AUCC, are using Facebook to connect to a larger audience, organize meetings and trips, and raise awareness about the media in Ghana.

Twitter is also trending as Ghanaians take part in #Tech4Africa and #AfricaDay. Last year, Accra was one of few African cities to take part in Twestival, a global grassroots social media fundraising for local educational institutions through Concern Worldwide.

How Ghanaian’s use the internet has been an interest of mine since I read Robin Pierro’s piece “Ghana going online: Internet as a human right?” on this site, which explains how some argue the internet should be a right for all Ghanaians.

Pierro is not the only one writing about this issue. BBC World Service released results of a poll that says approximately four in five people around the world think the internet should be considered a fundamental right, accessible to all.

“Access to internet and being online has profound effects on their Ghanaian youth,” says Degadjor. “The internet is perceived as a valuable resource with knowledge, entertainment, the opportunity to make friends, expand one’s network and open up new career opportunities.”

All things that are vital to Ghana.