Last November I had the privilege of going on the most amazing trip to Ghana with Comic Relief, a charity that uses comedy to raise money for various support and aid programs across Africa and the United Kingdom. Comic Relief is currently supporting 14 projects in Ghana with over £7 million of grant funding and to date they have given a total of £17,126,431 to projects in Ghana with the help of Red Nose Day and Sport Relief fundraising. This was one of the most interesting and inspiring trips I’ve ever been on and it made me think a lot about the way I live and travel, and how fortunate I am to lead the life I do.
It was only a short trip but we managed to pack a great deal into those four days. So much so, in fact that I figured the best way to describe it to you is in diary form…direct from my own personal travel journal.
Arriving in the evening meant a quick supper and an early night before our first excursion the next day, out into Ghana’s capital city, Accra, where we visited Agbogbloshie, a slum area that is built on the banks of the Korle Lagoon, atop an e-waste dumping ground and houses 90,000 people in it’s small four acre space. As we wandered around, covering our noses and mouths from the foul stench that rose from the rubbish that surrounded us, it was amazing to see the smiling faces of the the children and families who lived there, all in good spirits and eager to show us around. Children come up and shake our hands. “I like you”, they say as they hug us, “I like you, hello”. As we wander around I notice that Football really is a universal language. It blares out of every other building, and from the TV aerials standing high above the shacks it seems that it’s something they all have access to. Chalked up on walls are the times of the Chelsea match.
We were invited into the home of a young woman who works selling home-made soaps, and learnt all about her and her family’s life in the slum and their hopes for the future. Twelve girls live in one room, perched up some rickety stairs. Clothes hang around the room neatly on a washing line and the paraphernalia needed for their work is stacked high up on shelves. Their room costs 3 Cidis, the Ghanaian currency, per week per person. As part of our visit to the slum we also had the privilege to meet a chief of one of the tribes, a man greatly revered (and somewhat feared) within the area…everybody answers to him. You don’t speak to him directly, but through two men sitting at his feet. When we ask if we can take a photo he disappears into the building behind to change, reappearing in a green striped traditionally cut tunic and modern trousers and flip flops. It’s an amazing thing to witness the lives of all of these people, full of hard work and ethics and hope.
Our main guides in the slums were people from the organisation SISS Ghana (Self-Help Initiative Support Services), an inspiring company that has received funding from Comic Relief, and works with people throughout Ghana to “provide services to promote and support existing self-help groups, or serve as a catalyst to establish them in communities where they do not exist“. We met and spoke to people who have been helped by SISS, such as the young adults who have been able to gain an education and start their own small businesses, the woman who now owns her own hairdressing salon, or the pharmacist who now runs his own pharmacy and runs it out of a small building in the center of the slum, providing the residents with a safe means for healthcare. It was so incredibly moving to speak to these people and see how the efforts of Comic Relief and SISS have helped them and changed the course of their lives.
The day started fairly early with a 2 hour drive out of Accra to a Village Medical Clinic funded by an organisation called Kuapa Kokoo, a group of farmers who came together “to form a co-operative that would collect and sell its own cocoa for the member farmers’ own benefit“. Kuapa Kokoo promotes sustainable trade which helps create new jobs and raises living standards, giving poor people in Ghana the opportunity to take charge of their lives and work for a brighter future. In the local language, Twi, Kuapa Kokoo means “Good Cocoa Farmers Company” and their motto is “Pa Pa Paa” which means “the best of the best of the best”. By talking to the organisers we discovered how their FairTrade cocoa farming works and benefits the farmers themselves and its impact on the surrounding district, such as this mobile medical clinic that had been set up in a local church. There is one doctor, two nurses, a lab tech and a pharmacist who all work in the hospital on weekdays then at weekends work for the mobile clinic. People from all of the surrounding areas came to see the doctor and medical team and received first hand treatment and advice, as well as medications and follow up services.
Next up was a trip to another village to see the cocoa farming process from start to end. We were shown how the Kuapa Kokoo farmers collect down the cocoa pods and dry out the beans wrapped up in leaves before transporting them to be fully dried in the heat of the sun. Meeting these people and finding out about the processes that provide them with their living, and seeing how proud they are of their land was such a humbling experience, and it really showed how hard they work to create products for the rest of the world. We had lunch next to a school where lots of young children stood about 10 metres away until curiosity got the better of them and they came over to say hello, shake our hands and stroke our hair. Much fun ensued while we took their photo on our phones and showed them. So many smiles.
Our last day in Ghana was probably the most touching, as we really got to see the amazing impact that the funds raised through Comic Relief can have. Our first stop was a small Children’s Medical Clinic outside Accra where we met a lot of mothers and their young babies who were having their first vaccinations against the highly infectious rotavirus (which causes gastroenteritis), one of the biggest killers in Ghana, taking the lives of more than 2,000 Ghanaian children each year, accounting for 40% of all diarrhoea-related deaths. These vaccinations mean that the young children are now 100% protected against rotavirus for the remainder of their lives. It’s just astounding to know that these kids will be the first generation of Ghanaians who will be entirely free from this deadly disease, and that Comic Relief helped to make that a reality.
The final stop on our trip was a visit to an organisation called Basic Needs, which helps people in Ghana (and around the world) who have mental illnesses. They work to “bring about a lasting change in the lives of mentally ill people around the world“, by not only helping them with their illness, but also by providing them with the tools to start earning a living and overcome the stigma attached to mental illness. So far they have helped 17,500 mentally ill people throughout Ghana to secure their own basic rights and a life they can be proud of. We met with some of the organisers of Basic Needs and they explained a lot about how mentally ill people in Ghana are often abused and mistreated. They work with these people to initiate them back into society and to help them get back on their feet, much like they did with Charles Tagoe, a man diagnosed with epilepsy (often thought of as a mental illness in some poorer countries) who now owns his own chickens and runs a small poultry farm, and Grace Quaye who now makes and sells dresses and bags. Seeing how Basic Needs has helped to turn these people’s lives around was particularly moving. People who were once outcasts from society are now fully reintegrated and have been able to manage their illnesses and draw on the positives, making their own living and helping others around them in similar situations.
As I mentioned earlier, this trip greatly affected me in many ways, and it was just incredible to be able to witness the amazing work that Comic Relief helps to fund. I want to say a huge a thank you to Comic Relief and everyone who made this trip possible. You opened my eyes to some other worlds and things that we as a rich, western society can do to make the lives of the people of these countries that little bit easier.
*On that note, my Dad has dyed his hair and beard bright red to raise money for Comic Relief and Red Nose Day (this Friday 15th March). He is trying to raise £100,000 so anything you can give means a lot. Just click here to sponsor him: http://my.rednoseday.com/sponsor/michael
*Credit also goes to my sister for the use of her brain and photos when writing this post!