January 11-12, 2006 – Ghana
Read about Jonathan Reckford’s other trips in Africa
January 13-16, 2006 –South Africa
Jonathan Reckford experiences the hospitality of Ghanaian homeowners and shares in their joy over what Habitat for Humanity is doing in their country.
The path toward home: More than 4,000 Ghanaian families now know what it is like to live in decent housing.
I had never been to Africa before setting out on this journey. But I had long dreamed of visiting this continent of diverse nations and cultures. The proud and progressive West African nation of Ghana is a fitting first stop.
My flight from the United States arrived into the capital city Accra in the dark of the evening, so my first glimpse of Africa would have to wait until the next day. But the wait was not long. At 6 a.m., I joined Matthew Maury, Habitat for Humanity area vice president for Africa and the Middle East; Emile Namsemon-N’koa; HFH regional director for West and Central Africa; Emmanuel Kwaa, HFH Ghana national director; and Alexander Adu, HFH Ghana board chair, to drive west toward the country’s Central Region.
As we drove out of Accra, the landscape began to change. We left behind the busy city streets lined with office buildings and traffic lights and began to catch a glimpse of rural life. The experience was new, but I sensed a familiarity. I was struck by the common ways of going about one’s day that I had seen in many other countries around the world: small kiosks along the sides of the road, peddlers in the streets, women walking to the markets carrying goods to sell, and children walking hand-in-hand along the roads on their way to school. Even the red clay ground reminded me of the rusty Georgian soil. Yet, sadly, it was the pervasive poverty that seemed most familiar from other visits to countries with large percentages of their population living below the poverty line.
As the drive continued, I also began to notice the many things about Ghana that make it special and so loved by all who visit: the beautiful smiles on the faces of the children, the colorful dresses worn by the women, and what seemed to be a general sense of joy among the people in the streets. And out of Ghana’s red soil grew grand old and twisted baobab trees and tropical lush vegetation that one could never find in my new home state of Georgia.
It was fitting that our first stop was in the Assin Nyankumasi community in the Central Region, the birthplace of Habitat for Humanity Ghana. It was here, in 1988, that the first Habitat for Humanity house was built in Ghana. We were welcomed by the affiliate manager, along with affiliate committee members and 18 years’ worth of Habitat homeowners from around the area, including the local village chief.
The highlight was meeting Bernard Botwe and his wife Joanna. They, along with their children Harry and Gifty, were the first partner family and lived in Habitat Ghana’s first house. Today – 18 years after their humble beginnings in their simple, decent home – Bernard is an administrator at a hospital, rising in his career.
“The Habitat home changed our lives,” Bernard told me. He also said he now helps other families to move into Habitat homes. And although they have moved to another home closer to his work, their Habitat house stays in the family. “I will always keep our Habitat house,” he said. “It reminds me of where I started.”
Bernard and Joanna exemplify exactly what Habitat is all about: changing lives so people can rise out of poverty, yet always remembering to look back and help those who continue to need support.
And there are many such people in Ghana. Approximately 39.5 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. In rural areas, it is 49.9 percent.
Mr. Alexander Adu, chairman of Habitat for Humanity Ghana board of directors, made an eloquent plea for the world’s attention to this growing crisis. “The tsunami in Asia and hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the United States have revealed touching realities across the world that are often ignored either because of lack of media coverage, lack of interest, or a combination of both,” he said. “Natural and man-made disasters are daily occurrences in Africa and yet it receives less attention. We reconfirm our support to you to advocate on behalf of Africa. People will continue to live a difficult and unstable life until they have a decent place to live.”
His words touched me deeply. Continuing on our drive north into the Ashanti region, I witnessed first-hand the immense need, along with the enormous potential. Perhaps any of those whom we saw eking out a living along the way could rise, like Bernard, to great heights. They simply need a hand up.
This was my wish for the Kankam family, who received the keys to their new Habitat house on the day of my visit. Last year, Habitat for Humanity Ghana celebrated the completion of its 4,000th Habitat house, and they are well on their way to reaching 5,000. The Kankam house will inch the number near 4,500!
The Kankams’ house is in the village of Nkwantakese near Kumasi in Ashanti. As we neared the village, we were greeted by a boisterous and jubilant crowd; some standing on the narrow dirt road and others standing in the bed of a pickup truck holding brass instruments and a drum. Before I had a chance to ask who they were, the music began! Suddenly, our car was part of a small but joyful brass band procession. The musical truck and our two cars, surrounded by a host of people from the village dancing and singing to the music, then slowly made our way the mile or so further down the road to the site of the dedication. Their joy, enthusiasm and excitement were contagious! It was a wonderful experience, made even more wonderful when I finally met Kwabena and Anita Kankam and their beautiful children Edward, Bernard and Evelyn and helped them cut the ribbon on their new Habitat home.
Over the years, Habitat Ghana has built a community of 213 homes in Nkwantakese, which also has a small clinic and a pre-school. And it truly is a community. As the sun began to set we walked through the neighborhood, past well-manicured lawns and children playing soccer in the streets. It filled my heart to see our mission being lived out in this village, knowing that the Kankam children’s lives will be different because they will grow up in a safe and decent environment. And my life is different for having met them and being just a small part of improving their future.
We quickly moved from the very local to the national scale, meeting with the U.S. Ambassador to Ghana and the Ghanaian Minister of Housing. We were pleased to get strong affirmations of Habitat’s work from each of them, with Ambassador Bridgewater promising to open doors with the American multinationals and the Minister of Housing offering public support, partnership and land to support our ministry.
My time in the country was much too short, and I will certainly be back. Until then, I am confident that Habitat for Humanity Ghana and its supporters will continue to be hope bringers to the people of this beautiful country so that every man woman and child has a decent place to live.