A leisurely start, thank goodness. We went first to Trashy Bags, a wonderful company making bags and clothing from recycled plastics. In particular they recycle the small plastic bags which contain pure drinking water and which are sold on every street corner and road junction. This pure water has greatly improved people’s health, but the bags are usually just thrown on the ground after use. They litter the ground, block drains and cause flooding. Something needs doing, but banning them is not the answer because they have meant less disease. Education is the key and so that is what Trashy Bags are hoping to achieve. They also recycle old plastic posters some of which are gigantic that go on metal frames along the roadsides. They often advertise evangelistic meetings or original rallies.
The bags are first washed, then dried in the sun. Then the small bags are sewn together in strips, then the strips are joined to form larger pieces. Templates are used for each item and then the pieces are cut out. The pieces are stitched together by skilled machinists using industrial sewing machines. 70 small water sachets go into 1 carrier bag. The results are a range of bags from wallets to computer bags, from card holders to rucksacks, all made from this recycled plastic. Fabric off cuts are also used to create fabric covers for some items. The range is quite impressive and desirable. At present they don ‘to supply Traidcraft, but we all thought that they should!
One fertiliser company, Yara, has given them hundreds of rejected plastic fertiliser bags and sponsored them to make backpacks for schoolchildren in rural areas. O.K. The company gets some free advertising, but the children get a free school bag along with pens, books etc. Zoomlion, one of the biggest waste management companies in Africa supply them with the plastic bags etc. the end result is that the environment is cleaner, the public are educated when they buy the bags, and employment is created for over 40 people. Needless to say, we spent quite a lot in the shop.
Lunch was in the same place we had lunch the first time we were in Accra. This time they forgot the veggies, so we had to wait while everyone tucked in, then they had to wait while we did! It was very good though when it came.
After lunch we visited the community of Nima, a large shanty town in Accra. We met a young man who guided us through the maze of narrow alleyways and streets. Open sewers empty into a river, making it an open sewer as well. Rubbish is piled along the river bank and any other water course. The smell is pretty appalling, added to by the cows, sheep and goats which are kept on any spare area. These animals are all stall fed, and not with much by the look of them. It is a mixed religious community Moslems and Christians, living alongside each other with no trouble at all. Any incidents that do arise are mainly tribal rather religious. Perhaps the intake of marijuana helps to keep things mellow? The young men, who were savouring their spliffs in various locations, certainly seemed very relaxed!
We visited a school that rivalled some of the state primaries we have seen in Kagera. The classrooms were crammed to capacity (40 or 50 in a class) and the children spoke in French and English, as well as their native tongues. When you are surrounded by ffrancophone countries it is important you learn French as well. The parents gave too provide books, equipment and uniform, but otherwise the school is free! One side of the quadrangle was just one large room with about 5 classes all learning different things and separated by wooden boards. How the children or the teachers could concentrate, goodness knows. All the classrooms had high concrete steps in case the place flooded which it does regularly in the wet season. It wouldn’t be just water that invaded the classrooms either.
Is this ‘poverty tourism’ ? I suppose so, and yes I did feel some qualms about walking through such desperate poverty in my smart clothes with my Nikon camera swinging around my neck. But people did seem pleased to see us, our guide was being paid and I think we gained insights that could translate into action if we chose. I have taught about shanty towns for 38 years and now I’ve been to one and could perhaps give pupils more of an insight than I did. Perhaps all Geography teachers should go on such a trip? Perhaps such places just shouldn’t exist, because I do believe that their poverty is built at least partly on our wealth?
We carried on through alleyways and into a Main Street where a market was being set up. People seemed generally pleased to see us on the whole, offering their hands to shake, and saying “Welcome to Ghana”. They seemed a little more relaxed about photographs as well, but we still had to be careful. By now we were exhausted as it was hot, noisy and crowded. Luckily the bus was waiting for us at a Catholic Church, where I confess I took a little time out, in the quiet and relative cool of the building. On the altar was a small monstrance standing on an Asante stool. Thus do cultures blend into each other.
A quick visit to the Global Mamas store a stone’s throw from our hotel and it was time for some R & R. We meet at 7.00 for dinner. I think the Italian might get another visit!j