Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The Things We Build

By Megan Prydun, 2nd year MDP student

This morning was one of my most favorite moments to date here in Ghana. We arrived at Kperisi, the community we are working with, early, light gray clouds hanging lazily on the horizon. We were on a mission and it involved dirt, shovels, and cement.

We have been working hard with participants, laying the foundation for a small, community-led development intervention over the past few weeks. This has included countless meetings with community elders and leadership, focus groups, informal discussions, and relationship building activities. There have been significant challenges- logistical, cultural, communication, internal community tension- but there is an amazing process unfolding. These engagements have carved out space for community members to give voice to and identify important development priorities in their lives and co-create the way forward with the limited time and resources available.

One of these community identified priorities is to build a small storage structure to safely house the products women make, in order to expand production, enhance income-generation opportunities, and strengthen the local economy. During one of the focus groups, the women shared a heartbreaking story underlining the need for such a structure. About 5 months ago, a woman was making soap, a popular market item in demand in Wa. She had just mixed the caustic solution, a poisonous liquid ingredient required to create the soap, when she stepped into the house to retrieve something. In her short absence, her 7 year old daughter mistook the solution for something she could drink and swallowed a cup full. Tragically, the little girl died. Since then, the women have stopped making soap in their homes in fear that other children could get hurt. Not only does the community contend with the grief of the situation, but deepened poverty, as ceasing soap making has significantly impacted their income-generating capacity.

With the donation of some incredibly generous Winnipeg friends in my pocket, we purchased cement to begin making the blocks for the structure. The location was chosen by the women, placed next to two giant mango trees where they will do their work. The storage structure is only a few steps away and when it is completed, there will be a safe place standing to keep caustic solution or any other products the women choose. Although this is a small and simple intervention, it is exactly what the community needs. Kperisi has seen a revolving door of students come through the community to fulfill their local educational requirement, with little benefit or result from their time and information sharing. Upon seeing the implications of this type of learning, and Kperisi’s initial hesitation regarding participation, we felt it was very important to leave something of benefit behind from our interaction, even if it is small.
When we arrived at the site, a mountain of sand and a group of youth were waiting for us. The morning was a flurry of activity- youth mixing cement and sand, women pouring water into a large holding drum, leaders clearing the site, and elders pulling up chairs to watch the excitement. The feeling was incredible! Truly empowering and the fruits of what began as a relationship based on reciprocity and mutual learning. We worked until the rains began. Yes, the rains have finally arrived! We raced to cover the bricks already made, with a sheet of plastic, as the sky opened up above us. Although we had to suspend our work, the drops of water felt more like a blessing than an inconvenience.

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