13 August 2006

The Poverty Sampler Pack

First, a note about the text below. This is meant merely as a specific look at circumstances which I have encountered at specific times regarding the general definition of poverty. It is not an indepth look into average Ghanaian life. It is a description, however inaccurate, of how millions of people survive, and the staggering numbers which hold humanity by the neck. This is the Poverty Sampler Pack.

3 billion people all share one condition: Poverty.

Under varying circumstances, poverty is a blanket term which is used to describe the lack of opportunities which face almost half of the entire planet's population for one reason or another.


There was a glaring omission in my indepth accommodations report from last month. I forgot to mention a particular location which I stayed at for under a week, yet had a profound impact on my views of the world around me.

Upon my arrival in Damongo, and before I found a host family, I was housed at a compound known as the Shangrilah (the actual name is unknown, but this is what I refer to it as). Colourfully painted and well maintained was it's exterior, and friendly and cordial were its inhabitants.

However the people living in this compound had no proper access to latrines or toilets. Indeed, the people who live at the Shangrilah have to defecate in the bush. These ten inhabitants are just a tiny fraction of a much more staggering fact.

2.4 billion people, or almost 40% of the world's population, do not have access to appropriate sanitary conditions.

Perhaps what shocked me most was that the people living at the Shangrilah are teachers, NGO workers, and businessmen and women. Their relative income is quite high, and they speak openly of the resources they have been denied. The problem stems from a landlord who promised to install the appropriate equipment as soon as he was able to rent out the entire complex. This was accomplished almost two years ago, and still no progress has been made.

The tenants, bound by contracts or lack of other housing, stay regardless, and add a new, educated face to the poverty that I have read about and experienced for the last three months. Poverty not only affects those with a lack of income, but also with a lack of appropriate resources or choices.

Access to appropriate sanitation is perhaps one of the largest issues facing the developing world today, and breeds avoidable conditions such as diarrhea which claim the lives of thousands of people.


When I returned to Damongo after the Ghana retreat in mid-July (a retreat in which I was reunited with the 10 colleagues which I had trained with for just six days before departing for Ghana, but felt like I was reuniting with childhood friends) I quickly settled down into the rural lifestyle I had been accustomed to. However just days later, our family was denied one of the luxuries we had enjoyed for the previous months.

Ghana's hydroelectric system is the legacy of the first President of it's independence, Kwame Nkrumah, who erected a dam so large that it created the world's biggest artificial lake (Lake Volta), and provided enough electricity to power the entire nation.

It is from this dam that Ghana's ever sprawling energy grid expands.

The various utility commissions in Ghana are quite abrupt when it comes to past-due bills and overdue payments. The national newspapers often publish a list of customers whose accounts have summed up millions of cedis in charges. This, along with a tendency to disconnect an entire neighborhood of electricity when only a few of it's inhabitants have not paid is a way to be certain of receiving payments on late accounts.

One day, while reading in the courtyard, a commotion broke out just outside the boundaries of our home; some meter-readers had arrived and were insisting that we had not paid our electricity bills. Having not yet received the receipt of payment, my father had little other than his personal assurance that we had paid the bills. This was not enough to satisfy the workers, however, and they cut our power source (as physically as it sounds, with really big scissors).

This blanketed the household in darkness and added myself and my family to another statistic.

400 million households do not have access to electricity.

This denies them the simple enjoyments of listening to the radio and lighting their compounds in darkness, but also increases the use and need of propane torches, charcoal, fuelwood, and other costly measures which are required to prepare food and illumination in these rural households.

The provision of rural energy can have tremendous impact on livelihoods and the quality of life which people enjoy.


Chilled water in Ghana is available on every street corner, either in locally-produced clear plastic bags, called ice-water, which is rarely anything more than chilled bore-hole or tapwater, or fancy sealed sachet packets carted in lorries across the country from Accra, under various labels and brands, each of which promises to be purer than the next. The prices range from ¢100 to ¢500, depending on your geographical location, and in most cases are completely safe for human consumption.

There are a few still, however, that either cannot afford this source of water, or live in too remote a place for the hawkers to sell their chilled bags. These rural villagers, in many areas of Ghana, form a group of people that share the same condition:

1.2 billion people lack access to clean water.

Decades of development in Ghana have left the countryside dotted with boreholes and wells, each in varying states of operation, if they run at all. Borehole water provides a safe, reliable source of groundwater for washing, cooking, and consuming, and indeed has sustained myself for the duration of my placement, and my family for years beforehand. However in portions of Ghana, which experiences a prolonged dry season, the water table sits very low, requiring special equipment to dig deep enough to access the water. This cost (about ¢9 000 000), just for the drilling alone, prevent such water sources from being feasible in every community, and when they are, they are the lone source of clean water.

Damongo is blessed with having multiple bore-holes dotted around the community, and sometimes clustered over good groundwater sources, helping prevent both bottle-necks for water and complete reliance on one pump, which when broken requires women to collect water from unreliable and frequently contaminated watering holes.

Such pumps we have discovered in many smaller villages around the region where the borehole pump has been rendered useless over time, and the organizations or people who first installed the pump are nowhere to be found. Water being an everyday essential regardless of circumstances, requires that people find any source they can, no matter how unsafe it may be.


Ghana's enormous dependence on agriculture in the north spells disaster when the rainy season fails to provide appropriate fruits, and adequate substinence when the rains are good. This dependence and lack of diversity of income means that many Ghanaians fall under the category which the UN uses to describe 'exteme poverty', whose umbrella covers the

1.2 billion people who make less than $1 a day.

These people live from the hand, to the mouth, without savings or banks and usually being uncertain of their long-term prospects. Having little capital and title, they fight to acquire loans from Ghana's weary banks, and struggle to make ends meet on a daily basis. This struggle forms their lives, and consumes their time to an almost infinite degree. Having spent just a handful of days farming, I appreciate the work that has gone into these endeavours, and quite selfishly was pleased that it was not something that I would have to endure for an extended period of time. But what of these farmers, who struggle for their livelihoods? How am I to merely sample this struggle and not feel as if I am just scratching the surface; just getting a taste.

Thus I have titled this post 'Poverty Sampler Pack'; a term coined to describe my integration into a society which is termed impoverished by the international community, as defined by one of the circumstances above. The reason for this title is simple. My escape from poverty has been booked on a KLM flight on August 22nd. I will leave behind my lack of opportunity, because my choices are many and I have been granted the sheer luck of being born into a society of abundance. There is a helpless feeling that comes with having a ladder out of the drowning pool. A pool which is being continuously filled by the economic super powers, whose policies and ideologies are making it almost impossible for millions of people around the world to escape the poverty that leaches their creativity and prosperity. This feeling is what has driven me to such a barbaric title, and will be my fuel for the fervor I will unleash upon to my return to Canada.


Anonymous Justin said...

Wow. What a post.

13 August, 2006  

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