Our visit to the villages
Posted by Kevin Salwen on 07.13.2010Share
Today was a remarkable day for our family, as we journeyed to the Eastern Region of Ghana to visit the first of two communities that our family is sponsoring. After all this time of planning, researching, investing and tracking, we finally could see how far these communities had progressed.

Before i describe the experience, i need to take half a step back to explain this: What does sponsoring mean exactly?

Well, as so many of you know, we have pledged the funds from the sale of our house to help villagers end their own hunger and poverty. We are working with The Hunger Project, whose staff runs a five-year program that helps villagers understand their own power to build a better future for themselves and their kids.

This is not relief work as it's normally perceived with digging or building as the endgame -- a large and critical part of the program is changing the hearts and minds of downtrodden but hardworking people to help them believe for the first time that they can be the agents of their own change. In fact, the entire first year doesn't involve any construction at all; instead it's about The Hunger Project team helping villagers understand that they have so many more skills than they ever recognized, that they can work together and advocate harder for themselves.

True to that methodology, for the past two years we haven't been to Ghana; we never came to do any construction, paint any schools or dig any wells. Instead, we tracked the project as the villages were being selected (they go through a vetting process based on their willingness to take on the project) and waited until things were far enough along.

So now, after more than a year of community work, the village of Obenyemi and 8 of its neighbors within a 10-kilometer radius were ready to commission their epicenter, the L-shaped building that houses a bank for micro loans, a food storage facility, a community meeting hall and a nurses clinic.

We arrived in Obenyemi bit after 10 to the preparations for a major celebration, a brass band, tribal chiefs, education and health ministers and about 300 villagers. We heard a community villager (who had emerged as a leader over the past year) talk about ways the communities could earn more money. We listened as people talked in their tribal language of Twi about raising enough funds to purchase stone, sand and timber to make the project work. We cheered as the regional head of the health service introduced the new nurses who would staff the clinic.

In short, we began to realize that the villagers were on their way. This is hard sledding, as anything worthwhile ever is. If emerging from poverty were as simple as wells, nets, or supplies, we'd have solved that problem decades ago.

For me, the best moment of the day came after lunch, when I asked to sit down with two villagers and a translator. We sat in plastic chairs in the meeting hall, Joan and Joseph filming.

"What does this project mean to you," I asked Mabel Hervie and Eunice Opata. Eunice's reply made me smile.

"This epicenter is not a building," she began. "It's really about a change of mindset."

"What do you mean," I wondered through the translator, Peniel Reinarh.

"It's a change of mindset from I cannot do it to I can do it."

The sentence summed up the day. Thanks Eunice.

Unlike our usual American mindset (the way people thrive is through building!), the first year of work was hardly about the epicenter building itself. Oh sure, the building is a great centerpiece and quite useful (especially the clinic, where lives will be saved a healthier babies born). Instead the most important work went on in meetings, skits and dialogues, the most important being the Vision, Commitment, Action workshops that show people what their future can look like and offers a roadmap for how to get there through their own leadership and advocacy.

I must say I am very inspired by your family's sacrifice and tenacity. I "happened" upon this blog while reading an article in the New York Times and I am intrigued by your family. As a Ghanaian living in the US, I completely agree with you that it's not about building wells and giving nets, though helpful, but it's about changing the mindset of the people, renewing their mind so they know they are the agents of their own change. I will keep reading and following this blog, not only because your family is in Ghana, but also because honestly, I am quite honestly inspired by your work. God bless you all.
Posted by Afua at 11:15am on 07.14.2010

Carol and I are here in Northern Michigan and are completely inspired by your first day back in the villages of West Akim. Can't wait to see the Joseph video! Ann was right - you guys rock. love, John and Carol
Posted by John at 10:38pm on 07.13.2010