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Lydia Sasu and her Fisherwomen
In an earlier blog post from Ghana, I said I would tell you more about Lydia Sasu, Executive Director of the Development Action Association (DAA), a Ghanaian civil society organization that works with rural women. The women are poor and have little education. They earn a living by farming or other forms of agricultural labor. DAA empowers them by providing technical assistance and advocacy training, improving the livelihoods of thousands of rural women and their families.
DAA has partnered with Women Thrive Worldwide in Washington, DC, a good friend of Bread for the World and Bread for the World Institute’s, and this is how I learned about the organization. I met Lydia Sasu when she was in Washington in March at an event sponosored by Women Thrive Worldwide. It was excellent timing because I was planning to come to Ghana in April. After hearing Lydia discuss what DAA does, I was convinced I had to visit communities where she works.
Lydia herself is a farmer. She used to be in Ghana’s Ministry of Agriculture before she left to start DAA. When she was in the ministry, she received training in the United States at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. Lydia is a little woman but her presence increases in size as soon as she speaks. She has high expectations for every woman DAA works with, knowing what potential they have. But she is not someone you’d want to catch you shirking your responsibilities, and I’m sure the consequences of this would keep many of the women in line. They seem to adore her. She relates to them as a peer, laughing it up with them and singing together. We were welcomed (Faustine Wabwire and I) with music and song in the two communities we visited.
In this post, I’ll focus on one of the communities we visited—you can read about the other in my earlier post. It’s a fishing community in the area of Chokomey, about an hour from Accra. DAA showed them how to work more efficiently and improve their productivity. They built ovens for smoking the fish to add value so they could get a higher price at the market. But that was just the start.
We all know how crippling illiteracy is, but there’s also innumeracy—a lack of ability to do basic arithmetic. Lydia pointed to a wall where there were chalk marks. This used to be their method of keeping records of how many batches of fish they traded. One of the buyers said to them, “You gave me six batches last time, but on the wall there it says you owe me six more.” He was cheating them. What the women didn’t realize till later was children in the community had added chalk marks of their own. Shortly after that, DAA taught them how to do basic arithmetic, dramatically improving their accounting skills.
The issue of accounting has come up more recently. Lydia has been involved in a nationwide effort to change the law on standard weights and measurements in the sale of agricultural products. In Ghana, the traditional way agricultural products are measured is with cups and bowls. As you can imagine, this presents plenty of opportunities for buyers to cheat producers, especially those who are poorly educated. For years, Lydia (and other advocates) lobbied to make the use of scales the law. In April, the government announced it will ban the use of the traditional measuring instruments and enforce the use of scales. The fisherwomen and other women DAA works with joined Lydia to advocate for this change. Before they started working with DAA, few of these women would have dared to speak up in public.
It’s heartwarming to think how far these women have come since working with Lydia and DAA. To go from counting in charcoal strikes to changing laws is a big leap forward. I want to believe the end of poverty and hunger is right around the corner. Indeed that’s what I want to believe. The thing is I know it is not.
It’s a steep climb out of poverty. Behind every triumph loom other challenges. There are challenges in which the technical support and advocacy training the women receive from DAA simply aren’t enough. For example, their livelihoods are threatened by trawlers mostly from the EU reducing fish stocks in the region. Earlier this month the British newspaper The Guardian reported on these activities. This should be a concern for everyone, including us here in the United States. The Guardian reports the same encroachment by trawlers on fishers in East Africa may have contributed to piracy off of Somalia’s coast. We don’t see anything like that yet in West Africa, but it would be foolish to think it couldn’t happen. Desperate people anywhere want to protect their resources.
This is going to be my last post from Ghana. It’s onto Uganda next. The trip to Ghana has exceeded my expectations in so many ways. The best thing about it has been my encounters with people like Lydia and the women she works with through DAA. I have no doubt my own work on the Hunger Report will be enriched by these encounters. Faustine and I chose to come to Ghana because it was the first sub-Saharan country to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of reducing hunger and poverty in half. While we found plenty of evidence to explain the country’s progress, so did we find extreme poverty and inequality, and if I tend to focus mostly on that rather than the progress, it’s because it’s impossible for me not to want to report on those who seem to be left behind. Good luck to all Ghanaians. Best wishes from Bread for the World Institute.
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