Author Archives: Monique

About Monique

Monique Elliot is a recent graduate of Carleton University's journalism with a minor in political science. She is the outgoing president of Carleton’s jhr chapter. Monique, 21, has freelanced her print work to local news outlets like Metro Ottawa and co-produced a multimedia video for a community fundraising initiative. Monique’s preference for print journalism has evolved to incorporate all types of media, including video, audio and photography. She plans to continue producing multimedia content for online publication.

Polio effects linger in Ghana despite vaccines

When Maclean Atsu Dzidzienyo contracted polio as a nine-year-old, his symptoms worsened to the point where his nerves were affected and his legs became paralyzed. Now an athletic 26-year-old, he expertly maneuvers his wheelchair around the dusty compound of the Accra Rehabilitation Center (ARC), where he is completing his year of national service in the Center’s financial department.

Complications caused by the poliovirus, such as paralysis, contribute to reports from the World Health Organization (WHO) that Ghana’s disability rate stands between seven and 10 per cent.

“The majority of the people [who live and work at the Center] became disabled through polio, and a few of them had accidents,” Dzidzienyo said. “Hardly you will hear of somebody who was born with his disability.”

Among other West African countries, Ghana has taken strong measures to eradicate polio in the country within the past few decades, and has made significant progress from the time when Dzidzienyo was a child.

No new cases of polio have been reported in West Africa in 2012, according to the Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI). Ghana’s last confirmed cases of polio were in 2009. That year, country health officials publically confirmed that eight children had contracted the virus, which was an increase by about five cases from the previous year. Before these comparatively minor outbreaks Ghana had enjoyed a period of being polio-free since 2003, according to the PEI.

This is a welcome change to Alexander Kojo Tetteh, the founder and CEO of the ARC. He also contracted the virus as a child and had his mobility impaired, though he still retains his ability to walk.

The desks at his primary school were very difficult to maneuver into and the set-up required that the children sit in pairs. No one wanted to sit next to him because they thought they could be infected by his disability, he said.

“Nobody was friendly. So I was not happy as a schoolchild,” Tetteh added.

Children can get inoculated in two ways: with an injection of a dead strain of the poliovirus, or take oral drops, which are typically the most popular in developing countries due to their ability to inoculate more people. The oral vaccine is less commonly used in developed nations because the efficacy of the vaccine depends on the strain of polio it is meant to eliminate, as it is a live culture. It can also change to the form of virus that can attack the patient, causing paralysis and nerve damage.

The poliovirus is now virtually eradicated in many countries around the world due to the development of polio vaccines in the 1950s and a global immunization campaign that began in the 1988. However, the virus can still be found in some countries in Africa and Asia. Ghana continues to have yearly mass polio inoculations. This year’s three-day campaign in March expected to reach about 5.8 million children under the age of five.

Victoria, 23, was trafficked to Kumasi in the Ashanti Region and has never gone to school.

Poverty prevents some Ghanaians from seeking education

Very little light illuminates the abandoned railway line that cuts down the center of the squatter community of Kejetia. The large field where the rusting tracks lay unconnected and the train station simply wasn’t built sits in the centre of Kumasi’s business district.

Overhead view of a section of Kejetia, a sprawling squatter community and market in the city of Kumasi.

Kejetia is a sprawling squatter community and market in the downtown core of Kumasi.

It is very dark at night despite the constant hustle and bustle of shop owners packing up their goods and chatting with customers. The stalls serve as both businesses and homes for many of the people who live in the area are unique, each selling items ranging from belts and bags, to banku and kenkey.

Among the shops a group of young women pack up quietly on a raised wooden platform. Victoria, 23, originally from the Brong Ahafo Region, says that when she was young, a woman brought her to Kumasi under the guise of being able to care for her. Instead, Victoria was forced to sell sachets of pure water, and as a result, she did not attend school.

Now, she says she no longer sees education as an option, as she has to sell banku to support her two-year-old daughter Francisca.

“I would love it if education in Ghana is free. As a result of the kind of struggles people have to go through, there’s no money in the system, there’s poverty in the system,” she said in Twi, the main language of the Ashanti Region.

“If the politicians should go on ahead and make education free, I would be more than excited if they would only implement it and move away from the talks. I would love it,” she added.

Victoria, 23, was trafficked to Kumasi in the Ashanti Region and has never gone to school.

The Ghanaian constitution states that, “all persons shall have the right to equal educational opportunities and facilities […],” and as such, “basic education shall be free, compulsory and available to all.”

Ghana’s Ministry of Education eliminated basic education fees in 2005, and 75 per cent of girls were attending school as of 2010, according to statistics released by UNICEF.

Yet the group of women in Kejetia say poverty has been the main obstacle that stopped them from getting an education.

Rukaya, 19, moved from her town of Bokoe in the Northern Region to Kumasi because she had heard from travellers that it was possible to make a lot of money in the city.

Rukaya has never been to school and says she feels that education is still a privilege for people who can afford to send their children to school, instead of requiring that they work instead.

Rukaya, 19, doing her washing in the Kejetia open air market where she lives and works.

Both Victoria and Rukaya say they feel it is too late for them to get an education and want to return to their hometowns when they save up enough money, which will be difficult since they work for “masters” or “mistresses” who control their wages.

The young women say they hope to be traders – Victoria says she hopes to sell cosmetics and Rukaya says she wants to learn how to become a dressmaker.

Despite their disenchantment with the educational system, Victoria says she still hopes Francisca can go to school to become a lawyer or nurse.

“If I had the means, I would allow Francisca to get the education that I couldn’t have.”

Repatriating Ghana’s “Witches”

Ghanaian witch camps are a cultural phenomenon I have yet to fully experience and understand. Although I have read much about them and spoken to some people affected by accusations of witchcraft, I can only conjure a vague image of what it must be like to be banished from one’s village to live in poverty and severe segregation.

Witch camps are mainly located in the northern regions of the country, where belief in witches and the supernatural is generally much stronger than among the more cosmopolitan, urban areas along the coast.

All it takes is one accusation from a disgruntled, superstitious, or envious neighbour or relative to tarnish a reputation and drive out even the most well-respected women from a community.

Forced Out

These women, who typically leave their homes with no possessions, tend to gather together in camps where they eke out a living any way they can. The small economic and social communities they form become the infamous “witch camps” where they remain disempowered, and embody the gender disparity in Ghana.

“Anybody could be a victim,” says Hajia Boya Hawa Gariba, the deputy minister of Women and Children’s Affairs.

That’s why the Ministry is seeking to peacefully disband all of Ghana’s six witch camps over the next three years, she said, speaking with me in a phone interview that aired on Pravda Radio.

The Ministry has recently commissioned a task force involving the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), the domestic violence unit of the Ghana Police Service (GPS), the Department of Social Welfare, and the NGOs Action Aid Ghana and the Presby GO HOME Project, she said.

The goal is to repatriate and reintegrate the ostracized “witches” back to their homes and into society. Gariba says the root cause of banishment of witches is cultural beliefs “that have no place in society.”

Open Arms

In order for the women to return safely to their homes, the task force will be educating their communities on basic human rights, the law, and domestic violence. Educators have already been taking the families to the witch camps to show them how the women are living, and discussing the rationality of the beliefs.

For example, Gariba explains, accused witches are made to drink a concoction that is said to take away their power before they are banished. She argues it is against a person’s human rights to make them consume a questionable, and potentially harmful, substance against their will.

Despite consuming the drink, the women are still forced to leave, which makes no sense, according to Gariba, since the witch’s powers are supposed to be neutralized.

Educating communities has been making some gains in the reintegration process, and Gariba says the women’s security is the ministry’s primary concern. She says they also intend to make the women comfortable enough in the camps so that they do not die from exposure, but not enough so that they will not want to go back home.

“These people are human beings. There’s no point in leaving them there.”