In meeting with the volunteers at their places of work, I went to primary schools which were largely in disrepair and needing urgent assistance. Most of the schools I visited simply would not be permitted to operate in the UK. Some lacked toilets and playgrounds and others had structural cracks in the building so severe that the school closed on rainy days for fear of collapsing. I was particularly shocked by a small EYU room with 90 kids and one teacher. The Tzedek volunteer was in charge of a class of 60 kids as the teacher didn’t show that day. At every school, children received lunch which for some of them was their only meal of the day.
In a visit to one of the villages miles from the city, we met a group of women who joined together to start a small business of producing Shea Butter and rice. The village’s water source was 3 miles away, and the women walked there daily carrying the jugs on their heads. Many of the children in the village had protruding bellies due to malnourishment. Too many of the village children that I saw under the age of five were lethargic due to their inadequate diet and just sat still. I couldn’t help but reflect about my own children who are normally busy, energetic and running about. UNICEF estimates that 22,000 children die of poverty daily.
Another volunteer was a medical student who had a placement at Shekhinah Medical clinic. The Hebrew name and sign on the gate with the large Star of David on the building filled me with pride. He reflected how in the UK he never saw the advanced stage of illnesses which was so common in the clinic. His teachers and supervisors told him, “It would be extremely rare, in the UK, to see these conditions at such an advanced stage.” Those attending only came to the doctor when the need was severe and much needed. There was no money for blood tests, MRI or other scans, so treatment commenced based on their best prediction of diagnosis.
I discovered that in the rural areas of Ghana, it is more common that girls don’t receive an education. It is the father’s responsibility to fund education for the children, and in some cases, the father decides the girls will eventually get married and move away from the home. Whereas the boys will get married and bring a wife to the home. Sadly, some girls don’t get the chance to go to school. I visited with another volunteer who contributed her time and effort to a women’s adult vocational school. This particular programme gave women otherwise uneducated a chance to gain employment with practical skills such as: ICT, dressmaking and hairdressing.
Since I was a child doing school reports in Geography, I’ve been aware of extreme poverty in the world. However, I experienced a profound difference between reading, seeing pictures, viewing videos and actually going to Africa to witness the challenges and extreme poverty facing 1.3 billion people who live on less than $1.25 (US) per day.
Next Week: Rabbi Michael’s concludes and discusses the links between his experiences and Jewish teachings.
To find out more about volunteering in Ghana, please visit: http://tzedek.org.uk/volunteering/the-ghana-project/