Goats, Ghana and Gain

On a recent trip to Ghana Paul Maxwell-Rose visited Wulensi, the capital of the Nanumba South district in northern Ghana.

Among many inspirational stories, Fatima’s stood out, in its simple evocation of the life-changing difference our work can make, both now, and in the future.

Fatima’s husband died six years ago, leaving her to bring up five children on her own. In Ghana only primary education is free, and with three children of secondary school age Fatima had been struggling to make ends meet for several years.

Joining CHIPS’ Animal Rearing Programme has enabled Fatima to stabilise the family finances, and is acting as a catalyst for a more secure – and ambitious – future.

Before working with our group Fatima had no animals of her own. On starting the programme she bought a goat of her own, and CHIPS gave her two more. She now has seven animals, having also sold four – enabling her to send her older three children to school.

Fatima’s animal rearing group meets once a month in Wulensi to discuss the challenges (and share the successes!) of keeping animals. The support and encouragement in these meetings is incredibly helpful, and the two CHIPS team members who attend are able to share their skills and experience too – sometimes bringing vets and agricultural experts as well.

Fatima now has her sights firmly set on a brighter future. If she sells four to six more goats, she’ll have enough capital to invest in a rice processing business – transforming her ability to generate income not just for education, but the whole family.

Previously Fatima was dependent on menial work for others for all her income – and was finding it increasingly difficult to keep her head above water. She now has fulfilling self-employment, has turned around the family finances, and is improving not only her prospects, but those of her children.

We beekeeping it real in Ghana

For most people across the Wulensi region in Ghana, subsistence farming is the main source of family income.

With regular droughts and irregular farm yields, families are faced with tough decisions: to stop school, stop medicine, or even stop eating. The living reality of food insecurity aggravates tensions between the Nanumba and Dagomba tribes.

When everybody relies on the land, conflicts over its ownership are  regular occurrences that are frequently expressed via the ethnic differences in the community. For young adults who don’t have land of their own this frustration is even greater, and many young men and women are forced to migrate to urban areas in search of work, often in unskilled and unsafe jobs.

The communities we work with want to see change. They know that with a few extra jobs and a few extra skills, they can improve their local market and help future generations to thrive. They’ve asked our team for help. Together, we have established teams of beekeepers drawn from both sides of the conflict divide, who work together to establish small businesses.

Our team provides the materials and help participants to find a suitable location for the hive, connecting them with neighbours if this is on their land. We then provide training and help from experts to build the expertise of groups, and improve the harvest.

The group then helps each other with harvesting the honey, building relationships between both sides. They sell the honey at an affordable price to their community, raising the availability of this important ingredient, and giving families an extra income.

The skills are kept within communities, and slowly income is diversifying, with more jobs, more friendship, and more honey. Simple!

Cleaning brings community together

Say hello to Kwabena, a member of the Konkomba tribe in Nakpayili who has been part of our sanitation and hygiene programme since it began in 2011. Life has been tough for Kwabena, but since meeting our team in Ghana three years ago, things are improving.

Through working with the team Kwabena has been able to increase her small herd of livestock and send her children to school. Improving the sanitation around her home and community has reduced illness and time spent away from school and work. But what Kwabena is really excited about is the changes she has seen in her community.

“Through this Friday clean up exercise, this project has created good relationships between me and the community. People want us to be part of their meetings concerning the community, and they are always happy to see us.

Now that we understand the benefits of living in a clean environment, we have also been able to promote good health and environment.”

Invitations to tribe meetings is a huge step forward for this community. Before there was secrecy and isolation, but now relations are warming and these mixed meetings are a huge tribute to the relationships that have formed over the years.

Kwabena (right) with other members of the Friday clean-up team

Kwabena was one of the first to get involved with our weekly community clean-up exercise. Ineffective waste disposal across Ghana is seriously damaging the environment and people’s wellbeing. Most households burn their waste, including plastic, releasing dangerous toxins into the air around homes which is a serious threat to family health.

We are working with families like Kwabena’s to teach them about more effective waste disposal, and working to end the burning of plastics. The team are also running monthly litter picking sweeps of communities for children and young people, sorting waste for recycling and safe disposal.

Cleaning up neighbourhoods has wider benefits: during flooding there is less strain on drainage, and less waste being spread through the community. Improving waste and litter disposal also reduces habitats for flies and other pests which carry diseases like cholera, typhoid and dysentery.

Working together has created a shared vision for this community, bridging ethnic divides and giving a space for friendship to grow.

Societal symptoms natural medicine

Clinics in Nakpayili and across Ghana are under strain. Waiting times are long, and costs are high. Most face a long journey along hot and dangerous roads if they want to see a nurse or doctor, taking them away from work or school.

Our team in Ghana run a local community-led initiative to provide affordable and effective natural medicines. We teach families what to grow and how to prepare natural remedies for everyday ailments like diarrhoea, colds and stomach aches.

CHIPS treatments focus on personal care and pastoral attention that is beyond the hospital’s capacity. In being with people throughout illness and recovery, particularly in prayer and reflection, real trust has been able to develop.

Our team also use these conversations to emphasise the benefits of sleeping under mosquito nets, and providing nets to families in need of them. These conversations lead to involvement in other CHIPS projects.

For Matunble, this is exactly what she needed from CHIPS: “Growing natural medicines introduced me to new projects. I was able to join a micro-loan scheme that is paying for my son’s education, which has helped my family a lot.”

As neighbours move around communities distributing natural medicines, connections are made and friendships built with families from both sides. Offering care in times of sickness creates deep and lasting connections based on trust that will open new windows for collaboration.

This project is addressing the very core symptoms of poverty. People are staying healthier, and recovering quicker. Selling medicines is income that benefits the family, making communities more self-sufficient in treating sickness, whilst spending less time on long journeys to hospitals and clinics.

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.

Women’s self-help helps everyone

Limiting women’s power keeps everyone poor – and it also keeps them in conflict. When women are involved in peace processes the likelihood of real, long-term success increases by 20%. And when women have access to income, it’s not just her family that benefit: the whole community does.

This has been the biggest success of our women’s self-help groups. For the last five years our team in Ghana have facilitated women’s groups, a space where women from both sides of the conflict divide can come and discuss their vision for the community.

The biggest project to emerge from these meetings is our Animal Rearing project, where each member of the group started by finding one animal for themselves, building a safe hut to keep it, and ensuring they have a simple system for feeding and giving water to the animal to keep it healthy.

CHIPS then gives each woman in the group two animals (either sheep or goats – whatever they already have) so that each woman can start expanding her herd and developing an animal-rearing business.

As their herds grow, the women each pass on two animals to a new group member, so that a new woman can start this process and eventually all women in the community who want to be involved will be able to keep animals.

But this wasn’t enough: community groups are expanding their mission to meet the needs of all its members. Groups have used our meetings to establish a micro-loans scheme, so that all members can access cash and save money when they need to – and the interest on loans goes back into the pot so that all women benefit.

Women are also farming, using CHIPS help and their neighbours support to work land that they could never have managed before – and this week we get to celebrate that CHIPS help has increased production by 150%.

But it also shows how far the relationships in the community have come – they are trusting their hard-earned money to a former enemy, who is enabling them to build a better and more sustainable future.Communities are bringing themselves out of poverty by trusting in each other.

Once these groups are established and empowered, the women take it in the direction that they want, with many of them using the benefits they gain to help their children to stay in school, to have enough nutritious food, and overall to improve the life of the whole community for a generation to come.