Saturday, 24 March 2012

Remarkable Things Can Happen Pt 3

The coming of the rains continues to be vital to the lives of Africans, as we know. At the time the missionaries arrived, nothing was imported and what the people grew was all they had to survive on. Africans have called on their ancestors’ spirits for centuries to send rain. Sometimes the calls are answered and sometimes not. On some occasions the power of prayer to the Christian God reaped dramatic rewards. Huge downpours of rain fell on individual villages. The same happened with a swarm of locusts in terms of the discretionary destruction of crops from one village to another. These events drew villagers to the Mission to hear more and many committed themselves to following Christian learning towards baptism. Just one or two people from a village sought enlightenment at the mission and were followed by others. Each week the group who were prepared to walk for miles to learn more, grew in number. After some time a catechist was installed in their village to help spread the word. This was how Christianity grew in the Upper West.

Education was offered entirely through the Mission and schools were set up initially to learn the scriptures and prepare men for baptism. These were for boys only originally. It was believed that girls were not capable of learning! The first Secondary School for girls, St Francis in Jirapa that thrives today and is highly respected for its standards, opened in 1959. People went along to observe girls in classrooms and were amazed by what they saw and heard. 53 years later and it is still a huge challenge for women to make their mark on society and be taken seriously in a professional capacity in Ghana. Some development moves faster than other aspects are allowed to.

Last week I had cause to visit the Credit Union (bank) in Jirapa. I have since learned that this was set up by the missionaries too and was the first Credit Union to open on the African continent! The idea began when a man buried, for safe keeping, his life saving in notes in a tin. When he recovered it, white ants had eaten almost all of it. Fortunately, a bank in Accra was prepared to replace the notes on the evidence of the few scraps that were left. His experience would be replicated by many and another solution had to be found.
The broad principle around the work of these missionaries was to develop the whole community by enabling and enriching the lives of the people in terms of their welfare and skills as well as their faith in God. Education at all levels developed from here. Basic qualifications were available in a range of skills that allowed people to help each other and for the communities to thrive. You can see this every day now with very small businesses opening in 3 metre square outlets, or smaller, offering vital services.

I have found this book fascinating and it has taught me a great deal about where this area of Ghana has come from and how it has grown in such a short time. I look at life in the Upper West more clearly as a result and admire the people even more and especially for their determination and resilience in making their lives more manageable and successful.

I shall be travelling with friends and family in the south of Ghana and over the border to Togo over the next month. My blog will return with more photos and tales in the second half of April.

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