Much of my time in Tamale has been spent administering a questionnaire to groups of women home-based caregivers from two nearby communities.

These women, mainly without formal education, live in typically large households in which they are responsible for the care of at least one elderly person.

Generally they are still expected to care for their children and provide for the family financially. The aims of the questionnaires are to learn details about the lives and lifestyles of the home-based caregivers, determine their primary needs and decide how best to facilitate change.

Each interview starts with the basic Dagbani greetings.

“Das-ba!”

“Naa.”

Unfortunately my grasp of the language hardly extends further than that. From here on I rely on an interpreter.

“How many children have you given birth to?”

“Ten.”

Just working out the age of one child can take a good 2-3 minutes. Knowing how old your children are just doesn’t seem to be expected the same way it is in England, at least for mothers over a certain age. To make matters even more difficult, the age on the mother’s ID card is very often off by several years – some apparently had their first babies at the age of 6. Sadly it’s rather rare amongst the older caregivers for all their children to be alive.

“Did you have any formal education?”

“No.”

“How happy are you with your current lifestyle?”

“Unhappy.”

Whilst these are the most common responses, they certainly don’t represent everyone. In the very rare case that the caregiver has completed her schooling, we might be able to conduct most of the interview in English.

“What are the three biggest challenges you currently face?”

“Paying my children’s school fees, …”

In some way I am pleased to see how much this comes up, as at least it shows education is considered a priority. Many also complain of lacking the skills and means to generate income, or the difficulties of caring for an elderly person. What I find quite striking, though, is just how quickly the majority are able to come up with an answer to this, quite open-ended, question. I know I’d be hard-pressed to find even one thing that genuinely makes my life difficult in the long term.

“Do you have health insurance?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Can’t afford it.”

For some perspective: registration for a National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) card costs less than £10.

These are only a few of the questions asked and some of the most typical answers – every respondent has their individual story – but they convey, to some degree, the pessimism I can’t help but feel every day in the field. Nonetheless I believe this work to be productive, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in community development in Ghana.

Raz (centre), with Ken Addae, THUHDEG CEO (left) & Ibrahim, a community volunteer (right)
Raz (centre), with Ken Addae, THUHDEG CEO (left) & Ibrahim, a community volunteer (right)

Written by Raz Benson, Go Global participant (August 2015).  Raz was volunteering with THUHDEG.