The story takes place in the three villages of Kramokrom, Camp and Nyame Bekyere, situated in the Central Region of Ghana.
The night sky, twinkling bright with the light of the moon, is a magnificent sight. Lying in the meadows, crickets chirp. Peaceful and calm, nothing is to be rushed. Rivers proceeding, forests ascending, the sun is rising. It is still so quiet, despite what is being sung, while birds go fetch some food for their young. The dancing of people makes music for the soul, it tells a story of sorrow and hope. The cry for help from their feet ignites the passion of togetherness, abandons the distress suffered and recalls the empty promises of independence.
These villages are lost in the centre of a rain forest, a paradise seemingly devoid of man’s destructive usage of nature. But a closer look at the lives of the people tells a story of faith lost and despair. As morning approaches, the sight of infants wearing tattered clothes, looking malnourished and pale, sums up the plight of children in these lost villages.
Their troubles point to the limitations of the conventional schooling system in providing under-served and deprived populations with basic education. Due to the peculiar demographic characteristics and the socioeconomic challenges that confront this area of the Central Region, conventional educational systems are unable to thrive and make an impact in remote areas. Many of the settlements and communities are sparsely populated and scattered, making distance a hindrance to school attendance. The costs associated are also a major barrier to access and participation. In poor deprived communities, whether or not children attend school usually depends on the direct or indirect costs for their families. Direct costs arises from schooling accessories such as uniforms, books and writing materials, whilst the indirect costs are largely in the form of income loss from the child’s potential employment or contribution to household revenue through direct labour. Yet another obstacle is the official school calendar which usually conflicts with families’ economic activities to which the child is a crucial contributor.
Another issue faced by these communities is access to health care. In September 2004, I witnessed three pregnant women die due to complications that arose during their delivery, because there was no vehicle to convey them to the district hospital situated about 2 hours away. The cause of death was obvious, but no one cared because it was apparently normal for pregnant women to lose their lives in this manner at the villages. On another occasion, as I walked through the forest, I came across a seven year old girl crying uncontrollably. Her parents were gone to the farm, leaving her very sick at home to take care of herself. I approached and touched the little girl’s forehead; I was moved with tears. She had a very high fever and a closer examination also found a big boil on one of her thighs. She was in pain but there was no one to help her. I did everything humanly possible to save her but she did not survive the 10 mile (16 Km) journey on foot to a makeshift health post. Sara, as I later got to know, was a pupil from Kramokrom D/A primary school. Full of life, she had always wanted to be a nurse. It was a long shot for a girl in an unknown village, but for children from these communities it is alright to dream. The death of Sara had a profound effect on me and galvanised me to help the settlements.
My stumble upon these communities was a mere coincidence. In 2008, as I was visiting Obuasi in the Ashanti region of Ghana, after an absence of over 15 years, I came across an old friend. He invited me to go to a village where he was working to improve the situation. While traveling to the town through the rain forest, I instantly fell in love with the place, the green nature and the serene environment. But the sight of so many children working on their parents farms during school hours saddened me.
I stayed in these communities for 3 days, visiting members of the community trying to find out why they had so many challenges and were unable to work together to tackle their problems. As it turns out these villages could not unite on a common cause because of deep tribal and ethnic divisions, despite the many socio-economic problems they faced in their settlements. The only school in town was in a terrible state: no roofing; no teachers, as no one wanted to be posted there; and on top of it all no children to teach. Their parent had better work for them to do as children are useful on farms. And wasting their time sitting idle in a wooden structure was not part of their concept of school.
Before I left, I had a chat with all the leaders of the community to discuss the challenges confronting them and how this situation could be overcome. They admitted something needed to be done about their children. They needed a clinic and an adequate educational system above all; but firstly the inter-tribal and communal strife in the settlements had to be dealt with.
I promised them I would be back in a month’s time if they were willing to overcome their differences to build something together. On my return trip, I visited Dunkwa-On-Offin, the district capital. With a few contacts I had within the local community, I managed to get an audience with the District Chief Executive – the government representative in the district – and the Director of Education of the Ghana Education Service. They both promised that if I could help deal with the continuous communal strife and get the communities to work together, they would address the infrastructure deficiency and get teachers posted to the village.
Conflict arises out of a desire to dominate each other, to tell ourselves that we are superior to the rest, and in the three villages, this was no exception. In order to get the communities working together I had to understand the root causes of their feud and to place myself in their situation. I helped set up an alternative dispute resolution committee comprised of the three chiefs and few elders of the town. This was well received and it had members from all three communities.
For the next six months that ensued I worked hard to form a community unit committee which had members from all three communities. Their task was to find a place where we could put up a temporary structure acceptable to all and come up with solutions to accommodate teachers who would be posted to the new school. They were also responsible for helping resolve any issues between the communities and its inhabitants, as well as reduce their over reliance on the public courts, which usually created more conflicts and impoverishes them as they had to pay lawyers and other court clerks to get their cases heard, and the costs of transportation from the villages to the district capital were high.
It took over two years to get the communities working effectively together, and with the help of volunteers both national and international, we managed to put up a school building, a community health post and a training center for youth to acquire different skills.
Initially the building for the clinic was meant for a library but after its completion, the communities expressed their preference for a clinic. The community also wanted a skill training center for youth but there was no funding available. Community members then agreed that they would provide manpower and that the volunteers could then source funding for the structure. We decided that the building should be made of wood since we did not have to buy it. Within a month the center was ready, providing training in carpentry, dressmaking, beads making, wood carving and bread baking.
Now, the unit committee, along with the tribal leaders are successful in helping prevent potential conflicts and resolving struggles in the town through the alternative community dispute resolution mechanism, and each Monday morning since 2004, the 3 communities take turns in cleaning the school and helping provide food for the teachers that work in it. And just this year (2014) the hard work has paid off with 20 children from the school Kramokrom D/A primary, graduating from high school with distinction.
I have learned many things through my work as a peace and community development officer. I am very proud of all the progress achieved, of the three communities for coming together, and of all the hard working people that have and are making it possible. My experience tells the story of resilience and passion; it shows that with effort, it is possible to transform the society we live in, and despite the many challenges that one may face, peace is possible.
Story: Rashid Zuberu
Artist: Victoria Burillo – Adinkra symbol of unity. The siamese crocodiles share the same stomach. This popular symbol of traditional Ghanaian culture is a reminder that infighting and tribalism is harmful to all who engage in it. It is a call to oneness, irrespective of cultural differences.