In my time in Ghana, I gained an immense amount of knowledge through overcoming preconceived notions I had about the Ghanaian culture. Using the concept of debunking I have analyzed my experiences in Ghana in order to gain a deeper understanding of the cultural differences between the Canadian culture and the Ghanaian culture.
I had a number of pre-conceived notions about Ghana upon my arrival. For example, given all that I had heard about Ghana being hailed as the “success story of Africa” I thought that the health and human rights situation would have been far more advanced than I found it to be. When I arrived at my placement, the Human Rights Advocacy Centre, I did not anticipate to hear of the human rights abuses I would soon learn about. I was shocked to learn of prayer camps where the mentally ill are placed in horrendous conditions. I originally thought these prayer camps existed due to Ghanaians intense belief in the Christian religion, however, after further analysis of religion and belief structures in Ghana, I found that due to traditional West African beliefs, many Ghanaians believe in witchcraft. These prayer camps are less of a result of Christian beliefs, as they seem to be, but of traditional religion in the area. As I continued my research into human rights abuses, I found a common link between a number of issues. This common link was an intense belief in Christian and traditional West African religion in Ghana. The process of debunking allowed me to understand that what appeared to simply be a governmental problem is really the deeper-rooted problem of intense religiousness in Ghanaian society.
My favourite aspects of the Ghana Field Study involved interacting with the Ghanaian people. I found the Ghanaian people to be kind, welcoming, and generous. They look out for one another in such a way that I truly admire. I think Canadians could certainly learn from Ghanaians in terms of reaching out to our neighbours to create a sense of community. I’ve gained confidence in myself and in my abilities. I have returned from Ghana with a greater appreciation for my life and a deeper understanding of the world we live in.
Though I believe Dr. Charles Quist-Adade and Stephanie Howes did an exceptional job in planning this field school, I feel that the field school should be extended and more information should be given regarding placements. As well, I feel that the course work should have been explained in greater detail in the syllabus so as to avoid confusion on what is expected of our written reflections. Finally, I feel that a more realistic itinerary needs to be made for future field schools which takes into consideration traffic and other such factors.
Overall, this field school has provided me with a tremendous opportunity to use my critical thinking skills in analyzing Ghana’s unique culture and using the process of debunking to gain a greater understanding of human rights issues in Ghana.
Today Jenna and I moved placements to the Echoing Hills Village. Echoing Hills is a facility for mentally and physically disabled individuals. We went with six other girls from the Aya Centre. Christine and Janelle had been at the placement for the longest period of time so they led the class this morning. The morning class involved Janelle bringing up one person at a time to a blackboard and quizzing them on their colours, shapes, days of the week, and numbers. Some were able to get through it quite quickly while others struggled.
It was difficult to work with people with mental disabilities because it is very hard to teach them anything new or make any kind of progress. At a certain point I pulled back on my attempts to teach them their colours and simply tried to talk to them and connect with them. They were all so kind and welcoming and I enjoyed my time working with my new friends at Echoing Hills.
Afterwards, a number of us went to the orphanage in Echoing Hills Village. We met a pre-teen girl named S, a two-year-old girl named E, and an 8-month-old boy named C. S has sickle-cell anemia which has caused liver failure. Her stomach is quite distended but she is very kind and silly like any other girl her age. Her family isn’t around but they seem to take great care of her at Echoing Hills. I gave stickers to S and E and they joyfully stuck them to their hands. I loved being able to make S feel special because I can tell she doesn’t receive as much attention as the other children.
I learned a lot today about patience and understanding. It takes an incredibly special person to work with people with disabilities and I’m in awe of the people who work there everyday. I feel so lucky as to have received the opportunity to work at Echoing Hills. I’m not making a massive change in these people’s lives but I feel happy that at the very least I have helped brighten their day even if it’s only in some small way.
Traffic in Accra is a world away from the transport system in Canada. Jenna and I have found that in certain areas, police or what appears to be members of the military stand on street corners and direct traffic. If it is particularly busy, they’ll ignore the traffic light colour and will continue to let people through or stop them prematurely. I suppose this is necessary in a country where driving safety does not seem to be a priority for most people.
People are constantly tailgating and it is perfectly legal to overtake people. There are times when a car will try to overtake someone but a car will be coming the other way. One time I saw the oncoming car move over onto the side of the road so the person could overtake a truck. There was no honking or any signs of anger – it seems that these dangerous situations are perfectly normal.
The whole public transit system in Ghana needs a big reboot as the tro tros, taxis, and buses are all worn and unsafe. I have seen taxis and tro tros that do not have functioning speedometers. I know back home I’ve seen cars fail Air Care for quite minor things so I can only imagine that the majority of cars in Ghana would never pass Air Care. Perhaps the Ghanaian government is too overwhelmed with other areas of development to focus on something that seems as minor as transportation. However, I feel the government needs to step in with some kind of regulatory system or else the vehicle-related deaths will only rise.
Today at my placement I learned a great deal about sanitation in Ghana and how it relates to health. I was shocked to learn that according to WHO and UNICEF, Ghana is the fourth least-sanitary country in Africa. A lot of Ghanaians have to share toilets and this adds to the spread of disease. Only about 10% of the country has access to sanitary facilities. The gutters in the street are dangerous because they are a breeding ground for diseases like malaria and upper respiratory problems.
I thought it was quite strange that the government had not improved the sanitation in Ghana as I read that the WHO found that for every dollar that the Ghanaian government invested towards improving sanitation, they would receive approximately $5-$11 as a net gain. It certainly doesn’t take a Finance student to tell you that that is a smart investment. The article I was reading also went on to talk about how the revenues from the new oil industry in Ghana should bring in about $1.8 billion annually and how to meet the UN Millenium Development Goals by 2015, Ghana would need to put an additional $1.5 billion towards improving sanitation.
Diseases related to poor sanitation cause the deaths of a large number of Ghanaians every year and are no doubt one of the causes behind Ghana’s low life expectancy. Personally, I feel the Ghanaian government should be thinking long-term in terms of the benefits improved sanitation will have on the health of it’s citizens and the economy. The government doesn’t seem to be allocating aid to the right areas, often ignoring areas that are in the most desperate need of development. I think at the very least, a large chunk of the revenue from the oil industry should be used to improve sanitation in this country.
The difference in sanitation between Ghana and Canada is immense. In my experience in Ghana, toilets often do not flush and open gutters on the streets expose those walking past to raw sewage. I have taken for granted our sanitation system in Canada. British Columbia has some of the cleanest water in the world but in Ghana, one cannot even brush their teeth with the local water. The Ghanaian government seems to rely heavily on private companies when it comes to improving sanitation. I believe that the government needs to take responsibility for Ghana’s sanitation problem and this will get them on the road to being a true success story.
I wasn’t too upset with the long wait for lunch because I was sitting at a table with George and Charles and we had a long discussion about Ghanaian culture and politics. It was great because I was able to ask them questions as someone from another culture and they were able to explain all the things I couldn’t quite wrap my head around.
I asked George and Charles about homosexuality in Ghana as that is something I’ve been reading about at my placement. They seemed to think it was dreadful that the media is not representing both sides of the coin when it comes to homosexuality and how the media continues to bash homosexuals. I find this atrocious considering I’ve been reading through various pieces of legislation and it says specifically in the African Charter on People and Human Rights that:
Every individual shall have the duty to respect and consider his fellow beings without discrimination, and to maintain relations aimed at promoting, safeguarding and reinforcing mutual respect and tolerance.
I feel that the Ghanaian government does an excellent job when it comes to passing human rights legislation but is terrible at the follow-through. Women, children, homosexuals, the impoverished, and many other groups are largely ignored by the Ghanaian government it seems when it comes to stepping up and protecting their citizens rights that exist under the Constitution of Ghana and other various Charters and Acts that Ghana has signed. This is the reality, however, of international politics. As long as Ghana signs the right Acts and Charters, the international community will continue to call it a success story, all the while ignoring the human rights issues which still exist in Ghana. The people of this country certainly deserve more than vague and empty promises that keep the elite in power.
George told me that people in Ghana don’t seem to want to question their beliefs. This isn’t the first time that someone told me this. I asked him if he ever thought homosexuality would be accepted in Ghana in his lifetime and he didn’t seem to think so. As long as the media only portrays one side of the story and people continue to dogmatically follow the words of their preacher over their own good conscience, the status for homosexuals in this country can’t improve. It saddens me that religion, something that was meant to “civilize” the people of Africa has torn them apart it seems more than it has brought them together. The heart of many human rights abuses in Ghana is devout belief in religion and people’s unwillingness to question what they are taught.
George also told me how children in Ghana are taught to memorize their schoolwork and there isn’t much in the way of application of knowledge. Hearing this makes me value my education in Canada and how freethinking is far more cherished there. In what I have read, the education in Ghana is not the best quality and teacher absenteeism is common. Early enrolments in schools have improved but often they cannot retain many of these children past the sixth grade. One-third of primary school children are not in school in Ghana, most of them from poor, rural areas. Though the government pays for public education in Ghana, there are still a number of indirect fees associated with going to school and many students cannot afford such expenditures. As well, two-thirds of Ghanaian children both go to school AND work! A majority of these children are between 10 and 14 years of age. The fact that more isn’t being done to solve the root of this problem (poverty) astounds me.
After lunch we went on a boat tour of the Akosombo Dam. It is located in the second largest man-made lake in the world. Kwame Nkrumah commissioned its creation when he was in power. It provides about 70% of the country’s electricity and provides revenue for the country as well because they sell the hydropower to Benin and Togo. I think it is wonderful that this dam was built as it has aided Ghana greatly as a result of not having to import other means of power.
Today we went to the Eastern Region of Ghana. George said that the location we went to was right along the Eastern/Volta Region border.
We first went to lunch and that in itself took up a decent portion of our day. Natalie, Jenna and I all ordered Spaghetti Bolognese with Naan bread and we waited to receive our food for over two hours. The staff had forgotten about our orders and they were unapologetic about it, often ignoring us as we asked them for our food. When Stephanie inquired about everyone getting a discount on their meals because of the service, Sena’s reply was something to the effect of “we don’t do that here”. I was quite amused by this because in Canada, service and speed is so important but in Africa, time simply does not matter. In Canada, people who are slow-moving or late are considered lazy or irresponsible but in Ghana, one cannot be concerned with such things. Even in my workplace, there seem to be no deadlines. The only deadline I have received was given by a fellow Canadian and that said deadline was changed multiple times. I think it is a bit of a luxury in our culture that one of our main focuses is time while I’m sure in Ghana they have much more important things to worry about. I think this relaxed attitude towards time partially comes from the transportation difficulties and partially from the heat. I have learned first-hand the difficulties of transportation here and how unpredictable it is. I cannot always judge how long a commute will take if I don’t even know if I will be able to get on a tro-tro. The humidity here, I imagine, also makes it quite difficult to worry about time. People cannot be rushing around with the intense level of heat in Ghana.
This morning we went to a drumming, singing and dancing lesson. This was one of my favourite moments this whole trip. We learned how to play the drums and the one I was playing on was found only in Ghana as opposed to some other drums which are from other areas of Western Africa. When we started singing we sang Shakira’s “Waka Waka (It’s Time For Africa)” even though that song is in Fang and not Twi! We had to do dance solos and people from the street gathered at the doorway to watch. There was an amazing sense of togetherness in the group and we supported each other much in the way Ghanaians seem to support one another.
I’ve had an amazing time in Ghana so far. I’ve learned so much about myself because I have been forced out of my comfort zone every moment I’ve been here. This may at times be uncomfortable but I know I will walk away from my experience here with more confidence in myself and in my abilities. This will translate to all aspects of my life including my future career. I have truly enjoyed all of the wonderful silly moments we have all shared but I also am glad to have learned and experienced things that challenge me or sadden me in some way. Only through facing challenges can I continue to grow.