In March 2011 I posted about a program called ‘Leap into Life’ on a community page of social entrepreneurs. In April that year Mr. Fuseini Yakubu, a young Ghanaian man at that time living in Israel, contacted me. Mr. Yakubu is founder of PAMEPI, an NGO that focusses on capacity building and community development in Ghana. As Mr. Yakubu stated in one of our conversations: “In Ghana everybody is in need, PAMEPI supports those who are desperate.”
The PAMEPI website mentions: “PAMEPI has chosen to address the real and root causes of the persistent problems affecting Ghana”. Now this is something I found really interesting as a social economical entrepreneur. What are these real root causes; and how can one be (more) effectively working on them?
During the many conversations that followed Mr. Yakubu and I found resonance and recognition in our view on community development and developmental aid. The way PAMEPI works also seemed quite similar to what I have experienced in Macha Zambia. Development becomes sustainable when it inspires people from within the community to use their talents for the benefit of their community. So, it all starts with commitment from the community and with actions from individuals from inside the community. Support is being given with focus on empowerment of individual and collective action by the community for the benefit of the whole. Then it sustains.
PAMEPI (or in full ‘the Paabinaa Meriga Peace Initiative’) is initiated by young local people, without any funding or aid other than from the local communities PAMEPI works in. The organization is a result of ancient tradition to serve the community and inspired by Mr. Yakubu’s grandmother who took the task of aiding more deprived people in the community very seriously. This touches a second key factor for structural development; individual commitment to stay within the community for a longer period of time.
Life conditions are to be improved from inside the community, not by leaving it. Also in Macha, Zambia I have seen that this is a great challenge for those involved. Personal growth that leads to results for the community doesn’t stay unrecognized and often this can lead to a ‘pull’ from outside the community to become successful elsewhere. These (informal) community leaders are challenged by job opportunities or other possibilities outside the community. They are challenged in their persistence to stay and ‘finish the job’ with in the community. This is one of the reasons why I admire Mr. Yakubu his choice to return to Ghana and to fully stand in his role as a leader of PAMEPI from within the community in Ghana.
So PAMEPI works from ‘within’; addressing qualities, capacity and commitment of the community in need. This already changes something in the relationship between the community and the support system provided by, in this case, PAMEPI. The community has to take initiative and show ownership; PAMEPI supports those who step up to realize their contribution to the community. A strong relationship is being built with formal community leaders; kings, tribal chiefs, local government and the people in the local community. What I learn is that these relationship are significant, especially in turbulent times, and have to be genuine with respect for ancient local traditions. In Macha, Zambia the term ‘relatio’ is used as a key pillar for sustainable growth and community development.
Education, health and economic opportunities are three key topics for PAMEPI. The recent two years PAMEPI has focused on one of the projects called “School for All”. As the pilot project report mentions: The “School for All” project is an educational outreach proposal that seeks to address the challenges confronting Ghanaian and African children in general especially, those in the rural sector. The main objective of the “School for All” project is to assist children who ought to be in school but are not; motivate those already in school to stay and help in addressing issues confronting teachers in order to make teaching and learning a pleasurable encounter.
A pilot project has been running in the Northern region with Tamale as a donating community and Saakuba, a community with a population of around 1.400 people, as receiving entity. Activities focused on collection of funds and reusable materials, initiating the schemes and the programs, conducting field questioning, gathering data, creating lobbies and strengthening existing educational institutions. Empowering the people of Saakuba has been realized through the establishment of a community education development fund.
What I learned is that a child can learn to read and write without a teacher or a school building, but not without pencils, paper and books. What is the use of a nice building and a good teacher when the children don’t have materials to learn? Or even a better question is: “Does having own writing and reading material improve the capacity for learning of an individual child?” Personally I believe it does. In terms of conditions for learning, I strongly feel that these basic needs do have a catalyzing impact. A classroom and a teacher are also contributing, but their impact could be much more effective when children also have the materials for individual practice. Fact is that in rural areas mostly is not enough material available for children to each have their own pencils and writing blocks.
Education is key, but I also learned that focusing on education only is not sufficient. In Saakuba there is hardly any economic activity. Most people (99%) are traditional farmers. Funding of the teacher and school building was becoming an issue. With the growth of Ghanaian economy in general, the costs of education have been rising as well. The Saakuba community encountered problems in financing the teacher and school building.
PAMEPI supported setting up a community education fund. Money is been raised by the community through a communing farming plot. Here you see that PAMEPI stays closely to the roots of the community as a starting point for their development. There are still a lot of challenges, but the first steps are taken by the community with support from outside. And the first harvesting has resulted in a starting cash flow for the fund. Not enough, maybe, but a start has been made. And together with the planted crops the self sufficiency of the community is growing.
The conversations that Mr. Fuseini Yakubu and I held were supported by many documents he sent me; project evaluations, letters of recognition from the government and recommendations of people with capacity, authority, power and impact (CAPI). I shared about Macha Zambia, the research we have been doing there, and suggested to for him to link with the local community there. We spoke on Leap into Life as a possible vehicle for that. At that time the idea still was to have a first Leap into Life program hosted in Macha, Zambia.
During one of our conversations Mr. Fuseini asked me if I would be interested to become an ambassador for PAMEPI. I was both surprised and touched by this. Until then my 10 days in Macha, Zambia had been my only experience in rural Africa. My first reaction was hesitant and I suggested that people from MachaWorks would be far more appropriate partners than I could ever be. However Mr. Yakubu was persistent telling me that he wanted me for that role because of my vision and leadership. I still strongly remember him say: “Leaders like me need leaders like you to collaborate with!” Then my reaction was that I could not value that question appropriately without seeing the work of PAMEPI on grass root level. That made us both silent.
We decided that I would come over to Ghana to visit PAMEPI and the projects they were working on at that time. We agreed that November 2011 would be an appropriate time to visit because a number of events had been planned for the official launch of “School for All” beyond the pilot stage.
My next writing will be about this visit which became even more integrating than I could ever imagine…