By Maria Johnson
On Sept. 14, a delegation of Hispanic and African-American diocesan leaders travelled to Ghana for 10 days. As we were warned, it was both a difficult and beautiful experience in many ways.
While I was impressed that Accra, the capital, shows signs of economic development and that the touristic areas have little for our resorts to envy, most of the country has limited access to education and lacks potable water, paved roads and health services. Elementary and high schooling is free; however, many schools do not have teachers for all grades and in some cases, there are not teachers at all for entire towns.
Ghanaians seemed to have a happy attitude toward life. Community is very important. Outside the three larger cities, people live in huts made of mud, which they use mostly to sleep in and to be protected from the rain. The huts form a circle around a center, like a type of compound, where all the families cook and eat together. They love to dance and play instruments. They work together to better themselves regardless of the differences between tribes, dialects or religious beliefs.
When visiting the different CRS projects, the delegation witnessed that Ghanaians build their relationships based on their common needs, such as clean water, medical services, community action to promote agriculture for improved nutrition, positive practices for improving child survival, medicine, food and counseling for people with HIV.
When we visited a project, the village gathered and offered us a ceremony that included prayer from different religions’ leaders, greetings from the elders of the village, music, dances, and a play that portrayed their lives before and after a CRS project. This happened in each town we went to visit. They seemed to follow a common ritual which generally lasted about two hours, after which we went with them to visit the project. People benefiting from CRS projects were extremely proud that they collaborated with CRS in making the project possible and they are committed to keep the projects going on their own after CRS leaves.
I particularly enjoyed the Global Water Initiative in which CRS and other NGOs (non-governmental organizations) are making possible for people around the world to learn how to obtain potable water. Since 2008, GWI Ghana has organized the provision of water facilities in “hard to reach communities.” In Wa, a town in the Upper West Region of Ghana, CRS, with the collaboration of townspeople, built a well and a hand pump that provides adequate, safe water for more than 3,000 people. An initiative that cost $10,000 makes a big difference in the well-being of so many. This particular project is expected to directly benefit 16,583 people in 32 communities over a three-year period. GWI will meet its expected outcomes through collaborative work with other agencies such as the district assemblies, Community Water and Sanitation Agency, NGOs, the private sector and development partners to the government of Ghana.
CRS workers showed us that sometimes it does not take much to make life-changing improvements in the lives of thousands. Goodwill, some resources and solidarity, when matched with the desire and effort of the people to improve their lives, go a long way.
I recently read a quote from Pope Paul VI in the 45-year-old encyclical, Populorum Progressio: “Development is the new name for peace … for peace is not simply the absence of warfare, based on a precarious balance of power; it is fashioned by efforts directed day after day toward the establishment of the ordered universe willed by God, with a more perfect form of justice among men.”
May God help us do our part as individuals and as nation to work for the development of peoples and nations and create in that way a more enduring peace.
Maria Johnson is the former director of archdiocesan Office of Hispanic Ministry
Copyright (c) Dec. 28, 2012, CatholicReview.org