Accra, June 12, GNA - It was the early part of May, a period when many farmers in the three northern regions go about with joy as the planting season has began and the dusty north-eastern trade winds are at rest together with the less hostile sun.
This was the period two years ago when I first visited Kormo, Duu and Bawisibelle as a data collection official for a United Nations sponsored project for the rural poor.
As a pillion rider with a colleague social worker, we journeyed through the rugged and fairly motorable path on a three hour journey from Tumu to the south- eastern hinterlands of the Sissala East District of the Upper West Region.
It was the rainy season and the rains though intermittent, was continuous so we had to seek shelter at a certain stage of the journey in a farm hut. And with this respite, the only thought on my mind was the extent of the poor road network in many parts of the Sissala East District.
At various stages of the journey, my colleague and i had no option than to take our shoes off and wade through extensive ponds. It was a scary experience as snakes abound in such areas but with some luck, we journeyed on through other valleys and waterways till we arrived at Kormo, my study destination.
Naa Bening Juan, the chief of Kormo No.1, on our arrival, explained to us that the heavy rains often cuts off their community from the rest of the region.
“Only strong young men who can swim brave the deep waters of these valleys” he said adding that in the past, there were two bridges on the Funsi route which have been washed away by the usual heavy rains and flooding.
The poor nature of the roads in the Sissala East District, it seems, has become a huge obstacle to development and agriculture, the main occupation of the indigenes, has been hindered.
Currently only two major routes lead to Kormo; and this is either on a motorbike from Tumu or by using the less rugged but equally hazardous route through some parts of the Northern Region through Funsi.
Mr Amidu Channia Issahaku, the Deputy Minister of the Upper West Region in an interview with the Ghana News Agency, said communities in the Sissala East District from have been ignored for far too long. “Members of these communities lack access to basic amenities and the poor road network was not helping the situation”.
The administration of Nana Addo Danquah Akuffo-Addo, he said, has the right policies to help rural communities to improve livelihoods.
Access to health care and malnutrition
On my second visit to the area again in May this year as a journalist with the Ghana News Agency, the situation it seems has worsened for inhabitants of Kormo and its surrounding communities including Duu and Bawisibelle.
And though the road network is a major concern, in a community like Kormo with a population of about 1100 inhabitants, there is no a health facility and residents have to trek for over an hour and a half to Bawisibelle, the nearest village with a Community based Health Planning and Services (CHPS) compound.
A report by the World Bank (2015), states that growing inequality in household consumption, regional disparities in welfare and a deteriorating macroeconomic environment are some of the challenges hindering the progress of Ghana.
The report said by 2012, poverty had become intense in rural areas and the northern parts, with one out of three poor people living in rural areas.
For the week i lived in Duu, a village which also relies on Bawisibelle for access to health care, i witnessed an incident where the wife of a mechanic went into labour one dawn and was quickly rushed to the CHPS compound only to meet an empty facility.
While we combed through the village looking for any of the three nurses of that facility to no avail, we came back to meet his wife holding the first twin on the veranda of the health facility. And it took the intervention of other elderly women to get the second twin delivered and this saved the life of the mother.
Madam Jemila, an indigene of Kormo and a mother of seven grown children, said all her children were delivered at home with the help of experienced elderly mothers in the community.
She said much as she has seven children the experiences of many expectant mothers in the community are very difficult to bear.
Madam Sherifa, another mother of three, recounted how she lost one of her twin babies a few months prior to my visit.
“I was able to deliver one baby but the second one would not come out so we had to call on the services of a tricycle to send me to Bawissibelle. On arrival it was too late. I was told that the baby had died in my womb. I went through so much pain but I still lost my baby,” she said.
Another report by UNICEF (2013), said malnutrition is a significant indirect cause of child mortality, contributing to one-third of all childhood deaths in the country.
It said although levels of malnutrition in Ghana have dropped, 23 per cent of children are stunted and 57 per cent are anaemic.
The report said nutrition is particularly poor in the northern parts of the country, where almost two in every five children are stunted and more than 80 per cent of cause of mortality for children under five is due to malnutrition.
Kormo, Duu and Bawisibelle are typical communities where malnourished children are evident. The malnourishment of many of these children can be attributed to high levels of poverty as many families rely solely on subsistence farming as their source of livelihood.
Farming, the major source of livelihood in these communities is a preserve for men. Women are not allowed to own land. They help on the farms of their husband and can only use portions of land given by their husbands to grow vegetables.
During the dry season however, women pick Shea nuts, which are then processed into Shea butter and sold in nearby markets for extra income. Women in the Shea butter business often move to nearby towns to get the nuts processed for the butter.
A three unit classroom block was found close to the Kormo River, a tributary of the Volta Lake which divides the community into two halves. Naa Basugle Amoa Abubakari, chief of Kormo No.2, explained that the three unit classroom block serves about 300 school pupils from pre-school to the JHS level.
Forms 1-3 have classes in the main block whilst the lower primary and pre-school children have theirs in a neighbouring wooden shelter. Classes five and six study under two mango trees on the compound and a small hut on the same compound served as the kitchen and canteen for the school until its eventual collapse.
Many girls in the three communities are out of school and many also marry young. Some girls interviewed by the GNA expressed regret for dropping out of school early and a few other expectant students with some conviction said they would return to school after delivery.
Seibatu Bukari, a former student, said she dropped out of school in class six and has three children at the age of 21. She said going back to school was no longer a possibility owing to the overwhelming tasks of being a mother of three children.
“I help my mother-in-law prepare Shea butter for sale on Tumu market days. I have always thought of learning a trade and when I raise enough money to fund my training, I intend to learn soap making,” she added.
Mr Issahaku lauded the “one village, one dam” initiative saying it would greatly help improve the lives of many in the northern parts of the country.
In this regard, he said, the existing cotton factory, located at Tumu, would be revived to encourage the youth to venture into cotton production and help create more jobs in the area.
The Deputy Regional Minister said the construction of a poultry feed factory should be located at vantage point to absorb farm produce, encourage livestock production and thereby help improve the lot of many in the various communities.
The concerns of the Sissala East District are numerous. But just like other improved communities in many parts of the country, i believe the situation in Sissala East is also surmountable.