Friday, March 1, 2013

How much can £10.50 get you in Ghana?

Throughout our visits to Chiefs, their Elders, women’s groups, community groups and opinion leaders to discuss the integration of people with disabilities into the Feok festival, poverty has been highlighted as a fundamental challenge to our work, but more importantly to the lives of people with disabilities, and the general public.  This week we visited Bechonsa, a very rural community in the Builsa district, and we helped with a children’s health screening.  We accompanied a physiotherapist, eye specialists, and psychiatrist to a kindergarten and primary school where each child was assessed and any health issues identified.  So many of the children had eye problems (as well as skin infections, and ringworm amongst other things) which, according to the eye specialist, was as a direct result of a lack of hygiene; these children were just not bathing on a regular occasion and so all the dust and dirt was gathering and collecting in their eyes, and staying there for days, maybe weeks, at a time.  A simple solution to this problem is just to wash more. However, when we visited Bechonsa’s Chief, Sub-Chiefs, and Elders, they highlighted that the closest water source was 10k away.  If obtaining water is an issue, then it will be used sparingly….having a shower comes secondary to drinking.  One of their requests to us, 5 volunteers, was to fund and build a dam.  No problem – let me check my bank account and with the £10.50 I have in there, I will get right on it.  In order to build a dam, we need money.  Lots of money. 

If money was no object, there is an awful lot that we could do in the Builsa district, but unfortunately that is not the case at all.  All that considered, the aim of our project is to advocate for the inclusion of people with disabilities into the local Feok festival.  Just from speaking with one Chief and discussing the issue of social inclusion encouraged him to make more of an effort engaging people with disabilities.  In early February, the Kadema Chief was a pioneer in the Builsa district and people with disabilities played a large role in his community festival and were consulted during the planning.  No money was involved in this development – it was as a result of having a conversation.  Are we hindered in our work by having limited funds?  Does foreign aid actually solve any of the problems that these rural communities face?

There is an argument that foreign aid is the solution to poverty.  Numerous international agreements, including those related to the MDGs, encourage UN member states to pledge 0.7% of their gross national product to international aid and development.  However, foreign aid has been shovelled into Africa for decades and yet poverty is still rife in much of the continent; Ghana included*.

As we have conducted our project, we have discovered that disability is not aggressively discriminated against, but people just don’t know how to manage disability.  We have had an overwhelming response from school children, women, elders, Chiefs, and the general public, that there is no taboo for people with disabilities to participate in the Feok, but they just have no idea how they are supposed to participate.  Money is not necessarily the solution to this problem, but education and advocacy.  Of course, to educate the public and to advocate for the rights, needs, and capabilities of people with disabilities money is required.  For the International Service volunteers to be in Ghana, they needed to raise money, and the projects are part-funded by DFID; money does indeed make the world go round.  When we discuss “foreign aid” it is more a reference to Overseas Development Assistance; money given from one government to another.  Unfortunately, there are many accounts of where these funds have been whittled away to the benefit of elites, used heavily in corruption, or have not been appropriated suitably to combat poverty. 

We have discussed before, in this blog, that a huge point to this ICS scheme is so that UK volunteers and international partners can share experiences and exchange knowledge.  Here in Ghana, we have often heard “you will learn from us, and we will learn from you”.  I believe it is this philosophy that is missing from international development, particularly in regards to money.  There is absolutely no point throwing money at a country, a continent, or a project, if there is no effective way to manage that money, or manage whatever it is that emerges as a result of that money.  We could build a dam in Bechonsa, which could provide a better water source to the community, but it won’t necessarily put a stop to all of the health problems the children we met last week are facing.  An investment of time and an exchange of knowledge is perhaps the only way that can resolve those development issues; providing information and education to parents, teachers, and children on basic hygiene practices will go a long way to facilitating better health care.

There are many reasons why poverty exists in the world, and it is not entirely as a consequence of corruption, mismanagement or poor governance. Climate change, and its negative consequences, overpopulation, conflicts, and geography are just some of the many factors which contribute to the prolongation of poverty in the world today.  Foreign aid can indeed have a huge impact on resolving these issues, however, a lot can also be achieved with a little bit of gumption.  Don’t think I’m naïve, I have studied well the issues involved in humanitarianism and international development, and I am fully aware that money and financial assistance is a crucial component of making a change, but we also need to realise that development can occur through other means too.

*Ghana, by all accounts, is considered one of the success stories of Africa, and in the South of the country much progress has been made in terms of development.  However, in the North, where International Service projects are based, a large percentage of the population are classed as living below the poverty line.
52% of people living in Ghana's norther region are living below the poverty line ($1 USD a day)
70% of poverty in upper region
Only 66.5% of children are enrolled in school in northern Ghana, compared to 89.5% Ghana average.
N.B These statistics were shared with volunteers during a training session, and are believed to come from UN.org.

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