The last month has contained a dizzying amount of activity – so much so that there was rarely a time to step out of it to reflect upon what this entire project means to both me and the community with whom I’ve been working. Last night though, all of this activity came to an end. The loose ends of the three projects have been tied up, I’ve taken my last photographs, and have said “sai anjuma” (see you later in Hausa) to my partner GHCT and the community members that have become dear friends. While initially I had wanted to use this blog post as a platform for these reflections and next steps, I’ve realized I need more time to let this summer’s work steep. Instead, I would like to use this entry as a “month in review” – to touch on what we accomplished over this month and the impact it has had on the community. More important than words, the dominant component of this blog will be the photographs as they tell the story better than I ever could. Here we go:
Before beginning any of our work, it is tradition in the Zongo community to meet with the elders, primarily the Chief Imam and the Chief Zongo. Only after their blessings, would we be able to begin work. In addition to these meetings, we also met with other local stakeholders such as our community partner (The Ghana Heritage Conservation Trust), The Oguaa Traditional Council, and the Municipal Government.
One of the first items on the agenda after these meetings, was to evaluate last year’s rainwater collection system implementation – what worked, what didn’t and what needed improvement. This process took far longer than we had thought, but it turned into a wonderful way to reconnect with the community members.
We also held an opening ceremony/workshop during which we discussed this year’s plans and asked for community input. The community praised us for last year’s efforts on the rainwater collections systems and expressed a strong desire that we continue this year. In addition, there was a lot of support for a training workshop in which community members would be taught a skill that could then turn into a business. While we provided a number of options, soap-making was the overwhelming favorite.
At the same time as we prepared for the rainwater collection installation for 15 more houses, we also worked with a local soap-maker to organize a series of workshops for the residents. We decided to make both powdered and bar soap. These workshops ended up being a huge success and the residents even decided on their own trademark: Zongo soap! After Radadan comes to a close in early August, there will be a follow-up business workshop sponsored by GHCT in which the trainees will learn how to create a business and sustain it.
As if rainwater collection systems and soap-making wasn’t enough, we also wanted to work with the younger generation at the Quranic school to teach about the importance of water. We ended up developing a series of workshops in which we first, read them existing folktales about water, second, had them illustrate these stories, and third, worked with them to write and illustrate their own folktale! On our last day (yesterday) we gave each child his/her own copy of the book. We hope to also publish the book in the States and give all of the proceeds back to the school.
Last night, I asked one of the older children what the younger kids thought about the book. He grinned and said, “This is the breaking news in the Zongo! All of the children will let everyone know about this. Even this afternoon, I went back and lots of adults and kids were all huddled around a single book reading it. This will truly change things.” Though my final thoughts will come at a later date, I just want to emphasize the importance of these smaller scale engagements such as those with the children. Even though the NGO world is so focused on making immediate visible change that can be replicated in mass quantities, it is these highly personalized, creative acts that have made the most difference in empowering the Zongo Community. And, I believe it is these acts that will translate to the large, visible change later on; Creativity and Patience must lead the way.