07/02/2013

Lengo means 'goal' in Swahili

Lengo Football Academy
Reaching for the stars! Arusha's Lengo Football Academy was founded six months ago by the 28-year-old Emanuel Saakai (back left). | Photo by Adam Bemma


By Adam Bemma

ARUSHA, Tanzania -- Emanuel Saakai is a 28-year-old Masai born in Ngorongoro, Tanzania, near the world famous wildlife crater. At age two, his mother moved him to Ngaramtoni, a poor village on the outskirts of Arusha nestled alongside Mount Meru. As a boy he would play soccer in the dusty streets from dawn to dusk.

"You know football means a lot to me in my life in general. And as a boy I wanted to get to the top to be a professional footballer and I couldn't because of several reasons. First of all, my family was poor and couldn't afford giving me football boots and shoes," he said.

Not wanting to give up on the sport he loves, Saakai turned to coaching kids in his village. Six months ago he started Lengo Football Academy, to teach them the fundamentals of the game.

"It started with a few, maybe ten or fifteen, but now, you can see we have more than 80 kids. And the number is still going up. It's going to be up to me now to be able to financially support them. I have to limit the number so I can afford to accomodate them."

Saakai uses money raised from a recent trip he took to Melbourne with his Australian wife, Tracey Sawyer. He is now able to transport and feed the kids. While in Australia, Sawyer introduced him to professional soccer coaches who provided training as well as a few donations for his upstart soccer academy.

To date, he has received four soccer balls, 60 jerseys and 50 pairs of shoes. The kids love their new gear, but there aren't enough shoes to go around for their first match, so many are left to play bare foot. Saakai reflects on the time he was their age and wanted to play.

"We used to make a ball by using old socks, old clothes, plastic bags. We didn't have proper balls, we didn't have shoes, we didn't have gear and it's the same thing they're facing now. That's why I wanted to offer them what I missed."

Saakai and Sawyer on the sidelines
Emanuel Saakai with his wife and Lengo's biggest fan, Tracey Sawyer, on the sidelines. | Photo by Adam Bemma


Lengo means 'goal' in the KiSwahili language. Sawyer could see the passion for teaching soccer in Saakai's eyes when he began coaching part-time following a knee injury that devastated his confidence and career as a rising soccer star in Tanzania.

"You know I came in when he'd been with this other academy for four years. It was clear coaching was in his blood. He got involved with my charity and talked about his passion for football," Sawyer said."He was still coaching and not being payed to do it. In the end I said start up your own academy and I'll support you any way I can."

Sawyer founded an NGO in Tanzania four years ago called Testigo Africa. Her and Saakai work full-time on a permaculture project in the Masai village of Longido, which is about an hour drive outside of Arusha. These Ngaramtoni kids are grateful that even though Saakai has a day job, he's still able to dedicate so much time to their development.

"They're coming from the street and others are being raised by single mothers, others go to primary school, others secondary school, others don't go to school at all. I have got orphans as well on the team," Saakai said.

In 2009, Alfred Itaeli founded Tanzania's Future Stars Football Academy. Ever since, he has been teaching kids soccer, focusing mainly on community development in the Arusha region. Itaeli sees potential in Saakai's coaching abilities and enjoys helping out any way he can.

"We did a coaching clinic for trainers. Emanuel heard about it and he contacted me and I said 'karibu' welcome. So he participated in a week-long course. That's when I knew he had a team of different ages, so I said let's organize something," Itaeli said.

As the under-11 Lengo team takes the field, in the very first Lengo versus Future Stars match, Coach Itaeli yells from the sidelines at his players, commenting on how lucky he felt when he was given a chance to play as a boy. Itaeli went on to play semi-professional soccer in the U.S. before returning to Tanzania and establishing his academy.

Lengo does not yet have the financial or community support Future Stars has in Arusha, but it looks promising for Saakai, who networks night and day with Tanzanians and ex-pats alike to show the changes he has made with these kids in such a short period of time.

"I could see where he's coming from, You could see there's a lot of fragmented play. But you could see there's definitely some skills and talent. But it's just putting it together," Itaeli said. "Yeah, I see there's a lot of potential. Hopefully he can keep at it."

Sam Mpenzu is delighted with the rise of rival soccer academies in Arusha. He works as the coordinator of a sports development organization called Yes! Tanzania. Mpenzu is also a soccer trainer and FIFA referee, who stresses the need for education to work in tandem with sports training.

"During my time, education to me was like nonsense. But when my teachers knew I liked sports, they used sports as a tool to make sure I'm attending my lessons at school, so they put the P-E [physical education] lesson at the end of the day."

Up until only a few years ago in Tanzania, playing sports wasn't even allowed at schools. This is the reason why it has taken kids in the East African nation so long to embrace this global game.

"Years ago there was a minister of education and he decided that kids were being distracted by sports, so he actually banned all sports, so for 10 years in Tanzania there was no sports in any of the schools," Sawyer said. "A lot of parents thought it was distracting, so they wouldn't even let their kids play sports outside of school."

Nobody knows how hard growing up in Ngaramtoni was for Saakai more than his wife. She believes that in spite of all the challenges he faced in the past, he remains a role model for every kid in Ngaramtoni.

"He's had to do jobs where he's broken stones for the equivalent of a dollar a day. He knows what it's like to be hungry and have no food for days, so he's very aware that these boys have the same background," she said.
Post-game analysis
Lengo coach Saakai delivers his post-game analysis for the team's first-ever competition. | Photo by Adam Bemma


Coach Itaeli's Future Stars dominate the match from start to finish. As the whistle blows, his players walk off the pitch. They're easily identifiable due to their matching white shirts, shorts and socks. While the Lengo squad head toward the sidelines, shirts are untucked and socks are mismatched, if they're wearing any socks at all. Saakai delivers his post-game analysis with a smile.

"They played against a team that has been training for so long. It's a good performance for me. They worked more individually and not in a team. That's why sometimes they forget they're in a team and they allow the opponents to come against them and concede a lot of goals," he said.

Looking on as the Lengo team sits near the sideline listening to their coach, Sawyer is happy with the outcome. But the players have a look of disappointment in their eyes. Saakai is expressive while he tries to cheer them up, but he mentions how important it is that they learn from this experience.

Sawyer interjects: "He's a true coach. It's in his blood. It's a natural talent and passion for him. He's actually said now that he thinks he's a better coach than he ever would've been a player. His ambition goes beyond this academy."

Lengo Football Academy is still hoping to receive more donations and contributions to keep Saakai's dream of building a world class soccer training school in Arusha alive. He also hopes his coaching will give these Ngaramtoni kids life lessons so they can also rise out of poverty and make real change in Tanzania, whether that be through soccer or not.

"They're so happy to be a part of the academy. Before they were just kicking the handmade balls on the streets. Right now it's a little different because they play with a vision and I can see they're appreciating what they're getting. This is the main reason for setting this up," Coach Saakai boasts.

To view the Lengo soccer match photo gallery, click here.

Tanzania: LGBT citizens are relegated to the shadows

By Mike MacDonald

Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently released a report titled “Treat Us Like Human Beings: Discrimination against sex workers, sexual and gender minorities, and people who use drugs in Tanzania.” The document compiled over 250 interviews, gathered over the past year.

Researcher Neela Ghoshal led a press conference on the document in mid-June, in a cramped room at the Holiday Inn, Dar es Salaam, filled to capacity with reporters and aid workers.

I’ve been to many press conferences in this country, but this was one of the first times I’ve seen so many reporters so eager to raise their hands.

And yet, there seemed to be just one question:

“How can I possibly go back to my editor and explain this document?”

Attitudes towards LGBT rights are progressing in the West, as demonstrated by last week’s U.S. supreme court rulings, but that progress hasn’t spread to Tanzania.

In Tanzania, LGBT community members are frequently subjected to rape and torture, often by the very people who should be protecting them: police officers, according to HRW. Access to health care is spotty, and some providers flat-out refuse to treat sexual minorities. Worse, there’s little discussion of the problem; even after a concerted push to get the paper I work for to run stories (or even just a story) on the report, nothing was ever published.

The only place you can discuss the problem of how Tanzania treats this portion of its citizenry is outside of Tanzania.

Perhaps that’s because, in Tanzania, LGBT citizens, drug users, and sex workers are all tarred with one brush: they’re all seen as criminals, and they’re all relegated to the shadows.

Sodomy is still criminalized. If caught, a man can face a penalty of 30 years to life in prison, one of the most severe punishments for same-sex relations in the world.

Lending public support to sexual minorities—criminals in the eyes of the law—isn’t tolerated.

As I learned with my article-that-wasn’t, it’s even repressed.

In short, the anti-gay mentality permeates the society, with even some of the most progressive thinkers toeing the line.

In late April, the venerable Legal and Human Rights Centre published their 2012 human rights report. In 470 pages, the only reference to LGBT human rights abuses was to call homosexuality "unacceptable
behaviour (page 400)."

In late May, parliament was twice postponed when a parliamentarian, Mr Ezekiah Wenje (Chadema), accused the Civic United Front (CUF) of showing Western-style support for homosexuality.

“Mr Deputy Speaker, page 8 of this speech is abusive …it implies CUF is a party that supports same-sex marriage, lesbianism and homosexuality. This is a fallacy, brainless, idiotic ...and we want
him to apologise and withdraw those words,” Mr Salum (CUF) told the House.

But there’s a huge logical disconnect here. Tanzanians I’ve spoken with claim that supporting LGBT rights isn't part of their culture. However, in every other way I’ve seen, Tanzania is an extremely warm
and welcoming culture. The idea of them physically abusing, or raping, or withholding medical treatment from anyone, for any reason, boggles the mind.

Some claim that supporting sexual minorities is simply a Western concept, not to be found in East Africa. But in neighbouring countries such as Rwanda, Congo, and Mozambique, no law exists against same-sex
marriage.

In the meantime, while Tanzania waits for a paradigm shift, countless victims of human rights abuses continue to suffer in strictly-enforced silence.

06/17/2013

Pure water, pure innocence

By Jessica Campbell

 

Theodora
Theodora Bortey, 8, makes CAD$1 a day selling water in the Nungua market in Accra, Ghana to help financially support her grandmother. | Photo by Jessica Campbell

 

She has water in her eyes, and it isn’t because she is selling it from the top of her head.

Theodora Bortey is eight-years-old. But instead of going to school like all children her age should, she sells small packs of water to people in Nungua market in Accra, Ghana.

“Why aren’t you in school?” my colleague at Pravda Radio, Mercydalyne Lokko, asks Theodora.

Struggling to find the words, Theodora looks down at her fist. She opens her hand to show us her palm full of small coins. She jingles them around.

“My grandmother says I should come,” she says after Mercydalyne asks again.

She is the only child out of her five older siblings that sells water, she says. The rest live with her parents outside of Accra. But Theodora helps financially support her grandmother: “My father says I should come.”

After cost, selling water makes Theodora two cedis a day, which is CND$1. 

“I want to go to school,” she says, after admitting she doesn’t know the last time she went to class. “They [her classmates] laugh at me.”

The tears in her eyes become more apparent.

 

Kwame
Kwame, 11, sells water in the Nungua market in Accra, Ghana as he waits for his school uniform to be made. He has waited a full year, since he moved from a village in the East.| Photo by Jessica Campbell

 

Kwame (who doesn’t know his last name), 11, sells water in the same market as Theodora. A year ago, he left his family in Eastern Ghana to live with his great aunt.

Speaking in Ga, one of the local languages, Kwame tells Mercydalyne he moved to Accra because the city’s school systems are better than in his village. Schools in his village, for instance, don’t teach English.

He sells water because he got bored at home. His great aunt tells him he can’t go to school until his uniform is ready.

He has been waiting for it to be finished for an entire year.

“School is important so you get educated so you don’t get cheated,” the boy says in Ga to Mercydalyne because he still doesn’t know English.

Ironically, Mercydalyne says there is no way a school uniform would ever take a year to make: “The boy just isn’t being told his great aunt doesn’t have the funds to send him to school.”

Mercydalyne asks the boy if he has anything to add before we end the interview.

“They just have to finish the zipper on my uniform’s pants,” he says. Then continues on his way yelling “pure water, pure water!”

 

Kwame 2
Kwame yells “pure water, pure water,” to entice people in the Nungua market to buy his water from the top of his head. He makes about CAD $3.50 a day. | Photo by Jessica Campbell

 

 

 

Agenlina
Angelina Okyere, 17, sells water in a market in Accra, Ghana to save money for her seamstress business.| Photo by Jessica Campbell


 

Angelina Okyere, 17, also strolls the Nungua market selling water sachets. 

She moved to Accra this month to live with her sister. She left the East in hopes of starting a business in the city as a seamstress. She wants to make clothes because its hands on, a trade she can learn without a classroom. 

“I don’t feel comfortable in school because I never understand,” Angelina says to Mercydalyne in Twi, another local language. She says she can’t remember the last time she went to school.

So far, her best daily earnings are five cedis, about CND$2.50. She gives her money to her sister who is helping her save for her business.

 

Angelina 2
Angelina Okyere, 17, says she sells water in the Nungua market instead of going to school because she doesn’t enjoy the way school make her feel; she can't understand the material. | Photo by Jessica Campbell

 

 

These are the faces motivating Abdul Razak Yakubu. The president of Youth Movement for African Unity (YMFU) says he wants to get children off the streets, and back into classrooms.

But not just any classroom.

The traditional daytime schooling system doesn’t meet the needs of all youth in Ghana, he says.

Too many have to work during the day to support family members, or, they see the quick cash benefit behind self-teaching a trade over investing in a formal education. Trades are not associated with government curriculum in Ghana.

Public school systems also appear to be free, he says, but are associated with hidden costs like book fees.

Until the government adjusts school systems to meet the needs and interests of such children, youth will remain out of the classroom and selling items on the streets, says Yakubu.

Meantime, Yakubu wants to start “mobile schools,” he says with a chuckle: “Schools on wheels.”

He plans to buy vans and outfit them as classrooms. 

“Instead of sitting under trees for shade to take a break,” says Yakubu. “The students can come into the van to learn from the teachers.”

He says he thinks it is a good idea not necessarily because of the educational aspects, but to simply motivate the children selling goods on the streets to find their way back into formal education systems in the future.

The government just has to make them work for youth with unique situations first.  

The YMFU is an organization in Ghana lobbying for youth empowerment. The key to African development lies in educating youth, says Yakubu.

Youth like Theodora, Kwame, and Angelina. 

Tanzanian youth rising

 

Arusha town
"According to renowned Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski, Tanzania's "bayaye" or unemployed and idle youth await the slightest street spectacle, which will instantly draw large numbers. Case in point, a truck collides with a boda-boda driver (motorcycle taxi) in Arusha town on Sokoine Road and dozens immediately gather." | Photo by: Adam Bemma


 

By Adam Bemma


ARUSHA, Tanzania-- Despite statements made by the Tanzanian government to discredit the opposition and blame unemployed "idle youths" or "rioters" for actions taken against the state, the governing CCM party's public relations campaign seems doomed to fail.

The CCM (Chama Cha Mapinduzi) party, or Party of the Revolution, has been at the head of government in Tanzania for half a century. The party feels democracy is being threatened in Tanzania due to violent protests which have rocked the East African nation over the last few months.

From north to south, it seems there's a general lack of progress while neo-liberal economic policies are replacing the socialist past of this country. To many Tanzanians, President Jakaya Kikwete's market reforms seem more designed to enrich the administrative and political capitals of Dar es Salaam and Dodoma than benefit some of the poorest regions of the country.

May 21, 2013, President Kikwete proclaimed that the country's natural gas discoveries in the south are for the benefit of all Tanzanians and not just for those lucky enough to be living above this valuable resource.

Residents in the southern region of Mtwara, where the resource was discovered, are against the government's decision to exclude them from talks on the Chinese-funded pipeline. President Kikwete's plan for the pipeline is to transport the natural gas to Dar es Salaam, but because the president didn't address this regional issue, a stand off between residents and police ensued, causing many deaths.

Earlier last May, a large student demonstration woke up the sleepy northern region of Arusha. This relatively quiet tourist mecca was brought into the national spotlight when accounting students faced off against police due to a general lack of security on campus and one student's murder at the front gate of the IAA- Institute of Accountancy Arusha.

In response to both incidents, army and police forces were sent in to quell the protests using force, instead of trying to use more diplomatic means. This has lead many Tanzanians in Mtwara and Arusha to believe these regions have been neglected for far too long.

Rising unemployment in Tanzania is cited by the government as one of the main reasons why youth are getting into the streets and voicing their discontent, which according to many Tanzanians has been rare in the history of this country, especially since the 50 years of independence from Britain.

Arusha-based musician and social activist, Lwanda Magere sees a dramatic shift happening politically in his country.

"Change has to come sometime and the youth have been oppressed for a long time. There are no jobs and the education standard of Tanzania is very low," he said. "Last year, over 50 per cent of students in the whole country failed their national exams."

The 2013 UNDP Human Development Index (HDI) ranks Tanzania at 152, which is considered low. The UN's flagship anti-poverty organization ranking shows the country has a long way to go before this starts to change.

Renowned Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski wrote in his 2001 memoir The Shadow of the Sun about what he coined as East Africa's "bayaye" or unemployed youth:

"You will notice them at once, because it is they who form the street crowds, so different from ones in Europe," he continues. "They drift this way and that, sit in the shade, stare, nap. They have nothing to do. No one is expecting them. Most often, they are hungry. The slightest street spectacle--a quarrel, a fight, the apprehension of a thief--will instantly draw large numbers of them. For they are everywhere around here, idle, awaiting who knows what, living who knows how."

It seems not much has changed since Kapuscinski's time in Tanzania, where he covered the period pre- and post-independence, returning many times throughout his storied career in Africa, from 1957 to 1990.

And for the government of Tanzania and President Jakaya Kikwete? What can they expect to happen as a result of these clashes, which were a response to government inaction?

A growing opposition movement in the country. More protests and regional spats with Dodoma, unless they work together to address the regional indifference throughout Tanzania and spend more time trying to build bridges with the regions than burning them.

06/11/2013

Begging for the blind: Accra’s street children

IMG_7296-small
Theresa enlists street children to escort her through traffic begging drivers for change.


By Abby Wiseman

It’s early on a Saturday morning and everyone in Accra is either sleeping or praising God in church. The streets are quiet.

I sit on the curb at a main intersection in the Adebraka neighbourhood of Accra, waiting for Betty, the local journalist I work with to join me.

Children hang around, creeping closer and closer, trying to get a good glimpse of the curious Obruni, pale person, who’s sitting in their territory.

A group of older women and one older man sit with the children.

They are blind.

Some eyes go in two different directions, others are coated with the milky haze of blindness, and some have no eyes at all.

They murmur to each other in a Northern dialect, while the children start calling out “obruni” in my direction. As soon as I look in their direction they laugh and run away out of view.

When will Betty get here?

The traffic thickens and the noise pollution of incessant horns and broken mufflers thickens the air.

Slowly, one by one, the blind adults stand up and move into traffic, escorted by one or more children, to beg the jammed drivers for “small-small” change, which they will split 40/60 with the child.

Betty arrives.

When I first started at CitiFM, Betty came to me with the story of Albert, a young boy who begs for a blind woman named Theresa, his mother.

She had an interview, but wasn’t sure where else to go with the story, so we went back to Theresa and Albert to learn more of their story.

The plot thickened quick.

It turns out that Albert is not Theresa’s son, in fact he was no where to be found. Theresa found a new “daughter” to replace Albert and her name is Faustina.

Faustina is one of the over 61,500 street youth that live in Accra.

According to the director of Catholic Action for Street Youth Ghana (CAS), Jos Van Dinther, who conducted the count of street youth with the Ministry of Social Welfare, the number of street youth in Accra has increased 12 times past 20 years, and the government is not doing enough to help the situation.

The traditional family system saw that most children were cared for, if not by their parents, then their many extended relatives. But that structure has long been dissipating and the government has not stepped in to pick up where families cannot, so the problem continues to escalate.

Van Dinther runs a safe place for street children who want to leave the streets. They come to CAS, try out some classes, and when they are ready to commit to their studies CAS will give them a home, although not many children get to that point, and even less stick with it.

These are some of the hardest children to teach, Van Dinther tells us, because they are not children. These youth are used to having absolute freedom over their movements and, more importantly, their money. Sitting them in a classroom for hours is impossible, adopting them out to families who want a “child” is a mistake, and as the number of street children increase, those that come to CAS are getting younger and younger.

The most vulnerable of the street children are the girls. For protection many of them take on boyfriends beyond their years and some as young as twelve have babies.

That is the story of Theresa’s real daughter.

IMG_7299
Mary, Theresa's daughter exchanged sex for food and shelter when times were difficult. Her young baby is in the background.


When Betty and I found Theresa for the second time, we found out she had 18 year-old twins, one boy and one girl.

Theresa’s son was away in school, but Mary, her daughter, wasn’t allowed to attend school. Instead she spent the past eight years begging on behalf of Theresa.

Times got tough as Mary got older and in exchange for food and shelter she had a relationship with a man who got her pregnant.

Mary sits next to her mother on a plastic chair, her 10-month old whose pants are soaked with urine bounces on her lap.

She speaks to Betty about the man who got her pregnant, on how he pays her 100 cedis, $50 CDN, a month for the baby. She also speaks on the pain of not getting an education, which is compulsory in Ghana. She says she still believes she could go to school, if only she knew her baby was cared for.

IMG_7304
Mary breaks down in tears when talking about her lack of education, while her mother, Theresa, fidgets uncomfortably.


Van Dinther is quick to be realistic about Mary’s prospects. Even if she were to go to school, he said, she would have a hard time learning anything.

Mary’s case may be too far gone, but is the problem of street children also too far gone I ask him?

He looks weary.

“I don’t know.”

 

 

 

05/24/2013

Hyena Ground

IMG_2279
Two local journalists interview a woman working in the sex trade at Heyna Ground, Dar Es Salaam.


By: Teri Fikowski

"Unakwenda wapi?" Translation, "Where are we going?"

I'd seen poverty in my first few weeks in Africa.  I mean, who
wouldn't expect to witness some form of poverty in Tanzania having
accepted a six month position as a media rights trainer in the
country's largest city, Dar Es Salaam. But as I observed my
surroundings quickly deteriorate out the window of our van carrying
myself and three local journalists, I became quite aware this was a
different level of poverty.  The answer to my question?  "Hyena
Ground,"  a slum in the midst of the urban city setting and my
definition of hell on earth.

It wasn't necessarily the run down conditions that leads me to
describe it as such.  Shanty huts, feces alongside makeshift roads,
and utter chaos are to be expected.  It wasn't the thousands of flies
feasting on piles of raw chicken meat that from the smell had been
smothering under the sun seemingly all day.  It wasn't even the old
Tanzanian man who asked me through drunken slurs to "give him my
vagina" that makes me draw such a conclusion.  Rather, it was all
these stereotypical ideas of poverty combined with the reason we were
there; to produce a two part TV and radio series on sex workers in Dar
Es Salaam.

Don't get me wrong, as a journalist it's in my blood to seek out these
type of stories.  That doesn't mean I enjoy the reality that girls as
young as 12-years-old are selling their bodies as a means for survival
for less than 1USD.

Actually in this case I hadn't intentionally sought out the story.
Just the day before, I'd approached a young reporter to see what he'd
been working on.  He told me he'd been at a police press conference
where it was announced officers would be cracking down on prostitution
in Dar Es Salaam and charging women working in the sex trade.  I asked
who else he spoke to to produce the story and wasn't surprised after a
few days amongst the local media to learn only the one source.  I
tried to explain the importance of using multiple sources in a report
and to show all sides of the story.  Surely it wasn't a lifestyle
these women wanted to be a part of?  He was apprehensive at first;
prostitution is illegal in Tanzania.  I asked him if he thought
charging these woman would really create a change in society and was
glad when his response was asking for my help following up on the
press conference the next day.

Entering Hyena Ground, we were joined by the street's Chairman and two
of his employees.  That made our total number seven and from what I
was told, necessary.  After making our way through shacks where men
gambled and walked over others passed out drunk with evidence of local
spirit in children's sand buckets, we approached some of the "working
girls."  One of the journalists translated the interview and I heard
what I'd expected but what seemed to come as a surprise to my
colleagues.  These women didn't want to be doing what they were doing.
 A life subject to disease and violence wasn't an intentional choice
but they said they had no alternative.  Some were paying for school
and refused to have their face on camera.  Others were desperate and
needed to feed their children, one which was clinging to his mother's
leg.  We were also told police collect a group of women from the area
around once a week and if they can't pay a charge do "bad things to
them."    At one point a woman broke down and walked away from the
camera.  I placed my hand on her back in a pathetic attempt to comfort
her, unable to offer any verbal support even with broken Kiswahili.
Besides, what could I say?

After some time collecting interviews we grew uneasy from an
increasing large crowd forming around our crew so opted to return to
the van.  We would later learn from the Tanzanian Legal and Human
Rights Centre there are few statistics regarding the number of women
involved in the sex trade due to narrowed definitions surrounding
prostitution and human trafficking.  Despite a three-year action plan
to end in 2014 providing education to law enforcers regarding the sex
industry, many fail to see the possible indicators of victims.
Needless to say, it's easy to grow pessimistic.

It wouldn't be until a few days later I'd celebrate the report's small
victories when other local media outlets picked up the story and when
my colleagues expressed their interest following up on the accusations
against the police.  Perhaps the most significant win is their
willingness to show all sides of the story in the future, even if it's
something hard to understand.

When we drove away from Hyena Ground one of the journalists asked me
what I thought.  My reaction was uneasy laughter which was returned
with my first true introduction to Tanzania, "welcome to our country."
______

Caption photo #1:  Two local journalists interview a woman working in
the sex trade at Heyna Ground, Dar Es Salaam.

Caption photo #2:  Many "working girls" at Hyena Ground say they are
living in extreme poverty and cannot feed their families.

Caption photo #3:  Working conditions for women in the sex trade in
Dar Es Salaam.

Living on Abokobi's illegal landfill

IMG_7336

By Abby Wiseman

Adelaide pulls out one of her large lactating breasts and plunks it into the mouth of her 10 month old baby while she shares her story of how she came to live on the fringe of the Abokobi garbage dump in Accra.

Plastic bottles, cans and plastic bags from the dump creep up to her porch.

The pungent smell of burning rubber and plastic is so strong that my stomach drops every few minutes and I tell myself to stick it out. I can leave this place, Adelaide can’t.

The dump is located on the outskirts of Ghana’s capital city. Outskirts does not mean uninhabited, and Abokobi is clearly a residential area.

When Pearl Akanya Ofori, the reporter I work with at CitiFM, said she wanted to do a report on the Abokobi dumpsite, I figured we might find people who live and work on the site. They might live in a shack or on the side of the road I thought. The last thing I thought I’d see was properly erected homes. I didn’t expect to see an entire village close to the dump, completely engulfed in toxic smoke.

But in my amazement the community is growing and someone is even building a large house Kitty-corner to the dumpsite. Construction workers labour in the smog.

Adelaide said she moved to her new home with a view of never ending garbage trucks in March. She said that her last landlord evicted her mother, brothers and sisters from their home in Adenta, a nearby neighbourhood. She said a friend told her she could live near the dump. She said she pays rent, but couldn’t tell us how much.

The smoke is suffocating and she said she often has to leave her house just to clear her eyes. Her youngest coughs on and off for hours sometimes she said. There’s a hospital up the street, but she doesn’t think she should go.

Adelaide does not live at the dump alone. There are many incomplete houses in the neighbourhood, their brick and mortar foundation still showing. This seems to be a trend in Accra.

A path weaves between the houses and we follow it into a clearing where a group of young men hang out next to a rusty bench press.

These are the bolla pickers. Bolla means garbage in Twi, which is a local language.

We ask if they will speak to us. They lead us to their unofficial spokesman, Abrantie. That’s not really his name, but means young man in Twi. He was worried about his livelihood and didn’t want to reveal his real name.

Abrantie travelled from the northern region of Ghana in hopes of more opportunity. He didn’t have the skills to survive in a city and found himself picking from the top of the burning bolla.

He said the work is hot and dangerous, and the bolla is unstable.

The bolla pickers sell their bits of plastic and water bottles to middle men who then sell it to a recycling plant or abroad. The most money he has earned for his efforts is 50 Ghana Cedis ($25 CDN), and that was for two weeks worth of work.

Right now he is managing a drink stand the men have set up. He said he needed a break, but he knows it’s only a matter of time before he has to go back up onto the bolla.

Looking at the mountain of refuse, figures of men can be made out through the smoke. They walk on top of the garbage, bending down to pick up recyclable trash, dodging the shovels that sift the pile.

I ask Abrantie and the other men how they feel health-wise. He doesn’t mention his bad lungs or burning eyes until I asked him about those health concerns directly. Instead, he spoke about stress. He said they can’t feel too good, because they don’t know where their next “daily bread” will come from.

I think on these men and what their lives must be like. I can’t help but wonder where they get comfort and love. Their lives are so challenging with so little certainty. They have very little to offer a woman and they have no family in the area.

The men crowded around Abrantie as he spoke about the stress. I asked them who takes care of them. They said they take care of each other. They are brothers. The brothers of the bolla.

 

 

 

 

 

05/14/2013

Pharmacist strike hurts aids patients

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By: Abby Wiseman

HIV patients line the hallway of the Fevers Unit Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra. They wait for hours for their name to be called, so they can collect their antiviral drugs. Normally the patients would get two to three months of medication at a time, but since the pharmacists are on a national strike in Ghana, they are lucky to get 10 days worth.

Juanita Sallah, the local journalist I’m working with at CitiFM, negotiates her way past the watchful nurses and finds Nana Esi, an HIV patient, sprawled out on a bench.

Nana Esi is concerned.

To put more pressure on the government, the Government and Hospital Pharmacists Association announced last week that they were going to stop administering drugs to emergency patients, the mentally ill and those with HIV/AIDS. Which means that Nana Esi does not know how much longer she will be able to get the drugs, and that she is relying on the nurses to accurately portion out her medication.

“We are worried, we are worried,” she says. “They just give us bit by bit, bit by bit. We are just pleading with the government to do something about it.”

We speak with another man battling HIV who refers to himself as Kwame. He tells us that the strike has become a major inconvenience in his life, because he has to travel four hours to the hospital every 10 days. This, he says, makes it difficult for him to work and keep a living.

The problem is that the government, under the Fair Wage and Salaries Commission, suddenly switched the pharmacists into a new salary structure, mid-negotiation, without any notice. It’s a part of a new public servant salary structure, called the Single Spine Salary Structure, which ensures that all public servants with the same education and occupation will be paid the same across the board. 

The pharmacists were categorized in a much lower salary group than they think they should be- something closer to nurses, when they say they should be paid closer to the doctors. Instead of trying to negotiate with the commission, the Government and Hospital Pharmacist Association decided to strike immediately, exacerbating an already dire situation, because the doctors have been on strike since the end of March, leaving the care of the patients to the nurses.

Talks between the Fair Wage and Salary Commission and the pharmacists have been non-existent. When Juanita phoned the health minister, Sherry Ayitey, to find out what her ministry is doing to ensure HIV patients get their medication, she declined to comment. I called her after the story aired to see if she would like to have a word before I publish this blog. She said she did not know about the strike and hung up the phone.

After that exchange, I think of Nana Esi, dabbing her forehead with a sweat rag in that long hallway. She’s so sick and she is just trying to survive, but the politics of a nation are getting in the way. As far as anyone knows, there is no plan to help her or remedy the situation, and now the nurses are threatening to strike. She should be worried.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

08/08/2012

The need for mental health rehabilitation treatment in Malawi

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Flomina Mawindo stands in front of the dilapidated house she plans to rebuild as a strategy to keep the chronic stress and depression that initially caused her mental illness at bay. Photo by Karissa Gall. 

By Karissa Gall

A building remodel is not typically “what the doctor ordered” to stave off chronic stress and depression.

But in Malawi there is a shortage of doctors with orders, and for Flomina Mawindo, a single mother of five in the Che Mboma village, rebuilding a dilapidated house is her best shot to ensuring her own rehabilitation after being discharged from Zomba Mental Hospital.

Mawindo was admitted to the hospital after family and financial stress set off a downward spiral into anxiety and insomnia. She struggled with a husband who, until his death in 2004, encouraged thieves to steal from her to ensure she did not have the means to divorce him; in-laws who cursed her and her children and a son who stole from other villagers and skipped town leaving her to pay outstanding debts.

She began walking the streets at night, talking to herself and became increasingly violent when her children attempted to restrain her. She was admitted to the hospital in November 2011.

Mawindo was discharged in February, and is able to recall, with a shaking voice and haunted eyes, her experience at the hospital as one of “trouble and pain.”

“In the first ward, it was not good at all,” Mawindo remembers.  “There were four or five patients in one room.  The others would bite me, abuse me, and grab my food.  I could not protect myself.”

Mawindo said the problems that made the hospital “like a prison” were caused by a shortage of doctors and nurses - an issue that was confirmed by a nurse at the hospital who said “the nurses are always there, but for example today we are only two nurses, and we have...53 patients."

Due to the shortage of doctors and nurses, psychological treatment has not been institutionalized and instead the provision of drugs takes priority.

Mawindo has been prescribed sodium valproate, a mood stabilizer which causes side effects including include fatigue and shaking. She is no longer strong enough to walk to the market to do business and has not returned to work since being discharged.  Her daughter Tadala left primary school to care of the family until the Jacaranda School for Orphans stepped in and hired a caretaker.

Beyond the caretaker and maize meal donations provided by Jacaranda, Mawindo said she is not aware of any other community-based services able to help support her and her family.

In the absence of government-funded, community-based aftercare and rehabilitation services, Mawindo said she plans to make repairs to a dilapidated house on her property and open it up to renters or turn it into a chicken farm. 

She derives her motivation from the time spent at the mental hospital.

“I was going through trouble and pain at that hospital,” she said.  “I’ve decided I will never go back there again.”

According to Draft III of the Malawi Health Sector Strategic Plan for 2011-2016, in March 2011 when the plan was published there were no mental health activities at community level, primary health care units did not provide mental health services, the treatment services provided by tertiary institutions were mainly for people with severe or acute mental health problems and the provision of psychological rehabilitation was limited.

The same report found that in 2011 only 1.5 per cent of the national health budget was being spent on mental health and except for one or two districts, most districts spent none of their budget on mental health services apart from the procurement of drugs.

There's so much more to Africa than predictable headlines about war, famine and AIDS. From Ghanaian beauty pageants to music in Malawi, Africa Without Maps provides a rare glimpse of life in Africa from Journalists for Human Rights interns on the ground.

08/04/2012

Revamping the Malawi police force

Comfort Chitseko
Comfort Chitseko on the front page of the BNL Times (Malawi newspaper) in October 2011. He was accused of being an activist.  Photo by: Comfort Chitseko.

By Kara Stevenson

"I was detained, in jail for seven days for no reason,” says Comfort Chitseko, who was arrested by Malawi police in October for allegedly conducting "demonstration without authority consent and seditious act", according to police.

“I was having lunch with my cousin before I was arrested. They put me in the local jail cell and then they eventually transferred me to Maula Prison. I did absolutely nothing wrong."

During the time of Chitseko’s arrest, the country was in chaos. The July 2011 protests caused tension across the nation.

Chitseko now awaits a court hearing for the accusations.

“Time and time we experience that the society is saying that we mishandle suspects,” says Commissioner Nelson Bophani for Malawi’s police service in Lilongwe’s central region.

Since the 2011 protests, the force has yet to recover from their violent reputation.

Many police authorities recognize Malawians' criticisms of the force's arbitrary arrests and alleged brutality.

“The public is expecting a lot from us,” said Detective Lucy Mkute from Kanengo Police Service. 

She feels that changes are already being made within the force.

Many changes have been made in government administration since the leadership of Joyce Banda, including the replacement of the inspector-general of the service.

Since being appointed, the new Inspector-General, Commissioner Loti Dzonzi has initiated an "Investigative Interviewing Skills" workshop for all investigators and prosecutors in the service.

“It is the desire of the inspector-general that we change the image of the police service,” said Bophani. “His intention is to do it by imparting skills to all investigators and prosecutors.

“The police service needs to avoid using torture and violence...instead we should use our skills. It’s what Malawi needs.”

There's so much more to Africa than predictable headlines about war, famine and AIDS. From Ghanaian beauty pageants to music in Malawi, Africa Without Maps provides a rare glimpse of life in Africa from Journalists for Human Rights interns on the ground.

Africa Without Maps


  • There's so much more to Africa than predictable headlines about war, famine and AIDS. From Ghanaian beauty pageants to music in Malawi, Africa Without Maps provides a rare glimpse of life in Africa from Journalists for Human Rights interns on the ground.

    Funding for the jhr bloggers is provided by the Government of Canada's Youth International Internship Program.