F is for… Friendship!

In this series of blogs, we’re working through the alphabet to highlight the approaches – some more surprising than others – that we take at CHIPS to grassroots peacemaking!

As Christian peacemakers who believe in the healing power of relationships, helping people to build friendships across divides has always been one of our primary aims. From Cyprus to the Philippines in past years and from Brixton to Ghana today, all of our projects are carefully designed to help people come together and get to know one another. Indeed, our teams say that seeing former enemies become friends is one of the real highlights of their job, and evidence that our approach is working!

Saving together

In Ghana, our susu self-help groups bring women together from the two main tribes to save money together and make loans to each other so they can expand their microbusinesses. As Andrew, our Director, says “Bringing together former enemies to trust each other with their money is quite an achievement in itself. However, it’s even more remarkable to see them become lasting friends!”

Our Ghana Team Leader, Desmond, gives the example of two Dagomba women from Nakpayili who now have new friends from the Konkomba tribe in Lungni. Having got to know each other through the susu group meetings, they now enjoy spending time with each other, sharing stories with each other and visiting each other’s communities – something they would never have dreamed of doing before!

Desmond says that when people from the two sides get to know each other properly, their attitudes and behaviours change. “They get to understand one another better and more clearly, and start to lose the prejudice and stereotypes they have been brought up with.”

Trading together

Helping people to do business together is also one of the most effective ways of building relationships, in our experience. For example, in our veterinary project, our Community Animal Health Workers often find themselves interacting across the divide and making friends from the opposing tribes – but they would be unlikely to take this step without the financial benefit they get by way of payment for treating their animals first.

The people we work with attest to the importance of trading together themselves. Rahinatu Felix is a widow with four children who used to struggle to pay for their education. But through joining a CHIPS self-help group, she now buys cassava from both Dagomba and Konkomba farmers which she processes into gari to sell at the market. Through getting to know them, her perceptions about conflict and peace have changed. She says she now has a new attitude towards the ‘other side’ and would recommend the work of CHIPS to any community willing to change and develop.

Our team leader Desmond says he has also made great new friends from the ‘other’ side – citing the example of someone he met last year through his work. They now like to watch European football matches together – and Desmond is currently advising him how to dig and build a toilet for his household, sharing his expertise from our sanitation and hygiene project!

Beating lockdown blues

Meanwhile in Brixton, our work is bringing young people together to form new friendships and strengthen existing ones.

Over the past year, the various states of lockdown have created particular challenges for young people in the area. Many live in overcrowded homes and have suffered from feeling stifled at home while at the same time isolated from their friends. This has often come at a cost to mental health and personal development.

While meeting virtually can never replace face-to-face contact, they say that our programme of online activities has helped them to stay connected.  From blog challenges to online street dance sessions, the programme has also given them opportunities to get creative and find mutual support.

Last summer between lockdowns, our group of budding young actors were also able to meet in person for our film-making project, which made a real difference. Tavia, who plays Louise in the film, was 13 years old and told us that when her school closed, she was “worried about not seeing my friends – and kind of scared because the news every day was all about the pandemic.” But as a result of the project, she says “I’m proud that me and my group have become a lot closer.”

This spring, building on last year’s work, the young people are learning about song composition from a professional musician and vocal coach. When the restrictions lift in the summer, they will then record a song based on their experiences in lockdown, which we hope will prove to be another great success in bringing young people together to forge new friendships after a difficult year.

Growing together

An important aim of our Brixton work is to help forge relationships between teenagers from different neighbourhoods, who often don’t have an opportunity to meet, and may mistrust each other or have preconceptions of each other.

By helping them to build friendships across the different postcodes and estates, we can break down the barriers which gangs are only too willing to exploit to the full and which encourage young people to become caught up in violence. Once the teenagers start to work together on a shared passion, however, they quickly realise that their ‘rivals’ are just like them, facing the same issues and concerns and with the same hopes and dreams.

Our two after-school youth groups follow the same principles, and have been able to meet together in person under the latest restrictions. It has been heart-warming to see young people bond together during the challenges of lockdown, with existing friendships strengthened and new ones formed across the different estates. CHIPS team member Kamika says that the groups have a lovely, family feel to them. “They just love to talk!”, she says, “and catching up over chicken and chips and playing games, it feels like a family sitting at the dinner table together.”

But of course, friendship isn’t just about having a good time together – it’s about supporting each other to move forward together in positive ways too. So we also use our youth groups to bring role models in from the community to share their stories and encourage and empower the teenagers to reach their full potential.

Simon Ghartey who runs the charity Progress which promotes sustainability through food for communities, recently visited us, for example. He shared his story about how he was a wayward teen who ended up on the wrong side of law one too many times, but then changed his life and set to up the charity to help other young people stay out of trouble. This inspired our young people to think about their futures too, and to share their hopes and dreams with each other.

As restrictions lift and we begin to plan our activities for the summer, that’s the type of friendship we hope to replicate across all of our activities!

An encouraging start to the year!

An interview with Desmond Mpabe, Ghana Team Leader and Andrew Jackson, Director

How is the pandemic affecting your work currently?

Desmond: At its peak, it really scared people but the good news is that not many local people have been infected.

As I talk to you now, there is news of an upsurge of the virus in the south of the country but we remain free to go about our daily activities, to run our projects, and to meet together again in groups across the ethnic divides with sensible precautions in place.

Andrew: One of the biggest challenges in Brixton has been the closure of schools which effectively stopped our group mentoring work with students at risk of exclusion. Many students returning to school this spring will have faced major disruption to their education and development as well as additional trauma due to the pandemic. We are praying that we can get back into schools quickly, to support students through the rest of the academic year.

How has the first quarter of 2021 been for you?

Desmond: The year has begun on a positive note, with plenty to keep us busy!

Ghana schools started to go back last month after a long break due to Covid-19. Our visits to local schools revealed that after almost a year, most existing containers used for handwashing had developed cracks and holes and started leaking, taps had been damaged or stolen by thieves, or schools had no soap. So we provided new handwashing buckets and soap to 18 schools. These will help pupils to wash their hands properly under running water and protect them from the virus.

Meanwhile, our susu groups, which bring opposing sides together to save money and trade together, are going from strength to strength. We’ve had very positive group meetings recently with a great atmosphere and begun 2021 with new members joining the groups. We’re currently exploring how we can best structure this growing project for the long-term, including the possibility of establishing a credit union which would be exciting!

Andrew: One positive outcome from the pandemic in London is that it’s encouraged local community organisations to work together better, which fits well with our partnership approach at CHIPS. A few weeks ago, we received some great news – the bid we made for funding from the Mayor of London’s Violence Reduction Unit, together with seven other like-minded local organisations, has been successful. We’ll now work together to deliver a new community-led project that helps us bring together all our different skillsets and strengths to tackle youth violence in the most effective way for the community.

Another positive for us is that we’ve been able to continue running our Brixton afterschool youth groups face-to-face through the latest lockdown. These have been a real blessing for both the young people attending and their families at a challenging time. We’ve had great feedback from parents, and we’re now looking at how we make the most of them to best support students as they return to school.

What would you appreciate prayer for at the moment?

Desmond: Please pray that our communities remain safe during the current second wave of the pandemic. We also want to reinforce our CHIPS team so we can do get out and about fully again and expand some of our work into surrounding areas. Funding is the key challenge, so please pray that we are able to find money to recruit new peacemakers.

Andrew: Please pray for our communities in South London as they seek to pick up the pieces after the pandemic. Tackling poverty and inequality and helping them ‘level up’ will be critical to building a more peaceful future. And please pray that God gives our Brixton team the energy, capacity and creativity they need to continue their fantastic work!

Check out our impact report!

Our 2020 impact report is now ready to read or download. And it’s full of stories of hope, fun facts and details about how our peacemaking projects have made a difference over the past 12 months!

Did you know that, in Lambeth during 2020:

  • We made over 1,000 family support calls lasting 190 hours during the height of the pandemic
  • We donated around 27 laptops and 15 WiFi modems to help students continue learning while schools were closed
  • We provided almost 500 hours of mentoring to around 40 students at risk of exclusion

And in Ghana:

  • 617 people from different tribes participated in our animal rearing groups, farming sheep, goats and chickens!
  • 602 members of our susu groups saved almost £18,300
  • We built 60 new toilets, for use by more than 7,000 villagers!

For more like this, read or download the report here!

Ghana project update

“Praise be to God, Africa has been less affected by the pandemic than many other parts of the world. We are very thankful that we have been able to keep our practical peacemaking projects running throughout the year.

Our team remains strong and in good health. We continue to hold daily devotions and share meals together, and our team has been able to resume one-to-one community visits in pairs, one from each side of the ethnic divide.

As restrictions continue to lift, I am very much looking forward to our year-end community meetings when we will bring together groups from both sides to share stories and experiences and celebrate our friendships together!”

Desmond Mpabe, Team Leader, Ghana                                                                                   

Agriculture

Our animal rearing and crop farming groups bring together people together from both sides while helping households to diversify their income and food chains. It was another highly successful year for our animal groups and we formed 3 new ones.

Although drought has affected some crops such as maize and groundnuts this year, the rice, soya bean and cassava harvests have been healthy!

Savings and loan groups

Our susu self-help groups enable former enemies together to save and borrow together to support their households and microbusinesses. This project continues to thrive and the groups are very happy that we found ways to continue weekly meetings throughout the pandemic!

We now have 602 members across 7 locations and our two new trade groups, which receive larger loans to enable them to do business across the ethnic divide, are doing well.

Sanitation and hygiene 

We made audio recordings in two local languages to help people learn about the Coronavirus, counter widespread misinformation and stay safe – which they told us was very helpful. We installed Veronica Buckets in several communities – a clever Ghanaian invention that allows people to wash their hands in the absence of running water. We also provided locally-made reusable face masks to our groups as well as gloves.

Our work building toilets in villages continues at a healthy pace and we organised several village clean-ups, involving enthusiastic local children!

Natural medicine

Our main development this year was the launch of a new project to help communities tackle child malnourishment, which affects one in every three children in Northern Ghana. The project has started well, bringing families from different ethnic backgrounds for training together, followed by regular progress meetings which allow them to build longer-term supportive relationships across the divides.

So far, we have partnered with 18 children and mothers are engaging positively, although we pray for more support from fathers and guidance on how we can reach more remote households. 

Animal health 

CHIPS trains and mobilises Community Animal Health Workers on both sides of the ethnic divide. They continued to protect livelihoods this year by treating large numbers of sick animals and vaccinating them against common diseases such as Newcastle Disease.

We currently have 17 active workers, and most were able to join us for refresher training in the autumn. As this project is very sustainable and easily ‘scalable’, we are now seeking funding to extend it to the neighbouring region, where there is a great need for support.

Beekeeping 

Our four beekeeping groups train and support mixed-tribe groups to harvest honey and generate a new source of income.

It was a slower year for this project, and two of the groups have not
recently had harvests due to invasion by lizards, forcing the hives to be relocated. However, group members live in the same area and often continue to hunt and work together.

Read more project updates in our latest impact report here!

Stories of hope: Ghana

Meet Yezida: “Now we can see a brighter future for our daughter!”

Yezida, aged six months, was underweight and showing signs of severe malnutrition such as weak limbs, a pot belly and diarrhoea.

She was referred by one of the team at our CHIPS Nakpayili compound for help. Her parents were invited to the opening day of our new child malnutrition project in the summer, along with other families from both sides of the ethnic divide who face similar challenges.

Her family appreciated the offer of support and chose to take the
programme seriously, with her mother coming every week to receive a high-nutrient porridge mix for her daughter.

In the first month, Yezida’s weight was in the “red” danger zone, but by the end of the year her weight had already improved to “yellow”. Her parents are very grateful for the opportunity to learn and share experiences together with families from different backgrounds and say they are looking forward to Yezida completing the programme with a brighter future ahead of her!

Would you like to support our Ghana child malnutrition project?

£10 could get a child like Yezida started with a month’s supply of high-nutrition porridge. £50 could pay for a community follow up visit to monitor children’s progress. And £100 could train ten families on how to prepare their own food! You can make a one-off gift here.

Alternatively, by giving £10 a month, you could support a severely malnourished child through to healthy adulthood. To make a monthly gift, visit chipspeace.org/donate and enter CHILD in the project code field.

Read more stories of hope in our latest impact report here!

Highlights from 12 years with CHIPS!

We’re sad to say that after 12 years with us, Paul Maxwell-Rose, our Co-Director (Programmes) has decided it is time for him to open a new chapter and explore other opportunities outside CHIPS. We caught up with him this week to chat about his highlights!

Tell us about one highlight of your time at CHIPS…

There are so many choose from! I vividly remember one brilliant training session for our Community Animal Health Workers in Ghana, where so many things just came together. We had a fantastic mixed-tribe group of people. living together for three days of intensive learning and sharing experiences.

I could see before my eyes all this amazing bonding taking place across the ethnic divides and new relationships being built. It was really special and was such a great case study of our practical peacemaking projects in action.

The photo on this page shows Paul (left) and Desmond (right) at this meeting in Ghana while newly-trained community Animal Health Workers tell the group what they have learnt, and make a declaration of how they are going to use their new skills to help their community.

And which moment will last with you from CHIPS’ work in Brixton during the pandemic?

Towards the end of our summer film-making project this year, there was a fatal stabbing outside our office. It was an awful moment and so scary for all our team and the young people – especially as many of us knew those involved personally.

But on the following day something remarkable happened. We all gathered together – the young people, the film crew and our CHIPS team. We talked, we cried, we prayed, we shared our anger about the brokenness and injustices around us. There was such openness and honesty, but we refused to let the incident break us and above all we came away with a great sense of hope and a determination to change things.

In that group, among the young people and the team, I could see so many leaders who were determined to not have the attack the day before define them or their community. They were imagining a different future and were committed to bringing about transformation in their area. That will live with me for a long time.

And dare we ask, what’s your funniest moment?

That’s got to be when Desmond, our Ghana team leader, and I fell off a bridge in Ghana! We were negotiating a fast-flowing river on a motorbike and the ‘bridge’ was really just an old tree trunk. The bike slipped into the water, along with ourselves and our belongings.

Thankfully, someone appeared just at the right moment to help pull us – and the bike – out. We allowed the bike to dry for a few minutes and amazingly it started up again straight away, so we merrily continued on our way, looking like drowned rats!

What are you most proud of?

This is an easy question – it’s the team we’ve got now! I always felt I would want to leave CHIPS when we had a really good team who didn’t need me anymore. And that’s where we are today – we have bigger, stronger and simply fantastic teams of people in both Brixton and Ghana. I have real confidence not only in their talents and abilities but also in their approach to peacemaking.          

In Brixton in particular, the pandemic has forced us to adapt and evolve quickly and we now have a group of local people with real, lived experience from the communities we partner with who are incredibly talented and capable. You couldn’t ask for a better team and it’s been a privilege to help build it.

What leaving message would you like to share with our supporters?

First, I want to say how incredibly grateful I am to each of you for your support in every way, from prayer to giving, to sharing advice and helping us to make connections – and on a personal note hosting me in so many of your homes and at your churches. Believe me, we simply couldn’t do our work without you: you have really helped us to get to where we are today.

Second, we should remember that peacemaking is not all about charities ‘running projects’. Peacemaking is a calling for all of us, and we can fulfil it in so many different ways and in many areas of our lives – from challenging injustices and inequalities and campaigning for change, to building relationships with our own neighbours and across our communities.

Practising peacemaking does not have to be complicated. But it always requires plenty of reflection, prayer and a willingness to throw ourselves into it, taking action and getting alongside God in our communities to join him in his peacemaking work. When we truly grasp that and respond, I believe we’ll be a lot closer to seeing the Kingdom of God come in our communities!

Please join us in giving thanks for Paul’s service to CHIPS and to peacemaking over the past 12 years, and in praying for him and his family as they seek God’s leading for the next chapter of their lives!

New project! Tackling child malnutrition in Ghana

CHIPS has launched a new project to help tackle the serious issue of child malnourishment in Northern Ghana, while following the same principles of its other projects to help build peace across the ethnic divide.

As Paul Maxwell-Rose, Co-Director (Programmes) at CHIPS explains: “Today in Ghana, around one in five children suffer from chronic malnutrition. This rises to one in every THREE in the Northern region where we work.” 

As our team visits communities in Northern Ghana through our peacemaking projects, we regularly see the heartbreaking signs of malnutrition.

Underdeveloped children who are often too short for their age. Young minds that will never reach their full potential because of mental impairment. Frail bodies struggling to recover from common infections. And we see this on both sides of the ethnic divide.

Many parents tell us they don’t know what is wrong with their sick children. They struggle to access medical help and often the problem ends up treated with ineffective home remedies or spiritual healing. Without help, these children will face serious consequences for the rest of their lives. The most severely affected will struggle to live independent lives. Some will die before adulthood.

“We’re already working to tackle malnourishment where we can. But we’ve felt for some time that God is calling us to do more”, says Desmond Mpabe, our Ghana Team Leader. “As the effects of Coronavirus begin to hit the economy, this problem will only grow worse. We believe we need to act now.”

Can you help us tackle child malnutrition and build peace?

However, our resources are limited, and we need your support to help more families. Your support will allow us to make high-nutrition porridge packs for parents to feed their children. It would also enable us to show families how to grow and prepare the food themselves and organise regular follow-up sessions to weigh the children and check on their progress.

Importantly for CHIPS, the project will also help to make peace. Following the same principles as our other work, it will bring together groups from both sides of the ethnic divide and help tackle poverty, one of the key root causes of conflict.

Tabir’s story: giving a child a future

Tabir’s distended stomach shows the tell-tale signs of chronic malnutrition, but now he and his family are receiving the support they need.

Tabir is three years old. His parents were deeply concerned when he didn’t grow as expected. They desperately looked for help, but the local health centre couldn’t take them on. When they consulted a community seer, he said the child is cursed and has no future.

Tabir’s parents have been blessed with two sons, but life has not been easy. His father labours hard in their small farming community but struggles to put enough food on the table.

Thanks to our training with local partner charity NESO, we spotted the signs of malnutrition. We came alongside the family to provide high-nutrient porridge and show them how to make the food themselves.

Tabir has begun to return to health and each time we see him, his young body has developed a little more. His parents say they are thankful to God because they now know Tabir DOES have a future!

Your gift can make a big difference!

By giving just £10 a month, you could support one malnourished child like Tabir through to healthy adulthood. And £20 a month would support his brother too.

Alternatively, a one-off gift of £10 would get us started with a
month’s supply of high-nutrition porridge for a child like Tabir.
£50 could pay for a follow up visit to a community to check on
children’s progress. And £100 could provide training for ten
families on how to prepare their own food.

To set up a monthly gift, visit chipspeace.org/donate and
enter the project code CHILD when prompted.

To make a one-off gift, please visit our special appeal page
crowdfunder.co.uk/ghanachild

Alternatively, feel free to send us a cheque at the following address, writing ‘CHILD’ on the back: CHIPS, Unit 7, Warwick House, Overton Road, London SW9 7JP, UK.

Thank you for helping us to launch this important new project – we truly appreciate your support!

 

These are estimates of what your donation could achieve, given for illustration. They include the cost of treatment and our costs to deliver the project. In the unlikely event that we raise more money than we need, we will allocate your one-off or regular gift to our other work helping to build peace in Ghana.

Names, photos and personal stories have been anonymised and blended.

Stories from Ghana: meet Rahinatu!

Rahinatu Felix is 47 years old. A widow with four children, she used to struggle to support their education. However, with support from CHIPS, she says her life has improved.

Rahinatu was one of the first group of women to start animal rearing in Koraji in 2016. She began with one chicken borrowed from her neighbour and others donated by CHIPS.

With our support, she has since progressed to sheep rearing. This has provided new income, which has helped pay for school fees.

A year after starting animal rearing, her group began weekly savings (susu). This gives her a financial cushion for tough times. It also allows her to use her entrepreneurial skills – she borrows from the group to buy cassava, processes it into gari and sells it at the market.

She buys the cassava from both Dagomba and Konkomba farmers. Through these interactions, and the CHIPS group meetings that bring people from opposing tribes together, her perceptions about conflict and peace have changed.

She now has a new attitude towards the ‘other side’ and says she would recommend the work of CHIPS to any community willing to change and develop!

Handwashing in Ghana

The photo above shows our Ghana team member Joseph Hassan Wumbei preparing Veronica Buckets to encourage handwashing during the pandemic.

These are buckets fitted with a tap, so people can wash their hands in flowing water, along with a bowl to collect wastewater.

This makes them a very cost-effective way to embed good hygiene practice where there is no water supply.

So far, CHIPS has purchased and installed 16 Veronica Buckets at our base and in 12 villages.

It costs approximately £10 to buy and prepare a bucket, and each one can be used by up to 80 people.

Named after their Ghanaian inventor Veronica Bekoe, a biological scientist, these buckets are now used in villages, schools and public places in many other African countries too!

An update from Ghana

An interview with our Ghana team leader, Desmond Mpabe

How has the Coronavirus affected Ghana?

The spread of Coronavirus has been slower in Africa than in many parts of the world. We are thankful to God for the low number of deaths and limited penetration in rural areas like ours so far.

However, Ghana now has the fourth highest number of infections in Africa and cases have accelerated recently, so we are not complacent. We know that people have become infected near our base and things can change quickly.

How has CHIPS been helping people respond?

One of the biggest challenges is the high level of misinformation about the virus. Some people are distrustful of what the government tells them, while others struggle to get any information at all. So our team is working hard to share accurate information and encourage hand washing and good hygiene.

We have made audio recordings in the two main local languages to play at our group meetings. This includes information on what the Coronavirus is (and isn’t!) as well as how to stay safe and the importance of obeying quarantine rules (instead of running away which would be the natural response for some people). People tell us this information is very helpful.

We have installed special buckets so people can wash their hands even though they are not connected to a water supply. We have also provided at least 500 locally-made reusable face masks to our groups and volunteers, and 200 sets of gloves for our group caretakers.

What has been the impact on our peacemaking projects?

The pandemic has caused the pace of work to slow. However, by making some changes we have been able to continue running all projects in some capacity, and we pray this continues!

We continue our susu (saving and loans groups) by meeting weekly in smaller groups, washing our hands before and after we meet, and staying socially distanced.

In our animal rearing, crops and beekeeping groups, our team is visiting individual households to check progress and offer support. Even while we cannot meet together, by going out as a mixed-tribe team we continue to lead by example and show how both sides can work and live together.

Our natural medicine, animal health and sanitation and hygiene projects are also still running, albeit at a slower pace, and we continue building new toilets in the villages.

What are the main challenges ahead?

Our biggest concern is how the slowing economy will affect people who were already struggling before Coronavirus arrived.

We are worried that an increase in poverty could lead to tension and outbreaks of violence.

There is also a particular challenge locally as a result of people returning from the cities. This puts more pressure on households as they no longer receive income from family members who used to send it home. Often there simply isn’t enough food to go around.

We are also concerned about what it means for children – child malnourishment is a big issue in Ghana and Coronavirus will only make it worse. So we have decided to take action and have launched an important new project to tackle this issue! You can read more about this, and how you can support it, here.

And what has inspired you recently?

I am encouraged by the way Coronavirus has given us a fresh opportunity to share God’s love and compassion with people – and to help them see that, whatever side we come from, we are the same and we face the same challenges.

I have also been encouraged when local people say about the virus, “Because we know you and trust you, we will listen and do what you say.” When they hear information from others, they often think it is just politics!