Developing a just society based on equity and equal opportunities for all with respect for diversity.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Movers and Shakers

Last week our team were lucky enough to have the chance of leaving the RAINS office behind to travel to the village community where we will be setting up a farming co-operative as part of our boy's project. We left the 'big smoke' of Tamale behind us and journeyed through beautiful lush landscape passing villages of family-sized mud houses, people lounging in the shade of trees whilst semi-naked children pottered about among the goats and the chickens. After a couple of hours our van veered off the tarmac, down a bumpy dirt road and onto a track just wide enough to let us pass, lined by corn plants so tall we could hardly see where we were about to arrive. All of us were practically on the edge of our seats by the time we came to a clearing and Nayoku came into view, and only then did we see how lucky we are - Nayoku is beautiful. It's an idyllic, peaceful little place of a few dozen round thatched-roof houses, half hidden among fields of green grass, spread out around the clearing marking the village centre, with one small shop, a school full of children playing happily in the yard, and a well. We'd come here to assess the livelihoods of the farmers and their interest in being part of a co-operative, and we couldn't believe the interest that greeted us - 150 farmers, practically the entire farming community, were waiting for us under sun shades made of dried wood and leaves.

Justice and Shaibu introduced us in the local language, with positivity growing as everyone cheered and clapped to each of our names, and then we were split up with an English-speaking villager each to translate and help us get through the stack of questionnaires we'd brought. It was an inspiring, educational experience - sitting there in this stunning setting across from people I would never otherwise meet, talking with them about their farming skills, their problems, and their hopes for the community. Aside from the 4 or 5 English speakers, few of the villagers we spoke to had been to school, or those who had had dropped out at Primary Level 2 or 3 aged just 8 or 9  years, and none of them could read or write. Some had to walk up to 6 miles everyday to get to their farms, and most didn't even sell their produce, only having enough to feed their family, and in bad years barely even that. It was clear that supporting their loved ones was a real struggle and with no access to vehicles or machinery to supplement manpower there was often little option but to pull their son's out of school to try and make ends meet. 

The truly heartwarming thing though was the enthusiasm and positivity of these traditional agriculturalists when it came to their children's education. To see these villagers nod when asked if they will keep their kids in school after joining the co-op, so enthusiastically that their excited response needed no translation, was a wonderfully moving feeling. One man replied to me that he wasn't here just for his son's education, but for the education of all the village children and I beamed as the translator slowly communicated that 'If I make enough money to ensure my son is in school, I will do everything I can to help any other farmer send his children to school too'. The most beautiful thing about Nayoku was not the picturesque setting but the fact that no one who turned up was there to better fill his own pockets; 150 people had turned up with the idea that if they work together the whole of Nayoku will flourish and thrive generation after generation.

This is the kind of attitude you come across time and time again in Ghana. It's everywhere, from the national volunteer service that brings NGOs the fresh, insightful skills of young people like Justice and Shaibu, to the many, many people who study abroad at some of the best universities in the world only to return to some sprouting community initiative to help out their fellow Ghanaians; it's even in the way people scooch up 6 to a car, practically sitting on strangers' laps to share the cost of a taxi, and the way every woman and girl is 'sister' to everyone else who doesn't know her name. There is a undeniable ethos here of communality and responsibility, that everyone has a role to play in the growth of their community and the nation as a whole; something that we should all take inspiration from. Development discourse bangs on and on about these kind of people, only in their reports and evaluations they label them 'stakeholders' and 'partners' and in doing so they take away their faces and individuality, and sanitise the simple beauty of the compulsion that drives them.

Back in Tamale we have another project underway, to put on a cultural performance teaching teens about contraceptives. We've joined up with the dance group Danani to perform the show, an amazing bunch that supports street children and underprivileged young people in becoming pro dancers, whilst imparting vital life skills in a disciplined but familial setting. We're the 'partners' of these 'stakeholders' but if you imagine that to mean we work together in an office going through documents and details together, you're wrong. When we meet them, we dance with them just like everyone else and no excuses can be made to exempt ourselves from their strict rules - with or without soft soled feet dancing is barefoot on hard, glass strewn concrete, and in 35 degree heat or not there is no drinking water allowed. I love meeting them not just because it's a huge amount of fun but because when I'm there suddenly all the jargon of development becomes real and incredible and alive with energy, something you can feel. We dance, trip and sweat with them as true equals and in return they share with us their dreams for the community that they feel duty bound by some undefinable, unquanitifiable drive into making real. These are the real movers and shakers of development, and that is something more wonderful than any NGO report will ever be able to capture. 

Written by Carmen Rose 

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