I have just had the most interesting weekend. On mother’s day I am usually quite sad having lost my mother the year I started working for ActionAid Ghana. She had a massive stroke the day I left for the UK to pack up and return to Ghana to start work. I told her just before I left that I would be back in 3 weeks and I would be in Ghana for some time to look after her. I never got the chance.
So this year I jumped at the opportunity to spend mother’s day with a group of very vulnerable women - the alleged witches – in Kukuo community. The chief, elders and people of Kukuo are the most amazing, most welcoming people I have ever met!! The community has been accepting banished women for years. They live with the community and unlike other ‘witch camps’ it is hard to tell who is an alleged witch and who is an indigene.
ActionAid Ghana Northern Region staff and partners Songtaba, CALID, and NORSACC as well as some of the Young Female Parliamentarians AAG is working with, were there as well. The objective of the day was to support the young men of Kukuo community to undertake their annual ritual of re-thatching the roofs of the alleged witches’ huts. The young men had divided themselves into 5 groups and had committed themselves to re-roof 5 huts each before the end of the day. There was a friendly rivalry between the 5 groups to see which group could do it best and fastest, the formalities we went through before the re-thatching visibly stretched their patience. The comments made by two of the youth representatives really touched my heart, they talked about the alleged witches as their mothers with whom they live in peace and from whom they can seek advice. They pointed out that they have been living with these their mothers with no problems and that was their role to look after them and this includes re –thatching their huts (as good sons should do for their mothers).
Another example of strangers reaching out to these very vulnerable women was the messages of solidarity from Greece. ActionAid Hellas (Greece) had told the story of the alleged witches to the Greek population and the responses from ordinary Greek men and women were heart-warming! Children from ActionAid’s Children’s Rights and Empowerment for Social Transformation (CREST) circles read out the messages in English and translated them into Nanum for their mothers – prefacing every message with ‘Mother, the Greek people say....’ After each message it was easy to see that the women were touched by this support from so far away.
When it was time for the re-thatching – it was fun as well as hard work – I thought that the bales of thatch, being grass, would not be heavy – but they were!!! But I tried my best - I carried these unwieldy 6 foot long bundles from the centre of the village to the huts where the work was to take place. After I carried two bundles the young men of Kukuo (I think looking at my gray hair and feeling sorry for me) refused to let me carry any more (maybe my tortoise mph speed was too slow).
After working for an hour and a half we had scheduled a snack break – biscuits and a drink – which the children really enjoyed! But the young men refused to stop until they had finished all their huts. At lunch time we all had a meal of jollof rice made with pounded fish and chicken – I am sure I could taste a local spice - dawadawa as well. One group of young men had already completed all their 5 huts and were teasing the other groups who had not yet finished. But before we left Kukuo all the groups had finished all the 25 huts!!
Leaving the camp I had a great feeling of pride in our celebration and in this gentle and accepting community. As the bus pulled out to start the 4 hour ride back to Tamale I looked at the smiles on the faces of the Chief and people of Kukuo and the joy in the faces of the 25 women whose huts had been repaired with the voice on one alleged witch (who reminded me so much of my grandmother) ringing in my ears – ‘even if I die I will be happy because my house has been repaired’ and thought my mother would have loved the day.