The hidden life of Tomefa Island
When two children drowned in the deep waters of the Weija Dam just outside of Accra in 2008, very few people had even heard of Tomefa Island.
Not many people knew that it existed because it was, and remains today, a place that is virtually inaccessible from the mainland of the Greater Accra area - unless you have a solid canoe, good upper body strength and an hour or two to kill.
Generations ago, ancestors of those in this hidden community, migrated south from Ada and other areas in the Volta region of Ghana to settle on a section of land they called “Tomefa”.
Tomefa means “piece of mind.”
With the construction of the Weija Dam in 1979, however, this piece of mind – so to speak - would no longer be afforded to them.
The Weija Dam began harnessing tons of water from the Densu River, which continues to be treated by the Weija Water Works plant 15 kilometres west of Accra. Today the plant itself serves millions of Ghanaians who would otherwise have little or no access to clean water in the city.
What this construction also did was leave the farming village of Tomefa almost completely submerged under water, isolating it from the Greater Accra region.
Four decades later, this small community of 1,500 continues to live, farm and fish, tucked away not far from a bustling metropolis of Accra. They survive off the land with minimal support from the government and have no access to the clean water being pumped out just near by.
Around election time, local candidates will visit the area, making promises and urging their constituents to vote.
“If they can give us a net to fish, a school, a road, then doctor, maybe life jackets…” says Chief Tetteh. “We are happy.”
The people of Tomefa have grown frustrated and claim that their government officials have not delivered on any of their promises.
Current MP for Weija, Shirley Ayorkor Botchway, says she continues to advocate for the people of Tomefa, but ultimately it is not up to her to approve and implement developmental projects in the area.
“I can promise the people of Tomefa that I have not shirked my responsibilities,” she says.
According to Botchway, the projects can only be approved at the level of the Municipal Assembly.
Ga South Municipal Assembly person, Mr. Sheriff Dodoo believes, “Tomefa has a peculiar problem. They are on government land. The whole place has been acquired for the Ghana Water Company and the place is not supposed to be habited. They are squatting on Government property.”
The real issue, according to Dodoo, is not about extending services such as health care and education to Tomefa. The problem is that they are “illegal squatters” and this problem needs to be acknowledged.
“Finding resources to extend services to them. That is not a big deal. We can always do that.”
No timeline was made available for any plans to extend resources to the people of Tomefa.
What a difference some ingenuity makes
Juliet Degadzor and Vann Hokey of UCOMS have a plan.
When the news story broke about the tragedy, Degadzor and Vann Hokey, along with a small team of their colleagues at The University College of Management Studies (UCOMS) in Accra started asking some questions.
Why has this community been neglected? What do they need? What can be done?
You know, simple questions.
At UCOMS, “We identify social, economic and environmental problems in our communities and apply economic and social concepts through the theoretical knowledge we have from class to solve those complex problems we have seen in our society,” says Hokey.
Their plan: To turn the Island of Tomefa into the first agro-tourism site in Ghana in order to help the community start generating money for itself.
According to SIFE – an international, not-for-profit, business organization that brings together young entrepreneurs from countries all over the world – the plan is a good one.
It’s so good, in fact that it won them a spot at the SIFE World Cup being hosted in Malaysia.
What this means for the people of Tomefa is that 900 of them have been registered for National Health Insurance, they have business students working with them and teaching them how to garner money and support themselves, and they also have piece of mind.
Personal contributions and funds garnered through the private sector to the tune of GHC 9,050 (approx. 6,000 Cdn) and some ingenuity. Some of this money comes from fundraising, while a fair portion of it came out of the students themselves.
To date, no government support has been contributed.
For the students and for the people of Tomefa, the next step is awareness.
They will present their project, along with its initial successes, to business leaders present at the SIFE World cup – an international competition for young entrepreneurs implementing development projects and initiatives in underdeveloped communities in their own country.
According to Hokey: “Tomefa has now been identified as one of the villages with the highest poverty rates in Ghana. Now the Government of Ghana is aware of the plight of the people.”
Files from Isaac Kaledzi, CITI-FM