Sunday, February 19, 2012

In Pokuase

Lorry stop on the main highway at Pokuase. Mini busses are packed with the afternoon rush of students, office workers, laborers and traders.

With Solomon Fiagah, loan administrator for WomensTrust and my guide and friend in Pokuase, on the road into town.

Pokuase lies off an exhaust-choked four-lane highway, a main artery for trucks and public transport carrying cargo and people from Ghana's capital city, Accra, to points north and east. The village is a bustling network of dusty, unpaved roads lined by open gutters and small shops and homes, a colorful amalgam of tin-roofed wooden shacks and compact shipping containers alongside modern, plaster-walled buildings. 

Main Street in Pokuase.

Consumerism ingratiates itself in the everyday of traditional agrarian life. Goats roam freely in front of an open display of computer monitors sold from a kiosk. Fast food restaurants serve chinese chicken and rice, competing with the traditional chop bars where women stir steaming cauldrons of palm oil stew and banku over open wood fires. Other street sellers offer quick snacks like roasted plantain, akara, a savory doughnut made of bean flour, and (my favorite) kenkey, a steamed dumpling made of fermented corn, served with hot pepper sauce and dried fish.

Computer store in Pokuase.

Most of Pokuase's 20,000 residents still get their water from a hand pump, though many more people now get it delivered by truck. 

Water delivery to an office building in Pokuase.

Clean water is an ongoing concern in Ghana. "More than 36% of the rural population does not have access to improved drinking water sources, and 89% lack adequate sanitation," according to a recent report by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health; "13% of the children under 5 deaths in Ghana are attributable to diarrheal disease." The Safe Water Network, a non-profit funded largely by the Pepsico Foundation and Newman's Own Foundation, has constructed a small water treatment facility in Pokuase that provides safe drinking water for about 7,000 residents, according to its website. 
Safe Water Network treatment facility, in Pokuase.

But lots of people still can't afford the luxury of water deliveries, and rely on communal wells that operate by hand pump. Poor sanitation, run-off of pesticides from farming, and indiscriminate dumping of toxic waste imperil ground water sources. One morning during my visit a local resident reported that the water he pumped from his neighborhood reeked of petrol and was unusuable.

A residential neighborhood in Pokuase.
Thankfully, bottled drinking water is available most everywhere. Unfortunately, Ghana, like the rest of the world, is drowning in plastic refuse--no vista left unmarred by the litter of discarded water bottles and 'sachets' (single-serving pouches of drinking water) and plastic grocery sacks (my personal contributions to the plastic trash heap guiltily included) . Ghanaians are well known for their "DIY culture" -- master repurposers with the ability to transform something old into something new; yet recycling plastic is still not widely practiced. The environmental movement is only now catching on, spurred in part by small NGOs and social enterprises like Trashy Bags, located in Accra, which recycles plastic bags into totes, purses and other accessories.

Just a few of the innovative projects I learned about while in Pokuase with WomensTrust.

WomensTrust's offices are located in a local government building next door to the Safe Water Network facility in Pokuase. Volunteer Jody Nozetz (that's her out front), a volunteer from Canada, is helping to conduct field interviews of loan clients to document the impact of WomensTrust's programs on the local community.

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