Paonyuug on her way home.

Paonyuug on her way home.

It’s a truly joyful day for Madam Paonyuug. She is finally being reunited with her family after spending 19 years living in the Gambaga Outcast Home in northern Ghana. One of the oldest women living in the camp, she fled to Gambaga after being accused of bewitching her own son.

“My son got a swollen eye and mentioned that he saw me in his dream, using a knife to pull out his eye. When he accused me of being the one responsible, the community supported him and I was banished.”

The Gambaga Outcast Home is a place of refuge for women who have been branded witches by their family and community. The camp is meant to be a temporary stop on their journey towards greater acceptance, and eventually home.

After staying 13 years at Gambaga, Wudama Dagang is also eager to go home.

At the camp, life is hard—the housing is poor, there are very few ways to earn an income.

At the camp, life is hard—the housing is poor, there are very few ways to earn an income.

Describing how she came to stay at Gambaga, Wudama says, “My nephew said he saw me shoot him with a gun in a dream. The following morning I was called before the elders of my village and told to go to Gambaga to prove my innocence. I believe the boy was influenced by his mother, who never liked me.”

In Ghana, there is a tendency to attribute unfortunate events such as an illness, injury or crop failure to witchcraft. Once accused, the results are almost always disastrous for the women involved – who are quick to point out that they are not actually “witches,” but victims of deeply entrenched cultural beliefs and misinformation.

Going Home

All of the women at Gambaga want to someday return home and reunite with their loved ones.

Though we often think of development in simple concrete terms, dignity and respect for human rights are essential components of sustainable development.

Though we often think of development in simple concrete terms, dignity and respect for human rights are essential components of sustainable development.

In partnership with Presbyterian World Service & Development, the Gambaga Go Home project is working to prevent future allegations of witchcraft and reintegrate accused women, like Paonyugg and Wudama, back into their communities.

In order to foster acceptance and pave the way for their return, the Gambaga Go Home project sensitizes communities about human rights, mental illness, disabilities and other health issues that are often mistakenly attributed to witchcraft. Project staff also meet with village chiefs and community members to negotiate a peaceful return.

Recognizing that it takes time for beliefs and attitudes to change, the Gambaga Go Home project is seeing positive results. Between July and December 2013, nine women were successfully reunited with their families.