JANESVILLE — On Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008, at 6 p.m. Fr. Steve Umhoefer and Carl Brey, both of Nativity of Mary Parish in Janesville, departed Madison for a trip to Ghana so that they could evaluate several aspects of the Global Solidarity Partnership (GSP) between the Catholic Diocese of Navrongo-Bolgatanga (N/B) in the Upper East Region of Ghana and the Diocese of Madison.
On this trip they met with Bishop Lucas Abadamloora; Vicar General Msgr. Thomas Anamooh; Fr. Emmanuel Acheampong, the head of the GSP in Ghana; Fr. Augustine Ayaga and Joseph Ayembilla of the diocesan development office; and David Azupogo, director of the Farmers Training Center and the person responsible for the Donkey Project, all major factors in the GSP in Ghana.
Over the course of several days Father Umhoefer and Brey were in the presence of one or more of these people for up to 14 hours per day. During the course of eight days in Ghana there were numerous meetings and discussions. At these meetings Father Umhoefer and Brey were extremely impressed by the strength of the commitment to the GSP on both sides and in what they can do for each other.
Severe flood damage
Father Umhoefer and Brey also extensively toured areas severely damaged by heavy rains, floods, and ethnic violence. Some of the heaviest damage to residences came from torrential downpours that lasted for 11 hours.
These rains caused many houses and compounds to literally melt. The overwhelming majority of homes in that part of Ghana are constructed from mud bricks held together and covered over with a mixture of mud and dung. Such construction cannot stand up to extremely heavy rains.
Much of this type of damage occurred in areas of high ground up on the plateaus around the Bolgatanga area. These torrential rains, which also fell on the lowlands, were joined there by the run-off from the high ground and resulted in further damage to residences and farmland.
This “double fisted whammy” was later joined by disastrous flooding which resulted when one or more of the dams on the Volta River in Burkina-Faso, a country to the north of Ghana, were opened to relieve the pressure on the dams and also to relieve the flooding up there.
Lost crops and livestock
The first rains caused severe damage and destruction to the houses. The floods that resulted from these rains, which came early in the year, washed out all of the subsistence crops planted by these individual farmers. Some reports had made light of this damage saying it was not that serious because the floods allowed for increased rice harvests. This rice harvest benefit was minimal and certainly does not come anywhere near to making up for the loss of other crops.
There was also substantial loss of livestock, including fowl, goats, sheep, pigs, and cattle that these subsistence farmers depended upon for the protein in their diet. After these first floods the people replanted what they could and just as the people were harvesting their “make-up” crops, the folks in Burkina-Faso saw fit to open their flood gates. This resulted in the loss of most of the second crops and much of the remaining livestock.
All-in-all there were 103,000 families that suffered disastrous loss of houses and/or crops. Considering that the average family has seven members, this means that over 720,000 people were severely impacted. That is nearly three-quarters of a million people out of a total population in the diocese of 2,000,000.
In their travels, which took them east to the border with Togo and north to the border with Burkina-Faso, Father Umhoefer and Brey also saw some considerable damage due to ethnic violence. There is some continual fighting between different tribes in the area. This results in some injury and loss of life as well as houses having roofs burned off. Many innocent families have been left without a husband and father.
Successful Donkey Project
In further meetings Father Umhoefer and Brey learned that:
• The average income is between 50 and 90 cedi, about $45 to $75, per year. Over 90 percent of the people live below the poverty level of 40 cedi per year.
• While the government does a pretty good job with health issues, they are lacking on the issues of crops and livestock.
• There have already been donkeys placed in every parish in the diocese. The Donkey Project has been so successful it now needs to move into the next and final phase. That phase would be to purchase breeding stock, some starter feed, and to provide what materials are necessary to assist them in starting a donkey ranch to be located at the Farmers Training Center (FTC) as well as materials to establish manufacturing facilities for plows, harnesses, carts, and any other product necessary for this project to continue. The GSP representatives in Ghana assured them that after this is done, the Donkey Project would become self-sustaining with no further input from the generous people in the Diocese of Madison.
Other needs in Ghana
• There is a need to provide money to establish an emergency relief fund to purchase emergency food to be stored in Ghana to be given out as emergencies arise. Because of the time it takes to get aid to Ghana, it is important to purchase some goods to establish an emergency cache at the secretariat offices in N/B under the direct control of the bishop or vicar general.
• Money is also needed to assist in building replacement homes that will resist heavy rains and flooding. This would be done according to the suggestions made by the vicar general. The needy person would be given some concrete and concrete blocks with instructions to build their new home out of these materials. After several courses have been laid, the person would come back to the diocese for additional materials. After the building has been built, a representative of the diocese would inspect the building. If it is ready for the new metal roof to be put on, we would provide the funding for the roof (approximately $500 per unit).
Bishop plans visit
Bishop Lucas is planning another trip to the United States some time next summer. When he comes, he intends to spend about a week with us in our diocese so that he can meet more of the wonderful people from our diocese.
How to help
If anyone would like to become involved in the GSP and share your farming or other expertise or if you wish to financially assist the GSP team in the Diocese of Madison in any of the work ahead of them, contact: Global Solidarity Partnership, Susanna Herro, P.O. Box 44983, Madison, WI 53744, or 608-821-3086.