A donkey and cart, mosquito nets and a few small grinding mills could make a huge difference in the lives of women and children in two small African villages. UBC Okanagan student Vida Yakong hopes to make it happen.
Now in the second year of the Master of Science in Nursing program at UBC Okanagan, Yakong returned to her homeland in northern Ghana over the past summer to conduct research for her master's thesis – examining how women in the country's rural north receive reproductive health care services. While there, she also came up with a way to directly help the communities she was visiting, something this experienced rural nurse loves to do.
The twin villages of Nyobok and Nkenzesi are home to 600 people, and since the 1980s, about 120 women in the Nyobok-Nkenzesi Naanore ("united") Women's Group have gathered to share ideas and support one another in the quest for a better life.
"It was not new to me that women there are economically deprived," said Yakong. "So I met with the women to find out what they could do to help themselves."
Income-generating activities identified by the women included farming, shea nut processing, shea butter extraction, locally trading in groundnuts, beans, rice and other commodities, and rearing animals such as goats, sheep, chickens and guinea fowl.
"One of the big problems they have is the distance to market from their villages," said Yakong. "If they had a donkey and a cart, they could carry foodstuffs to market."
The nearest grinding mill is 10 km. from the villages. "If we could get two portable mills for each community, they could use them to grind millet or process shea nuts, without having to travel great distances," Yakong explained.
A priority this summer was helping the women organize transportation for any goods donated from overseas. "When people donate and have things shipped to Ghana, the Red Cross will get the delivery from the harbour to the community free of charge -- but only for groups registered with the Red Cross," Yakong said. "Registration costs 30 or 40 cents a month. It seems so little here, and it is so big there. That amount of money is something impossible."
Her short-term solution was to put up the money herself. "It is done now for one group for six months," she said. "With some fundraising, we will be able to register more groups."
But Yakong hopes to do much more for the villages, helping their residents help themselves. She wants to raise $40,000 for the Women's Group Empowerment project, to assist the women in starting or expanding their own small-scale businesses. The plan, developed in consultation with the women of the two villages, would pay for:
- Six donkeys and carts (one for each of six groups)
- A small herd of 20 goats and sheep
- Passport-sized photos of the group leaders so they can open bank accounts for their groups
- Seed money for opening bank accounts
- A pair of grinding mills and small milling sheds for each village
- Red Cross registration for six groups (groups are capped at 20 people each)
- Individual loans of $250 to 100 women
"If we are able to get a donkey and cart, it could be used to sent patients to the clinic," she notes. There's only one road to the region's health clinic and that road is frequently flooded. "If you cannot walk, there's no way," said Yakong. "How is a pregnant women going to sit on a bicycle to get to the clinic?"
The project also calls for 120 mosquito nets for the villagers. "What quickly kills children and particularly pregnant women is malaria," she said. Mosquito nets, a primary defence against the insect-transmitted disease, were being provided by UN organizations, but the need is much greater than the supply. "It's impossible to get one for everybody in the country."
Yakong is also helping the villages improve access to education for their children. "It can be 10 or 15 kilometers to the nearest school," she said. "Children at age six cannot walk that far, so they wait until they are 10 years old or so."
Yakong saw this situation in the twin villages, and worked with volunteers to build a makeshift schoolhouse in the community. "The community was supposed to contribute to the teacher every month – about six dollars a month. I took on that responsibility. Unfortunately, the teacher died and the whole thing came to a standstill."
Recently, the government provided a teacher and constructed a new school building. "In the near future, we will have educated children. It feels good to contribute something to the community," said Yakong. "I see these women with so much enthusiasm for changing their lives, but they have no way. It has been a big dream for me to one day do this."
The twin villages received a shipment of books, pencils and other supplies from a team of UBC Okanagan nursing students who traveled to Ghana last February. "The whole village was happy to have them," said Yakong.
Project GROW to Support Women's Economic Opportunities in Ghana
Vida Yakong's work in Ghana has prompted students and staff at UBC Okanagan to establish Project GROW (Ghana Rural Opportunities for Women).
"Vida's passion and commitment that inspired Project GROW to work with her to achieve the long-term goal of raising the $40,000," said Phil Bond, Manager of UBC Okanagan's Learning Exchange and one of Project GROW's founders.
"After seeing Vida's pictures of carts, goats, and of the women we would be helping, and after hearing the impact this would have on the wider community, it was an easy decision to sign on," said Bond. "In reality, this is a doable project -- less than $10 a person from the UBC Okanagan Community and the project would be complete."
Project GROW plans many opportunities for the UBC Okanagan and the greater Okanagan community to participate in the project. "People will be able to participate in a penny harvest. They can purchase a goat as a charitable donation on behalf of someone during the Christmas season. Larger items such as donkeys and carts can be purchased by organizations," Bond notes.
"The best part is, Vida will be able to follow these donations through to their destination and share with her colleagues here the very real impact of this fundraising effort."
Banquet to Raise Funds for Rural Nursing in Ghana
Next February, a group of 24 UBC Okanagan fourth-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing students will travel to northern Ghana, Africa, taking with them medications, paediatric equipment, laptop computers, books, and school supplies.
To raise funds, the transcultural nursing students and faculty are holding a benefit banquet on Saturday, Nov. 24, at St. Pius X Hall, 1077 Fuller Ave. in Kelowna.
The evening includes an Italian dinner, live Latin jazz entertainment by Trevor Salloum and Major Mambo, a silent auction, door prizes, and a presentation by the Ghana Sisters -- nurses who visited Ghana last spring.
Tickets for the Nov. 24 fund-raiser banquet are available in advance for $30. Contact Carolan Henry at 250-869-2601 or Kelley Morrissey at 250-869-7423. The team is also calling for silent auction items, medical and education supplies for Ghanaian clinics and hospitals, and cash donations that will be applied to specific health-care projects identified by Ghanaian communities.
If you'd like to support the team with a donation, contact them at Ghanaemail@example.com or call Morrissey or Henry at the above numbers.
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