In January 2015 I sat on a bench in a shade near the Baptist Church in Tarkpaa, near Tamale in the Northern Region, with two of the young men who were part of the initiation of World Vision’s work in the community in 1982. I had not seen them for nearly 2 decades. They commented on the grey hair that was all over my head. I reminded them that it was nearly 26 years since I first came to the community. I was impressed to see the changes in that community. Shops were selling secondhand clothes and a dressmaker displayed the products in another shop. An impressive 500 gallon overhead water reservoir stood nearby. More importantly for me, the borehole that was constructed by the Ghana Rural Water Project (GRWP) in 1986, stood proudly in place with women pumping out clean and safe water and carrying their containers home. I asked my two friends to tell me the number of community members who had guinea worms. After a very long laugh, one of them said children less than 15 years in this community do not know about guinea worm.
This brought back memories of January 1982. I was sitting in this same community with my mentor Rev. Abu Mahama. We were sitting in front of the Community Chief and several members of the community and discussing the most pressing needs that required development intervention. Among the list included potable water, medicine to deal with the prevalence of guinea worm that rendered people unable to work on their farms, particularly during the rainy season. I tried to explain that the prevalence of guinea worm is directly related to the continuous use of water from the pond nearby. The whole group burst into laughter. One of them turned to me and pointed at the visible blood vessels on his hand and told me confidently that this is guinea worm. He explained that every human being has guinea worm and that for some people it will develop into the swelling and exit the body. For others, this may never happen. This simply showed that I was a young naïve young man trying to throw the dust into their eyes. When I asked for the number of people in the community who were suffering from guinea worm the people scratched their heads and told me that it was easier to count the number of people who did not have any guinea worm and they managed to count about eight people from specific houses. This was very distressing. In the rainy season, many people got swellings in different parts of the body that burst and guinea worms were extracted. The most distressing case for me was the appearance of the worm from the scrotum of one person.
The water situation in the community was very difficult. Women walked 2 to 4 km distances to fetch water from what could only be described as a pond. The water was carried in metal containers of about 100 to 150 Litres. The sight of the water was not anything anybody would like to drink. The water looked like tea with a little amount of milk – brownish and milky. From the source of the water, the women would normally put it into a big pot and then drop some allum into it that would settle the mud and make it look deceptively clear. This treatment only left the water looking clean but not safe for drinking. I waited patiently for an opportunity to prove my point and this took more than four years. Finally, the drilling team of World Vision arrived in Tamale in grand style. This community was one of the beneficiaries of the drilling project. About 26 years down the line, the most dreaded guinea worm had disappeared. This was one huge fruit of the expansion and growth that took place in World Vision in the 1980s.
To enhance the sustainability of the water projects, several teams were sent out to the projects in a carefully thought out sequence that resulted in community ownership of the boreholes and continuous maintenance of the pumps. The teams included the community mobilization team, the geophysical studies team, the borehole drilling team, the pump installation team and maintenance teams etc. The community was left with a water management committee and a pump maintenance team that had been trained by World Vision.
This narrative from Tarkpaa brings up the debate among development workers about whether external ideas and resources are necessary for the development of any community. The people of Tarkpaa were trapped in the false belief that guinea worm had nothing to do with the source of their water. Whether they would ever have come out of this belief without external ideas and resources is an interesting debate for the academics.
The introduction of the audit team as part of the growth of World Vision International in Ghana yielded fruits in different forms. In the first place, the work of the organization required the transfer of substantial amounts of money and other resources to project communities. This required a certain level of management of resources for effective results and to sustain the development process. The auditors worked hard to bring together people from the communities with or without any knowledge of accounting at all and built their capacity in basic bookkeeping and financial management. They also communicated the principles of probity and accountability as part of basic Christian living. The auditors spent several days and weeks in very rural communities sometimes travelling in very rugged conditions. I remember travelling with Emmanuel Osekre from projects at very odd hours of the day. On one such occasion, I drove through a flock of wild guinea fowls that were crossing the road and killed one of them that we brought back home for a meal.
The training of project workers in basic bookkeeping brought a huge improvement to the financial reporting by project communities. It also enabled project managers and project coordinators from World Vision to take their hands off project audits and focus on the supervision of other project activities. Emmanuel Osekre remembers three people who received capacity building in bookkeeping and financial management going further to acquire professional qualifications in this area and become gainfully employed.
In order to enhance increased food production and ensure food security, Agricultural Extension Officers were recruited. The main task was to go and support community farmers to cultivate food crops using modern agricultural techniques, and link this to the wider development agenda of the community. George Kumahlor, one of the Agricultural Extension Officers recounts his story from a community in the Volta region. During one of his visits to the community, he discovered the farm of a young man who cultivated commercial non-food crops. The young man claimed that cultivating food crops did not yield any benefits. George challenged him and other young people in the community to destroy the non-food crops and cultivate any food crops of their choice. He was prepared to guide them through scientific agricultural practices to produce and meet production targets the farmers would set. The young people in the community decided to cultivate maize. With the approved maize seeds, planting in rows, maintaining the correct distances between plants, weeding at the right time, and application of the right types of fertilizers in the right quantities and at the right time, the young people harvested more than three times their own estimated targets. This simple intervention turned agricultural production in the community around. Young people bought corn mills and built new houses. Their contribution to development in the community became very significant. This was a major fruit of the growth of World Vision International.
In August 2020 I listened to the stories of Baba Al Hassan and Comfort Sulemana with a lot of interest. Baba is a pastor of the Assemblies of God Church in Sowutuom, Accra. He recounts the evening in 1984/85 when he was a child. He was with the rest of the family shelling groundnuts. The new teacher in the village of Zangbalung Yipielgu, near Kumbungu in the Northern Region, came to the house to enrol one or two children from the family to the school that had been constructed with support from World Vision International. His father looked around and pointed at him and told the teacher to write the name of this child called Baba. “He is very frail and it’s not strong enough to farm for me”. His mother broke down in tears because her child was going to be sent to school. Today Baba has a first degree from the University Of Cape Coast, is the Head Pastor of a church and the main breadwinner of the family.
In the case of Comfort Sulemana, also from Yipielgu, going to school was not as complicated as that of Baba. Her father was a pastor in the community and knew the value of education. She now works mobilizing funds for a rural bank in Tamale. From the Yipielgu community primary and junior secondary schools, she went to Dalong Senior High School and later trained in Tamale Polytechnic. She now has a qualification in Accounting. I am told of Abubakar Ibrahim, a graduate of the University of Development Studies (UDS) in Tamale, from the same Yipielgu community, who is also currently teaching in a senior high school in Tamale.
I drove into Yipielgu in 1984 following a signboard to the church and this was the genesis of the project in the community. As in the case of the three examples from Yipielgu, there are several examples of the products of these schools all over the country in responsible private and public sector jobs. A young man studying for a diploma in monitoring and evaluation gave the growth of the day nursery that was started in 1988 in Bulpiela, a suburb of Tamale, as an example of successful community development work by World Vision. This was in the Ghana Institute of Management in Public Administration (GIMPA). After the lecture one of his colleagues approached him and said: “I am a product of that school in Bulpiela”. By the time I left World Vision in 1994, the organization had constructed educational infrastructure in at least 20 communities in Northern Ghana and more than 100 in Southern Ghana.
The work of the health and nutrition team had a major impact in project communities where they vaccinated children against the six killer diseases including Measles, Poliomyelitis, Whooping Cough, Diptheria, Yellow Fever, Chicken Pox. Through their guidance, World Vision supported communities to construct health infrastructure. In the north, I remember the construction of clinics in about 10 communities at the time I was leaving the organization. I visited one of these clinics in 2015 and found out that it was now operating as a health centre manned by a qualified Medical Assistant.
The Communications department played a major role in telling the rest of the world what World Vision was doing in rural communities. By 1994, when I left the organization, the department was producing periodic newsletters. These newsletters provided stories of success in rural communities for the donor community. They also produced photographs of project activities for Ghanaian visitors at the World Vision offices.
The growth in ICT saw the transition from manual typewriters to electric typewriters and then to computers. By 1994 all managers were computer literate, equipped with laptop computers and able to write their reports. This enabled the staff of the organization to stay in step with evolving technological advancement.
Through the consistent recruitment, training and capacity building of staff World Vision in Ghana. The Ghana office became a major human resource reservoir for the rest of Africa and indeed the world at large. This became so entrenched that in the year 2007 after the retirement of one of the auditors, Emmanuel Osekre, he was still invited to work for the organization in Haiti. I have counted more than 20 former staff of World Vision Ghana who moved on to play leadership roles in other World Vision offices and other development organizations outside Ghana.
The inclusion and growth of the Evangelism and Leadership Department of World Vision bore fruits in church growth in the communities where we worked. The E and L Assistance organized a series of pastors’ conferences that built the capacity of church leaders in planning, organizing and implementing Bible study and prayer programs in their churches. This facilitated the process of enabling church members in the communities to establish a firm grounding in Scripture and the understanding of their faith. The process further enhanced church growth leading to the same churches opening new branches in the same community to cope with the growth in numbers.
I must say here that the original Christian position of World Vision International as an organization and World Vision International in Ghana was one reason for the significant impact in development in the country. Development was seen as a holistic ministry that engaged and was concerned about the spiritual and physical well-being of the person in the community. This approach is rooted in Luke chapter 4 verse 6 (insert verse). “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free”
In 1993 and 1994, I worked closely with Emmanuel Opong and Victor Adom to re-focus the development approach of World Vision to go beyond infrastructure development and facilitate community transformation. After working with the community of Oku junction, World Vision supported the community to construct a Primary School building. The events leading to the opening of that structure and subsequent events is one of the best demonstrations of community transformation I have seen in my development career. Oku Junction is located in the Afram Plains of the Asante region. One has to climb the Mampong Scarp all the way to Ejura and drive down the mountain to the Afram Plains and then pack the cars and take a canoe to the other side of the eastern side of Volta River. On this particular occasion, I was taken by the operations and technical support team of World Vision to Ejura to pass the night. The following day we drove for 3 1/2 hours to get to the river. We provided a car to bring the District Chief Executive to the project community.
The opening ceremony of the school was a spectacular fanfare. There were speeches by the community leaders, a representative of World Vision International and finally District Chief Executive. The community leaders observed that since independence in 1957 this was the first time a high-ranking government official at the level of a District Chief Executive had come to the community. The only government officials that came to the community were tax collectors and officials coming to take population census. After the opening ceremony, the community leaders requested a face-to-face meeting with the District Chief Executive in the absence of World Vision staff. They compelled the District Chief Executive to make available a Grader from the district and Civil Engineers and they as a community will provide the funding for the construction of a road from Ejura to the River. As a result of this initiative within six months, it was possible to go from Ekura to Oku Junction in 40 minutes instead of 3 1/2 to 4 hours. This was an actual demonstration of bringing the community members as rights holders to meet government officials who are duty bearers to discuss development issues. The transformation of the community from passive receivers of aid to active rights holders who actively involved every member of the community in their development and actively claimed their rights from duty bearers is one of the best fruits of the growth of World Vision International.
The Women In Development (WID) team organized workshops that brought women together to build their capacity to engage in cottage industries and earn money for their families. The skills learnt included food processing such as the processing of cassava to gari, bead making, the dyeing of cloth to make batik materials, processing of greens to produce blended highly nutritious flour for children. These were called Income Generating Activities(IGA), a term I have never liked. I preferred to call them small business ventures because the absence of a business mind does not help in the profit-making of such ventures. Most of the women in World Vision Ghana enthusiastically got involved in these activities independent of their jobs in the organization.
I have learnt that NGOs in Africa must see themselves only as facilitators of the development process. As facilitators, they will need to bring resources. NGOs can never replace governments in the country. All that they need to do is support the government as duty bearers with resources and ideas and support communities as rights holders with resources and ideas and leave the development process to the two. The infrastructure and resources put at the disposable of the communities where World Vision had projects have all been handed over to District Assemblies as duty bearers to enable them to continue the facilitation of development in these communities. World Vision also initiated the higher-level planning process for districts that engaged government ministries, departments and agencies, the private sector, civil society organizations and other stakeholders in the development of district plans. The evolution of development paradigms continue and every NGO is seeking to do their best in fighting poverty.
My next blog will be subtitled Adventures in Project Management in Kenya. I am aware of comments coming on the blog. Even though I might not respond to these comments directly I will put up new posts and topics that will address some comments.