Raising development horizons
The education charity WORLDwrite aims to question orthodoxies during its upcoming Ghana exchange.
The education charity WORLDwrite works to educate students in international development policy – holding workshops, visiting schools, and organising summits to examine this hugely important industry. Every year, WORLDwrite runs an international exchange visit; this year in August, it will visit Ghana to look at non-governmental organisation (NGO) activity in the country.
NGOs are organisations that earn funds mainly through donations, and work on initiatives in developing countries, such as improving infrastructure and supplying water and medical supplies. In Ghana, these organisations are very active, building community projects, installing universal primary education, and implementing the World Bank Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) scheme. ‘Everyone is there’, says Ceri Dingle, director of WORLDwrite. ‘It’s NGOland.’ She mentions that NGO operatives are more numerous in Ghana than elected officials, and that their vehicles make up much of the traffic on the streets.
The work that NGOs in Ghana do is often based on the idea of sustainable development, a practice that was emphatically reaffirmed at the 2002 United Nations World Summit in Johannesburg. Sustainable development operates on the premise that development projects must be environmentally sustainable; that is, they must not affect the environment in any way that could potentially be harmful in the future. As a result, sustainable development usually results in small-scale and subsistence industry. Large-scale projects such as dam- and factory-building are rejected in favour of projects such as small-scale farming or nut gathering. WORLDwrite, however, calls for a re-evaluation of the policy of sustainable development – arguing that large-scale projects are necessary in order for true development to take place. In Ghana, the volunteers will look at the effect of sustainable development projects on Ghanaian people’s lives.
WORLDwrite will also take up NGOs’ focus on ‘basic needs’ – which means providing the poor with the simple necessities of survival, such as enough food and water, or universal primary education (UPE) (which guarantees children schooling up to the age of 12). The idea of basic needs guides many of the projects in Ghana, which WORLDwrite’s volunteers will be investigating. The charity argues that because the goals of basic needs are so minimal, even meeting them will mean a marginal contribution to development. Dingle points out the limitations of the universal primary education initiative: ‘After twelve, then what?’ Ghana cannot compete on a global scale if the majority of its citizens are only educated until the age of 12, and provided with only enough food to survive. WORLDwrite believes that there is a danger of these policies sustaining poverty, rather than alleviating it.
WORLDwrite’s volunteers are young (mainly in their early twenties), and enthusiastic. They are keen to document the real effects of international development policy in Ghana, and to learn what Ghanaians want for their country. They will be trained in film at WORLDwrite’s new film studio, and will use donated video cameras to record their trip. This video footage will be used in future educational projects and summits.
WORLDwrite will be guided in Ghana by its partners, the International Youth Exchange Program (IYEP) Ghana and Ghana’s first independent film school, the Academy of Screen Arts (ASA). These Ghanaian organisations are also critical of current development practice, and want to see real development take place in their country. ‘Our partners are keen to see how Ghana was used as a guinea-pig for IMF schemes’, says Ceri. She describes how, after the World Bank entered Ghana, thousands of people protested about effects of World Bank policies, using the slogan ‘You may as well kill us now’.
WORLDwrite and its partners argue that World Bank schemes such as the HIPC scheme have failed to kick-start the Ghanaian economy – and in fact, they have held it back. Ceri describes how a scheme to get girls off the street by teaching them sewing failed Ghanaians because they were only allowed to sew paper bags – hardly much help for a struggling economy. In addition, Ghana’s HIPC status means that it is unable to obtain loans or invest in large-scale projects. If the country did want to obtain a loan, it would have to forfeit HIPC status and thus fall into debt once more. And, of course, any project that might create pollution is forbidden under the conditions imposed on Ghana by economic bodies and NGOs.
The volunteers will have their hands full during their three-week stay. They will visit NGOs offices and development projects around the country, as well as subsistence-based villages and open-cast gold mines (Ghana, rich in gold, was once called the ‘Gold Coast’, yet this potentially lucrative industry is beleaguered by disputes about environmental conservation and industrial development). Volunteers will also examine traditional Ghanaian culture: art, music, dance, film and religion.
Strong emphasis will be placed on actively seeking the opinions of Ghanaians – indeed, because the excursion is an exchange, a group of Ghanaians will also have the opportunity to visit the UK in 2005 and make their own film. The Ghanaians will experience life in London and visit the headquarters of the NGO organisations that do so much work in their home country.
The WORLDwrite volunteers are convinced that real development is possible, and that Ghanaians deserve living standards comparable to their own. They call for a re-evaluation of NGO policy in the developing world, and are excited about the prospect of finding answers to their questions. Do current projects achieve their goals, and are these goals high enough? And most importantly: what does Ghana want for itself?
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