Tuesday, February 12, 2013

We will learn from you, and you will learn from us

This week we have been finishing our visits to the local Chiefs and Elders in the various communities in the Builsa district.  The visits have been very interesting, and we learn something different from each Chief.

One of the most interesting visits has been to see the Chief in Siniensi.  As usual we asked him about the history of the Feok, the traditions and the activities that were involved in celebrating the Feok festival and the responses were relatively similar to those from other communities.  However, in Siniensi the conversation turned to the conflict between the Traditional beliefs of the Builsa people, and the prevalence of Christianity.

Beginning in the 15th Century, Ghana was occupied by European colonisers from Portugal, Holland, Britain and Denmark in order to capitalise on exports of gold and the slave trade, and with these colonisers came Christianity and missionaries, who were instrumental in developing an education system in Ghana in order to facilitate the spreading of the Gospel.  One of the issues we have discovered whilst talking to the many Chiefs is that young people in the Builsa district are disheartened and disinterested with the traditional culture and beliefs.  The Siniensi Chief made an interesting, and probably quite a valid point that the youth of Ghana consider that Western methods and way of life will lead to success rather than the more traditional Ghanaian livelihood methods.  As a result, they are less interested in participating and performing in the traditional Feok festival and, according to the Siniensi Chief, the cultural traditions of the Builsa are slowly dying out.  

The Siniensi Chief strongly linked education with Christianity, and this opinion has been reiterated in several conversations we have had here in Ghana.  It is understandable then, that the cultural traditions of offering sacrifices to the Gods for a good harvest, as is customary during the Feok festival, are not taught or proclaimed in many of the schools in Ghana, where there is reportedly a strong Christian bias.  How true this is, is yet to be confirmed, and hopefully our visits to schools in the coming weeks will confirm or challenge this opinion.  Interestingly, our partner organisation is strongly linked with the Presbyterian Church and our project co-ordinator is an avid Christian who does not practice the traditional beliefs of his people, and yet he is the main instigator behind our project which aims to assist the Builsa people to retain their cultural heritage.  

This conversation started me thinking about the influence of Western ideas on recipients of development and humanitarian aid, and the problem of leaving, or enforcing, a Western footprint in aid and development bugged me throughout my recent degree. I think it is important that, as aid and development workers, we respect the traditions and culture of the country in which we are working, despite whether our own scientific and perhaps secular education disapproves.  I don’t know where the line is that brings development to Ghana without Westernising the country, but throughout my time here I will carry with me a message that has been repeated many times from the Chiefs we have met:
“We will learn from you, and you will learn from us”.  I see development as a mutual investment in the country, and hopefully by helping the region to preserve their cultural history we will also be able to help them move forward in their disability awareness.

- Tracy

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