The NGO Operation In The North â€“ A Time To Change The Course
2005-12-27 18:52:23This article has been read 1041 times.â€œChange has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better.â€ (King Whitney Jr.)
The Non-Governmental Organisation community has been operating in the Northern parts of Ghana for God knows how long. I believe time is apt to take stock of their activities to determine whether the approach to development so far has been helpful and whether it is time to change tactic.
A few decades ago, the perception was that, Northern Ghana, especially the Northern Region had been unduly influenced by Islam to a point where majority of the people did not appreciate the need for western education. Hence efforts were targeted at encouraging parents to send their children, both boys and girls to school. Soon, reality was to confront those who took their children to school, that education was a long and lonely road, full of payments for all kinds of things, ranging from school uniforms to furniture. This reality compelled many to make difficult choices; the choice to educate the boy-child at the expense of the girl-child. It was a difficult choice. But like every rational being, the poor parents had to weigh their options in the face of limited resources and the result is the yawning gap we have between male and female literacy rates in northern Ghana. I hasten to add though, that this is a country-wide phenomenon.
But over the years, gradually it has dawned on us that the problem of education or the lack of it in the north is primarily a problem of poverty. I believe by now that, everyone in Ghana, and indeed in the north knows how important it is to educate their children. Some have made strenuous sacrifices to ensure that their children have access to this fundamental asset of life.
The NGO community have done their own side of the equation. In all corners of the three northern regions, foreign and local non-governmental organisations are jostling for space to help deprived communities in both rural and peri-urban communities to secure a meaningful future for their children. While some, such as RAINS/Camfed and World Vision International are engaged in the direct provision of educational and allied materials to schools and communities, others such as the Catholic Relief Services concentrate on providing refresher programmes for teachers and feeding for pupils. And yet others such as Management Aid, are engaged in micro-finance activities aimed at providing sustainable sources of livelihood for families. All these efforts are commendable. Indeed, the NGO community has contributed significantly to the economy of the north, even by way of employment for a few graduates and other professionals.
That said, I believe that it is time the NGO community sat down to rethink their programmes through. Of course, I am mindful of the fact that, the provision of education and other social amenities is within the remit of the state. However, once they have agreed to help, then it is for us to make inputs as to how best to confront the myriad of social problems confronting our people.
In my view, the NGO community will make a better impact by redirecting more of their resources into income generation activities aimed specifically at creating jobs and ending the chronic poverty in the area. For instance, if all the NGOs operating in the north, from Action Aid to RAINS and from Action on Disability and Development to Basic Needs, would set aside ten per cent of their annual budgets into a fund over five years. That will be a significant amount to invest in a shea butter processing plant in the north. Such a factory can then be replicated in other regions of the north to add value to the shea product for the local and export markets. I have strong faith in the potential of that industry to turn the economy of the north around. It will create jobs for many, because its processing is labour intensive. Then parents will have the means to adequately cater for their own kids. Nothing is more painful than the guilt of being unable to cater for oneâ€™s children. Indeed there are other areas of great income generation potentials such us teak tree planting, rice farming etc.
Having ever worked in the NGO environment myself, I appreciate this is a difficult proposal, in terms of donor priorities and funding restrictions. But that is exactly why we need some radical proposals. The conservative hand-to-mouth kind of proposals that concentrate on providing basic school needs will not help the situation in the long term. And woe betides us if donor fatigue should set in, in these days of atrocious suicide attacks, apocalyptic natural disasters and weakening global economies.
Well, this is my view. If on the other hand the NGOs decide to continue on the old course of providing schools, uniforms and stationery, let them remember to include Libraries so that even where the schools have not enough teachers, the few available teachers will, at least, supervise the children to learn in the libraries.
I have great respect for the role of the NGOs in Northern Ghana, and I doff my hat for them. But I just have a gut feeling that they can do a lot more by simply shifting focus a little.
by: Mohammed Gausu
C/o Buipewuraâ€™s palace