On Wednesday I once again ventured into the dizzying streets of central Accra. Two TroTro rides and a walk through twisting market streets resulted in a heavy confusion. The first area we walked through was densely packed area of stalls with narrow hallways shaded by cloths hung above. It was reminiscent of an old African or Middle Eastern market except for the merchandise; no exotic spices, crafts, or cloth, just jeans, underwear, and toiletries.
On Thursday, I was given a tour and history lesson of Teshie by Benjamin, who runs the program to get street children into school I mentioned earlier. Teshie is a fishing community located on the ocean and was founded in 1710 by Nigerian immigrants. Teshie has several main streets lined with large colonial buildings but it is mostly comprised of a tangled network of small back alleyways which are kept cool by the shade provided by the tightly packed buildings and the sea breeze that blows through it, known as Old Teshie. The “streets” are lined with the lives of the residence; old women cleaning and selling fish, a young mother washing her child, and groups of children holding hands. The houses are built right upon the bedrock and appear to be slowly tumbling into the ocean along with the cliffs they are built upon. When labyrinth of passageways open up to the ocean you are meet with a scene that can only be described as post-apocalyptic. Some houses are crumbling into the ocean; trash is everywhere and creates a densely packed organism that is moving slowing into the ocean—depositing castoffs into the tide below; and there are dozens of naked children playing in the ocean or picking through the trash with the goats and dogs.
Like the three “African Queens” Teshie demonstrates the two parallels of Ghana; beautiful people set against a broken and decaying existence. To meet the African Queens I had to step over an open sewer and past a crumbling building, and just behind the beautiful and vibrant lives of Old Teshie, with tales of mysterious rituals and feuding kings, was an area I could find no hope.
Benjamin, my guide, is a 27 year old Teshie native who spends his free time trying to put underprivileged children in to school. He showed me his family home, a beautiful house with a tree shading its courtyard and the family’s heirlooms hanging on the wall; a stool, staff, drum, horn, and the artifacts used in a family burial. He also showed me the trash strewn beach, and the hundreds of children who do not attend school. The trash is piling up because the old city dump is full and there is simply no place to put it; it is hard to reprimand people for littering when they have no other choice. A company called ZoomLion has bicycle based trash carts but they just dump the trash on the beach. Children are not in school because the parents cannot afford the cost of a uniform and supplies--55 cidis or about $45 a year—or else the parents simply do not care to have their kids attend school. Benjamin and his friends have a long fight ahead of them.
I don’t know if I am properly describing Teshie or Ghana for that matter. I can show you pictures and you can see what I am describing but I fear that you will only see the poverty—see the trash and hungry children—and not experience the kindness and good will that most Ghanaians have; however, I am glad that you cannot experience the apathy that some Ghanaians seem to have—that is why I am focusing on people like Benjamin who have seen a problem in their community and despite the enormity of it they are attempting to tackle it.
This was by far the hardest experience of the trip for me so far. I had the enormity of the problem thrust upon me with incredible force—even if I manage to better the life of one child there will still be thousands upon thousands more in Ghana who I cannot help—it is truly overwhelming. Benjamin figured that only about 50% of children attended school in the community; these children have a struggle to improve their lives that few of us could imagine and they are the privileged. It is impossible for me to see a future for the children that are not in school—hard work and uncertainty the only certainties.
Today, Friday, I once again met up with Benjamin and we went and visited the school that accepts the students he funds. Once again this involved cutting through Old Teshie and walking past families getting ready for the day; my favorite scene being a little brother wet and soapy running away from his older sister who was giving him a bath. At the school I visited the Kindergarten classes and caused quite the commotion with the kids mobbing me for handshakes and high fives. The teacher was quickly able to restore order—I was very impressed—and the class was soon sitting quietly. I said a few words and told the kids to study hard and listen to their teacher, this was then backed up by the teacher who said if they skipped school to go swimming I would find them and take them away. Despite this threat, the kids still seemed to like me. Next they sang a song for me. I then visited the Kindergarten 1 class where I received another song; this one with dance moves.
Then the action really got started. I had forgotten my camera so a friend was called. The news of a picture being taken sent the kids into a frenzy which was soon followed up by a mad dash to put their complete uniforms back on—this resulted in many backwards dresses and miss buttoned shirts which the teachers soon straightened out. When the photographer arrived he undertook an ambitious arrangement with kids sitting and standing on multiple levers—a feat to rival any school picture day in America. Benjamin and I were then inserted into the middle and the picture taken. As I left the school I was once again mobbed by kids who hung onto me until I had come to a complete standstill.
This was exactly what I needed after yesterday. The kids were excited and ready to learn and the teachers were ready to work and really wanted to make a difference. This reminded me of why I am here and that there is a future for Ghana—a future that rests in its children.