*Published on UMCOR
April 19, 2012—The roads in Kumasi, the second largest city in Ghana, morph from gray pavement to pumpkin-pie-colored dirt in the blink of an eye. They are choked with cars, bikes, and enormous delivery trucks packed with cargo, workmen, logs, or bleating sheep. Women, young men, and children weave in and out of traffic proffering water, dried mangoes, tissues, homemade goodies, and phone cards. The chaotic, dusty, hot scene spins a magical spell and screams, “I am an African City!”
But as soon as we head out of the city, we are bouncing side to side on rutted dirt roads in the 4×4 we borrowed from Bishop Moses Quayson. We are on our way to the village of Jeduako to visit a series of projects that are part of the Sustainable Agriculture and Development program at UMCOR (UMCOR SA&D). I am sitting in the back, the radio blares, Twii conversation pings back and forth, and I am mesmerized by the enormous straight-trunked bako trees we pass. I love the way still unripe mangoes with their long stems hang like Christmas ornaments from tree branches.
I try to snap pictures as we rock on the rutted roads, which have been made worse by recent rain. I notice the crayon-yellow village weaver birds making tiny basket-like nests in branches that hang over lakes and rivers. They dart in and out of our path just long enough for my eye to register their bright color, and then I see a whole host of them, as my guide—and UMCOR trainer—Kofi Saakwah, points out that we are nearing the village.
I see a bright, canary-colored swath moving along the road and quickly realize it is a group of schoolgirls sporting yellow uniforms, their arms linked as they wend their way home.
We arrive in Jeduako, and though the vehicle has stopped, I feel as if I am still swaying, as if I might feel the effects of the jostling and bumping as I fall asleep tonight. As soon as my feet hit the dirt, though, and the village kids clamber over to us, I am filled with the joy and pride of this village. I am ready to hear the stories of beekeeping, animal husbandry, and cooking with soy and Moringa.
We make our way though a group of very little kids and over to a table set up under a mango tree. The farmers taking part in the programs bring plastic chairs and wooden benches, and circle round. At first there are maybe 20 participants at the meeting, but one by one, as farmers rise to tell the story of their hives, the tragic saga of the plague that took their first round of livestock, or the miraculous increase in the health of their children and elders due to the introduction of soy products and the miracle plant Moringa, the crowd expands exponentially. I am overjoyed when the women bring out a big container of soy kabobs to try—they are amazing, a chuck-a-block filled with protein—and I become alert and ready for anything.
The project was begun with micro-loans to farmers chosen by the villagers, without religious affiliation as a prerequisite. The phrase I heard over and over was “We are looking for hard workers, who want to learn and do better.” And they certainly found them. The UMCOR program identifies food scarcity and instability as something to be eradicated through training, awareness of one’s own assets, and finding affordable, local solutions and interventions. And the utilization of a naturally occurring plant like Moringa is truly a godsend. The classes with a para-vet have supplied the needed knowledge to keep herds alive and thriving.
Many farmers also participate in the beekeeping program, which has provided them income they use to send their children to school or to build a new home. Now, the core beekeepers are starting to educate others in the village. There are innovative solar extractors, which program participants use cooperatively to extract honey in a sanitary fashion, thus rendering the honey from Jeduako among the finest in the region. During my visit, Bishop Quayson ordered 30 gallons. Orders like this have allowed the farmers to pay off their loans. This means when one micro-loan is paid off, the funds are made available to another group of farmers and villagers. Churches can play a role as intermediaries to ensure that farmers get a fair price for their products.
In the philanthropy world, there is discussion about the general failure of traditional development grants, with the argument these merely provide funds, but they do not teach or enrich developing populations, thus rendering them less stable, rather than more. The argument continues, saying that as funds wane or disappear, villagers are thrown into worse situations than before.
UMCOR programs stress involvement, learning, and ownership, thus better ensuring continuity long after the initial training was provided. Certainly in Jeduako, the level of commitment, pride, and competency I witnessed is remarkable, and the belief that the fruits of these projects will continue for generations is inescapable.
Your gift to UMCOR SA&D, UMCOR Advance #982188, supports projects like these in Jeduako.