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

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

International Day for Tolerance: We Are One



(RAINS volunteers recreate an internationally recognised symbol of tolerance)

Since 1996, the United Nations have designated 16th November (today!) as the International Day for Tolerance. The day presents an opportunity to highlight the importance of mutual understanding between cultures and peoples. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which encourages international peace and universal respect for human rights, defines tolerance as respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world's cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. The concept of tolerance, therefore, encourages us to unite in our respect and understanding of one another, even when we encounter cultures and viewpoints that differ to our own. 

The notion of tolerance has become even more significant in recent years, which have seen extremism and conflict wreak havoc on many parts of the world. What is more, in certain regions across the world, such strife is widespread and continues to ravage the way of life of many-a-people on an unprecedented scale. A sheer lack of respect, acceptance and appreciation for diversity has, all too often, been expressed by the perpetrators of recent atrocities. The mass shooting in Ouagadougou, ongoing ethnic violence in South Sudan and Brussels bombings, to name but a few conflicts that have occurred in 2016, all serve as examples of the devastation intolerance can bring to world peace, unity and cooperation.

Ghana and its people, however, have been praised in international circles for their tolerant approach to difference. In a country of just over 27 million, there are 75 ethnic groups. Furthermore, a number of religions are represented in Ghana, with Christianity and Islam being the most dominant. Nevertheless, for the most part, Ghanaians appear to live with one another in relative harmony. Ghana’s reputation as a tolerant nation was further enhanced by U.S. Ambassador to Ghana, Robert P. Jackson. During a speech delivered at an Iftar (breaking of the Muslim fast) ceremony in Accra earlier this year, Mr Jackson branded the nation an, “important example of tolerance in West Africa.”


(Photo credit: https://twitter.com/GHPEACECAMPAIGN Photo credit: Ghana Peace Campaign.)


A few weeks ago, on a warm and tranquil evening, my host sister and I sat on the veranda, conversing about my family links to Accra and Tafo and her hometown of Damongo. Before long, we began to discuss the historical migration paths that some ethnic groups took into Ghana. During the conversation, my host sister said, rather refreshingly, that in modern Ghana, “we think of each other as one, we are all Ghanaians, we just speak different languages.”  It felt uplifting to hear her say this. Despite the differences that there may be between Ghanaians, such as ethnic group and religion, my host sister’s words suggest that there exists a strong sense of solidarity and unity among many Ghanaians.

However, my time spent with RAINS has exposed me to the reality that not all Ghanaians are fortunate enough to experience the unity and solidarity that is shared by so many in the country. Marginalisation, in which certain members of society are, essentially, relegated to the fringe of society continues to occur in communities across the country. The Regional Advisory Information and Network Systems (RAINS) works to combat social exclusion through its commitment to promote the rights of the marginalized in society. Thus, the work carried out by staff and volunteers of the organisation improves the lives of sections of society and in turn, goes some way towards encouraging tolerance in communities across Ghana’s Northern Region.

One project that is currently in operation at RAINS is The Safe Choices Project. The project, which focuses on sexual health, is implemented by a team of 5 Ghanaian and 4 British volunteers. While sexual health is an important subject, it can also be a very sensitive topic that some community members have been reluctant to address.  However, through our work, we are encouraging communities to engage with the project as the discussions that we conduct with communities can be a useful tool in which to equip them with reliable information. In addition, our research into perspectives of teenage mothers can be used to identify and dispel any myths, stereotypes or stigmas that may exist, which may otherwise lead to the marginalisation of certain members of communities. 


(Shown here is a selection of RAINS staff and volunteers who represent diverse backgrounds: Ashanti, Builsa, Dagaari, Dagomba, Ewe, Ga, English and Scottish.)

I have found my time spent in Ghana so far to be extremely informative. My interaction with Ghanaians, as well as my work at RAINS have uncovered examples of tolerance and intolerance that are experienced by people in the Northern Region of Ghana and, to a lesser extent, the rest of the country also. Such examples have highlighted the importance of finding shared identities among different people. More importantly, I have learnt, what differentiates us does not have to divide us!

To join in with the social media campaign for the International Day for Tolerance, tweet the following:

#internationaldayfortolerance
#ichoosepeace

Written by Adjoa Osafo-Binfoh
Edited by Sian Johnston/Portia Treve

Adjoa is currently engaged in an International Citizen Service placement with RAINS. She has completed degrees in Law (LLB) and International Relations (MA). She is particularly interested in human rights and international development.