This region in which we were working in Ghana is all that it looks – lush, verdant, cooler than the city, and peaceful. We refer to it as the island from Lost. To me it seems a much more pleasant lifestyle to live in poverty in this rural area than in Accra. There is space and cleanliness; sanitation is separated from homes. There is solid shelter, even if it is made out of mud. It is actually pretty cool how the villages are laid out, with a single path leading into the forest, emerging in a freshly swept clearing with a home, leading to another path, and more clearings.
I was surprised at first when people here said “we are suffering” because it seems such a pleasant life compared to that of the urban poor. But then I remembered that people here have a high burden of disease and little access to health care. There is no electricity, cell phone service, clean water, or plumbing. They work very hard from a young age, doing the physical labor of farming and carrying many kilograms over many miles to trade their goods. They have only a few, tattered items of clothing for their children to wear.
While suffering is all relative in a country like Ghana, their perspective reminded me of the importance of meeting certain basic human needs – really human rights – like clean water and sanitation. I often found myself thinking back to elementary school, where I learned that all humans need food, water, and shelter to survive. Back then I thought of it in the context of something just like Lost, about people who ended up on an abandoned island or in a dense wood alone and would need to resourcefully find food, water, and shelter in order to make it out alive. At the time I had no awareness that there were whole countries where the majority of people don’t have proper food, water, and shelter. Even now, with this reality fresh in my mind, it is hard to comprehend – and daunting to think of where to begin trying to create change.