July 27, 2007
After a particularly inauspicious start to my first week of facilitating human rights reporting, Friday ended the week with a bang. After being postponed the previous two days due to the lack of room in a company vehicle, I get out to help cover a human rights related story.
The plan is to go to a small seaside village about 30 minutes outside of Takoradi called Fuqua. There, with intrepid Skyy reporters Anita and Asamoah and the help of sports host / driver Tony, we will cover over crowding in the local primary school and seek out children and young adults working as fisherman. Also, a new beach resort is purported to be hiring children to clean their facilities, thereby making school a less than attractive option.
We set out after the animated-as-usual editorial meeting, with Tony behind the wheel, Asamoah in front, Anita and me in back. We leave the station flying down the main drag, radio blasting. Coming to our turn-off, we enter the morass that is a dirt road in rainy season. Up a hill, around the bend, and we’re stuck in a rut. Wheels spinning. No traction. Sorry, guys.
Tony remains with the car, and the rest of us walk up the muddy road towards what we hope is a mechanic. It turns out to be a canteen serving a local wood veneer plant. We enter the plant to see if we can attract some help. They don’t have appropriate vehicles for our needs. Turning back to the car, we see that a van carrying 6-8 men has stopped nearby. They get out, successfully push the car out of the rut, and walk back to their van. Asamoah calls for the camera and we begin to shoot. If we can’t cover the story we’re trying to, at least we’ll have something to bring back. The men love being interviewed, and it turns out to be fair payment for their work. A few cut-aways of canyon-like erosion and we’re back on the road to Fuqua.
Arriving in the small, sleepy village is like passing a few shacks, poultry and people. No signs, just a settlement. We’re here, because they are. We continue on, asking along the way for the assemblyman. I’m not sure who he is, but perhaps he knows the location of the school. We stumble upon it, and it’s as over crowded as promised. Between 60 and 80 per class in the primary grades. They don’t turn any away. We speak to the principal. He makes a plea to the government for more resources, including a library and a roof for the latrine, blown off in the last storm. He asks that the school and the students not be penalized for poor performance, due to the challenging circumstances.
The children are fascinated with the news crew, and the obruni, or white man, in particular. They flock to us, and me, with smiles, handshakes, questions. They feel my elbow to see if it feels the same. It does.
We interview a teacher, who is greatly concerned about the conditions. She says that it is difficult for students to concentrate when their innumerable classmates are disheveled and smelly. It’s difficult to teach when the children have to leave the school to eat, or don’t get to eat at all. The national school food program doesn’t reach this far down the road.
We leave the schoolyard, and follow the road back to the sign for the beach resort. The road is impassible. A small lake has formed where the road once was.
We continue on to the fishing village at the water’s edge. Asamoah and Anita talk to the young fishermen sitting on beached dugouts, mending their nets. Their fingers move quickly, weaving the nylon line, knotting with precision, smiles on faces, heads held low. One teenager has left school to do this full time to help support his family. Another young boy is learning the trade from his elders, not his lessons at school. More small boys and girls wander the beach, in and around the dugouts, in pursuit of the obruni. Calling for attention, just a glance or a word. A nose-runner wants some camera time.
Walking back to the car Tony says to me, this is poverty. I respond, yeah, it’s everywhere, all over the world. He says, in Canada you need heating, in winter without it you freeze to death. Here, could we even manage it? There is no infrastructure. You can see why these people believe in religion. The promise of salvation is hope.
Back in the car, we make the journey back to the station, to attempt to make the 6 o’clock broadcast. Along the way we see a fellow Skyy reporter standing beside the road. We stop to pick her up. She’s waiting for a reporter and camera crew to arrive, long since overdue. It later turns out that there was a dead body to cover.
We get out of the car and follow her to a military recruitment assembly. Those chosen of the hundreds who had applied were being called to accept their acceptances. We find the real story is in the dozen or so young men and women who had received letters of acceptance, only to have their numbers called, but not their names. It seems some people had been told to make the trip from the capital Accra to apply for admission on the word of a cousin, or friend, perhaps already in the military. Those left out are making claims of nepotism and corruption in the process.
Getting back to the studio, we break for a late lunch. Wakhe, or rice and spagetti, chicken, fish or egg, with curry pepper sauce, picked up from a local merchant fills the belly. Stories of the day fill the mind. Excitement for what’s to come fills the soul.