The Paramount Chief of Katiu , Pe Ayikode Zangbeo Atoge IV ,one of the chiefs addressing the durbar at the Katiu community
The Paramount Chief of Katiu , Pe Ayikode Zangbeo Atoge IV ,one of the chiefs addressing the durbar at the Katiu community

Many Anthropologists who study the cultural variation among humans have identified Culture as a powerful tool for development. It had also been established at some forums that Tradition and knowledge are the main pillars of development and sustenance of communities and that no society can progress without the two.

The Paramount Chief of Katiu , Pe Ayikode Zangbeo Atoge  IV ,one of the chiefs  addressing the  durbar at the Katiu community
The Paramount Chief of Katiu , Pe Ayikode Zangbeo Atoge IV ,one of the chiefs addressing the durbar at the Katiu community
Unfortunately some of our cultural values are inimical to the progress of society and indeed not useful today. Critical among some of the negative cultural practices that are hampering the developmental progress in Ghana include child marriage, open defecation, refusal of some communities to allow pregnant women to deliver at health facilities , refusal of some community members particularly pregnant women and children under five to sleep under Long Lasting Insecticide Nets, refusal of some mother in laws to allow nursing mothers to exclusively feed their babies for the first six months and practice complementary feeding after six months , poor hand washing habits, late enrolment and retention of children in school as well as low birth registration of babies.

Several researches conducted by many development partners including UNICEF and World Vision Ghana reveals that among the regions that are endemic with these challenges is the Upper East Region. For instance the region has the highest incidence of child marriage and open defecation.

It should be pointed out that irrespective of the quantum of development interventions a community receives , without the elimination of certain negative cultural practices such development interventions cannot make any meaningful impact on the lives of the people.
To quote from the Communication for Development Officer of UNICEF , Madam Georgina Amidu, “the Upper East regions is among the regions in Ghana that has received several development interventions but the challenge is the negative cultural practices that are militating against such development interventions , making it difficult to significantly impact on the lives of the people”.

However all is not lost yet. There is hope in the tunnel. The Rural Initiatives for Self-Empowerment Ghana (RISE-Ghana) is one of the NGOs in the region that has good track record in promoting positive behavior change and fighting child marriage is complementing Government’s effort to address the above mentioned challenges. In 2015 alone, the NGO through a project funded by the Canada Fund For Local Initiative formed 32 Child Protection Teams in the region who facilitated and collaborated with the security agencies to rescue 15 girls from child marriage and also encouraged another six victims of child marriage in the Naga and Kologo Communities in the Kasssena –Nankana East Municipal to return to school.

The NGO with support from UNICEF is using the Communication for Development (C4D) Approach which UNICEF and the World Bank acknowledge as the best tool for development that can help in the reduction of the challenges.

C4D is about facilitating and empowering the community to dialogue, participate and the share knowledge and information. It takes into account the needs and capacities of all concerned in finding solutions to problems and working together to achieve good results.C4D goes beyond ordinarily providing information. It involves the understanding people, their beliefs and values, the social and cultural norms that shape their lives. It involves engaging communities and listening to adults and children as they identify problems, propose solutions and act upon them. C4D is seen as a two-way process for sharing ideas and knowledge using a range of communication tools and approaches that empower individuals and communities to take actions to improve their lives. It is a horizontal, two-way process that is about people coming together to identify problems, agree on visions for desirable futures, and empower the poorest. It is about the co-creation and sharing of knowledge. It respects the local context, values and culture.

Barely eight months of implementing a UNICEF funded project , “ Promoting Positive Behaviour Change For Improved Health, Education and Child Protection in the Upper East Region” aimed at promoting the adoption of Basket of 12 of Behaviours using the C4D model in 80 communities, 40 each in the Kassena-Nankana West and Garu-Tempane , the community members themselves are now using indigenous forms of communication such as drama , theatre and traditional music to promote exclusive breast feeding for the first six months with the objective of targeting 40,000 pregnant and lactating mothers in the communities in the two Districts by the close of September, 2017. They are also intensifying education on Complementary Feeding from Six Months.

To enhance the wide practice of Hand Washing with Soap under running water, the communities with the knowledge acquired about the diseases associated with not washing hands after attending the nature calls are now installing and using tippy taps after attending to the nature calls.

Through the health education received from drama at durbars facilitated by RISE-Ghana and organized by the communities, majority of community members’ particularly pregnant women and children under five who used not to sleep under Long Lasting Insecticide Nets are now sleeping under the nets thereby reducing the spread of malaria and curbing maternal and infant mortality in the communities.
Most of the beneficiary communities led by their chiefs have also begun constituting taskforces in their respective communities to help ensure that houses that do not have public place of convenience do so.

Among the other areas the communities led by their chiefs are also promoting include the intensification of education among parents on the need to patronize the service of the Birth and Death Registry for the registration of their newborn babies before they become six months old and had also formed another committees to prevent Child Marriage as well as ensure that women in labour attend antenatal and postnatal health services and to also deliver at health facilities

The beneficiary communities themselves unlike before are now actively engaged in the promotion of early enrolment and retention of children in schools and also advocating for Positive Discipline in schools instead of corporal punishment.
Knowledge on the importance and standards on Routine Immunization among mothers has also increased in the 80 beneficiary communities the NGO operates. “The drama has shown us that, as pregnant women we must make at least 5 visits to the health centres and make sure we take our tetanus injections to avoid infecting our babies. Now I even ask the nurses and encourage my collogues to do same” , Madam Asafisatu Dasmani, a pregnant women from Kpinpanyun in the Garu-Tempane Districts opines.

Speaking to group of Journalists during separate monitoring visits to the communities by the NGO to assess the impact the project was making , the Paramount Chiefs of the beneficiary communities lauded the NGO and UNICEF for the project and said the project had re-awakened them to provide the leadership roles to abolish negative cultural practices that are enemy to progress. For instance the Paramount Chief of the Katiu Traditional Areas, Pe Ayikode Zangwio Atoge IV, who said “I am deeply concerned about the spate child marriage and open defecation” , had constituted taskforces and committees to help stop these phenomena. Other chiefs and opinion leaders have taken similar stand to also end the social canker.

The Executive Director of RISE-Ghana, Mr Awal Ahmed Kariama, explained that the one year project supported by UNICEF through its Communication for Development and Child Protection programme section places emphasis on shifting from awareness creation to actual behavior change and shares the belief that the active involvement of Traditional Leaders who are the custodians of culture and the community themselves would help do the trick.

He stated that some of the Districts in the region performed badly per the District League Table conducted by UNICEF and CDD-Ghana cited for instance that in 2016, the Kassena-Nankana West District score was 1.4 per cent of 112 communities on Sanitation, indicating that only two communities were declared Open Defecation Free .

The Executive Director who mentioned that the situation was not different from Skilled Delivery and Education, stated that the application of the C4D model including the use of series of community theatre, durbars as well as community spaces such as funerals, out-dooring and market days, Local Musicians with Celebrity status, developing radio jingles in local languages among others were playing key roles in addressing some of the negative cultural practices. “When parents understand that simple things like early enrolment and birth registration which don’t require money to do can protect children and reduce poverty, they will change their behaviors, our team is proud to partner UNICEF to achieve that desired change of mind-set.” Mr Kariama indicated.

He stated that failure to eliminate negative cultural practices could make it difficult if not impossible for Ghana to attain the Sustainable Development Goals and appealed to other Civil Society Organizations, the District Assemblies, the Media, Religious and traditional leaders as well as the media to join the crusade in campaigning against certain negative cultural practices that hinder development.

In conclusion, whilst commending the NGO and UNICEF for the project intervention, one thing is key and thus the C4D model. The application of the C4D model in every facet of development, being it health, education, agriculture and the natural resource management is paramount and failure to adopt it in development is a recipe for a complete failure. People are the centre of development and they cannot be ignored when implementing policies and programmes. The transformation of lives of the people could be better if they are fully engaged in the development process.

Feature by Samuel Adadi Akapule