Frontiers of Justice, Travelogue

Paving Roads of Hope in Damongo

On the ninth day of the Frontiers of Justice visit, the group visited a large diocese in the northern region of Ghana. This entry was written by Sinead Naughton.

Don’t be fooled by the red, dusty road leading into the diocese of Damongo, they are paving roads of a very different kind there, roads of hope and solidarity! Damongo is a large diocese in the northern region of Ghana. It is a poor area, often affected by long droughts or the ravages of flooding, but it is making impressive strides in two important areas, girls’ education and peace building and conflict resolution.

Bishop Philip Naamah spoke to us passionately about St. Anne’s Girls Senior HS and how it came into being. When the bishop first came to Domomgo in 1995 he found that 96% of all the women were illiterate – unacceptable to him. During colonial times, missionaries were not allowed in the area and we learned that the British mainly saw the area as nothing more than to provide a workforce for the mining industries of the south. Even when primary education was introduced, he saw that most of the girls finished Primary 6 and were married off soon after, leaving the question in many minds, “Why educate girls at all?” To combat the problem the diocese opened a girl’s boarding school and found that, with the absence of the typical female evening chores of collecting water and firewood for the family, the girls scored extremely high in the state exams. The bishop joked that people were amazed, it suddenly dawned on them that girls were intelligent after all! He also spoke about how the school sparked multi-ethnic friendships, with people forgetting all about tribal disputes in the midst of their studies. This all led to the opening of St. Anne’s HS eight years ago. In its first year 28 out of the 30 girls enrolled went on to third level education. An undeniable success!

The second project I mentioned is the Center for Conflict Transformation and Peace Studies (CECOTAS). Appropriately the center sits in a very quite area, surrounded only by great trees and the sounds of the birds. The goal of the center is to introduce peace building and conflict resolution in an area plagues by tribal disputes, and questions of succession and land ownership.

The center works closely with the diocese (and CRS as a partner) and states that its mission is “An enabling environment created for authentic human development through the internalization of the culture of peace in all communities.” Fr. Lazarus spoke about the colonial legacy of minor and paramount chiefs and how their various rights and entitlements have never been clearly stated in law. As we have heard so often on this trip the issue goes back to poverty where the paramount chiefs will overtax the minor chiefs, who they see as subjects. The cycle continues and often ends in violent disputes. In one of the worst cases in 1994, 2000 people dies, 200,000 were displaced and 144 villages were destroyed. Fr. Lazarus and the center reach out to the different groups and engage them in talks about perception and the true meaning of justice. They have proved success in mediation and bring groups together to “drink from the same calabash.” They have also been successful in individual cases and cases of domestic violence. He also spoke to us and how everyone needs to learn to tread carefully to avoid new disputes, whether it’s priests, teachers or NGOs trying to decide where to drill the next borehole.

I think we have a lot to learn from the great work being done by the in this quiet corner of the world. peaceful solutions exist, sometimes we just need a push in the right direction.

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