Are you sitting peacefully?

You may wonder why a peace charity spends its time building toilets. I certainly did, I also did not realise when I said that I would go to Ghana that a major activity would be going on tours of toilets!

So what does peace have to do with toilets? Well, CHIPS knows from its 50 years of experience that we in the UK do not have the answers to a conflict in the Ghanaian countryside. As aptly demonstrated by me, we find performing normal everyday functions (particularly bathroom activities) difficult in such a foreign context, so instead of assuming that we have the answers CHIPS started by asking the question ‘What can we do?’.

From the elders in Nakpayili the swift answer was toilets.

On my visit I was proudly shown soakaways (areas created to soak up water from bathing and urinating cubicles) and toilets (hut like structures with covered pits for sewage) that were in various stages of construction. The CHIPS team has trained members of the community how to build and look after these facilities. Everyone hoped that soon the whole community might have access to one of their own.

Toilet construction in Nakpayili

Word of this project has spread and opened doors for CHIPS in new villages in the area. I went to visit some of the newest facilities in the nearby village of Moba. The people with soakaways were so thankful for the help CHIPS has given them. With the soakaways they have seen a drastic decrease in the number of mosquitos in the village because there are no longer stagnant pools of water. They have also noticed their animals being healthier and cleaner as they cannot access the faecal matter.

That is all well and good, but what does it have to do with peace?

Firstly it builds a good reputation for the CHIPS team as people who listen to the concerns of the villagers and then actually do something about them. For CHIPS this is an invaluable foundation of trust to get people involved in future projects.

Secondly it is easier to bring people together over a common problem than it is to invite them to come together to speak about peace. When a conflict is ‘hot’ people are often too scared to come together to speak about it and when a conflict is ‘cold’ most people are too busy with everyday life to see the benefit of coming together.

Therefore CHIPS uses these everyday concerns to demonstrate how the team can work together across tribal lines and to show that members of all the tribes have very similar concerns. Our many years of experience show that it is through these long-term, relationship building tactics that you can bring about a lasting peace with people on the ground.

So there you have it, peace-bringing toilets!

Lean on me

There were times during my trip to Ghana when it all got particularly tough.

Getting ill on the bus ride from Accra… spending my first night in Nakpayili throwing up… my fifth day of washing from a bucket… counting 30 mosquito bites on my legs… the thought of the bus journey back to Accra!

At all of these points, when it all became a bit too much, the first people I turned to were my CHIPS team in Brixton – even when they were thousands of miles away. In our Whatsapp group I asked them for prayer and they returned with an endless stream of encouragement. They reminded me why I was there, how strong I can be and that I can keep going.

An intentional part of the CHIPS methodology is to place teams of people in communities of conflict. For the last four years I have had the privilege of watching and helping the CHIPS Brixton team grow, but it was in Ghana that I realised just how much they have become my family. We share the beautiful moments together as well as the pain of things going wrong. CHIPS uses teams of people in each of its projects because standing in the middle of conflict would be impossible on our own.

By living for 12 days with the CHIPS Ghana team I had the wonderful opportunity of seeing how this special bond works out in their lives and context. The team are a group of Christians in a mainly Muslim village and they begin the day with their most treasured activities; studying the Bible, praying for their work and worshipping God. They spend each morning in community with each other and God before dividing up jobs and going to begin their work. Throughout the rest of the day they laugh together, eat together, work together, and raise families together! From different tribes, villages, generations and backgrounds they have been brought together through their longing to see peace in their communities. They are so much more than colleagues, they have created their own form of family.

From my own experience I know that these relationships will keep them sane through the most stressful parts of their lives, be who they go to to celebrate their successes and who they lean on when it all gets tough.