Mr Tim Watts, Australia’s Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs, has paid a working visit to Akode Epicentre of The Hunger Project, which works to improve livelihoods in rural communities and to reduce hunger and poverty.
The visit was to provide the minister with first-hand knowledge of The Hunger Project (THP) Ghana’s operations, specifically at the Akode Epicentre, which is funded by Australia.
Several Akode Epicentre recipients took turns enumerating the benefits they have received, including economic empowerment training activities, social entrepreneurial initiatives, and vocational training.
“These activities that we’ve learned are helping us a lot because it’s led to a significant reduction in school dropouts and teenage pregnancies in communities,” Ms Jenifer Azander, a volunteer, said.
She noted that the clinic, which serves five communities with a total population of over 5,571, was overburdened and required quick expansion and upgrading to increase service delivery to the people.
She, however, expressed worry over an ongoing road-building project from Adukrom to Somanya, which has destroyed water pipelines and left the clinic and many settlements without potable water for nearly three years.
“Look at this terrible water; this is what we use at the clinic and at home, and we’ve complained to the assembly and community leaders several times, but no one is listening,” she added. “Pregnant women, come to deliver here; this is the tainted water we use.”
Mr Watts expressed satisfaction with their achievements and praised volunteers, chiefs and elders, health workers, as well as officers of THP, for their outstanding work in implementing the epicentre strategy to create a vibrant, thriving, self-reliant community.
“The members of these communities have developed and delivered a whole range of vital services, from midwifery to training to information and technology,” he said. “I am particularly impressed.”
He added: “And in the face of changing climate, the epicentre is supporting farmers to increase yield sustainably, as we have already heard, as well as expanding access to resources for responding and adapting to the effects of climate change, a shared challenge that Ghana and Australia are facing.”
Mr Watts highlighted the accomplishments as a remarkable testament to the hard work and determination of the communities, demonstrating that the epicentre strategy for improving livelihoods was working.
That, he added, resonated with the three main pillars of THP, which also reflect firmly Australian values, including empowering women, building on the different skills of community members, and promoting partnerships with local government to meet basic needs.
He stressed the importance of empowering and protecting women and girls, saying, “We know that when women and girls thrive, so do communities, and we know that when women are able to fully participate in all aspects of society, societies are safer and healthier, development is more sustainable, and economies are more prosperous.”
Australia’s funding focus on education and gender equality, assisting approximately 235 Ghanaian women last year to pursue vocational training in shea butter processing, dairy processing, and rabbitry, as well as financial literacy, agribusiness export readiness, and plastic waste recycling.
Mr Samuel Afrane, THP Ghana Country Director, said the project was guided by key principles and driven by decentralisation and transformative leadership, noting, “This is what we pursue so that everybody will be on board.”
Since 1996, The Hunger Project Ghana has established 45 epicentres, encompassing over 542 communities across the nation, involving over 350,000 people, while approximately 2500 have volunteered to lead in the development of their communities.
Mr Afrane explained the epicentre concept as the hub for development, and that it allows community members to discuss and take common decisions, adding that “the concept means something that unites the people, unites communities and brings them together to serve their common purpose.”
He presented it as both an infrastructure and a methodology that transforms people’s thinking, saying, “People may feel that for them, they can’t do anything. They think they are poor, they don’t have money. But in effect, every person living anywhere has the potential to develop it if only we can put our thoughts together.”
“Once we put our thoughts together, and look at our resources, we begin to act by ourselves,” he added. “We can do things.”
“So the epicentre is a methodology that seeks to change the thinking of people from the state of I can’t do anything to the state I can do things for myself.”
The Akode Epicentre, which includes five partner villages, was mobilised in 2010, and the facility was completed in 2011 on a 5-acre parcel of land provided by the Akode community in the Eastern Region’s Okere District.
The centre houses a health clinic, a vocational training centre, an ICT centre, and a community bank, all of which provide services to community members in an effort to better their livelihoods.