Making a difference in Ghana
by Karl Schuler
Samuel Kweku Clement coordinates the national
youth programme of the Ghana Red Cross.
On a continent often described in the most dire and pessimistic
of terms, national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies are
striving to give people a little more dignity. The Ghana Red
Cross is a case in point. With financial help from other National
Societies, it has launched a multi-pronged development programme,
focusing on improving the lives and livelihoods of women and
At a quick glance, it resembles a tapestry of bright and
vibrant colour. In fact it is the fruit of a successful programme
begun in Ghana. The dykes and vegetable gardens started in
the village of Loggo, in northern Ghana, have made the food
situation here considerably better than in the rest of the
Upper West region. "The climate of the Sahel is best
suited to the cultivation of millet, maize and groundnut,"
says Idriss Maa, a member of the local Red Cross. "But
the people of Loggo can vary the routine by growing vegetables
and fruit to make up for the inevitable deficiencies that
arise from sticking to only one traditional dish."
He should know. Idriss is a farmer with a degreee in agricultural
engineering. He shares his expertise with the young people
and women in charge of cultivating and caring for the plots.
Since horticulture relies on a regular water supply, a large
reservoir to catch rainwater has been built enabling fields
to be watered even through the dry season. As he takes us
on a tour of the area, Idriss shows the dykes and vegetable
gardens which are part of an extensive development programme
of the Ghana Red Cross, jointly financed by a consortium administered
by the Swiss Red Cross.
In the village square, a group of women proudly display hand-made
woven baskets, colourful fabric and shea butter, used both
in food preparation and in cosmetics, which they sell on the
local market in order to boost their income. The women are
members of the local Red Cross Mothers' Club, which runs a
cottage industry programme. It gives women access to some
basic business training, and modest loans, to start small-scale
The Mothers' Clubs in Ghana boast some 7,500 members in 340
villages and districts. The clubs' national coordinator, Theresa
Babero Nobiya, underlines the importance of their commitment
to the organization: "The women are the mainstay of our
development work: they increase their families' revenue, improve
the standard of nutrition and hygiene and contribute more
tangibly to bringing dignity to the lives of the poorest sector
of the rural population." Interestingly, the women rarely
come from the circle of dignitaries, as is often the case.
Instead, the women who get together to form mutual aid groups
are usually young or older mothers, often from families of
peasant farmers. Volunteer facilitators help with a wide range
of issues, going well beyond traditional courses which once
dealt exclusively with first aid. The courses have been extended
to include aspects of community health, which correspond to
people's real needs. The emphasis is often on disease prevention.
But the range of issues also covers the basics of running
a small craft business. In the ten regions where the national
Red Cross is present in Ghana, women regularly follow training
and improvement courses.
Loggo, Upper West region: Red Cross members
cultivate vegetables and discover a wider range of foods to
add to their diet.
Proof of progress
Over the last five years, the Ghana Red Cross
Society has seen its membership rise significantly throughout
the country: from 22,000 in 1996 to 55,000 today. The biggest
proportion of volunteers are women and young people. They
are also the most active of the new recruits, and they make
a vital contribution to the improvement of social and health
conditions in the villages and the town districts. The Ghana
Red Cross has also stepped up the professionalization of its
management, both at its headquarters in Accra and in the regions
and districts. Worthy of note among its activities are disaster
prevention and institutional development. The National Society
has succeeded in significantly improving its local fund-raising
in recent years. All of these activities form part of its
long-term development strategy.
The Ghana Red Cross is supported by the
International Federation, the Canadian and German Red Cross
Societies and the Swiss Red Cross which acts as coordinator
on behalf of the consortium.
In order to guarantee a continuous
food supply, the Ghana National Society has set up rainwater
Young people for young people
Following an internal reform process begun a few years ago,
the Ghana Red Cross is concentrating on the quality and training
of its leadership. Samuel Kweku Clement is a specialist in
modern management methods and electronic communications, and
an example of the new generation of managerial staff. As national
coordinator of youth programmes, he is in charge of a wide
array of activities aimed at the largest Red Cross group in
Ghana: young people. Indeed, young people make up two-thirds
of the 55,000 membership countrywide. Besides working closely
with the Mothers' Clubs in the health sphere, the youth section
offers courses in batik and sewing to some 200 young people
a year. They even offer the possibility of doing a six-month
course in a photo laboratory.
Most effective of all has been the creation of a network
of 450 peer educators - young people who carry out AIDS prevention
campaigns. "If sex education in schools and in youth
groups comes from their peers, the results are often much
more convincing," says Samuel. "A relationship of
trust is established from the outset, because everyone is
speaking the same language. UNICEF is supporting this programme,
which was the fruit of our experiences in the north and in
Accra, the capital. We're now introducing peer educators to
Kumasi, our second largest city, as well," he says.
The Ghana Red Cross is also leading the struggle to stop
the stigmatization of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA)
which, sadly, is commonplace. Since the peer educators have
a direct and easy contact with people, they are better placed
to encourage people to care for their stricken family members.
Cultural prejudice and ignorance about the virus normally
means PLWHA are treated as outcasts.
Young volunteers are also making a difference in the Upper
West where they play an important role in spreading the word
on care. At the Wa regional hospital's ophthalmic clinic,
cataract operations are performed and trachoma, an infectious
eye disease, is treated, thus preventing many cases of blindness.
The volunteers let people know about the hospital's services
and explain what hygiene and preventive measures should be
taken to avoid a number of eye
In another programme where peers talk and try to influence
their peers, the Red Cross runs a centre for young street
girls in the capital, Accra. The centre, located in the heart
of the busy Agbogbloshie market, offers 25 homeless girls
bed and breakfast. Dependent on little jobs in the market
to survive, they are at risk of falling into prostitution.
For them, the Red Cross provides a safe haven and someone
willing to listen.
The varied undertakings of the Ghana Red Cross reflect the
host of social problems which trouble this African country.
Creating a strong link between a professional structure and
the mobilization of volunteers has been one of the greatest
challenges facing this West African National Society.
Karl Schuler is information officer for the Swiss Red Cross's
international cooperation department.
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