A warm ‘Amaraba’ from Tamale!

Amaraba! I have learned a handful of words in Dagbani since moving to the Northern capital of Ghana, but this one is by far my favorite. It means “you are welcome” and I hear it several times a day: when I walk into the office, into town, and every time someone sits down to eat. I love this saying because it also represents how Ghanaians have made me feel since moving here from Spain two months ago…welcomed.

The Northern area of Ghana is the third poorest part of the country[1], with women and youth as the region’s most disadvantaged. The gender education gap in the North is rather significant, where 78.7% of girls have completed primary school, against 92.4% for boys[2]. These kind of barriers are what the Northern Sector Action on Awareness Centre (NORSAAC) are looking to break down, through their targeted programs that focus on empowering women and youth.

I had the opportunity to see first-hand how some of these programs are helping to inspire and educate women when I travelled to some of the communities in the field. Our first stop was to the Karaga district (roughly two hours from Tamale), where I was able to meet with graduates from the sewing machine engineering program. This project activity falls under SLIP (Sustainable Livelihood Initiative Project)[3],  whose aim is to foster economic independence through skills development. The project’s scope also includes bicycle repairs apprenticeship, financial literacy training and mobile phone repairs. The repairs-based training initiatives are particularly important in the region, as they provide targeted skills specifically to young women, helping to integrate them as part of a profession typically reserved for men. NORSAAC is especially committed to this area as this also speaks to much larger issues here in the North – gender perceived roles and gender job stereotyping.

Graduates from the sewing machine engineering programThese women are professional seamstresses in Karaga, who received skills-based training in sewing machine repairs as part of this intervention. As this district is in a very rural part of the Northern region, in the past they would have had to travel to a bigger city (such as Tamale) for repairs when their machines broke down. This also meant that they would have to cease dress and garment production, which directly impacted their monthly income and sales. Now that they are able to fix their machines on their own, they are no longer forced to turn away costumers, incur costs for travel, or depend on others for repairs. I left the field eager to learn more about our livelihood and entrepreneurship programs, and see how I can contribute to help break down gender barriers and stereotypes. I also left feeling humbled by the people I met, who as we left, insisted we go home with a bag full of yams, fresh eggs and roasted peanuts to bring home.  

I look forward to more visits to the field in the next coming months, but in the meantime, I am happy just getting to know Tamale and settling into my new home. On an average day I see more goats and sheep than people, and I am still contemplating getting one as a pet. I do look forward to the day my stress levels subside, as I can’t help but worry every time I see a baby goat and its mother cross the street (though admittedly, they are master navigators and North American herds can learn a thing or two from them).

[1] Ghana Statistical Service, (2015). Poverty Map For Ghana. Retrieved from http://www.statsghana.gov.gh/docfiles/publications/POVERTY%20MAP%20FOR%20GHANA-05102015.pdf

[2] Levi, A. M, UNICEF, (2015). Out-of-school children the 4 dimensions of exclusion. Retrieved from http://www.unicef.org/ghana/REALLY_SIMPLE_STATS_-_Issue_4(1).pdf

[3] NORSAAC, (2015). Sustainable livelihood initiative project (SLIP). Retrieved from http://www.norsaac.org/livelihood/sustainable-livelihood-initiative-project-slip/

Natasha Mooney is working as a Resource Mobilization and Management Specialist with Northern Sector Action on Awareness Centre (NORSAAC) in Tamale, Ghana.