Friday, January 26, 2007

A representative day

January 24, 2007

In the morning Renee and I met with Ato at the JHR office in Accra. Renee is the person I will be organizing the workshops with. She is a radio journalist from B.C. who taught in Tanzania for three years.

Our jobs are mostly based around giving workshops on the fundamentals of good journalism and human rights reporting to reporters around the country. Today we found out where we will be going first and what kinds of rights issues we'll be focusing on. We'll be going to Hoe, a community in eastern Ghana, between Lake Volta (the largest lake in the country which houses the hydroelectric dam that powers most of the country) and the neighbouring country of Togo.

We'll be focusing on human rights issues that affect women and children for all of the workshops, with the help of a human rights activist from Amnesty International. We'll tailor the human rights education to the regions we visit, as the issues vary from place to place.

Ghana has had a constitution that protects human rights - a constitution that's a comprehensive as our own - but abuses still persist because it's only been in effect since 1992 and many Ghanaians still don't know much about it and continue with traditional practices that often violate individual rights.

For example, it's still legal to rape your wife - there was a failed attempt last year to pass a domestic violence bill because it contained a clause criminalizing marital rape.

In the afternoon we ended up at Darrell and Eva's. There I met an assemblyman - the equivalent of a city or town councilor in Canada - and got a good glimpse into the life of a politician. He says politics are very retail in Ghana - some would say the same is true in Canada! He got elected because he was able to get streetlights erected in his community. You realize this is a big deal here when you've wandered around pitch-black neighbourhoods at night that don't have them. He got the government to agree to donate the lights, but he had to fundraise to erect them. The government doesn't have the money for many infrastructure projects that we take for granted. He found a well-off local resident to pitch in some money and he paid the rest out of his own pocket. He says this is very common here. A lot of people expect politicians to financially support the community, as well as represent it.

Like our councilors at home, they also take on initiatives that are not officially part of their jobs. For example, he's organizing a quiz competition in local schools about the history of Ghana. It will coincide with the 50th anniversary of independence celebrations in March.

We also talked about Canada for a while because his sister lives in the Toronto area.

- Mark

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