For the first time in Ghana
Sweat drips down my face, I look out the window, the car shakes from the potholes in the road. Outside I see people, many women with bowls on their heads full of bananas, water, nuts and much more. Even girls, children still, with all those kilos on their heads. What are they actually doing here on a Monday morning. Shouldn’t they be at school?
For the first time in Ghana together with my friend Andrea, whom I have followed for years with her foundation Help Ghana. She as chairman of the board, me as a donor. And now I’m here to see for myself what makes her talk so passionately about her beloved Ghana. I had prepared for it: the poverty, the heat, the noise, the chaos. But it is much more intense than I thought, at times overwhelming, it touches me deeply and regularly I am completely out of my comfort zone. We visit schools, training centers, a community for the mentally handicapped. To see if there is any progress, a new sponsor request or an unexpected visit, just to see how things are going.
We are there, the car stops on a dirt road, it is dusty, the sun is burning brightly, more drops of sweat. A path leads to an open place. A school for 160 children. Is this a school? Children in uniform shout and wave. What I see is a kind of open barn, and that turns out to be true: the school is housed in a former chicken shed. I think of my own children and their comfortable modern school. The contrast couldn’t be greater.
Rose, the headteacher approaches us, we shake hands, she welcomes us. Plastic chairs are placed under a tree. Andrea knows this: small talk first. Getting straight to the point is not done in Ghana. The school has applied for a new building and we are going to see how far they are. But first we get a tour of the current building. At first glance a bit shy and distant, until Rose starts talking about the school and the things she has achieved with her colleagues.
A door that literally falls at the seams opens. We are amazed, in the dark room there appears to be a small mushroom farm. Rose proudly shows that they have received an award for innovative school for this. Proceeds benefit the school. For example, uniforms and school fees are paid for orphans, but also a computer and expansion of the school. Then we see the new school building that is being built with the help of the Help Ghana Foundation. Next to it is a well that can almost be used. It’s fantastic to see so much progress being made with so much passion and with so few resources. And that’s how it always goes during my stay in Ghana. I constantly switch between surprise, discomfort, emotion and happiness.
Andrea tells how she got involved years ago when she worked as a nurse in Ghana and how the country has never left her. How a large effect can be achieved with a relatively small contribution. A school in a remote area makes it possible for children to receive an education. A village is involved and brought to life. People are getting creative, there will be electricity, a well. It’s like a snowball effect: you start small, people pick it up and conditions improve.
I believe in the power of people says Andrea. How women can provide for their own income and thereby help other women. How they make themselves strong with a little help. Initiating a change and seeing the effects of it, that motivates me to continue. It goes with trial and error and you need a long breath. The problems are enormous in Ghana and sometimes it seems like a drop in the ocean. What we do here helps. It helps people empower themselves, locally and on a small scale, and the effects are felt throughout the community. People do it themselves despite difficult circumstances and their vulnerable position. We can learn a lot from that power.
I am now back home. The first Christmas lights are already burning at the neighbors while Sinterklaas is still in the country. I process what I saw in Ghana. What a beautiful country, what beautiful people. I enjoyed it but also found it hard. Once again I realize that it is not obvious to be born in a prosperous country. I just got lucky. This trip was an enrichment and will always stay with me.