Opinions Fri, 23 Sep 2005

Paga, Fao Festival to Education Fund

(A GNA Feature) By Benjamin Mensah

Accra, Sept 23, GNA - The journey from Accra to Paga would be long. It would be more than half of a 24-hour day. By road travellers would cover 851 kilometres, but they will definitely complete the journey. And when they do, they would make merry. They would celebrate. The Paramount Chief, Pe Charles Awia Awampaga would sit royally in state, dressed in specially woven smock, with cap to match. The drums would throb and the people would dance their hearts out and the rhythmic thumping of the legs would loosen the earth.

Pe Awompaga would throw his hands out and invite the world to join in the celebration. He would say and in the local Kasem dialect: "Baa na Paga ama ayi ana apa atiti. Nabiina bam laga badona."(Come to Paga and see for yourself; the people are friendly.)

As the Chief would be speaking, the mysterious crocodiles in the Paga Pond, fascinated by the sounds of the music makers would wade to the shores of the pond, not to receive their delicacy of a full fowl when called, but may be to tell the people: "Allow us to join in the celebration, for we have made this town popular by our mysterious behaviour."

Paga is a border town in the Kassena Nankana District of the Upper East Region of Ghana. The friendly crocodiles in the Paga Pond often respond to calls of attendants and when offered a live fowl, the crocodiles allow any visitor to have a physical touch. Visitors can even sit and ride on the reptile.

The Paga crocodiles have drawn many visitors to this town from all over the world. Diplomats, dignitaries and even Presidents have thronged this town to see and experience the crocodiles and leave convinced that a crocodile could be friendly.

Unfortunately, however, this important resource has never been put to very good use. Such a major tourist attraction continues to operate along lines of traditional species of curiosity.

The fact that Paga is situated on the frontier of two countries - Ghana and Burkina Faso-and the fact that it is accessible by road and by air has not done anything to change this situation.

Other tourist sites give the Paga crocodile tourist site a booster. These include the Slave Camp of Paga-Nania, which is also the hometown of football legend Abedi Ayew Pele, who was declared, for three years running, 1991, 1992, and 1993, African Footballer of the Year. Guess right! Abedi might have named his team Nania FC to commemorate his hometown. An Akan proverb says: Obi mmfa ne nsa benkum nnkyere n'agya fie", literally meaning: "No one points to the father's house with his left hand."

Think also of Cattle Transit Point, where a Vet Officer examines the fitness of cattle brought from Burkina Faso and other countries north of Ghana before they are transported to other parts of the country. There is also the airstrip, the canals of Tono Irrigation Project; the moneymaking mystery dam of Kayoro called Kukula and the Nasaga Game Reserve, eight kilometres away from Paga.

After a hard day's work, the lovely women of Paga would welcome their husbands home with sumptuous tuo zaafi and sau soup, a meal prepared from corn dough and green leaves.

Come next December, the people of Paga would be celebrating this year's annual Fao festival. The Paramount Chief launched the festival in Accra, Ghana's capital, last August.

The launching was not only to announce to the world to join in, or witness the celebration, but also to seek the support of all development- minded Ghanaians and expatriates to help to build a senior secondary school (SSS) for the area.

Paga-Pio Awampaga said the festival would be a ceremony to show gratitude to Gods and ancestors for protecting the people throughout the farming season and for a bumper harvest.

It would also offer the people the opportunity to plead with Gods and the ancestors for continued good health and bumper harvest, joy and "new wives and new children to replace the old ones." It is during the festival that true and faithful citizens congregate at home to be reminded of their cultural values and to plan for the development of the area.

The celebration would be on the theme: "Education, Key to Poverty Reduction and Human Resource Building." The SSS project is to start with an initial 500,000 million cedis for the construction of a block of three classrooms, an office, store, a library and an accommodation for the Headmaster. Paga has more than 19 primary schools and seven Junior Secondary Schools (JSS) but does not have a single SSS or technical institute to absorb the JSS graduates.

The nearest SSS in the area, Awe Secondary Technical School, which is a day school, is far from Paga. Students who gain entry into it cover a long distance, riding bicycles or walking in and out daily, making them exhausted before getting to school or on reaching home. Consequently, many of the students abandon school altogether, while the few that persist cannot perform well in their examinations. The Traditional Council has released land for the school project, and the celebration of the festival would be an opportunity to solicit financial and material assistance.

School children in the area have already begun gathering stones for the project.

Some residents have also volunteered their donkey carts and tipper trucks to supply sand and stones to the project site. Mr Abuga Pele, Member of Parliament (MP) for Chiana-Paga, said it was high time a secondary school was built in the area since the two nearest ones, Chiana and Sirigu, are not less than 10 kilometres away from Paga. The MP said he had used 12 million cedis from his MP's share of the District Assemblies' Common Fund, for three years running on scholarships for SSS students from the Constituency to improve education in the area.

Mr Pele expressed the hope that the District Assembly and the Government, through the Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFund) would support the project to stem the tide of low enrolment into the SSS, the dropout rate and rural-urban migration.

This would help harness the human resource for the development of the area.

So, as the drums throbbed rhythmically at the Accra launch, it was an invitation to come to Paga to make merry, visit the tourist sites and support the development of secondary education of a people, who speak and understand the language of crocodiles.
Columnist: GNA