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  • Writer's picturePeter Demko

SHGO Trip to Sierra Leone 2018

We’ve just wrapped up another 16 hour day here in Ghana as we once again have returned to Ghana to further our Seven Hills Global Outreach work with our partner organization, HOCAP. Rather than write my customary summary of the day’s events, one of my Clark University Social Entrepreneurship students, Carmen Wise, is stepping in tonight with her own thoughts. Please see her insightful commentary below.

Dr J -

Ghana is, to say in no uncertain terms, beautiful. The land is beautiful, the ocean is beautiful, and the people are beautiful. None of the following could have been implemented, learned, or possible at all without Barbara Asempa, a Ghanaian woman who quit a profitable IT job to focus on helping those less fortunate in her country. She is an amazing woman and a powerhouse and I am incredibly fortunate to have met her.

My first impression of Ghana happened upon walking out of the Accra airport. Immediately upon exit there was a market with all sorts of food and people bustling. Sticking out like sore thumbs, a man approached our group and started chatting with us. He taught us the word for welcome, ‘Akwaaba’. This was a constant theme of our trip.

Our first day we visited the village of Nyetawuta, where last year, a clean water well and a public latrine were installed by Seven Hills Global Outreach the organization that Dr Jordan started 7 years ago to honor his own staff who come from developing countries - and to bring his Clark students to so that we can see firsthand the reality of life in a poor part of the world. Krissy Truesdale and I have been traveling with Dr Jordan and Ashley Emerson on this trip. The village of Nyetawuta is healthier now—much healthier (most notably, the women and children). The community is colorful and vibrant, and the villagers are courteous, welcoming, and friendly.

Barbara, through her organization, HOCAP, Home of Care and Protection, had organized on this day for a pediatrician and nurses to go into Nyetawuta to run a clinic for the roughly 245 villagers who live there. We brought medical supplies for a multitude of conditions, from malaria to anemia and villagers were diagnosed and prescribed. However, this is unfortunately unsustainable due to the poor roads that lead to Nyetawuta. The road is one way, and while trying to reach our destination, we ended up accidentally scraping a pickup truck that was coming the other way. Additionally, there were points where the ground was so uneven; our vehicle had to have been at a 35-40 degree angle.

After our visit, Dr Jordan asked some of the village men what project next would benefit their village, and help lead them toward being financially self sufficient. They replied with, either a road or a clinic. Not ten minutes from Nyetawuta, via bus, we drove past a group of people washing their clothing and gathering water to bring back to their village from a hole in the dirt, where the water was brown.

The next day, we visited the village of Okushibri. A farming village by trade, Okushibri had acres of farmland and was a bit better off than Nyetawuta. They had clean water, power lines, and a road that was close by and well maintained. The women of Okushibri have been receiving loans through Barbara Asempas microloan program which is funded by Seven Hills Globa; Outreach , an idea first pioneered by Muhammad Yunus in the 1970s. We arrived and took a brief tour of the village, while Barbara spoke the the Headman, similar to a local mayor. One location that stands out in Okushibri is the school. The first project completed in Okushibri through Seven Hills Global Outreach and HOCAP was the preschool. After the completion and implementation, they were able to get the government to come in and begin to build a school for grades 1 through 6. However, they were only able to begin it. The school has whiteboards, desks, and chairs. What it does not have are windows and doors for every room. It remains unfinished at the time, indefinitely.

There are two seasons in Ghana: Rainy season and dry season. Dry season is called hunger season. As farmers by trade, they depend on their crops and whereas the microloan program was doing very well and helping the women prosper, as they reported at our meeting, it was not enough to alleviate the cycle of poverty, where gains made during rainy season were depleted to survive during the dry season.

Two programs were discussed between Dr. Jordan, Barbara Asempa, and most importantly, the women and Headman of the village. The first was an innovation fund of $1000 provided by Seven Hills so that the women of the village could create small business enterprises to help sustain them through the dry season. The other program was the idea of a solar-powered cold storage unit. The village agriculture centers around tomatoes and tomatoes are only able to be sold for a few days before spoiling. With a cold storage unit, those same tomatoes would remain unspoiled for 25 days, allowing the villagers to sell their produce on different days than other villages, which would help raise their profits. Another side to this program is that HOCAP would rent space in this proposed cold storage unit to villagers at a reasonable price, and then the profits gained from this enterprise would be reinvested into Okushibri, and help this village also become self sufficient.

During our meeting, one of the older women made a joke about being able to shake a white man’s hand (Dr Jordan’s) which she had never done in her entire life. This was a moment we all reflected on later. In this line of work, ones motives must remain unshakable, and be continually reexamined, so that despite the heartfelt and heartwarming gratitude that these women displayed, the fact that none of these programs work without the motivation, dedication, and perseverance of the women, is not lost.

After the meeting with the villagers, we shared juice with the children and as the boys of the village played multiple sizes and color of drum, we were invited to dance with them. We did our best, but the young women of the village absolutely outshined us.

As I write this, today is Sunday, January 7. Ghana is a religious nation. This is clear in many ways, from the stores called ‘God Willing’ to the crosses on windshields and the bumper stickers preaching ‘Praise Him’. We were invited by our host, Barbara, to attend her church for the first service of the New Year. I had not been in a church for at the least, seven or so years, and I admit I was very nervous. The service was partly in English and partly in Twi, one of the many languages spoken in Ghana. This is common practice in many churches here, Barbara informed me.

Like many other things, church is pretty much the same in all countries, despite language. It was not only a beautiful service, with hymns, verses, and lecture, but also a sign of a strong community formed around this institution. They spoke not only of the word of God, but also of their New Years Eve party, which Barbara had confirmed to us beforehand was incredibly fun. The congregation invited us, once more, to dance.

The afternoon was far more somber. We set out for Cape Coast. At least, we tried to. Around two hours after we had left Tema, our bus began to experience some difficulty on the highway. We pulled over and I truly wish I had timed it. It took less than three minutes for another vehicle to pull over and offer us a ride to the next town, where we could get mechanical help for our bus. After the bus let us off, it took Barbara about a minute to find us another van to take us the rest of the way to Cape Coast. We were all astounded. She was not.

Cape Coast Castle was a British owned castle on the coast of Ghana, established over 300 years ago. It was one of the largest hubs for the slave trade on the west coast of Africa funneling over 6 million men, women, and children through its dungeons. The following description is very graphic, disturbing, and just terrible.

The tour began with a descent into the five chambers where the men were kept. Our guide warned us that the floor may be slippery and to watch our step. When we reached the insides of the chamber, he turned off the lights. Even in broad, sunny daylight, one could barely see the side of the other room. And that was in the chamber with two ventilation holes that housed 200 slaves each. There were observation areas in these chambers as well, where local Ghanaian men were paid by the British to watch the slaves occasionally. These chambers were where the men, slept, ate, and defecated. There were drains in the rooms that led out to the ocean, but they did little. The reason the floor was slippery is because where one could not see base bricks, the floor was actually a mixture of human waste, food particles, and pieces of human flesh. The men would be there from anywhere from two weeks to three months, in between arriving ships that would take them to the American south and the Caribbean to live a life of desperation and hardship. Right above these chambers, was a church the British officers would attend.

The male slaves would be branded so that owners would be able to tell which belonged to them, and when the ships arrived, they were forced down a 70 meter long tunnel where the ship would be waiting to take them. The women went through a similar process, but first they would be sexually abused by the British officers and soldiers. Afterwards, they would be returned to the slave chambers.

When the ship arrived to take this batch of human beings to the Americas, they would be marched through a door to the beach, which would be their last sight of the castle and their homeland, soon to be followed by their last sight of Africa. This door is called the “Door of No Return”. Once on the ship, when someone would die, their body would be tossed into the sea. Flesh eating fish like sharks followed these ships because they knew a meal would be assured. These same fish were then caught and served to those still alive, packed in, below deck. This castle was in operation for 300 years. Now it has been reclaimed by Ghana, and is a historical site. Now, when the Door of No Return is opened, instead of one large ship on the horizon, there are many small fishing boats. The beach is called Sunday Beach and on Sunday’s, youth play in the waters around the castle. There are two artists in residence who paint beautiful scenes of Africa. The Old British soldiers barracks are now an art market. The castle serves as a reminder of the dark days of slave trading and the inhumanity it fostered upon an entire race of people. Ghana has since moved on and is a growing and developing nation, but the memories of the evil of the slave trade will continue here at this infamous castle. Tomorrow we move on to Sierra Leone to participate in the work Seven Hills Global Outreach, and its partner Zion Ministries, does there. This entire experience has been a revelation to me.

By Carmen Wise, Clark University and Social Entrepreneurship Student.

Check back tomorrow for more and be sure to check out today’s photos here.

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