A reflection from Susan Viegas, PWS&D Committee Member and member of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Toronto.
In September 2018, I had the privilege of accompanying Kristen Winters, PWS&D’s Africa program coordinator, on a monitoring and evaluation trip to Ghana. As a newly appointed member of PWS&D’s committee, this was a fabulous and timely opportunity to experience first-hand the amazing relief and development efforts in which our church is engaged.
In Ghana, women and men accused of witchcraft and people living with disabilities face many barriers to living healthy, happy and dignified lives. PWS&D is working with the Presbyterian Church in Ghana (PCG) to break these barriers and help vulnerable members of society build brighter futures.
The PWS&D-supported Gambaga Go Home project, which we visited, helps support alleged witches so they can return to their communities and improve their lives and livelihoods, free from discrimination.
I say “alleged” because people who are accused of witchcraft—mostly older women and a handful of men—are done so under very nebulous terms. Accusations are swift, and the victims—who are sometimes physically tortured or killed—sometimes take their own lives out of fear of reprisals or run away and seek shelter in camps under the supervision and authority of a local chief.
There are currently five such camps in the north of Ghana, with a total of about 400 inhabitants. The Gambaga project works to promote the rights of these marginalized people through community advocacy and access to health care and improved sanitation and hygiene.
The program also teaches vocational skills such as the manufacturing of shea butter, soaps and jewelry to sell to local villagers. Because of this support, many are able to eke out a living and provide for themselves and, in some cases, their extended family.
I was moved by the plight of these women but equally moved to find out how our support has saved so many lives and had a positive impact on families.
One woman I met told me that what gave her strength for the past 30 years was knowing that her savings through the project were helping send her children and grandchildren to school so that they could have better lives.
Through sensitizing communities about respect for human rights, mental illness, disabilities and other health issues that are often mistakenly attributed to witchcraft, the project aims to eradicate accusations of witchcraft and the banishment of people from their communities. May our continued support and advocacy efforts ultimately render these camps unnecessary in the very near future.
Kristen and I also visited the PWS&D-supported Community Based Rehabilitation Centre (CBR) in Garu, which has focused on improving the quality of life for persons living with disabilities, for over 40 years.
The project supports persons with disabilities by providing schooling and vocational training, strengthening livelihood opportunities within their communities. In 2017, farmers with disabilities were trained in techniques to improve crop production and provided with varieties of improved seeds. Some farmers received training in livestock production, agroecology, and business development to boost income generation.
To increase financial literacy and access to local credit, self-help groups and community savings and loans groups were established, and members received training. To promote improved health outcomes, the project also provides training on sexual and reproductive health issues, conducts HIV testing, assesses children for disabilities, and advocates for inclusive education in communities and schools.
Kristen and I had a chance to meet with a group of women with children affected by cerebral palsy. One mother felt she had no choice but to abandon her severely disabled child. Through the program though, she was able to find support through a network of other mothers who shared similar experiences and helped her overcome challenges. This woman was also taught about proper hygiene, nutrition and how to better communicate with her child. She is now an ardent advocate for the rights of people living with disabilities.
The Garu project will directly impact about 25,000 lives in Ghana over a five-year period ending in 2020. The team is absolutely amazing and so very committed to improving the lives of their clients. I am grateful to have spent some time visiting their facilities.
Ghana is an incredible country—almost 80% of the population of Canada living in an area 42 times smaller! Ghanaians are a warm and friendly people with big hearts. No matter where we went, people gave willingly whatever they had, including three guinea fowl, a rooster, several yams, loads of peanuts—and one goat! I have been so very enriched by this experience and I hope for the continued success of PWS&D programs improving the quality of lives in Ghana in exponential ways.
Banner photo: While visiting the Gambaga Go Home project with PWS&D’s local partners in Ghana, Susan Viegas and Kristen Winters are presented with a goat.