It all started with David Attenborough. He was the one who made me aware of a world far beyond County Down, where wildebeest roamed and lions prowled. As a child I dreamt about going to Africa. To me it seemed the most exotic place imaginable, the name conjured up images of vast plains, torrential rains and dusty red earth. It was about survival of the fittest in the animal kingdom.
Looking back on it it’s strange to think that I knew more about the difficulties faced by animals in Africa than I did about the people living there. The documentaries I watched focused on food shortages, droughts, changeable weather conditions and territorial disputes – of animals.
Now I am actually here in Accra, Ghana but I’m more concerned with the issues facing the Ghanian people, especially those living in poverty.
I wasn’t thinking poverty when I first arrived though. Having worked in communications for a bank in my former life, I do have an unfortunate tendency to notice billboard advertising and bank advertising in particular. I didn’t think that my first impression of Africa was going to be the 7 bank billboards that I saw when I got off the plane. In that respect Accra is no different to any other international airport.
As my Ghanian colleagues explained to me today, Ghana may be a lower middle income country but there are many people living in poverty and in very difficult circumstances. Over the next 9 days I will get the opportunity to see some of them when I visit our partners and talk to the communities that we are working with. You can be guaranteed that these are not the type of customers that the banks in Accra are targetting.
I have the pleasure of visiting these communities along with Rev Heather Morris, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland and her husband Neil (my official photographer!).
I think Heather would agree when I say that the women of Ghana have made a big impression on us both already, in the few hours that we have been here. Our posture has improved. We are now standing taller and sitting up straighter. We have seen women strolling nonchalantly along the road carrying huge baskets and trays on their head filled with all sorts of things. They simply roll up a piece of cloth and place it on their head for balance and then they pile everything on top of it. They look so strong and yet graceful and elegant. It would appear that you could drive to work in Accra and do a full grocery shop on the way without having to get out of your car. We even saw someone selling bathroom scales and kitchen clocks.
Tomorrow we fly to Sunyani. I don’t think I need to wheel my case anymore, I can just pop it on my head.