It’s raining here. Looking out of the window I can see the droplets falling softly on the yellow-green leafy shrubs and the gentle trickle of the water as it falls on the red sand, now red clay, forming little channels and collecting in big puddles. You can almost see the sweltering heat of Accra (said “Ak-raa”) being lifted by the coolness of the rain. A gentle breeze blows lazily across the green gardens of the beautiful surroundings of the University of Ghana. I can hear two birds calling out to each other. A third one hums a melodious tune. This is a place I love in coastal Ghana. I found out that I didn’t like the rest of the capital city of Accra as much. It’s crowded and the traffic is a nightmare; and it takes hours just to go from one place to another place nearby during most parts of the day. It feels like there is this heavy air weighing down on the place all the time – except at the grounds of the University of Ghana. Here it feels like you’ve entered a serene tropical garden hidden from the bustle of city life.
Accra, coastal Ghana as seen from the air.
A fourth bird seems to have joined the increasingly animated conversation outside.
I landed in Ghana 9 days ago. The first thing you will notice, as soon as you land, is the warmth of the people. Everyone smiles at you and you instantly feel welcomed. Ghanaians are one of the nicest and friendliest people I’ve met and I find them to be incredibly helpful and welcoming. In fact that’s exactly what they say! Every place I visited I was told, “You are most welcome,” and, “We’re very happy that you’re here.” This would brighten up anyone’s day so you’ll have noticed by now that I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my stay here.
“Roz’s Mission” (as it was referred to by the team) was to visit schools to collect data that will be put to use in aiding the Ghanaian national school feeding programme. I was visiting as part of the Partnership for Child Development(PCD) from London and joining with our team in Ghana and also members from the Ghanaian Health and Nutrition Ministries. Our team was made up of Mr. Daniel Mumuni (Western Africa Regional Director of the PCD), Mrs. Rosanna Agble (former chief nutrition officer for the Ghanaian Ministry of Health and now one of the most highly sought-after consultants in the field), Mr. Lutuf Abdul-Rahman (Nutrition Programme Manager for the PCD in Ghana), Mrs. Susan Amfoayeh (Head of Nutrition, Ghana national School Feeding Secretariat) and myself (still just a meagre medical student at Imperial College London). Lutuf and I visited all the schools and the others joined us for some of the visits.
School feeding is when food is provided to students for free in developing countries. This has shown to increase the number of students enrolling into school, increases their attendance, keeps them in school for longer, and alleviates hunger at least short-term so that they can concentrate on their studies without being hungry. So when a child is attending school and is alert and concentrating, it means that they have a better chance of education, therefore better job prospects and a better life with a brighter future. Better qualified individuals results in a better workforce, hence a better economy, and ultimately a better country.
Education is the key to the betterment of any society, most importantly the education and empowerment of women. This leads to an individual having better health, better living conditions, reduced or no poverty, and a better life with more hope.
“It’s hard to concentrate on your studies on an empty stomach.”
Countries implementing school feeding programmes are increasingly looking to incorporate food grown by local farmers into the menus (known as Home-Grown School Feeding) and Ghana is one such country. This helps to stimulate local markets and strengthens the local and national economies.
We visited a selection of schools in the capital city of Accra and in the rural areas of northern Ghana. We arrived unannounced at every school in order to get a true picture of what was happening on the ground and observed the food being prepared and distributed to the students. The Ghanaian government pays a specified amount of money per child per day to the cooks to buy ingredients and cook the meals. The main aim of my work was to determine if the food the children were receiving were adequately nutritious. After analysis of this data, it will form part of a wider assessment which the Ghanaian government will use to set their policy and implementation of the national school feeding programme. It really was a heart-warming experience meeting the children in each school. The children are wonderful. They all seem to have these beautiful smiles and they are incredibly friendly. I saw something beautiful at one of the rural schools we visited. After all the food was distributed I think some of the children either did not get any food or they were still hungry. I saw another small child, who had a bowl of food with him, crouching on the floor and sharing it with two other little children. They were laughing and deep in their conversation; it looked like they were having an amazing time. To me, whilst standing in one of the most under-developed villages in the world, this signified what humanity should aspire for. Where love and compassion cause a person to share what little they have with those who have nothing. It’s a sight that I will never forget.
After spending a few days in Accra we moved to the northern region.
Northern Ghana was a place I fell in love with as soon as I could see it from the window of the small airplane that had carried us from Accra. It’s very beautiful here. It’s the rainy season and the savannah area seems to have come to life. There is a lot of greenery with grass and shrubs laying carpet to the terrain with trees dotting the landscape. The men and women, and children too, have been busy sowing seeds so there are a lot of crops reaching harvest time. It’s like you’ve stepped back in time. It’s a place of stark beauty. The beauty of the landscape – its little round mud houses and thatched roofs and fields of yam and maize – contrasts sharply with the ugliness of poverty. There are a lot of poor people here. You find many people just sitting and staring off in the distance. I feel as if they’re waiting for something to happen to lift them out of the poverty and make their lives better. It’s very distressing – to see so many things wrong in front of your eyes and not being able to do much to change it. As the rain trickles and runs down the thatched roofs each house becomes a small waterfall of its own. The rain washes away the dust that had gathered. I wish that it would wash away the vicious cycle of poverty Africa seems to be writhing in vain to free itself from.
Back in the University of Ghana, I wave good-bye to it. It’s my last day in Ghana and I returned to my hotel.
The rain seems to have stopped and the heat of the city seems to weigh down again.
Ghana is classified as one of the more developing African countries. There are certainly signs of development but there is still a long way to go. Even in the capital city of Accra, poverty is common-place and very apparent. The picture is of one that is recurrent around the world – the rich get richer and the poor sink deeper into the abyss of poverty. I remember vividly an image from Kenya from a lecture this year. Vast slums are neighbors to elaborate, expensive golf courses where the nation’s elite enjoy the more mundane parts of their life whilst their neighbors are ensnared by poverty and disease and a future with no hope.
At a glance, Ghana does seem to be a hub of developmental activity. It’s very hard to go anywhere without seeing a white 4×4 belonging to the WFP (World Food Programme) or UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) or ProMPT (Promoting Malaria Prevention and Treatment) or any one of the various other NGO’s whizzing past (through the windows of our very own white 4×4’s…). I’m told that NGO’s have generally achieved much success in their projects and initiatives. The key now is the successful, efficient and well-managed transfer of these projects initiated by the NGO’s to the people and the Government of Ghana in order to ensure sustainability and future success. This is a major hurdle. The current system needs to be more efficient and needs to ensure that the allocated materials reach the designated destination in its originally proportioned quantities. The success of a future Ghana (or any nation) will be determined by the stringency of justice its citizens, especially those in positions of power and influence, exert upon themselves and the responsibilities they’ve been entrusted with.
It has just started to rain again and I can feel the spray on my face as I now sit here under the canopy outside the hotel’s restaurant. The chair and table seem to be carved out of the trunk of a tree. I’ve seen heavy rain in the past few days. Really heavy rain. Tropical downpours. The entire sky seems to endlessly empty reservoirs of water. It’s been a long time since I saw one and I always find that it makes me feel good for some reason.
There seems to be an abundance of time here and it’s good because it has given me a lot of time to think. One thing that was very clear to me was the blessings that I have been given. After being thankful for what I have, I felt reinvigorated with what I’ve always wanted to do with my life but something that is so hard to remain focused on. I want to be of use to humanity. I do not want to just exist and pass away – a bygone remnant of a life with no purpose or meaning or without having been of any use to anyone. I want to be a person who gives rather than takes, a person who expects nothing in return, a person who frees people from the shackles that bind them and a person who brings happiness to others. I know that these things are much easier to say than to do and I know that I cannot do anything by myself. But what I do know, without a doubt, is that the One Who created me is more than capable of helping me achieve this. And I pray in my life for the people who wish for the same.
On the last night of my stay in the northern region I went up to the roof of the hotel and I watched the African night sky. It’s a sight to behold. A million bright stars lighting up the dark sky. I stood watching for a very long time and it is one of those rare moments when the millions of things that run through the mind stops, and the only thing you think of is the beauty of creation and the greatness of its Creator. The light I saw from the stars was millions and millions of years old. It was history being played right in front of my eyes. Billions of tiny particles took thousands of patient years to make those bright, beautiful specks of light that I can still see millions of years later. I told myself that I too have to make my life count.