Category Archives: Media Internships

A modern day Mother Teresa: Tanzania’s Sister Martha

Martha Mganga

By Adam Bemma

ARUSHA, Tanzania – Meet Martha Mganga. She’s a 50-year-old Tanzanian woman with albinism.

She’s not afraid to use the term “albino” when referring to herself and others living with this condition. Albinism is defined as a rare, non-contagious, genetically-inherited condition occurring in both genders regardless of ethnicity, in all countries of the world.

As the first born out of three albino children (seven children in total, four being non-albino) Mganga’s father abused her psychologically. She recounts in vivid detail how residents in her village blamed her for everything that went wrong, from bad harvests to seasonal weather changes, believing she was a curse upon them.

This lead her to contemplate suicide, as Mganga couldn’t bear the mental anguish anymore.

“When I was a teenager I tried killing myself several times,” she said. “I threw myself into a river because I didn’t want to be a burden on my family. But God had another plan for me and I washed up on the shore, alive.”

For almost 30 years, Mganga has worked with albino children to educate and empower. She teaches these kids, and family members, about the harmful effects of the sun’s rays.

People with albinism lack pigmentation in the hair, skin and eyes, causing vulnerability to sun exposure and bright light. Almost all albinos are visually impaired. They may also have a shortened life span due to lung disease or life-threatening skin cancers, states the UN.

Mganga, single-handedly, runs a non-profit organization called Albino Peacemakers. She works alongside established non-governmental organizations; Under the Same Sun and Tanzania Albino Society, to help provide sunscreen, sunglasses and hats to albinos across the country.

According to the UN, in Tanzania, and throughout East Africa, albinism is prevalent, with estimates of one in 2,000 people being affected by the condition.

So far this year, attacks against albinos have increased dramatically in Tanzania. In 2008, BBC Swahili bureau chief Vicky Ntetema exposed to the world how albinos were murdered and graves robbed for body parts, to be used for witchcraft purposes.

Ntetema’s investigative stories caused an international outcry, one which continues to this day.

Mganga says Ntetema’s journalism gave her reason to branch out and begin work as a peacemaker in regions of the country where albinos are seriously threatened, like the area around Tanzania’s second largest city: Mwanza.

“I often visit Mwanza and villages close to Lake Victoria to give talks to Tanzanians about how albinos are ordinary people just like you and me,” she said. “There’s still a stigma associated with being albino. One that leads ignorant and uneducated people to carry out horrendous acts.”

Martha on phone

A recent upsurge in violence against albinos made the UN condemn the violence, with four attacks in a period of sixteen days, three of those being albino children. UN human rights chief Navi Pillay is urging the Tanzanian government to bring those responsible to justice.

“I strongly condemn these vicious killings and attacks which are committed in particularly horrifying circumstances which have involved dismembering people, including children while they are still alive,” Pillay said.

The UN human rights chief states that successful prosecutions are extremely rare in Tanzania. Out of the 72 murders of people with albinism documented since 2000, only five cases are reported to have resulted in successful prosecutions.

“Apart from physically protecting people with albinism, the government needs to take a much stronger and more pro-active approach to education and awareness-raising campaigns to combat the stigma attached to albinism,” Pillay said.

Mganga just returned to Arusha, her home since leaving the village she grew up in, after spending National Albinism Day in Tanzania raising awareness and trying to battle the discrimination faced by albinos in the country.

Close friends of Mganga refer to her candidly as “Sister Martha” and liken her work to that of Mother Teresa, due to her religious devotion and dedication to society’s less fortunate.

World Press Freedom Day in Tanzania

wpfd

Every May 3, journalists, activists and media organizations in developing countries around the world acknowledge the importance of World Press Freedom Day. This year, 2013, marks the 20th anniversary celebrating the fundamental principles of press freedom.

Most don’t celebrate it publicly, or even give reporters the day off work. But deep down there’s a respect for those operating as media professionals in hostile environments.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) state in their most recent report that 70 journalists were killed last year and 232 journalists are currently imprisoned. This is the highest number of journalists in jail on record, states the report.

Over the last year in Tanzania, several journalists have been violently attacked. Just a few weeks ago, the chairman of the Tanzania Editors Forum (TEF) was brutally assaulted outside his home. Last September, a television reporter was killed by police covering a political opposition party demonstration.

According to the CPJ, Tanzania was the seventh deadliest country for journalists in 2012. These unfortunate events have led many Tanzanians to believe the media is being threatened by government forces in the lead up to the 2015 elections.

The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2013 Press Freedom Index indicates Tanzania dropped 36 points since the previous year, from 34 to 70 (out of 179 countries). This in a year of unprecedented economic growth for the East African nation.

One of the many reasons for this drop is due to President Jikaya Kikwete’s decision to shut down a Swahili language newspaper. Tanzania’s information minister deemed MwanaHalisi too critical and ceased its publication under the guise of the 1976 Newspaper Act.

The directive states the weekly investigative newspaper published news that was false and seditious:

The government has decided to close down the production of Mwanahalisi for an unknown period according to the Newspaper Act of 1976, clause 25(i). The clause will be in effect from July 30th, 2012 based on the government notice 258 published on the government newspaper produced in Dar es Salaam on 27th July, 2012.”

Press freedom activists and media scholars in Tanzania are calling on the Kikwete government to lift the ban on MwanaHalisi, and to abolish this repressive media law. There’s also been a strong push for media reformsto be included in a new constitution.

Back in 2008, MwanaHalisi was banned for reporting on a plot to unseat President Kikwete in the elections. The newspaper’s dedication to investigative journalism has made it a prime target of the Kikwete government. Since then several members of the organization have been attacked in their own newsroom by thugs.

Media reform activist Henry Maina, director of Article 19 East Africa, writes that the ban on MwanaHalisi violates the fundamental right to freedom of expression. Maina cites Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

From May 3 to 5, 2013, journalists, press freedom activists and media organizations from all over East Africa will meet in Arusha, Tanzania at Naura Springs Hotel for a conference to celebrate World Press Freedom Day. The theme of this year’s event is “Safer and better working environment for journalists in East Africa” and will highlight the need for media reforms all over the continent, with a focus on Tanzania, a country where many journalists still operate in fear of reprisals.

False promises of Liberian gold

Out of sight in western Liberia's thick forests, gold mines attract disaffected youth but deliver few benefits. Travis Lupick photo.

Gbessey Musa is a long way from home. Three years ago, he left Sierra Leone in search of a job that could provide for his family. Chasing rumours of wealth, the young man eventually found himself at a gold mine deep in the forest of western Liberia. There, he recounted a story of false promises and disappointment.

“I’m looking for money,” he said. “This work is by luck; sometimes you get the gold, sometimes you don’t.”

Unable to find any sort of meaningful employment in Freetown, the plan, Musa continued, was to try mining in Liberia, which he heard could quickly make a person rich. Three years later, Musa conceded that he’s yet to send a penny back to his wife and four children. He explained that he makes enough to pay for food and rent a small room. But that’s it. There’s never been anything extra to send to his family. Even a ticket home has remained beyond his reach.

Travis Lupick photo.

Some two dozen men working the mine with Musa told similar stories. They earn enough to survive and work another day. But seldom anything more. And just like Musa, many travelled great distances – most, from Monrovia, some 160 kilometers southeast – and now find themselves unable to pay for transport home.

“We live at the mercy of the dirt,” Musa concluded. “Digging a pit to get our daily bread.”

In nearby Henry Town, community leaders were equally disenchanted. They said that their hope was for the area’s gold mines to bring paved roads and social services. But development hasn’t come. Instead, commodity prices have soared and petty crime has risen to overwhelm the city’s small police force. Meanwhile, adolescent males are leaving school in favour of easy money in the mines while many young women are similarly offering their bodies to meet to a booming demand for prostitutes fueled by a transient labour force.

Kafa Manjo, a chief for the Quinika people, complained that the money made in the mines around Henry Town seldom finds its way to the community. The majority of miners’ earnings are sent back to the men’s families in Monrovia. And what little that does trickle into the local economy largely goes to vices such as alcohol and prostitution.

“Most of the boys are not putting their money to use,” Manjo said. “All they do is misbehave with it.”

Travis Lupick photo.

He explained that because most of the young men working the mines often only reside in Henry Town for a short time (mining in the area is seasonal, ending with the onset of annual rains) they feel few ties to the community in which they stay.

“The money they get does not go to our roads and our clinics are not fixed,” Manjo continued. “They take the money to Monrovia.”

In the county capital of Bopolu, officials conceded that the mines are mismanaged and a problem.

Superintendent Allen Gbowee argued that youths’ eagerness to work in the mines is a legacy of the past. “The war and then NGOs have made young people accustomed to making quick money,” he said. “So many look at mining as the best option for them.”

Gbowee noted that there are laws designed to keep young people out of the labour force and in school. He also emphasized that the government should be receiving revenue via taxation of mineral resources extracted from the mines. The challenges are enforcement and capacity.

“How can we solve these problems?” she wondered aloud.

Follow Travis Lupick on Twitter: @tlupick

Riding Towards Sustainable Development


In a country burgeoning with traffic congestion, increasing economic growth, and a stark urban-rural divide, Ghana’s Bamboo Bikes Initiative could promote sustainable development, boost trade, and address a number of U.N. Millennium Development Goals in the process.

Established in 2009, the Bamboo Bikes Initiative was created by a group of young people, including science, engineering, and marketing students, to empower other youth, by training them to build and market bamboo-framed bicycles.

“We know that most of the youth on the streets are without work,” said Bernice Dapaah, the initiative’s Executive Director.  “We spoke with them, and they’re saying there are no jobs… So we have to make sure that, day in and day out, we come up with skill-development activities that will be more sustainable for them,” she explained.

In partnership with Africa Items Co Ltd, the initiative pays apprentices $30 USD for their labour, and sells the bicycle frames abroad for $350 USD each. Their primary market is in Europe, where BambooRide, an Austrian company, imports the frames and assembles the bicycles for sale.

“Roughly one year ago, we went down to Ghana and we got to know [the team],” said Matthias Schmidt, BambooRide’s Sales Manager.  “We were developing the frame together… because the frames were good, but they had to fit a certain European standard. So it was like a partnership, a knowledge transfer in both directions,” he said.

The Austrian importers also provided the initiative with new equipment to improve precision and boost their product’s international marketability. Schmidt said he looks forward to the initiative’s continued expansion.

“[Their] capacity is limited… and in the case that we need more than 10 frames a month – that’s the maximum capacity – we’ll need other sources. So we’re supporting [Dapaah’s] efforts to improve the equipment and technology,” he said.

Eradicating Poverty and Unemployment

The Bamboo Bikes Initiative offers apprenticeships and permanent placements at the Africa Items Co Ltd workshop in Accra, where Ibrahim Djan Nyampong, the initative’s technical advisor and Master Trainer, teaches young people how to assemble, fix, and market the bicycles.

“So far I’ve trained about ten boys,” he said. “They can build the bikes, but it’s not up to the quality control level, so we are still training them,” he explained.

[pullquote]”Each artisan, after their training, will also be equipped to employ at least five or six people.”[/pullquote]

The UNDP’s Global Environment Facility sponsors the initiative through its Small Grants Program. George Orstin, the National Programme Coordinator, explained that graduated trainees will establish their own workshops, and begin to train more young people.

“Each artisan, after their training, will also be equipped to employ at least five or six people, and to set up their own small-scale production base [in] any part of the country,” he said.

By training and employing young people, the initiative is designed to reduce unemployment and, consequently, rural poverty. It is also intended to abate the rural-to-urban migration trend prominent in Ghana.

“It will reduce the youths rushing to come to the cities to engage in income generating activities,” said Dapaah. “A workshop at the rural communities, that will really help them, rather than them coming to the cities,” she explained.

The Bamboo Bikes Initiative also curbs rural-to-urban migration by supporting bamboo farmers. Dapaah said that, so far, the organization has trained ten farmers to harvest new crops for bicycle production. They employ young people in the town of Suhum, and pay them based on a contract signed with the local chief.

Ensuring Environmental Sustainability

By harvesting new bamboo crops, said Dapaah, the initiative is also making a commitment to ecological sustainability.

“If we cut one bamboo, we make sure to plant at least three or five more,” she explained.

Orstin said that bamboo conservation is a key element of the UNDP’s partnership with the initiative.

“By promoting the conservation of bamboo, you are introducing a carbon sink, and at the same time… promoting alternative uses of bamboo for other purposes,” he said.

The initiative also works to protect the environment by producing organic and recyclable products, rather than metal or carbon fibre frames, which require high levels of energy at every stage of production – from extraction to manufacturing.

[pullquote] “If we cut one bamboo, we make sure to plant at least three or five more.” [/pullquote]

Instead, bamboo bicycles are made from 80% local material, which, according to Nyampong, not only enables producers to avoid expensive import costs, but also eliminates the carbon emissions that would arise from the transport of imported materials into the country.

Dapaah said that, while not all Ghanaians may be conscious of the environmental benefits of the bicycles, most are aware of the surging motor vehicle traffic in the cities, and are eager to circumvent it.

“The traffic situation in the country in general is increasing, and when traffic increases it has its associated environmental issues,” explained Isaac Osei, the Ashanti Regional Director for Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency.

There are 30 motor vehicles for every 1000 people in Ghana, and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority registers hundreds more each day. Data suggests that vehicle ownership will continue to rise, as the country hits record levels of GDP growth per capita.

Osei noted some of the harmful impacts of increased vehicle use, including carbon dioxide emissions and pollution from dust particles on dirt roads.

“To actually educate people to use bicycles [rather] than vehicles, I think it is good for the country and the world as a whole,” he said.

Dapaah said the prospect of avoiding traffic jams, as well as the low price of bamboo bikes relative to cars, should fuel the bicycles’ domestic market.

Improving Education, Health, and Gender Equality

But the bicycles are not only designed for Ghana’s city dwellers; some models are intended specifically for rural residents.

“We’ve done… studies, especially in rural communities where transportation is very bad, and we want to use this as an alternative source of transportation for students, because some students walk miles from home before they get to their schools,” Dapaah explained.

Nyampong also builds “bamboo cargo bikes,” to help farmers transport their products to markets, and is working with engineers from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands to design a “bamboo ambulance bike,” intended to assist expectant mothers in need of urgent medical attention.

“We’ve learned that there is a high rate of maternal mortality in Ghana,” explained Dapaah. “We have some remote areas [where] transportation is very bad… so we’re trying to come out with the bamboo ambulance,” she added.

She said the initiative is also intended to empower rural women by providing special training for them in the production, manufacturing, and riding of the bicycles.

Enhancing Global Partnerships

At present the organization is focusing on expanding production: creating new, diversified bamboo products, and developing new partnerships.

In 2009, the project won the Clinton Global Initiative Award, and in 2010, the UNEP Seed Initiative award. It also garnered international attention in June when it received a World Business and Development Award at the 2012 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

“Ever since [then], a lot of donors are trying to engage in our project, to see how best they can collaborate or partner with us,” Dapaah said.

As for their trade relations, BambooRide’s Schmidt said the Austrian importers are happy with the partnership, and see it as their own brand of “fair trade.”

“Fair trade comes by itself, because we are in partnership with the Ghana bamboo company and we are on… the same level,” he said, adding, “Do business the proper way, and it’s fair trade anyway.”

 

Rain in Liberia and how weather becomes an issue of health, and even life or death

During Liberia's wet season, neighbourhood wells can become contaminated with waterborne diseases, to which children are especially susceptible. Travis Lupick photo.

Living in Liberia through the country’s wet season, I find myself nostalgic for the relatively dry climate of Vancouver. To witness a true West African monsoon is to realize that western Canada is seldom inconvenienced by more than a drizzle.

A couple of statistics to explain my point: downtown Vancouver receives an average annual rainfall of 1,590 millimetres. Monrovia: 5,300 millimetres. The capital of Liberia sees almost as much rain during the month of July (1,150 millimetres) as Vancouver does in an entire year.

For many in Liberia, weather is an issue of health, and even life or death.

On a recent visit to Monrovia’s West Point neighbourhood, Thomas Tweh, head of the community’s sanitation committee, explained the problems that come with the wet season.

“When it rains, the water flows through the streets and into the wells,” he said. “Water with feces goes into the wells.”

During seasonal flooding, wells with openings at ground level are easily contaminated with waterborne diseases such as dysentery. Travis Lupick photo.

Lacking access to the city’s water supply, Tweh estimated that West Point relies on wells for 95 percent of its water needs.

He said that residents know that water from the wells is not safe to drink. But for many, the cost of clean drinking water leaves them no choice.

“And the little ones, they drink the well water unknowingly,” Tweh added. “This is how they become sick with waterborne diseases.”

West Point is one of the poorest areas of Monrovia. A July 2012 report on the neighborhood found that 85 percent of households live on less than 4,000 Liberian dollars (US$57) a month (and many, significantly less than that). That same study reported that water pollution is the primary community concern. West Point sits at sea level, and so is especially prone to flooding.

Tweh listed dysentery and typhoid as seasonal problems that come with the rains every year.

“We are talking about diseases like cholera,” he continued. “Just three weeks ago, a child fell sick from some water. We tried rehydration. But within a number of hours, he was gone.”

In Clara Town, another low-income neighborhood in Monrovia, David Jacobs, chairperson for the community, relayed complaints similar to those of Tweh.

“The drainage ditches around this community are very, very small,” Jacobs noted. “They were not meant for this many people,” which is he estimates is around 48,000.

In Clara Town, Monrovia, a lack of options for waste disposal has resulted in drainage ditches meant clogged with waste. Travis Lupick photo.

Touring Clara Town, Jacobs pointed to open waterways clogged by piles of garbage. He explained that the community lacks a proper facility for waste, and so people use the drainage ditches as disposal sites.

“When the rains come, the water just goes everywhere,” Jacobs lamented. “Sanitation is the issue here. You get cases of diarrhea.”

Back in West Point, Tweh presented a simple plan that could drastically improve the quality of the community’s well water.

He wants to strip existing wells of their metal linings— which are porous and rust— and replace them with more durable, heavy plastic linings. In addition, Tweh continued, wells with openings at ground level should be raised with concrete barriers so that their entry points always remain above flood levels.

Tweh has identified 50 specific wells for such renovations, and estimates that the cost of each upgrade would be US$100, or US$5,000 to significantly improve the quality of sanitation for a community of some 72,000 people.

Tweh maintained that funding remains the only barrier to his plan. He said that he’s approached several NGOs active in Monrovia, “but everybody is holding on to their money.”

Thomas Tweh, head of sanitation for Monrovia's West Point community, says he has a practical plan to improve access to clean water in the area. Travis Lupick photo.

Jacobs similarly has ideas about how to address the sanitation problems he described in Clara Town. Drainage ditches should be widened, he suggested. And open sewers should be covered to prevent people from using them for the disposal of garbage.

But again, there’s a lack of funding.

Both West Point and Clara Town are technically informal settlements— slums, as they are commonly referred. And so while the City does do business with them and is beginning to provide the most basic of social services, neither community is a high priority for the Mayor’s office.

During our interview, Tweh repeatedly returned to the story of the young boy who succumbed to dysentery. He emphasized how easily the death could have been prevented.

“They tried to take the child to the health facility,” Tweh recounted. “But at the end of the day, the child was lost.”

Follow Travis Lupick on Twitter: @tlupick

5

Breaking News, Breaking Hearts: How Ghanaian Media Handles Tragedy

My colleagues at Ultimate Radio watch the television as news breaks of President Mills' death Tuesday afternoon

Journalists make the news. They find the issues, gather the reports, and tell the stories. But how they do this can have a lasting impact on audiences – sometimes as resonant as the stories themselves.  At jhr, we care a lot about how the news is told, so I was naturally interested in the media’s reaction yesterday when Ghana’s president, John Atta Mills, passed away unexpectedly – just months before the December 2012 national election.

“This is the first time it’s happened to us. We had heard about other presidents in other African countries who had died on the job, but it was quite distant from us. So when this happened, it was a blow to me as a Ghanaian,” explained Kofi Owusu, the head of Ultimate Radio.

“I actually shed a tear when I heard the news,” he added. “I was shocked into a state of helplessness, of not really knowing what to do.”

But Owusu is not only a Ghanaian – he is also an award-winning journalist and a prominent member of the media – and he knew he had a responsibility to carry the story as quickly and professionally as possible. He promptly called some contacts in Accra to confirm the news.

“When as I was confirming with friends there, I was typing my [radio script] intro already,” he said, “because news has to go on.”

Ghanaians have been long been speculating about the state of President Mills’ health. Last month, he travelled to the United States for what his party deemed a “routine check-up,” and upon returning to Ghana was seen jogging on the tarmac in front of the press. But many remained skeptical, as he noticeably stopped speaking on the campaign trail, opting only to wave to the public instead.

[pullquote]”Don’t overdo it. Don’t get carried away by the sensationalism.”[/pullquote]

The media have been on the frontline of the mania, analyzing Mills’ every action and attributing each one to his deteriorating health. There have been several reports of his death in recent months, but each time he resurfaced to dispel the rumours. In a country where horror always sells, this kind of sensationalism thrives.

Despite speculations, however, the confirmation of Mills’ death still came as a shock to the majority of Ghanaians.

“I was speechless. You hear people talking, he’s sick, he’s not sick … but we were all thinking that we could see him run for the NDC in December,” said Ultimate Radio journalist Nana Oye.

Production staff rush to plan the station's coverage of Mills' death. Within minutes of receiving confirmation, we were able to broadcast the news.

I was with her when the news first broke. She was immediately overcome with emotion, but within minutes, was able to join a handful of others in the studio to calmly and composedly discuss the event on air. I was impressed by their tact in doing so.

“It’s not enough to just break the story,” noted Owusu. “It’s what you do from then on – because once you break the story, people would like to know more about what’s going to happen,” he explained.

He said the station aimed to take a levelheaded approach to the story. As for dramatics, he said, “Don’t overdo it. Don’t get carried away by the sensationalism.”

Unfortunately not all editors in Ghana think this way, and it is difficult to avoid sensationalism after such an event; other stations played the frantic cries or incomprehensible babble of callers throughout the day.

But none of the Ghanaians I spoke to expect to see an extreme national reaction to the President’s death. They hardly expect it to impact the December elections, let alone instigate riots or instability.

“Traditionally, and by customs, Ghanaians respect the dead a lot,” explained Owusu. “And Ghanaians being who they are, they’re going to observe that [mourning period] out of respect. If there’s going to be a state burial, you’ll see Ghanaians from all sides coming up to file past the body or to pay homage to the President,” he said.

[pullquote]“It’s not enough to just break the story; it’s what you do from then on.”[/pullquote]

The death does appear to have quelled the inter-party aggression characteristic of Ghanaian politics. Nana Akufo-Addo, the leader of the opposition New Patriotic Party, has suspended his campaign to mourn with Ghanaians.  Owusu expects that, if anything, the Presidential death will have a pacifying effect on the upcoming elections.

“[Previously,] there was so much divisiveness and the debate was just vicious,” he said. “Now the man who was at the receiving end is gone. Your enemy is down – you don’t keep flogging him. So it’s believed that it will tone down the hot exchanges. The acerbic tone will be considerably reduced, towards elections, which will have a common effect on the political landscape for all of us,” he predicted.

“There are even calls from leaders that Ghanaians should use this occasion to unite,” he added.

That could be a blessing in disguise in a country where most news sources are visibly split along partisan lines, and fail to push beyond the bickering of party rhetoric to the real political issues.

But if Ghanaians are to use the death as an opportunity to unite, and to look beyond political divisions to their common goals and challenges, the media must play a role as well.

“I think that, as the media, we have to stay focused,” said Owusu. “Because, as I’ve said, matters of state must go on, things must be done. We’ve sworn in the new President; [now] there should be some kind of assurance from the presidency that everything is under control, because that is what we expect of our leaders,” he said.

Will the ruling party, the National Democratic Congress, hold a congress to elect a new candidate, or will John Dramani Mahama, the newly acclaimed President, remain as the party flag bearer?

Owusu said the news stations should not dwell on the shock factor, but rather begin to ask the important questions at hand.

“After the death has been announced, what’s going to happen in parliament? What’s going to happen with the next person? We went to the Constitution, which clearly had steps to be taken to swear in the Vice-President, so we knew that was the procedure, and decided to stay with it and make sure that our listeners were informed,” he explained.

“There are questions to be asked in the days ahead – and they should be asked,” he added.

Ghanaians could use the untimely event as a source of unification. They could take the opportunity to step back from the frenzy of political campaigning and remember what they are really fighting for. They might just be able to do so – provided the media upholds its responsibility, and begins to ask the right questions.

Kofi Owusu and his fellow journalists crowd into the studio to break the news to the nation. Owusu (second from right) said the media has a public duty to address the story as tactfully as possible.

The school chaplain, mathematics teacher, and some science students of Prempeh College.

No faith in science: a Homo sapien rights issue?

Evolution is accepted by 97 percent of scientists in the United States but by only 61 percent of the public, according to the Pew Research Center. A 2011 poll approximates that 14 percent of Canadians think that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years. In 2007, The Council of Europe adopted a resolution on the dangers of creationism: it “is worried about the possible ill-effect of the spread of creationist ideas within our education systems and about the consequences for our democracies. If we are not careful, creationism could become a threat to human rights.”

Africa is noticeably not playing a huge role in this discussion.

Ghana Education Services includes basic evolution in its biology syllabus for senior high schools. However, there is sparse data on public opinion.

Information from other countries indicates males with higher levels of education are the demographic most likely to accept evolution. With this in mind, I headed to Prempeh College, a prestigious all-boys school in Kumasi: they have produced the highest number of doctors in Ghana. Alumni include prominent professors, engineers, politicians and former President Kufuor.

The school chaplain, some science students and a mathematics teacher at Prempeh College.

“Everybody has the right to acquire whatever knowledge [they desire]… it makes the students more dynamic, having received from the religious point of view and then learned from the secular point of view, then the student can make an informed decision,” said Reverend Adomako, the school chaplain and government teacher.

Admittedly surprised by his liberal stance, I proposed a scenario to him: what if one of his students rejected Christian creationism?

“Me, as a minister who knows the right thing, I must use whatever knowledge which I have in order to convince student to change their mind… with reason. So it is up to me to prove that his or her view on that subject is wrong.”

Despite his firm belief in the Bible, he supports teaching both evolution and creationism. Eugene, 18, a hopeful surgeon, disagrees.

“We should be learning only creationism, because there’s only one truth. You can’t blend the two together.”

“I don’t think we’ll be able to answer the evolution question. Evolution is in contrast to what the Bible teaches: it says nothing was created out of love, but by chance,” added Richie, 18.

I raised the possibility that God created the mechanism of evolution, an idea that is increasingly popular in the West.

“The Christians who are embracing evolution… they’re getting it all wrong. They don’t know their Bible very well… if they want, we the Africans can teach the Bible to them,” offered John Danquah, a mathematics teacher.

“According to the Big Bang theory, the universe started at a mathematical point. That is nonsense… The Bible makes it clear it was God who created heaven and earth – science will never have any explanation for that,” he continued.

The conversation kept returning to the limits of science. Even if the origin of the earth is not known in full detail, is it possible for science to uncover it?

“It’s impossible. If it becomes possible for them to find out, they are getting to spirits, and science does not deal with spirit matters,” said Emmanuel, 17, aspiring engineer. “I believe religion more than science.”

As I interviewed the students, the Reverend and Danquah both made it clear that my efforts were futile because all the students agree with them.

They had a point, to some degree: approximately 63 percent of Ghanaians are Christian, and most Muslims believe in creationism as well. It is taught in Sunday schools, primary schools, and junior high schools. Most people I spoke with at Prempeh College gave me identical responses. Who would disagree with something so widely accepted as truth?

Manu, 18, an aspiring astrophysicist.

“I’ve learned that the world came into being through particles coming together and human beings evolving from unicellular organisms and progressing further to become who we are now… I do believe it. With evolution, we are able to learn more about living organisms.”

Like most devout Christians in the world, most Ghanaians believe in creationism. However, such a belief is an anomaly within the international scientific community, and it could be an indictment on the future of the nation’s scientific progress – it doesn’t have to be, Manu insists.

“Science and religion are not enemies. There are just some things that science is slow to understand, so religion [helps us] wait. Be patient, get knowledge, understand things.”

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.

A woman collects dumping fees at Bantama. Her child stays with her at the site.

Day Cares and Dump Sites: Sanitation Problems in Kumasi

This week, my colleagues and I decided to examine urban sanitation and the associated health issues for Ultimate Radio’s Morning Show. We knew of several waste sites around town that were particularly concerning, so we went out to find them – recorders and cameras in hand.

First, we visited a garbage dump in the residential neighbourhood of Bantama, where no one has come to collect the rubbish for over a month. The woman who takes dumping fees at the site told us that nobody knew who exactly was responsible for removing the rubbish, or why they had stopped.  We also spoke to local residents and food vendors, who expressed concern over the smell, sight, and the possibility of food contamination there.

Next we went to the “Wewe” stream, which feeds the city’s main waterworks. The stream has been turned into one of Kumasi’s major drains, and its banks are covered in garbage. We noticed some Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly (KMA) workers cleaning the roads nearby. They were employed to sweep away dust on the side of the road while, meters away, no action was being taken to clean up the stream.

We followed the water up to the neighbourhood of Ahinsan, where we found a refuse site, measuring 50 by 40 meters and about 10 meters high. It is used by nearby market workers and local inhabitants, as well as fishmongers who smoke their fish there. It is enormous, and sits right on the banks of one of the city’s major drains.

Perhaps most worrisome, however, was the daycare centre we found just meters away from this dump. Comfort and Alexon Kidd-Darko opened the Comkid Daycare Centre years before the site became a refuse dump, but now they must spend a great deal of their time–and money–on fighting the authorities over it.

“Because of the children, I’m not happy with this. When we came, there was nothing like this. If the place had been like this, I wouldn’t have put money here,” said Mrs. Kidd-Darko.

She also noted the damage that the site has been inflicting on their business.

“Now the children are not coming because of this, and my work is down. So now we are helpless,” she told me.

She said, however, that the centre takes every precaution to keep the children safe and healthy. They have fenced the place in and installed netting around the building to keep flies and mosquitoes away. They also never let the children play outside of the compound.

This is important because, according to Doctor Franklin Asiedu-Dekoe, children are especially at risk of illness resulting from sites like these.

“Children like to play on these refuse dumps,” he said. And they are more likely to fall ill, he explained, “because children are less likely to wash their hands with soap and water before anything enters their mouths.”

He also noted that malaria could spread in the area, if garbage prevents the stream from flowing properly and creates a build-up of still water.

We spoke to an official of the Ahinsan Market Committee – the ones in charge of managing the dump, according to the Kidd-Darkos. But he blamed the KMA members for the site’s mismanagement.

“We would be grateful if the Assembly officials could get this dumping site well managed or even get it relocated for us,” he said.

But he later admitted that his committee is in fact responsible for managing the site, and that all proceeds made from the dump go to them–not the KMA.

According to Doctor Asiedu-Dekoe, everyone is responsible for the maintenance of such urban waste sites – even the individuals who choose to dispose of their waste there.

Mrs. Kidd-Darko expressed a hope that the relevant authorities would soon be held accountable for the dumping site. She said its removal would not only be in the best interests of her daycare, but also of all the residents and market vendors in the area.

“It’s not healthy for even the residents here, and the market itself, let alone the children,” she said.

When Household Chores become Human Rights Abuses

A young girl carries a load on her head in Kejetia Market

At eleven years old, Thema, a native of Kumasi, hopes to be a nurse when she grows up. Currently, however, she is employed wandering between taxis and tro-tros at rush hour, carrying packs of ice water on her head and selling them for 10 pesewas apiece. Though in the mornings she attends school, her afternoons are spent maneuvering through traffic with practiced ease; she has been doing this for four years.

Child labour is on the rise in Ghana, and particularly in urban areas.  According to UNICEF’s 2012 State of the World’s Children Report, 34% of Ghanaian children aged 5–14 years are engaged in child labour. That figure is up from 23% in 2003, as recorded in a Ghana Statistical Survey. In Kumasi, 8% of children engage in regular work, though its harmful impacts are widely acknowledged.

“It infringes on the rights of children, it affects their health, and it may result in injury,” explained Emilia Allan, a Child Protection Officer at UNICEF Ghana. “It prevents and interferes with their education, and it leads to other protection concerns such as sexual exploitation, violence, [and] child trafficking,” she said in an interview with me for Ultimate Radio.

But many families in Ghana must depend on their young ones for financial support, and the government does not take a zero-tolerance stance on it. Instead, the recently launched National Plan of Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, based on the ILO Convention No. 182, recognizes that immediately eliminating the phenomenon is not feasible, and aims to protect those children who do work from physical, moral, and mental harm. And though the minimum age of employment is 15 years, the 1998 Ghana Children’s Act in fact states that children aged 13 and older may engage in some forms of light work.

[pullquote]“In Ghana, children help their families. Where that help is hazardous to the child’s health, or is harmful to the education of the child, then it is termed child labour.”[/pullquote]

The legislation is therefore realistic and rational, but does it go far enough to protect working children from harm? Should it apply to those engaged in household work – cooking, cleaning, running errands, or caring for younger siblings? What about children like Thema, who work part-time and attend school on a shift system? Are they considered child labourers, and protected under the law?

“In Ghana, children help their families. Where that help is hazardous to the child’s health, or is harmful to the education of the child, then it is termed child labour,” Allan explained.

“The Ghanaian Children’s Act ensures that every child has the right to be protected from engaging in work that constitutes a threat to his health, education, or development,” she said. “So if a child is . . . going to sell and then going on the shift system, the child goes to school tired and sleepy. That is affecting the child’s education, because it is not performing,” she explained, adding, “They don’t have time to do their homework.”

She also noted that, when a child is given a load to carry on her head, though considered light labour, it can affect her physical growth and pose a threat to her development.

Legally, then, children are protected from doing any kind of work – whether “light” or “hazardous” – that might cause harm.  And as part-time and light labour can inhibit a child’s development, these should be regulated as well.  So why is child labour still rampant?

According to Mr. Jacob Achulu, the Ashanti Regional Director for the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare, the root of the problem is poverty.

“The legal framework is there,” he said.  “The problem is the enforcement, and I think it’s because poverty is widespread in most parts of our country. So the ILO interventions and NGO interventions are welcome, but there is the need to have sustainable activities that will make sure the families are able to keep their children in school.”

He pointed to some district-level programs in the Ashanti region, designed to work with the parents of child labourers and help them earn additional income, rather than sending their children to work.

So while the government acknowledges that, for many families, children are important breadwinners, and continues to pursue a pragmatic approach to reducing child labour, it might be prudent to develop new ways of addressing household poverty and stymying the problem at its source.