Thursday, May 5, 2016

Life in Bolgatanga: A Paradigm Shift

One will wonder how habitable a place experiencing drought, adverse climate condition with little or no established infrastructure will be! Growing up in one of the well developed part of Ghana where I had access to all social amenities that would make life comfortable and worth living, I saw myself as lucky as opposed to my other fellows staying in the Northern part of Ghana who supposedly live in abject poverty. Questions about how I will survive a 12 weeks stay in Bolgatanga during my ICS volunteer journey occupied about the whole of my thought. I reluctantly took up the challenge with the hopes of running off at the first hit of anything that made me uncomfortable. 

A serene view of Vea, one of the communities ICS volunteers work in.

Bolgatanga has a settlement population of 66,685 people; about 100 miles to the north of Tamale. Lying in the Red Volta River Valley (which serves as a major migration route of elephants) and yeah not to mention how genuinely hot it gets, none the less my perception has changed! Interestingly not only did the natural environment where you see mama pig walking happily with her dozen of piglets to having a beautiful sunset while we have our daily cool off exercise but most importantly how happy, engaging and lively the craft groups we work with are. After about five weeks on placement, I must say for a fact that the inhabitants of Bolga are generous, friendly and welcoming- this place is definitely a home away from home. 

One of the basket weaver at Dundubiisi teaching Balchisu an ICS volunteer the welcome dance

The baskets popularly known as “Bolga Baskets” are exclusively woven by the indigenous Gurune (FraFra) people in and around Bolgatanga. Basket weaving amongst several other craft making activity has being a major income generating alternative to farming in Upper Eastern part of the Ghana. The soil in the area is not fertile enough for extensive agriculture activities, coupled with having an ergative rainfall pattern and generally harsh weather condition. As a result, craft activities such as basket weaving, leather work and fabric weavers are undertaken mostly by women to supplement their income since they are primarily substance farmers. These vulnerable women through the help of TradeAid Integrated – the partner organization we’re working with – have formed groups with its mission of assisting each other to earn good income to care for their children and the entire family. They believe when women can create income, it will in turn transcend to catering for the home. Thus, promoting the self-esteem of the women as well as boosting the economy.

A basket weaver at Sumbrungu with her Son during a community visit.

This is what I call a revolution were women are no longer seen as the largest vulnerable group but given the opportunity to reach their maximum potential. Bolgatanga women have not been left out of this global change, as steadily our work as ICS volunteers in partnership with TradeAid under the Integrated Community Empowerment (INCOME) project has given these women an enabling environment to thrive well in society. Despite the several challenges these women have made themselves local change agents with joy and a contagious smile on their faces all adding up to the global percentage of change identified. You do not have to volunteer on the ICS project and have a firsthand experience like me; you do not have to struggle through the hassles of finding a home away from home, and definitely not have a rush of blood presuming how you will survive living in a rather dreaded place to visit in Ghana. You only have to be the change you want to see in the world. Let go of that stereotype, allow yourself the opportunity no matter how insignificant it may seem to make a shift – a leap shift to the positive!

A basket weaver at Dundubiisi coaching Caitlin, an ICS Volunteer on how to weave a basket
Blogger: Nana Ferguson
Photo Credit: Mireille Kouyo and Katherine O'Donnell

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