Monday, 23 October 2017

The Story Behind the 'Three Forgotten Villages'

Most of you reading this post know me as an environmentalist who is also very passionate about renewable energy. In the past 2-3 years, I have focused my work in areas that are ignored by majority of players in the energy sector— off-grid communities in rural centers and villages. My convictions are: first, solar lighting solutions make more socio-economic sense in villages than bulk grid infrastructure, and second, the social capital and human potential in rural areas are so vast to be ignored. I have therefore made efforts to visit as many villages as possible to learn about what can work there with solar.

A couple of months ago, some friends reached out to me about visiting some villages they thought needed help with solar lighting. After months of connecting with a contact on the ground, I made the trip with 2 colleagues— Perk Pomeyie of our startup company Solar People and Afi Antonio, founder of our social action project Solar4Girls, supported by friends and partner Support A Vision Ghana.

From Left: Gideon, Afi and Perk
We embarked on an adventurous trip with three objectives: first, connect with the local school there, and provide solar lamps to the 20 Junior High School (JHS) pupils who are preparing for their Basic Education Certificate Examination (B.E.C.E) in 2018. Second, build a relationship with the people in the community, and third, assess the needs and potential of the community, and reach out to people in our network for additional support in the sectors of education, energy, health, etc. 

On the dawn of Friday October 20, the journey to the ‘three forgotten villages’—Tsremanti Dornguanor, Tsremanti Yoyim and Besease Dornguanor of the Yilo Krobo District of the Easter Region began.

A shot of Tsremanti Dornguanor
We traveled from Accra through Akropong-Akuapem to Nkurakan where we picked a taxi to Akpamu junction. 

Since the villages do not have a motorable path from here, we began a 40 minutes walk on foot through the valley to Tsremanti Dorguanor, also known as the valley village. The other option is an hour and half journey also on foot through the forest from Koforidua Pipeline; we used this route after our visit when returning 
from the village.

In the middle of the forest descending the hills to the 'valley village'.

Every holistic development is transformational, integral and sustainable, and requires the practitioner to assess the potential of the community in order to design a response. Below are our findings after an assessment of Tsremanti Dornguanor:

The village has a chief and a linguist with a group of elders who see to the welfare of the community. We also met the Unit Committee members of the village. What impressed us most was the introduction of the member in charge of youth development.

This was the main reason we went to the village. The community has no electricity and children rely on traditional lanterns and torchlights to study at night. Not only does this impede their education, children and adults also risk bites from poisonous snakes and other reptiles at night.

We provided solar lamps to pupils with support from friends
The only source of water in the village is a stream, which links all the 3 villages. This is for both drinking and irrigation purpose.

This is a big challenge in Tsremanti Dorguanor and the 2 sister villages. There are 2 classroom blocks; one is a makeshift structure and the other requires a facelift. The educational facilities and supplies for learning are inexistent or incredibly inadequate. Pupils are in dire need of uniforms, knapsacks and learning tools. But the biggest problem the local school faces is with teachers. The lack of electricity, portable water, motorable path, health post and mobile network, coupled with the lack of accommodation facilities for teachers make it difficult for them to live in the village.  Children therefore have to travel for 2 hours to Nkurakan during the weekend for extra classes. The performance of the local school in the BECE has been fairly good and access to electricity will improve it immensely.

The primary school classroom block at Tsremantin Dornguanor
In addition to this, because teachers have to walk for hours climbing and descending mountains every week to teach, they are not able to come to school the whole week. A teacher told me, “I do 2/5 or 3/5 because I get too tired walking for hours and escaping snakes just to teach and return to where I live”. I was lost about what 2/5 and 3/5 mean until he explained to mean 2 or 3 days out of 5 days in a week. Because of these challenges, there are no female teachers in the school.

This is the biggest potential in the village. The land is very fertile for vegetables such as cabbage and green pepper, for tubers such as cassava and cocoyam, and for cocoa. The number of cabbage farms we saw impressed us. The problem however is about access to markets for these produce. The lack of roads linking the village to urban centers present villagers with 2 options: children and women carrying produce and climbing the mountains to the nearest market which is 4 kilometers away or paying a fortune for vehicles to cart the produce to markets in Nkurakan or Koforidua.

The villages are noted for cabbage production 
The creation of road networks will transform education and also impact agriculture and energy. If families can access markets for their produce without excessive costs, they can save some money to afford solar for their children to study at night. The presence of lights can also be a motivation for teachers to stay for weekends and help pupils with extra lessons.

All the villages have no health post. The nearest health post is about an hour away (Koforidua Zongo) where emergency cases are taken. Community members carry sick people on broken doors and walk through the forest for treatment. A small makeshift health post which will respond to emergencies such as snakebites and provide first aid will come in handy. We were however told that some community health nurses from Nkurakan visit the village occasionally for health outreaches.

The school has very good sportsmen and women in athletics and football. We were thrilled to meet one of the girls who doubles as the captain of the football team and 3000m women champion in the Yilo Krobo District for 4 consecutive years.

Most of the students in the JHS are good in sports

Our visit to Dornguanor was very successful. We had an amazing time with the school pupils and reached out to them with solar lamps. The experience was beautiful, and at the end we were fulfilled when departing. I hope this post will ignite your interest to know more about the ‘three forgotten villages’ and reach out to support them.
School children using the solar lamps

The journey from the village on foot through the Dornguanor forest

Sunday, 19 February 2017

My Theological Journey: For Mission and Environmentalism

"Ignorance is the mother of all superstition, not devotion" - A.H. Strong

This year has already been a very eventful one for me, occasionally depressing yet assuring. No matter what life throws at you, sometimes if you are still fighting then it means you are gaining some grounds. Though am writing this in February, I believe 2017 has been my toughest year so far since my full adult life began. It is needless to sugar a pill and half; it's been a hectic first two months. But fighting while wounded on the battle field, I have still gained some grounds— my first book would be released next month, a vision I began nurturing 5 years ago.

Cover Design by Perk Pomeyie
But the best decision I believe I have made this year is to take 10months off active activism to study Theology. I chose to enroll in the Akrofi-Christaller Institute of Theology, Mission and Culture because they were offering an MA in Theology, Holistic Mission and Development, and I felt that was what I was looking for as a foundation for my long term interest in combining Environmentalism with Apologetics. It wasn't a tough decision to make considering I knew I had to build and develop myself to communicate my faith coherently to make my activism relevant. Moreover, I wanted an opportunity to think, and think justly and I found one within walls of the Institute.

Theology as you know in this part of the world and age, is easily dismissed as another ivory tower of academia—rigidly intellectual and tacitly anti-spiritual and dangerous to faith. So theology is often packaged neatly in a box and stored away somewhere safe, while spiritual reality is pursued as a daily endeavor. This thought and practice is equally erroneous. Study is a spiritual discipline—so theology both intellectuality and spirituality. Indeed God commands us to love Him with our minds in scripture (Luke 10:27) so combining heart and mind to think is according to his will. Maybe, that is why we don't send our best to theological schools today. Centuries ago, theology was described as the 'Queen of the Sciences' and only the best and most brilliant students pursued it. It was theologians who thought for the rest of society.

The Global South is now the centre of gravity of Christianity, Africa is a Christian heartland in the 21st Century and this is the time to respond to culturally rooted issues and questions of faith and how to live it out in society. We have already been dispossessed both in culture and heritage and there is a need for a valid knowledge of how the self-disclosure of God through His son Jesus Christ shapes our entire existence and influence in society towards justice for all of God's creation. Once a while, you bump into people who reject Christianity because they claim it's a religion passed on by colonial masters. This is invalid. In fact, there were Christians in Africa—leading apologists for that matter between the 2nd and 3rd Centuries AD. That was before European Christendom as a matter of fact. That said, the Reformation was in the 16th Century, the Missionary Movement, 19th Century.

Tertullian (c. 160 to c. 225) an African lawyer had an enormous impact on Western Theology, a prolific author who produced an extensive corpus of Latin Literature. We can begin to re-think about how to respond to social issues of rights and justice when we gain a deeper understanding of the opportunity we have as African Christians in shaping global worldview as the Early Christians did.

We live in a society where injustice triumphs; perpetrated by the echelons of media, academia, judiciary, government, organized religion, politics, etc. But we have all looked on and watched the poor and voiceless and oppressed suffer and the environment decimated while we pursue our own prosperity and progress. This is in stark contrast to the Gospel. In fact, Jesus Christ came down on earth as a man to establish God's justice on earth. That is the Gospel—the Theology that challenges yours. 

In Luke 4, Jesus returned to the synagogue in Nazareth after being tempted by the devil. The book of Isaiah was handed to him and he read his mandate on earth (Isaiah 61). After that he closed the book and with everyone's gaze fixed on him, he declared, "today this scripture has been fulfilled in your ears". My theology is the Gospel justice for God's creation. What is yours?

The Youth Meeting: The Future of the Commonwealth Through Our Lens

"This is why we collectively revere the RCS as a platform that young people can use to give relevance to the Commonwealth"

The 2016 International Meetings of the Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) took place in London from October 3-7. The meetings were hosted by High Commissions of various member countries and brought together members from pan Commonwealth branches and networks to share experiences and plan for the future.

The Youth Meeting, held on the first two days to precede the Branch Meeting, in my personal opinion was the highlight of the meetings. 60% of the 2.3 billion total population of the Commonwealth is under 30 years of age. It is on the heels of this youth constituency and the power they wield in leadership, innovation and technology that the Commonwealth will thrive on in the coming years.

The youth acknowledged that the Commonwealth represents diversity of membership unparalleled even at the global stage— a unique cultural tapestry bound together by common values and aspirations. However, the youth perspective and outlook of the Commonwealth largely has been a network that has little or no relevance to younger generation, but rather a relic, significant to older individuals still romanticizing colonial events and their linkages in this modern era.

This is why we collectively revere the RCS as a platform that young people can use to give relevance to the Commonwealth.

The youth agreed at the meeting that they have a role to play in the current RCS structure. We will add youth perspectives to Commonwealth conversations, promote the RCS through our activities, initiatives and events, and offer skills and expertise to branches in our home countries. The Associate Fellows (AF) themselves believe that they are an asset to the RCS and agreed to serve as Commonwealth ambassadors to give the network visibility in their countries. We will do this by connecting to people who share common values with us, serve as role models and mentors for younger generations and build a network of leaders and professionals from diverse fields to influence national policies and shape global issues.

The RCS on the other hand was discussed to have a role and responsibility towards the youth. The organization is expected to help raise the profile of youth by providing the platform to promote their work and give visibility to their social action initiatives. It should also provide opportunities to Associate Fellows in training, capacity building and funding.

In going forward into the future, the Youth Meeting reached a consensus that the common niche for the RCS to pursue is Youth Empowerment. This means more engagement with youth, more interaction with them, more connectivity through social media and more capacity building to create change. Ultimately, we believe in a Commonwealth of change that is relevant to our communities and transforms the lives of people at the grassroots.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

VRA Deserves Applause for Choosing Wind Power over Coal

Earlier this week, the environmental movement in Ghana was thrown into frenzy, following the announcement by the Volta River Authority (VRA) of its plans to construct a 150MW wind power plant to supplement power generation in the country. The project to be completed in two phases is said to be under the Renewable Development Programme of the organization, Ghana’s main electric power utility corporation.

A wind farm in Kenya
The Ghana Youth Environmental Movement (GYEM) and other campaigners and supporters of renewable energy took to social media minutes after the media announcement to celebrate the impending and inevitable victory of clean energy over dirty energy— demonstrating the underlining relevance rather than a superficial reveling, considering the Ghana government, just a couple of months ago was advancing plans to build a 2x350MW coal fired plant in the Ekumfi Aboano with coal imports from South Africa.

The fuss here is about the VRA’s sharp U-turn on the subject of coal and now wind power. Before campaigners from GYEM took on the idea of importing pollution from coal into the country with coordinated street campaigns in support of renewable energy, notably solar and wind power, the VRA’s position on dirty energy was unequivocal: the country needed to diversify it’s existing energy portfolio with a cheaper, proven and reliable technology to help optimize hydro resources and they believed coal power was the way to go.

In a statement announcing the 150MW wind power project, their position seemed to have been altered incredibly in just a few months in favor of renewables. The Principal Engineer for Renewable and Integrated Resource Development of the VRA, Mr. Ebenezer Antwi declaring that “technology in renewable energy had matured and the cost declined over the years, making it cheaper, therefore the need to consider wind and solar energy to ease pressure on hydro power generation”.

The most relevant point here is that the government acknowledges that the cost of renewable energy is tumbling incredibly at an unprecedented pace globally that it makes the mantra that fossil fuels are cheaper pretty underwhelming and factually fraudulent.

A recent report by Bloomberg indicates that renewables are beating fossil fuels 2 to 1. It indicates that “while two years of crashing prices for oil, natural gas, and coal triggered dramatic downsizing in those industries, renewables have been thriving. Clean energy investment broke new records in 2015 and is now seeing twice as much global funding as fossil fuels”.

This is a fact not open for argument and one will wonder why it took the Government of Ghana that long to notice it. But this is why the VRA deserves applause. They have recognized that politics is about policy and policy is about the search of alternatives— outcomes that are better than others. Wind and solar will keep expanding at record rates and we have to plug ourselves into the opportunities they offer to transition into a low carbon economy and towards climate resilience as outlined by our National Climate Change Policy (NCCP).

It is now or never!

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

A Wounded Planet in Need of Love

Almost eighteen years ago, Julia Butterfly Hill embarked on a non-violent tree sit for 738 days, from December 10, 1997, until December 23, 1999. Luna, the tree she ascended unto, a thousand-year-old red wood tree, 180 feet high, in the Headwaters Forest in Northern California was under threat of being logged together with other trees in the area. Julia’s enduring example and extraordinary activism was deeply rooted in her ‘acute vision of a wounded world in need of a nonviolent healing’.

She had a vision above the scope of fine narratives, beyond the teas and committees of business as usual. Hers was indeed to also symbolize a respect for the sacred, atop Luna, separated from the rest of a world driven by greed and exploitation, from a generation lacking profound disposability consciousness. “By not allowing my feet to touch the ground once during all this time, I’ve separated myself from the world down there.”

In December 2008, inspiring activist Tim DeChristopher disrupted an illegitimate Bureau of Land Management oil and gas auction by outbidding oil companies for parcels around Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in Utah. An unprecedented trial ended in his 21 months in jail. His experiences of the systemic evil in prison and subsequent enrollment in Harvard Divinity School after his release on April 21, 2013 transformed his activism in diverse ways. The core of his message deeply rooted in the embodiment and reflection of love to heal a wounded planet.
With Tim DeChristopher in Montpelier
Whether it’s Butterfly Hill whose deep connection with the sacred espoused healing for a wounded world or DeChristopher who preaches joining our collective divinities to confront the climate crisis, this proposition is true: that any question about solving the problem begs for an answer with an intrinsic value found within a person. So how did we even get into this mess in the first place?

Al Gore in his book ‘The Future:Six Drivers of Global Change’ brilliantly describes how our dilemma began from a philosophical text book centuries ago after the launch of the Scientific Revolution by the thinkers of the times:

“Francis Bacon, who more than any other emphasized the word “progress” in describing humanity’s journey into the future, was also among the first to write about human progress with a special emphasis on subduing, dominating, and controlling nature-- as if we were as separate from nature as Descartes believed the mind was separate from the body........ By tacitly assuming our own separateness from the ecological system of the planet, we are frequently surprised by phenomena that emerge from our inextricable connections to it".

Centuries later, this philosophical error has driven insatiable greed, deceit and exploitation of the planet in search of profit and progress. They have been in shapes and forms that confound our thinking and begin to question how indeed civilized we are as a civilization.

For example, reporters at the Los Angeles Times, the Columbia Journalism School, and the Pulitzer-Prize winning Inside Climate News, revealed that ExxonMobil knew all about climate change in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. But they not only lied about it but also funded individuals and institutions to deny climate change and fight against climate action. And when I provided direct support for  Bill McKibben, the founder of at an ExxonMobil gas station in Burlington, Vermont a month ago to stage a one-man #ExxonKnew action there, it finally dawned on me that the answer lies within the transformation of the human heart by a transcendent love for our planet.

Providing direct support for Bill McKibben in Burlington
Our cumulative wisdom, intellectuality and technology do not match the daunting challenges of our time. Our planet doesn’t demand our saving it, it needs we loving it, for indeed we are only loving ourselves in the process. We believe in Nonviolent Direct Action dismantling strongholds such as capitalism but ultimately it is love that changes the human heart; even legal binding agreements and laws do not. Love is the greatest ethic, the peak of all intellectual and religious debate, it is where our common humanity converges.

Feelings and experiences cannot be tested for truth, only words and propositions are. And we would agree to the fact that given a planet in need of a nonviolent healing it begins with the reflection of the love that inextricably binds us to our ecological system as one. The proposition is true and the practice would ultimately heal.