Tag Archives: CIDA

Malaria: not just a disease, but a way of life

It’s the most dangerous killer in West Africa, the top issue on Ghana’s health priority list, and carries a whopping price tag of up to US$ 60 million a year.  Yet for all the apparent hazards attributed to malaria, the disease is still seen in a relatively casual light in Ghana.

One of the first things people had to say when I told them I’d be working as a journalist here was, “Watch out for malaria!”  Also common were “Have fun, but don’t get malaria,” and the ever-popular “Beware of mosquitoes – they carry malaria.”

Malaria, malaria, malaria.  It seems Canadians can’t escape the idea of it, that mysterious exotic disease that mixes flu symptoms with diarrhea and eventually, if left untreated, leads to death.  It’s the Avian Flu, Black Plague, and SARS all rolled into one, that misunderstood medical monster that all hapless Canadians traveling overseas to warm climates should take the greatest pains to avoid contracting.

Before leaving Canada, my doctor told me I’d be traveling to an “extremely high-risk zone,” and urged me to do any or all of three things: purchase the most expensive of malaria medication; double up on mosquito netting for maximum protection; reconsider my trip.

My colleague at Kapital Radio, Muftaw, saw me writing this post and chuckled.  “I like your headline,” he said.  “Malaria, a way of life.  So true.”

I ended up going with the cheapest medication option known as Mefloquine, a medication whose listed side effects read much like the expected effects of LSD – hallucinations, lucid dreaming, and vivid nightmares.  Personally, I’ve never slept better.

As far as mosquito netting goes, well, I do as the locals do.

“I have a mosquito net,” said Muftaw.  “It’s brand new.  I have never used it.  It’s in my wardrobe.”

Mine too sits at the bottom of my rucksack, unpacked, unused, and ultimately, unnecessary.  I sleep in the comfort of basketball shorts, and really, the mosquitoes have largely left me alone.  They rarely venture indoors anyway.

And as for reconsidering my trip?  Well, it’s too late now, but really, for what reason?  We in North America live in such a culture of fear – of recession, of crime, of people, of spiders, of disease – that we’ve limited our opportunities to experience by simply shutting ourselves into protective bubbles.  I took so many precautions just on malaria alone before I got here, only to find that it’s a commonly contracted disease easily treated at the local pharmacy with medicine.

When I asked him how many times he’s had malaria, Muftaw shrugged.

“Too many to count,” he said.  “I thought I had malaria last week but it turned out to be just a viral infection.”

However, I’ve learned not everyone can afford to be so cavalier.  While most cases of malaria are a quick fix in the cities, there are enormous amounts of people, particularly in the north, without access to proper healthcare.

“It’s a problem, the high risk for those in the rural areas where there are no clinics, no hospitals,” said Dr. Joseph Oduro, Deputy Director of Public Health for the Ashanti Region.  “While we have the medicines to treat it, malaria can be very dangerous if you can’t actually access the medicine.”

Aside from the rare fatality, this danger presents itself in malaria’s long list of side effects, which range from anemia to complications during pregnancy.  Treating the disease can also be a heavy financial burden for many families, who all too often turn to traditional medicines as a cheaper, more familiar option.

“Many people claim they have medicines that can cure malaria, but what research has been done?” said Dr. Oduro.  “People take them and then come to the hospital with many complications.  It’s a real challenge here in Ghana… ignorance is high.”

Another problem is those who rely on traditional medicine also go unregistered in government records, therefore skewing national statistics concerning the disease.  A report released by the World Health Organization announced an estimated 3.7 million cases of malaria in Ghana in 2009.  However, that figure is deceivingly low considering how many cases annually go unreported, and consequently, untreated.  Pregnant women and children under five are especially vulnerable, with UNICEF reporting roughly 20,000 malaria-caused fatalities in Ghana among children under five every year.

The numbers are staggering.  And frankly, avoidable.  While there are dozens of government and NGO malaria-specific initiatives at work in Ghana, the fact remains: malaria is killing people in this country.  ITNs (insecticide treated nets) and anti-malarial vaccines are helping, but more can be done.  More needs to be done.

“It’s a serious threat,” said Dr. Oduro.  “Malaria is the commonest cause of morbidity and mortality in Ghana… it’s a matter of concern for us.”

I could stand to be less dismissive about not using my mosquito net.  Reality is, that net could be saving a life right now.

A poster at the Kumasi Centre for Collaborative Research in Tropical Medicine (KCCR) detailing malaria’s attack cycle

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.

The obruni tries to speak Twi

Recorded clips of Chris and I attempting to learn Twi became a great source of amusement for the staff at Kapital Radio. During our “lessons” trying to learn the language, our colleagues began recording us struggling to repeat the words. Why, you might ask? Well, it was to make fun of us later on Fansu, a comedy program at the station. One of the problems was our poor pronunciation, and the other was our coworkers insistence on having us repeat difficult phrases so they could have a laugh. For some reason, me attempting to say “eight percent” in Twi had everyone in the newsroom falling off their chairs laughing.

Eventually we started to learn more useful things, such as basic introductions and how to barter in the market. While I am far from fluent in Twi, by the end of the summer I was able to greet vendors and purchase things in the market without using English. In case you wanted to travel to Ghana, or just wanted to hear some local phrases, watch Basic Twi for Obrunis, in which my colleague Shadrach teaches me the basic greetings.

Body kept in parking lot at Kumasi Police HQ

The corpse of a suspected car thief lies in the parking lot of the Ashanti Regional Police Headquarters, a car mat with a pool of blood just feet away.

What I learned from initial whisperings around the police station was that three car snatchers were caught in Kumasi, having stolen a taxi in Accra. The vehicle was tracked using a new software, which was released by police just weeks before the incident in an attempt to reduce the increasing incidents of car theft in Ghana’s cities.

In the three hours I waited with my colleague at the station, no official police statement was issued. According to news articles the following day, the man and his two suspected co-conspirators opened fire, unprovoked, on police officers, who returned shots. The man was killed and two of the other suspects wounded. While one suspect escaped arrest, the others were taken to the police headquarters, where the body was placed in the parking lot as police waited for the Ashanti Regional Police Commander to assess the body.

One of his suspected co-assailants is guided onto the back of a police vehicle. His foot, shoeless and badly injured during the incident, leaves a trail of blood between where the police were holding him and the truck. The third assailant in custody stands in the centre of the growing crowd, tears streaming down his face just metres from the body.

“Hey, human rights!” A fellow journalist calls out at me, as we hover outside the office of the Ashanti Regional Police’s Public Relations Officer. Knowing that I work with Journalists for Human Rights he wants to know my opinion on the shooting. I tell him that since they haven’t made a statement yet, I don’t really know what led to police opening fire on the suspects.

What concerns me isn’t that a man was shot during a police chase, but that there is a body lying in the parking lot of the police station with hundreds of people casually strolling by. In the three hours we stand around waiting for someone to make an official statement the body remains lying in the lot; moved slightly when police officers with gloves do a quick examination.

Journalists and one of the police’s public relations officers snap pictures of the body. I leave my camera in my bag while at the police station. I didn’t check the papers to see if photos of the body appear the following day, but I know it’s likely to have accompanied the stories. In Ghanaian newspapers it’s common to see pictures of people who have hanged themselves, or bodies of car crash victims.

After three hours standing around the station without an official police statement, I head back to the station. Within half an hour my colleague joins me, as the crowd of journalists had dissolved, needing to get back to their respective newsrooms. When I was leaving the station the body remained in the lot, moved only slightly during the police examination. The group of journalists speculating about when a nearby pickup truck would finally transfer the body to the hospital morgue.

Preferential treatment v. currying favours

[pullquote]There was about twenty people ahead of me. I took out my book and settled down to wait. One hour passed. Then two hours. Then three. The queue hadn’t moved by a single patient.[/pullquote]

I promised myself I would never knowingly take advantage of the preferential – if not at least differential – treatment foreigners receive in Ghana. Even though I fall into the rather ambiguous category of a dark-skinned obruni, I have, on occasion, been given more attention or faster service than usually afforded to locals. I can’t do anything about it – to refuse would have been rude – but I promised myself I would never illicit any special treatment.
Regrettably, I had to break that promise. I caught malaria despite taking regular medications and avoiding unnecessary exposure to mosquito bites. One weekend, while I was attending a colleague’s wedding, I started feeling especially sick. My temperature fluctuated, my joints ached, I was nauseated and my stomach couldn’t retain any food. Fearing the worst, I called one of my fellow interns’ colleagues at Kapital Radio. He suggested that I get checked, but he advised me to go with a local who knew the ins and outs of the system so I wouldn’t have to wait long to see a doctor.
He didn’t state it explicitly but what he meant was that I should go with someone who could help me jump the queue.
Remembering the promise I made to myself, I went to the hospital alone (My fellow interns Chris Tse and Leah Wong had gone out of town for their mid-internship break).
After asking around, I managed to get to the hospital, find the walk-in clinic, register myself and join the queue to see the doctor. There was about twenty people ahead of me. I took out my book and settled down to wait.
One hour passed. Then two hours. Then three. The queue hadn’t moved by a single patient.

I felt my nausea growing, my stomach threatened another visit to the loo and my fever was back with a vengeance. I glanced over to the man sleeping on the bench next to me – he had been there before I came – and decided I couldn’t wait anymore.

I called another friend who I thought might be able to help. He promptly instructed me to meet him at the hospital where his wife works. Once there, he ran around getting me registered and within twenty minutes, I was sitting in front of the doctor relaying my symptoms. There followed a flurry of activities – a blood test, another session with the doctor, getting my prescriptions – during which I saw my friend speak to this person or that in order to get me ahead of the line at every stop. The whole process took a little less than 3 hours.

As I curl up in my bed feeling calm and medicated, I saw the faces of the people I jumped ahead of. They were all sick and they still had to wait their turn. My stomach churned again with guilt. I reminded myself that I had gotten ahead of the line because my friend had connections at the hospital, not because my skin was a little fairer than the average Ghanaian. There is little comfort in that, but I’ll take it nonetheless.

So, we have moved to Africa

Each time one moves they must adapt to a new culture of some sort – changing neighbourhoods, towns, cities, provinces, states – each signifies it’s own identity and culture. For us, we have left the continent in which was home and the differences in culture can seem extreme.

Since arriving in Accra things have been interesting and eventful. We have been looking for a home, identifying parts of the city, figuring out transportation, establishing frequently used routes and choosing the markets to buy our groceries. We have had to learn about garbage disposal (or removal as there is no proper waste removal system in Accra), where to buy water, what to do when the house water supply runs out, how to sufficiently bucket-shower, how to hand wash our laundry, where we can withdraw money, where to buy a mattress, a phone, internet stick, additional converters and anything else we realize we need.

We have learned how to haggle taxi drivers for fair prices, how to flag down a tro-tro, how not to get stuck on a tro, how not to get entirely lost in general, where the ‘obruni’ (white/foreigners) spots for food are (when our tummies are telling us not to be too adventurous), where locals gather and of course deciding on our favourite places to celebrate the day with a beverage. We have begun new jobs, met new colleagues and made new friends – all the while adjusting to an entirely new culture.

The differences are great, although at times intimidating. We are surrounded by new sites, new people and new language (the official language is English, Ghana was previously conquered by the British and originally inhabited by tribes each with their own dialect). To us, everything is new.

It is interesting to live your life the way you would at home – have breakfast, brush your teeth, shower, get to work, get home, have dinner, go out, go to sleep – but do it in a new continent.

Everything is new, exciting and comes with difficulties.

It took me time to establish why this round was different and then it hit me – like my semi-daily cold water showers – I had moved to Africa!

Something you’d think was apparent and obvious yet somehow easily forgotten. Each of my other long-term travel experiences had some aspect of support – when I moved to Spain as an Au Pair I went through an organization and lived with a family, when I backpacked through Europe we were going day-by-day, when we stayed in Mexico we traveled as a group through an NGO and had logistical details arranged – when all of those things are taken care of it is much easier to focus on the tasks ahead and even then can be exhausting. It is an incredible experience to re-teach yourself how to live out your day.

In respect to all mentioned, I have noticed instances of personal growth since my arrival. I have over come fears, questioned my purpose, identified my needs and integrated to the best of my ability while still staying true to myself.

Now that we have established the functions of our daily routine, I am looking forward to what the next leg of our journey will hold. We have made trustworthy friends, established an understanding of the logistics of the city, entered our work places and have confirmed final living accommodations to begin August 17th. We have gained insight into Ghanaian culture but have yet to begin grasping a full understanding of the true complexities.

We have touched the surface and I am eager to learn more, dig deeper and go upstream.

Homosexual rights in Ghana a work in regress?

I’ve been doing this thing on Twitter called the Ghana Heat Check, where I attempt to come up with clever ways of letting my followers know how warm I am finding the Ghanaian weather.  It started out that way, at least.  Nowadays, I’m pretty much acclimatized and actually find the temperatures quite pleasant.  Perhaps the one area where the heat has not died down, however, is the topic of homosexuality.

Much of the Ghanaian mindset regarding homosexuality comes from the country’s deeply religious roots; roughly 95 per cent of Ghanaians identify as Christian or Muslim, two religions that have historically opposed homosexuality.

“It’s not natural,” says Reverend Dr. Steve Asante, vice-chairman of the Ghana Christian Council.  “God created a man to be with a woman, but homosexuality goes against this holy design.”

Alhaji Mohammed Abdul Wahab, Deputy Imam of Kotokoli in the Ashanti Region, echoes his religious counterpart, calling the act of homosexuality “totally haram.”

“These people have lost their humanity,” says Abdul Wahab.  “If they change, God can forgive them.  It they do not, they will go to the fire.”

Daniel Asare Korang, programs manager at the Human Rights Advocacy Centre (HRAC), says his centre recognizes that Ghana is a religious country, but maintains that doesn’t change anything in respect to rights for homosexuals.  The HRAC is one of Ghana’s only organizations that has taken a strong stance for homosexual rights.

“How about those who don’t believe in any religion,” says Korang.  “Are they also not Ghanaians?  People have rights to believe what they believe… we don’t expect everybody to agree with our opinion, but if you express yours, I can also express mine.”

Hillary Afful is a gay Ghanaian. The 26-year-old Accra native says he knew early on that he was gay, and that he accepted the fact because it was how he was created.

“We’ve tried, we’ve done everything we could, but I can’t change,” says Afful, an HIV counselor with the West African AIDS Foundation.  “This is who I am.”

Rev. Asante, however, isn’t so sure.

“Nobody is created a homosexual, it is a choice,” he says.  “You aren’t born a thief or a murderer.  You choose to do those things, and homosexuals choose to engage in homosexuality.”

This, Afful says, is the same mentality that led his family to cast him from the house over a decade ago.

“Only my younger sister partially understands,” says Afful, who now lives with his friend in Jamestown, Accra.  “Sometimes she visits and she talks to me.  For my mother, I spoke with her the last two months.  But my daddy doesn’t even know how I look like.  We’ve not met since seventeen years now.”

“I tried to make contact but he said to be a homosexual, it’s evil and it damages the image of the family so he wants nothing to do with me.”

Fear of similar rejection is what has kept Jessica Acheampong, a self-described “reformed homosexual,” from telling her family about her past homosexual activity.

“Thank God my family never found out,” says Acheampong, a coordinator affiliated with the African Businesswomen Network.  “I would never tell them.  The way my parents are, and how Christian my mother is – I can’t imagine what they would say.”

Acheampong says the level of condemnation towards homosexuality in Ghana is misplaced.

“Those condemning it have no experience with it,” says Acheampong.  “Are they also without sin?  It’s not worse than any other sin, so why are people saying that gays and lesbians are Satanic?  I don’t get why people consider homosexuality to be so much more evil.”

It’s this heavy condemnation that is starting to take its toll on Afful, who says he finds comfort in going to church but is getting tired of the judgment from people he says are supposed to be his brothers and sisters.

“The pastor was preaching against it and people were laughing and saying all kinds of bullshit and I got quite furious,” says the self-professed Anglican.  “Even if you say it’s evil, you don’t need to condemn it.  Sometimes I ask myself, what are they trying to tell God?  Are they trying to challenge God?  God created every human being in His own image.”

In this vein, Afful says that despite the discrimination he faces every week, he will continue to attend church.

“I’m there to worship my God, so I don’t look at them, I don’t care about what they do, what they say, and all that.  I am just there to worship my God.”

Outside of church, however, Afful says he generally goes to work and then straight home out of concern for his personal safety.

“Even in my community, I can’t walk freely without people insulting me and throwing stones at me,” he says.  “Sometimes people even connive with the police and blackmail us… it’s really difficult here.  It’s like we are in hell.”

Afful said things got so bad a while ago he even tried to leave Ghana, but was denied a visa at immigration.  Applications for asylum also went unheard.   Despite this, he said he would not stop fighting.

“I want to see a time when you can be yourself,” said Afful.  “Even if I don’t get out of Ghana, I just want to be free.”

A typical headline in any of Ghana’s dailies.

Coming from Canada, where homosexuality has currently never enjoyed more acceptance and I have numerous friends who identify as LGBTQ, I was shocked to see how much of an issue it still is in Ghanaian society.  The topic dominates headlines and radio programs, with politicians and religious leaders going head to head against human rights advocates in the debate over whether homosexual Ghanaians should have the same rights as their heterosexual peers.  Consider that it’s a virtual non-issue in Canada, where gay marriage has been legalized and homosexuality is openly celebrated, and you can see how I’ve experienced culture shock.

Child labour on the streets of Ghana: the issue with underaged street vendors

We go to malls for shopping convenience.  A hundred stores within walking distance of each other; you can spend a day at the mall and walk out with virtually anything you want.  The Ghanaian mall is pretty similar, except it takes place at every traffic intersection, and there aren’t really stores as much as countless vendors weaving their way between cars with baskets of anything on their heads.  You can do all your shopping on the way home from work; it’s a beautiful thing.

[pullquote]“Children are supposed to go to school, and then they need to rest. They need time for recreation… they learn from playing.  Where is the time left in the day for the child to go and sell if you are to make sure your child gets all these requirements?”[/pullquote]

That beauty, however, is marred by one significant fact: many of these vendors are young enough to be in primary school.  Kids aged as low as five are in the streets every day, selling wares ranging from water sachets to packs of gum.  When I was five, I was doing a lot of things.  Risking my life darting between trucks that can’t see me while simultaneously missing out on an education was not one of them.

“We’re aware that kids are being made to sell on the streets,” says Mr. Jacob Achulo, Director of Social Welfare for the Ashanti Region.  “Mostly it’s their parents who push them to do it because they are poor and need money to supplement feeding.  This is not right.  If you are not able to look after your children, then you should not bring children into the world.”

Achulo points out that constitutionally, Ghanaian law prohibits anyone from exposing children to physical and moral dangers, both of which he says are prevalent in street vending.

“Children can be knocked down by vehicles or attacked by thieves,” says Achulo.  “The girls can be lured or tricked by men into situations and then sexually abused…We are making our children to do the work of adults.  Children are innocent, they don’t know.  They think every adult is their mommy and daddy.”

Esther Ayariga* is in JHS1 (the equivalent of grade seven in Canada.)  She sells sachet water by the Prempeh II roundabout, making about three cedis ($2 CAD) a day.  Ayariga says she is often propositioned by men from their vehicles.

“They tell me that I’m beautiful or they want to marry me,” says Ayariga.  “Sometimes it worries me.  I told my grandmother but she tells me not to mind them.”

Ayariga says she heads to the roundabout to sell water every day after classes, always for long hours and often in overwhelming heat before returning home.  There, she washes the dishes, cleans the compound where she lives, and does her homework before going to bed.  This type of demanding schedule is another major concern for Social Welfare.

“Children are supposed to go to school, and then they need to rest,” says Achulo.  “They need time for recreation… they learn from playing.  Where is the time left in the day for the child to go and sell if you are to make sure your child gets all these requirements?”

Ayariga says she loves going to school, and hopes to follow the example of her older sister, who is a full-time student in senior high school.  For now, however, Ayariga says she will continue to sell water to help out the family.

“I don’t always rush home from school to sell the water,” she laughs, “but we need the money.”

For Achulo, this is precisely the mentality that his office is trying to fight against.

“All work and no play, your child will become dull…You have decided to choose, instead of the child’s betterment in the future, you have chosen money for today.”

*name changed to protect identity

A child, still in her school uniform, selling sachet water on the streets of Kumasi. PC: Lin Abdul Rahman

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.