Tag Archives: Millennium Development Goals

Secret Women

In Chichewa, the widely-spoken language of southern Malawi, being pregnant or “kunkhala ndi pakati” translates to being in the middle of life and death.  For many pregnant Malawian women, however, death comes much sooner.

As the African country with the second highest maternal mortality ratio, Malawi is struggling to eradicate a crisis that in 2006 claimed the lives of would-be mothers at a rate of 807 deaths per 100,000 live births.  And while 2006 figures showed an improvement on those of 2004 – 984 deaths per 100,000 live births – the 2010 Malawi Millennium Development Goals Report has already projected that Malawi will not achieve the targets of the fifth MDG to improve maternal health by 2015.

Contributing factors identified in the 2005 Ministry of Health (MoH) “Road Map for Accelerating the Reduction of Maternal and Neonatal Mortality and Morbidity in Malawi” include shortage of staff and weak human resource management, limited availability and utilisation of quality maternal health care services, and weak procurement and logistics systems for drugs, supplies and equipment.  Underlying such problems of infrastructure and resources, the report reads, are harmful social and cultural beliefs and practices.

Naswit Chitalo of Namila Village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Mlilima in Chikhwawa District is easily able to recall a time when “most pregnant women were dying from pregnancy complications” because of social and cultural beliefs, which include the belief that the firstborn child should be delivered by a traditional birth attendant (TBA) in the home as opposed to a health facility.

“I actually know of three women we lost in 2009 because they sought the services of elderly women from the village instead of rushing to the hospital,” said Chitalo, adding that TBAs would use herbs to make pregnant women “feel so confident about the outcome of their pregnancy” that professional maternal health care would be neglected altogether.

According to Malawi Health Equity Network (MHEN) Executive Director Martha Kwataine, these kinds of social and cultural beliefs surrounding TBAs have done more harm than good when it comes to maternal mortality in Malawi.

“There have been several researches whose results have shown that traditional birth attendants have made cases on maternal death high because they are not properly equipped,” said Kwataine.  “We tried to train them so that they should handle referral cases but they did not comply.”

President Joyce Banda has also added her voice to the case against TBAs; on June 18, after laying a foundation stone for a maternity holding shelter at Mulanje Hospital, the first of 130 holding shelters pledged as part of the Presidential Initiative on Safe Motherhood launched in April, Banda told TBAs to stop offering delivery services to expectant women.

“Traditional birth attendants must stop giving delivery services,” she said at the function, adding that “traditional birth attendants can have a good role to play… because they are experienced they can be referral point.”

News of the ban on TBAs has been met with both controversy and commendation throughout the country.  But to women like Chitalo, the rationale behind the ban is not news at all; as one of the T/As where the Centre for Alternatives for Victimised Women and Children (CAVWC) has been working to realize the MoH Road Map objective of improving obstetric care, a new, “good role” for TBAs is already one of Mlilima’s best kept secrets.

Former traditional birth attendant Dalia Issa stands with her husband outside of their Namila Village home. In 2010, with training from the Centre for Alternatives for Victimised Women and Children, Issa stopped offering village-based delivery services and took on a new role as a Secret Woman. Photo submitted.

In 2010, CAVWC identified two women in each village of T/A Mlilima and T/A Kasisi to be “Secret Women.”  The women, many of whom had been working as TBAs, attended three days of training on maternal health using a standardized MoH handbook.

According to CAVWC Project Officer Talimba Bandawe, women like Chitalo were trained to take on four main roles and responsibilities: referring pregnant women to antenatal facilities by carrying out door-to-door campaigns; educating women on family planning; collaborating with Village Health Committees to form Community Safe Motherhood Task Forces and conduct awareness-raising community meetings; and recording how many pregnant women deliver in the community or in a health facility.

“We depend on these Secret Women because they have been trained; they can convince a woman on the importance of delivery at a health facility with a skilled attendant, because in the rural areas they are used to having TBAs,” said Bandawe.  “We’re trying to change that mindset – that anything could happen with a TBA so it’s better to deliver at a health facility.”

Bandawe said the women are called “Secret Women” because of the social and cultural beliefs and practices surrounding pregnancy in Malawi.

“When you talk about traditions and beliefs, the pregnant woman is vulnerable,” she said, adding that traditional beliefs in witchcraft scare some women off of sharing how many months they are into their pregnancy.

“The concept of Secret Women is based on that whatever you talk about with a Secret Woman should be kept confidential,” she continued.  “Whatever issues that you discuss, the Secret Woman is not expected to go and disclose that anywhere because some of the things can be really private.”

According to Esnart Dzoma, who has been volunteering as a Secret Woman in Namila Village for two years, “the most important thing is confidentiality.”

“If I begin to shout that ‘so and so sought this help from me’ they will inform each other, and we will have the health problems that used to compound issues such as pregnancy again,” said Dzoma.  “I have an obligation to help these women with compassion, and without malice… the secret to being an effective Secret Woman is to be open-minded.”

Based on principles of compassion and confidentiality, Bandawe said the Secret Women project has helped to address some of the harmful social and cultural beliefs and practices, “especially through the door-to-door campaigns” as pregnant women have been comforted by and more likely to accept confidential counselling.

A bicycle ambulance donated by the Centre for Alternatives for Victimised Women and Children being used in Namila Village. Photo submitted.

“The Secret Women were really successful in that a number of women were referred to the hospital,” she said, adding that other Road Map interventions such as the provision of bicycle ambulances and village bylaws enforcing fines for births that take place outside of a health facility have also contributed to the success of the initiative.

The data collected by the Secret Women also speaks to their success; in 2009, when CAVWC was working to reach out to practicing TBAs and provide safe-birthing training and equipment, approximately 30 percent of pregnant women in the two T/As were reportedly giving birth at a health facility.  In 2012, the Secret Women are reporting that 54 percent of pregnant women are now giving birth at a health facility.

But despite their success, Bandawe said that the new role for TBAs has not been implemented without resistance.

“Some women still resist the counseling of the Secret Women, and sometimes even the husband can be a challenge,” she said.

“There are some materials that the hospital recommends that you should have when you go to the hospital – a plastic paper, a razor blade and a basin.  Some of the husbands don’t welcome this idea, so (the Secret Women) have a negative reception from some of the families.”

For their part, Bandawe said that CAVWC will “revive the Secret Women” by holding refresher training courses at the end of June.

“It is really important to have these sorts of people in the communities, mainly in the rural areas where literacy levels are low,” she said.

“Maybe after there has been a lot of sensitization, when everyone even in the rural communities is aware of the health benefits of delivering at the hospital and when we have managed to reduce the maternal mortality ratio, that’s when we can do without the Secret Women.  But right now, they still have a major role to play.”


With files from Richard Chirombo and Madalitso Musa

Lucius Dimiano of Kafupa Village.  Roughly translated, "kafupa" means "hard as bone".  Photo by Karissa Gall.

“Mind the gap” – The crippling impact of HIV/AIDS on family composition and elderly Malawians

The old “respect your elders” adage has customarily been an important part of Malawian culture, with the elderly able to depend on the social and economic support of their children and the community.  However, the HIV/AIDS epidemic has had a crippling impact on family composition and tradition.

While the 2012 Malawi Country AIDS Response Progress Report found that from the start of the epidemic the number of deaths per annum had been reduced from nearly 100,000 to approximately 48,000 in 2010, the report also found that the number of children orphaned by AIDS has been on the rise.

Antenatal Clinic sero-surveys (surveys of blood serum) found that the number of children orphaned by AIDS increased from 576,458 in 2010 to 612,908 in 2011.  And with over half of orphans being cared for by their grandparents, men like Lucius Dimiano of Kafupa Village will be celebrating their 70th birthday before that of their retirement.

At 68-years-old, Dimiano is still working three jobs to support six grandchildren orphaned by AIDS.  He works as a guard from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. at a nearby church, goes to the garden to get maize for his family, weaves baskets to sell at the market and then, does it all over again.

“I cannot sleep, so it’s hard,” Dimiano said.  “As a night guard, I need to always be awake because sometimes there are thieves in the dark.

Still working three jobs at 68-years-old to support six grandchildren orphaned by AIDS, Lucius Dimiano of Kafupa Village demonstrates panga knife techniques he uses as a night guard. Photo by Karissa Gall.

“When I knock off in the morning I go to the garden, when I knock off in the garden I eat and then I start making baskets so I can make more money, but it’s still not enough to care for all six grandchildren.”

In the same township of Chigumula, 55-year-old Mrs. Kandikole has also lost children to AIDS; her oldest daughter passed away in 2005 orphaning one grandchild, and her second oldest daughter passed away in 2010 orphaning three grandchildren.

“I’m the one who’s left looking out for them,” she said.  “And not only those four; I have other grandchildren at my home who have only a mother but not a father.

“It’s very difficult for me to look after these children because I’m very old.  I’m not working,” she continued.  “Things are very expensive here in Malawi.  Food is very expensive.  I cannot manage to buy clothes for them.  It is very difficult for me to take them to the hospital.  To get good medicine, one needs to pay money at private hospitals, but I can’t manage to do all those things.”

Kandikole said she had been working at a nursery school, but had to quit when her daughters died because “(her) grandchildren were alone, so (she) had to look after these children all by (herself).”

She said her husband, 57, is still working as a telephone operator but “he makes very little money.”

“I don’t think he will be able to continue working much longer because he is now 57 years old and his body is very weak.  He is very sick,” she said, adding that they both suffer from chronic bouts of malaria.  “Before, we could manage to do all those things, but not now.”

Without the proper means or support, Kandikole said she “couldn’t manage to send (her) grandchildren to school, because when you want to send a child to school these days, even a government school, you need to buy a uniform, pencils, exercise books and the child needs to eat porridge.”

She said her grandchildren “were just staying at home” until they were accepted at the Jacaranda School for Orphans in Limbe, a free primary and secondary school in Malawi providing education and daily meals to orphans.

“If we did not have Jacaranda, these children would just be doing nothing at home,” she said.  “They go to school without taking anything.  If Jacaranda didn’t provide porridge I don’t know what we could do.  Before, I thought my children would go to school up to college and help their children by themselves.  But their deaths brought everything down.”

The late Nelley Daniel M’maligeni of Che Mboma Village suffered in the same way.

Deaf and blind, M’maligeni struggled to care for herself yet alone her grandson, Vincent, who was orphaned by AIDS.  In March, at the age of 105, M’maligeni passed away and Vincent lost another primary caretaker.

The late Nelley Daniel M’maligeni of Che Mboma Village waits with her daughter-in-law for her grandson Vincent to return from school. Photo by Karissa Gall.

According to M’maligeni’s daughter-in-law, M’maligeni and Vincent had been sleeping in a small hut.

M’maligeni’s daughter-in-law said her family was able to give extra food to M’maligeni and Vincent once a week, but “sometimes it (was) hard because there (was) not enough money.  Sometimes M’maligeni (could) not eat.

“Sometimes we just (bought) panado, because panado is cheap,” she said.

Dimiano, Kandikole and M’maligeni are each representative of the ways that elderly Malawians are struggling to survive in the wake of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  According to the Catholic University of Malawi’s December 2010 report “Impact of HIV and AIDS on the elderly: a case study of Chiladzulu district,” 59 percent of the enrolled elderly people had difficulty sourcing money for school uniforms, food and hospital bills for orphaned grandchildren; 55 percent were affected through the sickness and death of their children; and 22 percent had to halt their own development to take care of orphaned grandchildren, spending their reserved resources to make the lives of their grandchildren better while impoverishing themselves in the process.

When asked if there can be greater relief for elderly Malawians struggling to care for themselves and their orphaned grandchildren than panado, an over-the-counter pain medication, Finance Minister Ken Lipenga said that government has put in place safety net programmes that target both the elderly and other vulnerable people in the 2012/13 National Budget.

“These programmes are aimed at assisting the poorest in our communities to cope with life,” he said, adding that during the 2012/13 fiscal year  programmes will be scaled up to capture those that may have fallen below the poverty line due to devaluation.

“A total of K27.5 billion has been provided for four programmes, mainly the Intensive Public Works Programme, the School Feeding Programme targeted towards 980,000 pupils in primary schools, the Schools Bursaries Programme targeting 16,480 needy students, and the Social Cash Transfer Programme which will reach over 30,000 households across the country.”

Lucius Dimiano of Kafupa Village. Roughly translated, "kafupa" means "hard as bone". Photo by Karissa Gall.

But until social cash transfers can be expanded to cover the whole country or non-contributory pensions can be provided to ensure income security for the majority of elderly Malawians who have never worked in the formal sector, government will continue to miss men and women like Dimiano and Kandikole who are fighting for the survival of their family and against the intergenerational transmission of poverty, often without sufficient resources or physical strength to do so.

As Dimiano put it: “If I still had children that could help me, I could have just stayed home, but there is no one to help me, I’m only working because of my grandchildren.

“The only ones who can decide if I stop working are my grandchildren.  Maybe they will see that we are very old and cannot work anymore and they will help us.  But maybe they will finish school and go away.

“At the moment, I do not know.”


With files from Richard Chirombo.

When beggars should be choosers – How the promise of remuneration is heading off freedom of movement and free choice of employment in Malawi

Not long after cutting their teeth, North American children are encouraged to call forward their dreams and consider the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

The kindergartners’ query is not a foreign concept in Malawi – in fact, up to December 2010 Blantyre Newspapers Limited’s (BNL) Saturday paper Malawi News regularly ran a “When I Grow Up” piece encouraging parents to help their children picture and pledge their ambition for the future.

At the same time the query is not yet ubiquitous – as a country that ranks in the lowest group on the Human Development Index (171 out of 187 countries in 2011), problems such as poverty and underdevelopment mean that for many, filling their stomach is difficult enough to do without considering the most fulfilling way to do it.  And for 21-year-old Alinafe Phiri and her friends at the Nkhata Bay boma, it means that when you ask what they want, they simply tell you how it is instead.

According to Phiri, it isn’t uncommon for girls to be taken from their homes in Nkhata Bay to “faraway places” where they work as house girls.  Others are taken from their homes to work in bars.

“This is considered normal because they are paid something at the end of the day,” she said.  “Isn’t it normal for someone to be taken from their homes for work in faraway areas?  What about those that leave their villages and work elsewhere in cities or otherwise?”

No mention is made of the use of force implicated in being taken to faraway places for work – a form of human trafficking – or of unrealized universal human rights to free movement and free choice of employment.

On May 16 Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) held a public discussion at the Nkhata Bay Conference Centre to discuss where and why human trafficking occurs in Malawi. Photo by Karissa Gall.

To raise awareness of such rights abuses, Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) held a public discussion at the Nkhata Bay Conference Centre on May 16.  Three panellists were on hand: Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO) District Manager for Nkhata Bay Wezzie Mtonga, Nkhata Bay Police Station Community Policing Coordinator Brown Ngalu and NCA Programme Coordinator for Human Trafficking Habiba Osman.

During the discussion, Mtonga said that the area is a “hotspot of instances of human trafficking” for the purposes of labour, sexual exploitation, organ removal, or domestic servitude, and that Malawian women like Phiri are the most vulnerable to being victimised “because of their vulnerability when it comes to economic issues.”

“One of the reasons people fall victim to human trafficking is they are looking for greener pastures, and when they go there, things are different,” she said.  “Malawians are vulnerable and they don’t have access to (anti-trafficking) laws.”

Osman, one of the commissioners involved in the drafting of an anti-trafficking bill in 2007, took the opportunity to stress that “the bill is ready, cabinet approved it, so what we need is parliamentarians to discuss it and pass it into law to give us a framework on what should be done and who should be doing what.”

Norwegian Church Aid Programme Coordinator for Human Trafficking Habiba Osman. Photo by Karen Msiska.

“The problem is huge, it is diverse,” she said.  “We need awareness, we need a lot of capacity building not only for the police but other service providers, and we also do need proper data collecting mechanisms.

“We do not have people coming to report on cases of human trafficking because they have been not been trained to collect data, they have not been trained to identify the victims; they have not been trained to identify the traffickers,” she continued.  “Even our parliamentarians also need training on these issues.

“A new cabinet means that new people are in place.  We need to put pressure on them to tackle these issues.”

In the interim, Osman cited Section 27 of the Malawi Constitution, which prohibits slavery, as a standing protection against human trafficking or “modern-day slavery.”  She also cited the Employment Act, the Penal Code, the Corrupt Practices Act, Immigrations policies and the Corrupt Practices Act as statutes that criminalise certain transactions appearing in the various forms of trafficking.


Despite Malawi having adopted the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons in 2005 and making progress towards the guarantee of protections for children with the launch of a universal and compulsory birth registration process this March, the International Trade Union Confederation 2011 report for the World Trade Organization on Internationally Recognised Core Labour Standards in Malawi found that, “Trafficking is a problem and is conducted mainly for the purposes of forced labour for males and commercial sexual exploitation for females, as well as child trafficking which has also been steadily rising.”

“Typically the traffickers deceive their victims by offering them false promises of employment or education in the country of destination.  In Malawi there are also estimated to be between 500 and 1500 women and children who are victims of internal trafficking,” reads the report.

“In 2009 the authorities arrested and prosecuted child traffickers who intended to deliver boys to cattle herders.  Other usual destinations of internally trafficked persons are the tobacco plantations, domestic servitude, and small businesses.”

The United States Department of State 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report for Malawi further found that while government “is making significant efforts” the country still “does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.”

“Adults in forced prostitution or forced labour and children exploited in domestic service and prostitution still did not receive adequate attention and the government prosecuted no such offences during the reporting period,” reads the report.

“While one trafficking offender received a short prison sentence, most convictions resulted in sentences of fines or out-of-court settlements with compensation to victims, both of which failed to provide an adequate deterrent.”

While comprehensive anti-trafficking law enforcement statistics were unavailable, the report found that some individual districts provided data on their actions, totalling 18 prosecutions, 11 of which concluded with convictions.

“Although the government prosecuted and convicted offenders using existing legislation, only one of nine convicted offenders served jail time and sentences varied widely across district courts,” the report continues.  “Additionally, labour inspectors and child protection officers were trained to seek remuneration for workers in labour dispute cases – including forced labour – rather than to refer to law enforcement for prosecution.”

According to the report, “the government’s continued failure to seek criminal prosecution of forced labour offenses with significant prison sentences hinders an effective response to Malawi’s trafficking problem.”

In Malawi, the Inter-Ministerial Taskforce on Human Trafficking, led by the Ministry of Gender, Child Development and Community Development; the National Steering Committee on Orphans and Vulnerable Children; and the National Steering Committee on Child Labour have responsibility for trafficking issues.


Individuals who are aware of any incident of human trafficking in Malawi can contact the YONECO anonymous National Help Line for assistance by calling 8000-1234.  YONECO encourages victims of human trafficking to call the help line as the centre will mobilise to free them and provide counselling and support.


With files from BNL-Mzuzu Bureau Chief Karen Msiska

Accidental recycling in Malawi

Blantyre craftsman and merchant, Isaac Stone, begins his work for the day by carving into a used tire. Photo by Travis Lupick.

Give Isaac Stone 500 kwacha, a tire, and two hours, and he’ll hand you back a pair of sandals.

At just 21-years-old, Stone has already been making footwear for nearly a decade. Born and raised in Blantyre, a city of some 732,000 people (2008), Stone didn’t always have to compete for kwacha in the market. He once went to school and had a mother and father who looked after him. But his mother passed away and his father disappeared. And so, when he was 12, Stone was forced to drop out of school and fend for himself.

Born street smart, he quickly realized that his best bet at survival was to learn a trade – to the carving knife was it.

I chatted with Stone as he made his day’s first pair of shoes.

His morning starts at 7:00 a.m., at which time he catches a minibus out to Limbe –a trade hub on the outskirts of Blantyre– where he can pick up a used car tire for 250 MWK (about $1.60 CAD). Stone then travels back to central Blantyre where, from 9-5, he can be found working behind a makeshift wooden stall, cutting away at rubber.

”I like working with my hands,” he told me. “It brings me money for food. Just enough for a place to stay.”

Stone doesn’t know it, but his small sandal business is part of something very big: Malawi’s efforts to meet the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals.

The MDGs can broadly be defined as a set of development goals aimed at significantly reducing poverty, hunger, and disease, by 2015. Target seven reads: “integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources.”

Stone explained that it had never occurred to him that what he was doing was a form of recycling – and more than that, I offered, he was saving the tires from the garbage fires that so-often sour the city’s air.

”It’s a business,” he said, matter-of-factly. “I do it because I can make some money. But if it is good for the air, that is okay too.”

Karen Price, a project manager for Malawi Environmental Endowment Trust, explains that in a country as poor as Malawi, while many posses an awareness of environmental issues, it is difficult to get communities thinking about litter.

“I think there is general awareness of the environment, but when it comes to something like recycling, there is much more that could be done,” she said.

Local merchants watch over a bottle recycling depot in Blantyre's downtown market. Photo by Travis Lupick.

“It’s about the understanding of what waste is,” Price went on to explain. “There is not that added value of something as waste –that something can turn into waste or be recycled to become another product that can be reused.”

Stone and his tires are not the only accidental recycling operation running in Blantyre’s downtown market. In fact, in nearly every direction, people have repurposed and are reusing objects of every sort in countless imaginative ways.

And it’s a good thing, too, for Blantyre’s one-and-only garbage depot is filling up fast.

Down the hill from Stone, Grant Kenneth, another young entrepreneur, sits in the market with a small group of associates. Surrounding the men are mountains of empty plastic and glass bottles of every size, shape, and colour one can imagine.

”People bring them here,” Kenneth told me. “We pay three kwacha, five kwacha, 10 kwacha, and 15 kwacha, depending on the size.”

Kenneth or one of his colleagues will take the dirty bottles they receive, strip them of their labels, clean them, and, sometimes, refashion their shape to fit a specific purpose. And then they’ll resell the bottles at a slightly higher rate than the one for which they were purchased.

“It’s a job,” Kenneth said to me, echoing Stone’s remarks. “I guess it is good for the environment because otherwise, the people would be throwing it away. But it is just a job.”

Major upgrades to basic education

Students at Adum Presby Primary School in Kumasi, Ghana

Adum Presby Primary School’s Class 3 is made up of 60 children: 33 boys and 27 girls, each wearing a royal blue uniform and a short hair cut. They are packed into wooden desks by threes, and even by fours, although they are only meant to seat two, sharing their textbooks and many other things in this modest classroom. The teacher, Asamoa Margaret Antwiwaa, or as her students like to call her “Madame Margaret”, recaps yesterday’s lesson by taking up the students’ homework questions. Some of the children stand up confidently to respond, while others sit quietly, dreading to be called upon.  While it is obvious that many children are eager to learn, it is also clear that many students did not complete their homework or understand the material, and some haven’t eaten breakfast.

Under the Ghana’s constitution, the government is obligated to provide access to Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE). The FCUBE policy was put into effect by the Ministry of Education/Ghana Education Services in 1995. It has been adapted into various educational reforms and programmes as a strategy to reduce poverty restraints and increase enrollment by removing school tuition fees and levies on basic education for all “school-going age children” (grades 1 to 9).

Although school enrollment rates have increased, Madame Margaret touches on the other socioeconomic conditions constraining access, quality and completion of basic education for all. “There still aren’t enough learning materials in government schools and parents don’t want to buy books.” She explains that many of the pupils at Adum Presby (a government/public school) come from low income families. Their parents do not have time to help their kids with homework, and do not have the means to purchase their school materials or even to provide them with breakfast every morning.  Owusu Agyamang, a Regional Public Relations Officer for the Ghana Education Services, expands, “if a parent is not economically empowered, then even though basic education is free, they are still unable to send children to school.” This is particularly true of the rural and more remote areas in the country, especially the Northern regions of Ghana, where low levels of economic development, weak social services and lack of infrastructure are prevalent. According to Ghana’s most recent Preliminary Education Sector Performance Report, access to and the importance of education in these areas tend to be more limited and less emphasized.  “In these areas, there are poorer households, fewer (total and trained) teachers, low demands for education, poor infrastructure, limited community-school relationships, high teacher absenteeism, high migration, and a rigid schooling system that doesn’t account for the needs of local rural communities.” In many Ghanaian families, school-aged children (mainly girls) are often put to work to supplement household income. Sending a child to school can be seen as a loss of family wages and domestic support. As a result, some parents do not see any benefit in their children getting a formal education. [pullquote]

The deprived northern districts are all below national levels, and achievement of basic education for girls is significantly less than boys nation-wide.  These gaps however, are decreasing thanks to Ghana’s recent educational reforms.[/pullquote]

Matilda Bannerman Mensah, head of the Girl Education Unit at the Ghana Education Services, adds “there are also traditional socio-cultural practices that put preference on boys’ education rather than girls’.”  Arranged and early marriage, female genital circumcision, and bondage are degenerative practices that are still predominant (particularly in the deprived northern regions) and constitute some of the other barriers preventing girls’ access to education.

The Government of Ghana and the Ministry of Education are well aware of these limitations and are attempting to address the issues. In 2002, the national government committed itself to attaining the United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDGs) of achieving universal primary education by their targeted deadlines and included it in conjunction with the implementation of its national development strategy. The “Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy” (GPRS) provides a guideline for the development and execution of the latest Education Strategic Plan’s objective: 100 per cent equal access to and completion of universal basic education for all children in Ghana by 2015. The aim to ensure equitable participation in and completion of basic education has meant improving the quality of teaching and learning, the provision and management of resources, and the overall efficiency of the decentralized education management system.

Ghana’s government has introduced a number of initiatives in the last decade including: a national school feeding program, free school uniforms and exercise books, extended kindergarten services, the building and rehabilitation of school facilities, education awareness campaigns, and in-service staff training, to improve both the quality of teaching and learning, and to increase equal basic educational opportunities for both male and female children in Ghana.

The number of boys and girls in each class of Adum Presby Primary School

Although these initiatives have encouraged more children to enroll in and attend school, only 88 per cent of primary students and 67.7 per cent of junior high students complete their education, hindering the 2015 target of 100 per cent basic education for all.  Gender and geographical disparities in enrollment and completion rates remain an issue. The deprived northern districts are all below national levels, and achievement of basic education for girls is significantly less than boys nation-wide.  These gaps however, are decreasing thanks to Ghana’s recent educational reforms.

Educational limitations and discrepancies stem from the lack of funding and resources available to accommodate the growing needs of students and schools within the districts they operate. “[The] quality [of education] is [being] compromised in some way,” says Veronica Jackson, the National Activity Coordinator for the Ghana Education Services. “The right thing would be to add on to the infrastructure, but it doesn’t happen that way. It all comes down to funding and resources. There are more needs to be catered for than the resources can take care of. These are all part of the challenges.”

While the largest source of funding within the education sector comes from the Government of Ghana, its share in the total national expenditure has been declining. Economic policy restrictions imposed by institutions like the International Monetary Fund’s loan agreements, have weakened the government’s ability to allocate resources where they are needed most – in public infrastructure and social services.

Increased donor share for education costs is crucial for the development of the sector and the success of its reforms. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) contributes significantly to the implementation of the GPRS and Ghana’s subsequent national development plans. CIDA is working to improve the effectiveness of aid and the coordination of development projects in Ghana through activities aimed at improving budget planning for poverty reduction, delivery of basic services, strengthening technical and management expertise, and improving public financial management and oversight.  This assistance helps build the capacity for effective, transparent and accountable systems of governance for Ghana’s population; however, the collaborative effort of aid donors, development partners and the local government is required for sustainable educational improvements.

Girls rationing out the lunch of beans and rice provided by the School Feeding Program

Fortunately for the students at Adum Presby Primary, the school will soon benefit from more governmental and community support. Headmaster Akwasi Agemang Duku explains that the school is shortlisted for the construction of a kitchen facility to strengthen the delivery of its feeding program and a new school building, complete with more classrooms, washroom facilities, a library and information and communication technology equipment, set to be ready by the end of next year.

“The government is doing their best. Because children are the future leaders, we put everything aside and do our best. Whatever is given to us, we have to take it…God on our side and because of the work we have chosen-and we love our work- we are managing,” says Agemang Duku.

Statistical Source:

Preliminary Education Sector Performance Report 2008, Ministry of Education, Science and Sports (MoeSS)

“Dumping” in Ghana

Kumasi Central Market

The structure of Ghana’s economy has made minimal changes since the nation’s independence in 1957. It is still heavily reliant on traditional agricultural and mineral goods, mainly gold, cocoa and timber, in a highly competitive and aggressive international market. According to Ghana’s Private Sector Development Strategy, some of the country’s economic challenges include: “limited diversification into manufactured goods and traded services, or movement to adding value to primary products,” as well as limited productivity, investment, innovation and use of technology. The strategy was designed in accordance with the Government of Ghana’s vision of attaining “The Golden Age of Business”: to create and maintain an appealing business climate directed at both local and foreign investment. The  concept is a Presidential Special Priority; however, as it stands Ghana’s market is in a slump. There are many systematic issues to which one could point the blame–corruption, undeveloped infrastructure and weak taxation practices, for example.

According to Professor Appiah-Nkrumah, head of the economics department at Kumasi’s Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), one of Ghana’s biggest economic challenges is unfair subsidized competition from other countries. During our discussion last week, he asked me if I had been to the central market (the biggest in West Africa). When I revealed that yes, I had been just the day before, he asked me point blank: “What did you observe?” This was a loaded question. I had spent hours exploring the endless stalls, overflowing with merchandise such as cooking utensils, electronics, clothing, car tires, colourful kente cloth, pig hooves and entire goat carcasses. Put simply, it was a sensory overload and I couldn’t narrow it down to only a few observations.  I muttered something about the vendors all selling the same merchandise and his face lit up. “And they’re selling a lot of imported products?” I asked. “Yes!” he exclaimed, as he opened up a local newspaper and read me a headline. Ghanaian manufacturing company Aluworks had recently closed down citing unfair subsidized competition from Chinese aluminum imports and unfair international trade practices as the main reasons. (Ironically, Ghana is the second highest exporter of aluminum in Africa.) Professor Appiah-Nkrumah elaborated: “Look at the textile industry. They take designs from here, then take it to China. That is a major issue. How do we compete?” He explained what economists call “dumping”- the process of selling goods in a second country at a cheaper price than they are sold in the primary country.

I think about some of the things I’ve purchased since arriving in Ghana a few weeks back: a plastic coffee mug made in China, a box of tea imported from Sri Lanka, chocolate treats from Turkey (although Ghana is the highest cocoa producer in Africa) and toasted rice cereal from Egypt. All items that Ghana has the capacity to manufacture. Ghana has the ability to be a big player in the international agricultural market, but its reliance on imports is still overwhelmingly dominant. The root of the problem stems back to the 1990s when Ghana was forced to agree to the demanding terms of International Monetary Fund and World Bank structural adjustment programs in order to save their economy and in spite of a gold and cocoa market crash. This involved eliminating tariff and exchange controls, cutting civil service, education and health expenditures and emphasizing free market policies. Ghana’s most recent Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy states accelerating the growth of the economy in order to achieve middle-income status (an average income of $1750 per capita) as its central goal, in accordance with the Millennium Development Goal of halving the population living in poverty by 2015. Ghanaians believe the path to financial prosperity lies in adding industrialization, high productivity and modern technologies to their economy, but their national development continues to be blocked by unfair international trading systems. Until the structure of Ghana’s internal trade and internal production regulations are radically altered, its economy cannot be self-reliant and will remain, as professor Appiah-Nkrumah puts it, “at the mercy of the buyers.”

Aspiring Students in Class 3 at Adum Presby Primary share their hopes, dreams and smiles.

Tangled in the Web of Aid and Development in Ghana

Aspiring Students in Class 3 at Adum Presby Primary share their hopes, dreams and smiles.

On top of our duties at Kapital Radio, our other obligations involved in this overseas university internship is to produce insightful media that creates awareness about complex development issues in Ghana and the efforts in place to address them.

Billions of foreign aid dollars are pumped into the “Gateway to Africa” annually with elaborate plans for growth in mind. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) is one of the main aid agencies working collectively with the government of Ghana and a variety of partners (the International Monetary Fund, intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations) to fund sustainable development initiatives within the country. CIDA supports national priorities and programs in the areas of governance, health, basic education, private sector development and environmental sustainability that aim to tackle the global challenges set out in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): 1) eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, 2) achieving universal primary education, 3) promoting gender equality and empowering woman, 4) reducing child mortality 5) improving maternal health, 6) combating HIV/AIDS and other diseases, 7) ensuring environmental sustainability, and 8 ) developing a global partnership for development. The aim is to achieve these goals by 2015. In the networks of assistance, the actors are numerous, the projects are endless, and the numbers of people that they intend to reach are extensive. Whether it’s education, private sector development or governance, the priorities are all multifaceted and interrelated; their root causes and problems directly or inadvertently affect the others. In order to develop an economy and create new industries, infrastructure, support systems (i.e. social services and finances), regulatory bodies, education, training improvements and collaborations between sectors need to occur simultaneously. Well-orchestrated programs and collaborative efforts are then required for lasting positive societal changes.

53 eager learners in 1 Classroom

When trying to make sense of the realities of development work in Ghana, I am left feeling somewhat overwhelmed. There are no clear-cut ways to deal with the issues and achieving the (somewhat overambitious) MDG goals by their target deadlines — a seemingly daunting task. Local professor and Head of the Economics Department at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Appiah-Nkrumah, offers a practical suggestion, “You can’t look at eradicating poverty, you have to look at reducing [it].” Sustainable change doesn’t just happen easily and instantly. Development plans and efforts need realistic goals and deadlines, and the necessary strategies to achieve step-by-step results.

Since 2003, a pragmatic national growth and poverty reduction support program in Ghana has been put into effect and the government is working within its means (and networks) to improve the standards of life for Ghanaians. More efficient management and collaboration of different institutions, policies and their programs are coming together to provide necessities, capacities and opportunities for people to better their situations, for reducing regional disparities and social divides within the country, and while propelling the economy one step at a time.

I’ve spent the first three weeks examining policies and gaining a better perspective on the background and complexities of development issues and efforts. Now I am beginning to book interviews with the people involved and, more importantly, the people affected. From now on, the issues will hopefully start to make more sense. Just one day of observing the daily activities at a local primary school and interacting with the inspiring teachers and their aspiring students (and future doctors, teachers, nurses and the potential President of Ghana) has given me more cause and motivation for exploring the issues of removing barriers to achieving equal access to quality basic education in Ghana. Stay tuned for more personal connections, more depth into the issues in our upcoming blogs and articles.