Among True Heroes And Keepers Of The Faith

Wed, 29 Aug 2012 Source: Gyan-Apenteng, Kwasi

The Assertion that Accra is not Ghana is often made in exasperation when one has to tolerate for the umpteenth time the fact that our nation’s capital hoards resources and attention disproportionate to its output of human happiness. If we had a way to measure the index of human happiness, there is no doubt that people living in Accra would come off among the unhappiest lot in the world. Accra is indeed not Ghana. Never was a truer word said than if you had come with me on a swing through some of the Central Region’s ancient towns conversing with mostly young people who have made the search for peace and purpose this election year their mission.

I have to explain the background to this. In June this year I wrote in this column that civil society groups working in election issues outside Accra are the unsung heroes of the election-peace movement but unlike some city-dwelling publicity seekers get little mention in the media. STAR Ghana (STAR stands for Strengthening Transparency Accountability and Responsiveness) which is funding 48 such groups throughout the country has enabled me to meet many of such groups in person over the next ten or so weeks, and first call was the Central Region where I met some amazing people doing remarkable things.

Question: where on earth can you build a 12-seater public toilet for the grand sum of one thousand US dollars? Put that question to those young people who accomplished that feat and knowing smiles and winks break out all around. Their group is called Progressive Excellence youth Organisation (PEYORG) based in Elmina. It was started in 2004 by about 150 young high school graduates who had time on their hands during the long vacation. Instead of just loafing about they decided to get together and “do something positive for the nation”. Their first activity was a symposium on the theme: the contribution of the youth towards national development. They chose for their motto: Turning Ideas into Action. Their goal is to “achieve a society full of human resource and to use improved technology for wealth creation”. Their core values are captured in the words: Integrity, transparency, quality service, creativity, and adherence to deadlines and delivery on time.

Today, they are in the serious business of motivating citizens to fight for their rights by fighting to put their issues on the election agenda. They are funded by Star Ghana through the Alliance for Reproductive Health Rights and to date, in addition to organising a well-attended stakeholders’ forum they have also managed to annoy the local powers-that-be by organising a noisy pregnant women’s demonstration that made the national news. On the recent Eid holiday, I spent several hours in the company of Philip Amoah, the Executive Director, John Hayford and Albert Ebo Gharbin, Project Coordinator and Deputy respectively, three young men with infectious enthusiasm for community work. They have done work with USAID, John Hopkins University and Ghana Aids Foundation, among others on many projects but the one that caught my fancy was the $1000 toilet.

In these days when $1000 is some people’s pocket change in Ghana, I thought it incredible for anyone to build even a one-seater toilet with that amount. I took up the challenge to go and see it for myself and went with them to Assin Kumasi, a branch community off the main Cape-Coast Kumasi road. There, nestling on a small hill outside the village is a shiny blue toilet built with the famous $1000 dollars provided by the Japan Water Fund. My companions explained that “it was not the money. The community built it themselves. The money was only the motivating catalyst. It is the same principle we use in all our campaigns. We are linking health rights to peaceful elections and the message is going down well because it is owned by the people”. Well said.

The story from Agona Swedru, my next stop, is similar but perhaps even more amazing. My guests were executives of the Young and Lonely Foundation, an organisation based at Swedru which specializes in the care of orphans, people living with HIV/AIDS, pregnant women and children. The group was started in 1999 by Gilbert Germain who is its Executive Director and main inspiration. This group is also affiliated with the Alliance for Reproductive Health Rights and funded by STAR Ghana in its Election Call. When I visited, Mr. Germain was recovering from a motorcycle accident which occurred when he was taking a European volunteer to work in a deprived community.

As luck would have it, the group was about to go to address nursing mothers at Swedru so they took me along. There were more than 150 new mothers all with bright and beautiful babies they had brought to be weighed and the message delivered by Germain was just what the doctor ordered. He told them that the coming elections ought to be about more than who gets power and we should remind the politicians about this constantly. One demonstration is not enough, he said. The women ought to force the politicians to put their issues on the agenda. He also reminded the women that they had “power and influence over their husbands, brothers, male relatives and boyfriends. These are the young men who are used for violence in our neighbouring countries. You have the power to stop them from being misused”.

From the ante-natal centre we moved to the Swedru Government Hospital where an HIV or ART Clinic was in full swing. YLF has helped organise the Adomkuo group of persons with HIV/AIDS while the Alexius Life Opportunity Foundation is led by Rev. Alexius Jehu Appiah at Mozano in the Gomoa West District and on this clinic day the latter was among volunteers who were helping at the hospital. After delivering the pep talk about putting the issues on the election agenda Germain invited questions. After a moment’s hesitation the patients found their voices and called for better facilities for AIDS care and counseling at the hospital.

Mrs. Comfort Spero is the Counselor at the facility and she explained that the unit is too small to guarantee the privacy of the patients who still suffer from stigmatisation. She said expanded facilities would mean the patients can be seen in private. However, the main issues bothering the patients are lack of livelihood opportunities and stigmatisation. The two are linked. One woman who wishes to remain anonymous explained that she used to prepare and sell food to the public but since the information about her HIV status leaked she can no longer work because of the stigma attached to the disease. Most of the patients complained that they could not afford the five cedis they had to pay for the treatment especially as most of them travelled long distances to get to Swedru. The final message came from a woman who is obviously recovering from serious illness. Please tell the politicians not to forget us because we are voters too.

I left wondering how much some of the monies we read about as having been misapplied can help these people who despite the odds retain their faith in the government’s ability to do something more for them. I wondered how our friends and PEYORG and YLF could do even more with support. Let us give these young people a couple of pickup trucks and some communication equipment and see what wonders they would do. Germain’s YLF cares for more than 350 orphans and very poor children who would otherwise be abandoned by their families.

Can’t we do a bit more to help him and his friends help these poor people? With funding from STAR Ghana they are fighting hard to make the politicians take note. It is a worthy calling. Accra is full of egos but these are my heroes. They keep the flame of faith in our common humanity burning ever so brightly – against the odds. Against the Odds!



Columnist: Gyan-Apenteng, Kwasi