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In Sirigu where child-killers used to rule, women are painting a new story

SIRIGU23 File photo

Thu, 19 May 2016 Source: Justice Baidoo|

Tucked away in the northernmost tip of Ghana where vast swathes of scrub land are dotted with clusters of mud houses. The sun rises through a thick harmattan fog.

The sound of women singing and dancing pierces through the walls

It is rare not to find things to be worried about in some of Ghana’s desperately poor rural north.

And so here, little things really matter. Especially if it puts smiles on the faces of people.

I have come here to meet the Sirigu Women’s Organisation for Pottery and Arts (SWOPA), women doing traditional paintings and sculpture using red mud.

Their works, exported for sale in expensive British and American shops is putting this small town on the global map.

There is a natural talent in people here, especially the womenfolk.

To understand how important the work that women at SWOPA are doing is in the life of this town, you need to find out about its history.

I first came to Sirigu in the Christmas of 2013. I was traveling with Paul Apowida.

Paul is an accomplished Ghanaian member of the British Army and an outstanding painter whose works have been exhibited widely across the world.

“When I was born, this was a nightmare town for disabled children”, he said to me then.

It was the first time Paul was visiting his home village in years.

His way up had been through thorns, surviving three attempts by his own family members to kill him.

Paul’s father died just before his birth, his mom and six other family members also died under strange instances within the period of his birth. Such children like Paul in some parts of Northern Ghana are labeled as spirit children who will bring bad omen if allowed to live.

Luck saved Paul from an age-old infanticide fueled by poverty and ignorance in an area where basic diseases like malaria, cholera and diarrhea still kill children.

Paul was saved by a nun who rescued him and had him sent to Britain where he would later join the UK’s riffles.

In April of 2013, the chiefs and people of Sirigu announced they were no longer going to kill spirit children

And now, the women of Sirigu, are making a change.

“Women are at the heart of our society in Sirigu. Whatever happens, women suffer the most”, says Melainie Kasise, who started SWOPA when she came out Ghana’s civil service as a teacher 20 years ago.

Through the work that SWOPA is doing here, the women get to paint and sculpt and their children get to go to school. Even for women who don’t work here, the center buys their artifacts and wares at prices they won’t usually be able to sell on the open market.

“Our culture doesn’t allow women to own any property apart from their handmade and so this art is giving them the power to take charge of their families”.

At 81, Madam Kasise is one of the few women leading the change in Sirigu.

Retired educationist, Maleine Kasise founded SWOPA when she retired from Ghana's civil service in 1995.

And the evidence of the new Sirigu, is in the sort of people who have visited this center in its two decades of existence.

Inside the SWOPA yard stands a bust of Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General who visited SWOPA in 2007. Mr Annan is part of a rich list of guests who have been here to immerse themselves with the beauty of their work.

“This town is a beautiful town, with great people. We cannot be represented by child killings and the work we are doing here is changing that perception”, says Rita Kasise, who works at the center.

As she speaks, she is makes a painting that depicts a traditional Gurune funeral rites.

Many stories from this side of Ghana is usually bound to end on a sad note but in this village where art is almost engrained in the blood of the people- there’s a unique story in everything with tales that only Sirigu can boast of.

“Now when you google Sirigu, you see us. You see our beautiful work and that is the new picture of Sirigu”.

Columnist: Justice Baidoo|