Sunday was Easter Sunday and we celebrated by volunteering at the 2nd
annual Joy 99FM Easter Soup Kitchen in the Accra Children’s Park. The Easter Soup Kitchen provides an Easter meal for the homeless men and women living in the Great Accra Region. Additionally, the event donates clothes, counseling services, medical support and prescription. Last night, volunteers distributed coupons to the women sleeping on the streets and other homeless people. At 7:30AM this morning, there were already hundreds of people lined up to receive food and other services, before any of the event had even begun setting up. At around noon, the headcount was approximately five to six thousand participants.
When we arrived, I observed that the population consisted primarily of women and children (between the ages of zero to twelve years). There was music, tents, speakers, television station coverage and hundreds of volunteers. Immediately upon arrival, a cable television station interviewed our group in order to gain insight into our understanding of the event. We also were asked to make a “plug” for the stations (e.g. Hi! I’m Bethany from the United States and I love watching Multi-TV! Keep Watching Multi-TV; More TV for FREE!). Unfortunately, we can’t watch interviews because we don’t have cable at our hostel; it was still fun!
We met many new people, as well. We were able to volunteer (there were six of us) at many different positions including food packaging, cloth sorting, traffic directing and dispersing medicine. My mate Chelsea and I chose to work at the medical tables where we were able to engage with pharmacists and doctors from the Pharmaceutical Society of Ghana (pictured above). The Society provided doctors that were able to listen and diagnose each patient and provides a proper medical prescription. Then, the patients were able to go to any one of the twenty something tables to pick up his or her prescriptions. Most of the patients were diagnosed with diarrhea, malaria, dehydration or infections contracted whilst living on the streets. Medical treatments included: multivitamins (omega-3, cod liver oil, pedialyte, etc.) amoxicillin, antimalarials, ibuprofen, cough suppressants, expectorants, ciproflaxin, de-wormers and many more. Ultimately, it was a makeshift health clinic that served an extremely diverse demographic.
It also provided a very unique perspective into the homeless situation in Accra. It became very clear that it is largely women with children that were in dire need for medications and other basic essentials. I was able to see both the symptoms and prescriptions to treat the illness. One woman had an infant that was two years old and still had not learned how to walk. I later found out that many of children never receive vaccines for preventable diseases and illnesses such as the tetanus, polio, hepatitis, etc. In addition, it was very interesting to see the level of education among the women. Many were primary school dropouts who were without the necessary financial resources needed to attend school (uniforms, haircuts, etc.) Thus many were forced to take to selling goods on the streets. Most women in attendance today were street hawkers that I see everyday on my way to work. They sell a vast variety of produce and ready to eat foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner including fruits (pineapple, mango, guava, papaya, bananas, etc.), egg sandwiches, muffins, groundnuts (peanuts), cashews, fried rice, jollof rice, and just about anything you can imagine eating. Because of their low-income jobs and lack of education, they do not have the money to obtain the necessary and essential resources in life such as housing, food, clothing and medical treatment. So the event sponsored by the radio station is very appropriate and provides an excellent outlet for this under deserved and struggling demographic.
Because the intensity and sheer neediness of this population was so extreme, I had to question the sustainability of this program. Since the event only hosts this for one day, what does this mean for the women and children tomorrow? Where will their food come from tomorrow? When their prescriptions are finished, who or where will they find the money to buy more medication? And how will women continue to be educated about sexual behaviors and avoiding deadly diseases? How will the women obtain more clothing when their t-shirts, skirts and underwear become stained, ripped and tattered? Will they have to wait another year to receive a multivitamin and a new shirt? These are the critical questions we must consider in trying to address the needs of the most needy. What would be a truly useful program for them?
Clearly, I have concluded, while these events are great for raising awareness and providing a nice meal and exciting day for Easter, this event does not address nor provide a solution for the long-term. I have not yet really tried to draw up a solution, because I understand the complexity of addressing and empowering this demographic. I understand that the time and financial resources are very great and so, the large question is, who will help to fund and provide resources for their empowerment? Is empowerment what they need? Or do they need other things in order to obtain and meet a certain standard of living? These are essential questions to ask if one were to think critically about the practical solutions for addressing the complex problems of homelessness in Accra.