Every Child is Our Child
The UU-UNO has just completed its largest and most successful monitoring trip to its Every Child is Our Child project in Eastern Ghana, May 7-12. The delegation included UUA President, Peter Morales, members of his staff, including the UU-UNO director, Every Child Program Monitor (center), and major donors to this project which empowers women to care for orphan and vulnerable children. The UU-UNO has been in partnership with the Manye Krobo Queen Mothers since 2005. The first day was devoted to introductions. Our first call was on the Paramount Queen Mother.
The Paramount is an elderly and much-venerated leader of the Krobo women who act as guardians of Krobo society and who banded together to care for about 1,095 AIDS orphans and vulnerable children. In the 1960s, British and American aluminum companies built the Akosombo Dam creating Lake Volta, the largest man-made lake in the world in order to generate hydroelectric power for their aluminum factories. Manye Krobo farm land was inundated by the lake displacing the Manye Krobo people onto marginal land. They were not compensated for this devastating displacement. Adult Krobos went into the cities of Ghana and neighboring countries where they contracted HIV/AIDS and died, leaving behind some 3,000 AIDS orphans. It was up to the Queen Mothers to come up with a solution to this problem.They decided to find homes for as many of these children as they could; about 1,095 so far. They adopted some children themselves and some they placed in the homes of extended family or in the families of other residents of the community. When the UU-UNO came to the community in 2005, we asked how we could help. The Queen Mothers said that while they were feeding and clothing the children, they were unable to send them to school or to provide them with national health care cards. So, this is how the UU-UNO agreed to help the Queen Mothers. Today, UU-UNO donors support 95 children to go to school and have national health insurance.
Our next stop was to call on the Deputy Paramount Queen Mother and Every Child is Our Child (ECOC) project director, Esther Nartekie Kpabity.
Esther also assembled the ECOC Advisory Committee, which has had the responsibility to select the beneficiaries and to exercise oversight over the program. The committee is made up of the local social welfare worker, a doctor, a teacher, a school administrator and other prominent citizens. The committee urged the delegation to support more children at the high school level and to found school libraries.
We met with the local office of the Ministry of Education and the administrator of the local hospital where we learned more about health services available to our children. Lastly we met with the Kono (King) of the Manye Krobo people, Nana Sakate II. The Nana Sakate II has studied and taught at Clark University and he is a member of the Ghanaian President’s Education Commission.
The next day was mostly devoted to visiting the schools and getting to know the children. The ECOC project operates in three schools. We went to all three and met all the children. The children we met were bright and curious.
After seeing all aspects of the project on the ground, we spent a day in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, to get the big picture from the U.S. Peace Corps, the American Ambassador, UNICEF and the Ghana AIDS Commission. At the U.S. Peace Corps, we discussed the possibility of getting an American Peace Corps Volunteer stationed in Odumase to help the ECOC children. We have been given an application to fill out and we were told that there is a good possibility to get a volunteer in her or his third year stationed in Odumase. Then we went to see my good friend and former supervisor, Ambassador Donald G. Teitelbaum. Ambassador Teitelbaum gave us a thorough briefing and answered our questions for two and a half hours. As we were leaving many in the delegation said they were proud to be represented by such a knowledgeable and dedicated ambassador.
Our next stop was at UNICEF where we were met by Ambassador Teitelbaum’s wife, Julianna Lindsey who works on child protection issues for UNICEF.
At UNICEF we got a thorough briefing which showed us the great progress Ghana is making on many levels, but also that the progress is very uneven. Some areas are doing very well, while in others, there are many AIDS orphans, such as in the ECOC project area. Food insecurity is greatest in the north. The challenge that Ghanaian governments face is to ensure that the benefits of its economic growth are distributed throughout the country. As the United States faces a national election this Fall, the Ghanaian government also faces another national election at the same time. The current party won by 40,000 votes in a country with a population of 24 million. It is likely that Ghana’s election will be as close and hard fought as ours is likely to be, with the people respecting the outcome in a way similar to the United States. Finally we met with Dr. Richard Amenyah at the Ghana AIDS Commission.
Richard Amenyah is one of the most powerful officials in the very influential Ghana AIDS Commission. He’s been part of the ECOC project since its beginning in 2005. He was part of the original selection committee and currently he co-signs all funds disbursement checks. The UU-UNO supports 95 students in partnership with the Manye Krobo Queen Mothers; the Ghana AIDS Commission supports 1,000. There are about 2,000 other orphans and vulnerable children in the two Krobo districts that need help. Dr. Amenyah confirmed and expanded on the information we heard earlier in the day from the Peace Corps, Ambassador Teitelbaum and UNICEF.
On our last day, we visited two of Ghana’s costal fortresses which were used to export slaves to North America. Both forts began under the Portuguese and began trading in spices and other commodities. Later under the Dutch and British, the slave trade began in earnest. The tour guides took us to dungeons for both male and female slaves. Both forts had churches placed on top of the dungeons with scripture quotations in ironic contrast to the brutality being conducted in God’s name below the places of worship. The tour guides at both fortresses did a very good job of making you feel the pain and horror of what took place in dark corners of these impressive castles. The dungeon pictured below was reserved for African leaders who did not cooperate with the slave trade. They were placed in this dungeon without food or water and left to die. The fortresses were impressive, but we were left in thoughtful sadness for the millions who suffered. Just before heading for the airport, some of us did a bit of shopping.
We learned a lot about Ghana’s past and present. We came to better understand the unique partnership between the UU-UNO donors’ and the Manye Krobo people and their Queen Mothers in Eastern Ghana. I hope we will make more such trips in years to come. Join us in this good work and learn about the children, the Queen Mothers and Ghana. Become a donor and help orphan and vulnerable children get an education and get access to health care.