When I was training as a Biomedical Scientist, I became concerned about the many health problems that faced the poor people in rural Ghana. I knew that poor sanitation, ignorance, poor nutrition as a result of poverty were responsible for some of the health problems like cholera and kwashiorkor. These ailments have now been largely reserved for the poor . I was aware of these factors and could explain why the less privileged seem to be disadvantaged in this sense. But I wondered how this came to be and why it was not easy to reverse the phenomenon. Why does the paradigm keep tilting against the poor and rural folks? Why can’t the rural folk or the poor person just understand that they need to seek preventive measures, they need to be proactive with their health, they need to seek education to escape poverty? A research journey to Ajumako in the central region of Ghana exposed the ‘bitter’ reality.
Now as a student of peace and development, I am frightened to think that this may not change. I am frightened by the seeming condemnation of our rural poor to the negativity of poor health and no education. There is serious neglect for the emancipation of our rural communities. Prior to elections, our leaders trek the length and breadth of our society (poor and rich) and give everyone hope. They make everyone seem equal with the ‘one man, one vote’ slogan. This may erroneously infer that everyone is entitled to the same opportunities and has the same power to make changes to their livelihood in society. But what we fail to hear (after the votes) is that we are equally entitled to attention from the state (and our leaders). Our community and national leadership are supposed to be sensitive to the disadvantaged position of our rural folks. Society is so busy in transition, that until someone pauses the show and rewinds, many of the people we have left behind in society will continue to drift back further. This is because their water cans are now empty, their legs are wobbly, their vision is blurred and the tracks are dusty; all due to their past and present.
The girls in school are dropping out due to early marriages and pregnancy, the boys are dropping out to chase rats, the parents are sharing their care-giving responsibilities with their children and the state institutions that are tasked with intervening to establish the desired social order are raising their hands in frustration. Our gatekeepers have lost the keys to our societies’ happiness. Our society is now a dark room, and the occupants have no option than to involuntarily hit their heads against each other apologetically in a vicious cycle.
I have become worried that sometimes we point to the less-privileged in society and blame them for all the wrong decisions they took that have led them to their social predicament. Let us not fail to see that, social exclusion and need can alter the rationality of people. Our rationality (which forms our aspirations) is defined by our past experiences and our present circumstances. If we want our society to be harmonious in action and thought, we need to create uniformity in the experiences (treatment) we give to each member of the society. As long as there remains huge differences in the past experiences of our people and their present circumstances, the rationality and aspirations will not be the same and this will continue to create conflicts in society
When a mother fails to take her child to school but instead sets a tray on her head to go hawk in the village square; when a father is obstinate to take his female child to schools despite the copious attempts at making him see the need. When a rural child goes to school just on Fridays because it is the day for sports and all other days he is out of school (doing menial jobs), running errands and seeking opportunities to feed himself. When a 15 year old girl starts thinking about marriage instead of thinking about the next level of education. All these people are taking actions based on their past experiences, their current circumstances, which have now informed their aspirations for mere survival. Our rural folks have to be emancipated, but that emancipation lies heavily on those who have to intervene. Those we have nominated to hold the key to social happiness, our leaders, at all levels. It is to create this desired past and present that our social institutions and leaders have been nominated.
I speak of these things not because I assume to have keys to society’s happiness, but because I believe that, I have been privileged enough to be motivated to throw in some light through the window; throw in a ray of light so that the gatekeepers can see the agony and live up to their calling. My motive is to pause the motion pictures and playback for us to realize the neglect in society. The rural child can be as brilliant as any other child in the urban school. They are not daft; they are neglected. What our children become in society should not be because of where they are born, or to whom they are born. It should be about what they choose to be when given the same past and present.
The elephant is not tall, but it’s taller than the lion. The lion is not tall, but it’s taller than the domestic cat, the cat is not tall but it’s taller than the snail, the snail is not tall, but it’s taller than the ant, the ant is not tall, but at least, it’s taller than the ground on which it stands ….(An African Proverb).
Society has been socially stratified, shaped into a pyramid and sometimes the few up the pyramid do not know what happens at the base. The widening gap between the poor and rich, the urban and rural, the rulers and ruled is becoming alarming. Inequity and inequality are largely the cause of social strife and if we sit in our comfort zone and pretend nothing is happening, the status quo will remain a time-bomb. Meanwhile as we call in the key bearers, let’s try to individually save as much as we can by doing the little we can.
“We cannot help everyone; but everyone can help someone”-Ronald Reagan
Reflect on this as we usher in the New Year 2014. May Peace Prevail on Earth!!