Author Archives: Raquel Fletcher

About Raquel Fletcher

Raquel Fletcher is a fourth-year journalism student at the University of Regina School of Journalism. She is currently the co-president of the Journalists for Human Rights Regina chapter. Fletcher, 21, contributed to the local newspaper, the Regina Leader Post "Minus 20" column during high school and to the Carillon, the U of R student paper for the past four years. She currently sits on the Carillon board of directors. Fletcher interned as a videojournalist at CTV Regina for three months and now works there as the weekend reporter. She aspires to be a news anchor.

Not taking no for an answer

I was already in the tro-tro to work when I began to reconsider my outfit. I must have lost weight since the last time I wore the cotton blouse I decided to put on that morning and it was a little lower than I was really comfortable with.

However, it was my bottoms that really caused a stir once I got to the office. Falling just above my knee in African print, I thought my walking shorts were professional and fitting for the environment – my male colleagues thought they were arousing.

In fact, my shorts were so tempting, one co-worker joked I was turning him on. “It’s not that provocative on a white woman,” though, because “white women always dress like this, but if you were a black woman, hmm – it would be too provocative to wear shorts like that.”

So it was partly a racial issue as much as it was an issue of sexism, but here in Ghana women are used to the comments their outfits draw from their male co-workers. The next morning, a female colleague told me I should consider what the men were saying about me when I chose my wardrobe, as if my dressing more conservatively would make them back off their sexual taunts and proposals to marry me.

One study from the University of Ghana in Legon sited as much as 75 percent of women experience sexual harassment in the workplace – unwanted repeated proposals; unwanted sexual teasing, jokes, questions or remarks; and pressure for dates, were some of what I experienced but could include unwanted touching of intimate body parts; pressure for sexual favours; and attempted or actual sexual assault or rape – but almost every woman I talk to has a story to share.
“Sometimes they will be saying something like why are you giving this whole body to one person, why don’t you let me enjoy some as well?” says Leticia Esi Anaman, a former practicum student at Skyy Power FM in Takoradi, who’s experienced sexual harassment at her school.

Most workplaces don’t have sexual harassment policies in place and women don’t often report incidents to their bosses or school authorities.

“Sometimes when they start, I think they are just making fun, but it becomes so irritating when you see this person everyday and that’s all they say,” says Esi Anaman.

Many young professional women agree.

“When there are no such measures put in place, women will always be harassed,” says a student at Cape Coast University who wishes to remain anonymous out of fear of jeopardizing her attachment placement. “Sometimes when somebody sees you and the guy behaves that way with you, eyebrows are raised that you are kind of cheap or something. So you have to be careful.”

But objecting to these advances causes trouble. “Some don’t take it seriously. They say they are just having fun. And those who take it seriously, you end up losing them…they think you are intimidating, so they just avoid you, so you lose them as a friend,” says Anaman.

But harassment in the workplace is also a two-way street. According to the University of Ghana report, women can also be perpetrators when they force themselves on men in higher positions to receive some benefit, breeding a culture where women need to trade sexual favours in order to work their way up the corporate ladder.

“I want to be able to move freely with people, but that doesn’t give them the authority to say whatever they want,” says Anaman.

Nor should they dictate what you wear or how you go about your work.

IMG_1411Rita bole

Ivorian refugee seeks to be reunited with father in Canada

For Rita Josiane Bole and her ten-year-old daughter, fleeing the war in Cote D’Ivoire did not mean they would find peace. Like thousands of other Ivorians now at the Ampain Refugee Camp in western Ghana, life outside of the conflict zone is equally as hard.

Sitting in the restaurant, where we’ve met in Takoradi, Bole begins to cry when she talks about the situation in her home country. “Life is difficult – first in Cote D’Ivoire, and more so with the war. We experienced really terrible moments. Since we have come to Ghana, life is still difficult – to eat, to survive in very, very difficult conditions,” she says in French.

While the fighting may be over, the fear of persecution is still very real. Unable to return home, and feeling stranded in a foreign country, Bole hoped to make a new life for her and her daughter in Canada.

Rita Josiane Bole has a father in Canada, but he won't send her an invitation into the country

Born in 1977 in Cote D’Ivoire, she is the product of a brief love affair between her Ivorian mother and her Canadian father, a married man from Montreal who was, at the time, working for a printing company in the West African country. Soon after she was born, her father returned to his wife in Quebec, without knowing he had a daughter, and leaving Bole’s mother to raise her alone.

For the last three years, Bole has been searching to be reunited with the father she never knew. With the help of a Catholic priest missionary from Montreal, she finally found her father’s address and phone number. However, her dreams were blown apart, when unwilling to admit to having the affair, he refused to acknowledge her as his daughter or send her a letter of invitation into the country.

“I feel very bad,” Bole manages to say between tears.

Jacob Ahoua, the coordinator of refugees at the Ampain camp, says he was touched by Bole’s heartbreaking story.

“Today the war that has sparked in Cote D’Ivoire means that she can’t return to Cote D’Ivoire. She wants to immigrate to Canada to find her father,” he says.

He continues, “I am making an effort to speak of her story to those who can hear and to those who can bring her help.”

Ahoua is trying to find someone else to sponsor Bole to come to Canada, a place she sees as home.

“Because I am of Canadian origin, I want to be in Canada,” she says.

Bole says she’s not angry, although she regrets not being able to forge a relationship with her father. Her biggest concern now is for her daughter. Somehow, some way, their future, she says, needs to be in Canada.

One little voice – a journalist defends the environment, champions human rights

The result of coastal erosion – this tree has been uprooted.

Christian Baidoo was still a student when villagers from his community, Assorku Essaman, decided to chop down an ancient Brokofi tree, believing it harboured witches, incarnate in owls that were bringing misfortune to the village.

“Such trees actually need to be protected. I see people in this community don’t give such relevance to trees. They don’t see the importance of trees,” says Baidoo, noting the Brokofi tree can grow for hundreds of years and its trunk can be as wide as five feet.

“I think trees also have a legacy and we need to protect them,” he says.

Twenty years after the historic tree was felled, Baidoo, now a reporter and presenter at Skyy Power FM in Takoradi, has made it his personal mission to make people aware about the environmental impacts of their actions.

“It’s all about education,” he says.

Since becoming a journalist, Baidoo has always focussed on human rights and social justice issues, knowing he was “saving lives with those stories.” But it hasn’t always been easy when media houses lack the resources needed to pursue the stories that count. Baidoo has had to sacrifice his own time and money, devoting his weekends to bringing stories from his home community and other rural villages to public attention.

“If we are able to highlight some of these things and people are aware that when they do this, they are going to be showcased in the public, it’s going to be brought into the limelight what they are doing, it will be some sort of disgrace to them and they will rescind their decision.”

That’s even more important now than ever before in the “Oil City” where the environment has long been left out of the discussion about oil development.

Along the shores of Shama, Baidoo points out large rifts of sand several feet deep that reveal Western Region’s changing coastline. Human activities, like sand winning and construction of sea walls have hastened the erosion of a beach line that today is several hundred metres from where it was only several decades ago. Adding to the problem is climate change, which is causing sea levels to rise.

“Even last year, the river came into people’s houses and some of their houses are broken down, some are collapsed and they’re now building new ones,” says Patience Amusa from Shama Beach.

Kennedy Amegah, a fisherman, is concerned about the environmental degradation he’s witnessed on the coast, but when Baidoo asks him, he says he has never heard of climate change.

“A lot of these fishermen are losing their livelihoods because a lot of them have their businesses located right at the shoreline where people smoke fish, where people mend their canoes. All these places are being overtaken by the sea,” says Baidoo. By some estimates, the whole village may have to re-locate in less than five years.

Ghana’s emerging oil industry comes complete with a whole new set of environmental concerns that could affect the natural ecology and life on the coast. Baidoo says the country is not prepared to deal with the environmental impacts of developing the industry.

“The government has been convinced to believe that soon crude prices are going to fall very, very low and that even if you have crude it’s not going to be of any importance, so even if we are not ready with the institutions to check pollution or have structures put in place to be sure we are getting the desired benefits we should just go ahead for it because of the fact crude oil prices could fall in the near future,” says Baidoo.

Christian Baidoo was still a student when villagers from his community, Assorku Essaman, decided to chop down an ancient Brokofi tree, believing it harboured witches.

“And I think it’s a very bad decision,” he adds. “Ghana’s is also striving to develop industrially. There’s no rush. I believe we could have waited until we put all the necessary structures in place.”

Baidoo will continue to write stories about the environment on the coast and oil’s impact. He also has plans to adopt three daughter Brokofi trees, so that he can protect them from the same fate as their mother.

“I think that with my little voice I can make some impact,” he says.

Right to safe drinking water: a challenge in rural Ghana

[pullquote]“When it rains like this, it gets into the well and then the colour changes, it’s just like mud and it’s very difficult to take your bath with muddy water.”[/pullquote]

Western Region has the lowest rural potable water coverage in the country. Just coming through rainy season, it’s a surprising fact, but a reality some know all too well.

By their best estimates, residents in North Kwesimintsim, a neighbourhood in Takoradi, say their community hasn’t had access to safe drinking water for nearly ten years.

“We use wells and sometimes it’s very dangerous because germs get into it. Using it to bath, cooking – it’s a problem,” says Nana Akua Agymang.

“When it rains like this, it gets into the well and then the colour changes, it’s just like mud and it’s very difficult to take your bath with muddy water.”

Agyemang, who has lived in North Kwesimintsim for three years, says she spends almost a third of her income on sachet water. She says she has no choice because she has contracted many infections from bathing with the dirty water.

Besides being a drain on their pockets, the roads into the community are in such disrepair, the trucks carrying the sachet water are sometimes unable to deliver it, leaving people without any clean water at all.

It’s not a unique problem to this neighbourhood alone. Impassable roads in many rural communities have been sited as a reason for low investment in water and sanitation, according to a 2010 article published online at Ghana Business News.

Although residents hope the Ghana Water Company and the government will come to their aid, no one has addressed their concerns yet.

And of course, that’s not acceptable to Agyemang, who sees it as more than a rights issue. She says, “Water is life. You need water by you all the time.”

A child stands by a borehole in the rural community of Kejebril, another community which lacks safe drinking water.

Ancestors believe dirty pond is blessed in Kejebril

One of the residents of Kejebril standing in front of the tree god

“The river is like a mother to us,” says one woman in the Kejebril Market.

Residents of Kejebril, a small farming community in the Ahanta West District, believe their local pond is from their ancestors. There are three boreholes in the town, but they prefer fetching water from the pond to carry out their domestic chores, bless their children and even drink.

“We’ve been drinking this water since we were born. We use it to bathe. We use it to wash,” says one man.

“She always comes to our aid. It protects our children from drowning in the pond. When we use the water to bathe our children and they get missing, they return to us,” says one woman.

Gutters carry waste materials into the pond, but residents believe two giant tree gods protect them and the water. The assemblyman of the area, however, is afraid people, especially children will be infected with waterborne disease.

“In those days we used to drink this water. Because of that there was a guinea worm disease outbreak,” says Joseph Raphael Ansah.

Ansah says the number of boreholes in the community is not sufficient and the water is salty. He is calling on the government and NGO’s to build another borehole.

“If the NGO’s and the government get us another borehole, we will stop using the pond because the pond is not good for domestic use.”

This pond might be a gift from their ancestors, but clean drinking water would be a gift for their future.

Ghana oil industry impacts environment and tourism at Axim Beach Resort

[pullquote]“We are removing all the buildings, making them more attractive, building new ones. This is the future plan. We believe we can also catch the eye of investors,”[/pullquote]

Axim Beach Resort hasn’t seen an increase in tourists yet, but like many resorts along the coast of Western Region, they are preparing to draw in more visitors, as oil is drawing more people to the region.

“We’re expecting that people will be coming more, since people will be exploring,” says Solomon Alloteuy, the assistant manager of the resort.

The emerging oil sector is creating many opportunities for the region’s entrepreneurs. He says they have already started expanding to accommodate more guests.

“We are removing all the buildings, making them more attractive, building new ones. This is the future plan. We believe we can also catch the eye of investors,” he says.

This new development, however, comes after an oil spill in February, which threatened the coastline, as well as marine life. Alloteuy says the resort is still facing a number of environmental problems he fears may be associated with the offshore activities.

“There’s this oil residue and then some rubbish that comes, some weeds we have been experiencing that people are saying is because of the thing – it floats around the coast and becomes a heap rubbish.”

Paramount Chief of Western Nzema, Awulae Annor-Adjeye the third is one person who has been speaking out about environmental issues affecting the coast since oil was discovered three years ago.

[pullquote]“If for instance, a fisherman went to see and just by his simple knowledge he found some oil spill, where is he going to communicate this information to?”[/pullquote]

“We are not only looking at what happens downstream. We are looking at the environment within which the activity is taking place, where the exploration is taking place and that is offshore. What happens with the drill mud? What happens with the ballast water?”

Annor-Adjeye is launching a forum called the Platform for Coastal Communities of Western Region, to address environmental concerns of people living on the coast. The biggest problem, he says, is not having a place to report incidents when they occur.

“If for instance, a fisherman went to see and just by his simple knowledge he found some oil spill, where is he going to communicate this information to?”

Ballast water, which ships carry and often discharge at ports contain many biological organisms, some of them harmful to the local ecosystems. Programs co-ordinator Kyei Kwaco Yamoah of Friends of the Nation, a local NGO, says ballast water is also one of his concerns about the environmental impact of the emerging oil industry.

“The issue of ballast water has come up and ballast water has the potential to pollute marine waters to the extent that fisheries will be affected. It could even affect the whole extent of the coastal environment – all of these, we think there are not adequate measures as we speak to deal with them,” says Yamoah.

Developers and entrepreneurs want to make the coastline appealing to an influx of visitors to the area, but are worried about the environmental impact of offshore oil activities.

He says right now the focus is on revenue when it should be on the environment and Ghana needs to toughen its laws when it comes to conservation.

He says, “For now, we are concerned with the kind of loose laws we have relative to the oil and gas. The industry has started, but the laws we have are inadequate to handle the various challenges the oil and gas sector presents.”

That’s a problem Western Region can’t afford to ignore.

A Labour of Love

There is no closing time at Skyy FM. Reporters work until the work is done and sometimes that means twelve hour days and weekends.

This issue was brought up last week in one of our editorial meetings. A practicum student just out of high school has been coming to our eight o’clock meetings and staying past our six o’clock news in order to help with production. He gets flack for coming late to work and flack from his family for coming home late at night.

What makes matters worse, is the long days are punctuated with hours of inactivity. Christian Baidoo, a reporter at Skyy for four years, says many of the station’s challenges are technological.

[pullquote]Despite these challenges, many of the reporters at Skyy say they love what they do.[/pullquote]

“The computers are old computers, they break down. We always have to back up files because we always have to format the computers because they give us problems. As I sit here now, I have two bulletins to do: I have the four o’clock news – that is for radio, but for the television news at six, our editing suite is broken down. We are waiting for them to fix it and we have from now until six to get all the stories done. That is one major challenge: I’m here, I’m ready to work, but because the editing suite is broken down there is no other option but wait.”

Baidoo also points out a problem with the sole company vehicle not always being readily available for the news. The lack of internet access is also a problem. Baidoo sites as an example working on a story and needing to convert miles to kilometres for clarity. Without working Internet, he laments he couldn’t be accurate in his reporting.

Despite these challenges, many of the reporters at Skyy say they love what they do.

“I’ve always dreamed of being a journalist,” says Eric Gyetuah, who is doing his national service.

“With the little experience I’ve gotten in the past five months, I think I like it,” he says. Like all of the other interns, he isn’t paid a wage.

Eric Gyetuah conducts an interview for Skyy in Sekondi

Leticia Esi Anaman, a practicum student, became a journalist to give back to her community. “We have people in my area who need someone to reach out to them. I thought if we get someone who is a journalist in my area, that person can [speak] out with their views and what they need.”

Coming from a rural area, Anaman says much of the local news is centered on the cities. “If you get someone from the villages, you can get someone to tell what is actually wrong there as well.”

However, she says the meagre pay journalists receive is making her consider public relations as a career option as well. But she won’t give up reporting.

“I want to be both a journalist and a PR person,” she says.

Why? She says she wants to have an impact on people’s lives.

Ivorians Seek Refugee Status in Ghana

June 20th marked World Refugee Day. But thousands of Ivorians at the Ampain refugee camp in Ghana have not yet been given that status.  They hope to change that.  Raquel Fletcher has prepared this radio report for SKYY Digital.

Ivorian Aslyum Seekers at Ampain Refugee Camp

For more info on education at Ampain read Alyssa McDonald’s, Getting Schooled on World Refugee Day.

Burning rubber at slaughterhouse smokes out health centre

Residents of New Takoradi are sick of breathing in toxic smoke coming from burning tires in the neighbourhood’s open slaughterhouse. The smell of manure and burnt rubber is debilitating, especially now that it’s rainy season.

The open slaughterhouse near the New Takoradi Health Center

“Right now if it rains, the stench from that place, the smell, you cannot even sit here to work,” says Jennifer Tetteh, the senior staff nurse at the New Takoradi Health Center.

[pullquote]“When they slaughter the animals, the use of tires fills the air with smoke. It gives us problems when we breathe,”[/pullquote]

The slaughterhouse uses tires to sear the skin, meat popularly called coat or “worley”, which is then sold to consumers. The process is known to cause cancer as well as contaminate the meat. With the help of the government’s Social Investment Fund, a new, modern facility is currently under construction.

“As for rainy season like this, we can’t use the firewood because if we use firewood, you can’t burn even one animal. We slaughter almost 60 to 70 animals a day, ten to fifteen cows a day and without this we can’t do the work,” says Mohammed Anaba, the chairman of the Takoradi Butchers’ Association.

“Now we are trying to get a modern abattoir. If we get a modern abattoir, all of this will be a thing of the past,” he says.

However, Anaba suspects it could take up to a year to complete the new building. For some, that’s simply not good enough.

“When they slaughter the animals, the use of tires fills the air with smoke. It gives us problems when we breathe,”

The situation is even more dire at Tetteh’s clinic. The New Takoradi Health Center is located just across the street from the slaughterhouse. It’s hard on the staff – many request relocation resulting in high turnover, and even harder on the patients.

“The more you take in the smoke, you are prone to get infection and since the cause is there and you don’t treat the cause, no matter the treatment you give to the person the person comes back with the same complaint. So it will be like their treatment is ineffective,” Tetteh says.

The clinic is calling for an immediate fix to the problem, but Anaba says that is unlikely.

“We fought for so long to get such a facility and if God bless and now they have started it for us, we also thank God that even if it is three years that they will finish, we are waiting for them to finish for us,” he says.

Waiting, however, could mean serious health consequences for these people.

Vandals Defecate in Classroom

Children cleaning up after their classroom was vandalized

Students at Inchaban D/A Primary and Nursery School arrived to class Monday morning to find their classroom scattered with human excreta.
“I feel so bad and I feel so dirty too,” says a basic four student.
Classes were postponed while the students cleaned up the mess.

“When I came, I saw feces all around the place. They spread some on the tables and the chairs. I told them [the students] they should take out the tables, go and fetch some water and clean it,” says teacher Dorcas Entsewa Mensah.

An excreta wrapped in a black polythene bag was also found in a classroom cupboard where students keep their shoes and textbooks.

“It was in a polythene bag. They threw it through this window,” says Sophie Bosomtwe, a basic four teacher at Inchaban Primary, pointing to a busted window that can’t be locked. She says this is the third time vandals have broken into her classroom.

In December last year, fireworks were set off in the school after hours which burnt many textbooks, precious learning materials that still have not been replaced.

The headmistress of the school attributes the crimes to a lack of lighting on the school premises. “This is a free range for criminal activities. There are no lights and there is nothing going on here. So when it is dark and we are gone, the place becomes the property of whoever wants to use it,” says Helen Bogobly.

It is also against school policy to hire a watchman. School staff is appealing for this to be changed, so learning can continue.