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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Religion in Ghana and the link with grass roots development.

Three weeks into our project, cohort seven has taken a strong hold of the Students for Schooling project. We have visited all the donor schools and met their head teachers in Tamale, and it became clear to me, that such a programme is so effective when accompanied by the role of religion in Ghana. From bumper stickers to shop names, religion here is ingrained in day to day life. Arguably, religion is what drives some international NGOs and charities, such as CAFOD, Tearfund and Islamic Aid, however this relationship between NGOs and communities at grass roots level is certainly something I am not familiar with. Moreover, I have found it to be a positive relationship where the development of communities is assisted by and promoted through religious culture. A relationship where RAINS facilitates and through local culture incorporates religion with development at grass roots level discreetly but effectively.

  
CAFOD’s website heading on their home page.

 For someone that didn’t know a huge amount prior to coming to Ghana, the first two weeks have been fascinating, in both learning about the cultural exchange between the UK and Ghana, whilst also learning about the practical work of our partner NGO. A poll in Ghana from post independence in the 1960s demonstrated that religion in Ghana holds a prominent place in people’s daily lives: a society where there was 41% Christian, 38% traditionalist, and 12% Muslim, with 9% non-religious. However, as indicated in the graph below there have been significant changes since then. I have put the UK religious demographic alongside it for comparison. In the case of Christianity in Ghana, it nearly doubled in fifty years, and in comparison to the UK, although a somewhat smaller total, it is the main religion in the UK as well. There are many reasons for that, but we shall not open that can of worms now.


Demographic make-up of both Ghana and the UK.

 One of our projects, Students for Schooling (S4S) – as you may already be aware – aims to circulate school materials and accessories from the privileged schools in Tamale, to those under-privileged schools in other more rural districts, such as the Savelugu-Nanton district, where attendance rates can vary if pupils cannot access the correct equipment to attend school. Cohort 7 have already given two presentations at two donor schools, Faith Hill Community School, and Tamale International School in the hope of gaining donations prior to the school summer holidays.  


Lejla, Rafiq and Emma presenting S4S at Tamale International School.

When meeting the head masters and head mistresses of the Tamale schools I noticed common attitudes and reasons among them that related to the S4S project. The teachers would refer to their ‘brothers and sisters’ in the rural areas that required help. Despite being in the process of rebuilding some of its classrooms, Auntie Margaret, the head mistress of Peggy’s School, insisted that they could find a way to help us, and that God would allow for this. This positive attitude of the headteachers of these schools, and their desire to help others, seemed to be spurred on by their innate beliefs in God. Additionally, many of the teachers we have met, work several jobs; could this be a hindrance to commitment? I anticipated this to be a yes, however, I am sure to be proved wrong, which merely demonstrates the lengths to which people will go to help and be a help to others.

In Faith Hill Community School, the concept of religion plays an integral part in the schools mission statement and vision (see below). It appears that ‘Godly principles’ are behind their motivation of learning and growing up as a well rounded individual.


The mission statement and vision for Faith Hill Community School.

Naturally, this differs somewhat from my own personal background. Having attended a Church of England School for my primary years, a girls comprehensive school for secondary years, and a Roman Catholic school for sixth form - social responsibility, and wider charity events have always been greatly encouraged. Yet somehow, after acknowledging the donations and actions that these proud Ghanaians undertake, I feel that somehow, this was never driven as much with religion at a grass roots level. The S4S initiative I think is thus a great example of a mutually beneficial partnership. An initiative that is enriched by those who partake and their devotion to a religion.

To think about this practically, we found a suitable passage from the Bible, James, Chapter 2;
“14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother and sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, ‘go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, ‘you have faith; I have deeds.’
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.”

I believe this chapter demonstrates my point; that religion here is integral in some of the grass roots development work. Guiding citizens to put theory into practice; it will have a positive impact upon social responsibility, citizenship and future sustainability here in the developing world. Hopefully allowing the S4S project to continue to progress well, with RAINS continuing to facilitate the partnership between donor and beneficiary schools. Although this leads me further to question the link between religion and developing societies, but maybe that will make for a blog another day.

By Emma Crawley.