Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rethink?
One evening while sitting at a food stand waiting for my dinner, a local man about my age asked me where I was from and what I was doing here. As I started to explain my story, and said I was working for an environmental conservation non-profit organization, he laughed at me and said, “Ghana is not very good for that. We don’t take care of the environment.” That interaction alone solidified my reason for being here. I am fully aware that I will not change a country just by showing up but I can see the power of communication. Every person that inquires what I am doing here is another chance I have to raise awareness of the importance of the environmental conservation work.
In Ghana, environmental conservation and restoration is a topic that is on the rise but still has a long way to go. In working these past 2 months with A Rocha Ghana I have been introduced to people who are passionate about making environmental change. My colleagues, though very dedicated, are faced with the reality that they are some of the few people in this country that are concerned about the environment. With my organization, I will be involved in two research and advocacy projects, as well as the Shared Resources Joint Solutions project. This project focuses on sustainably developing and managing the Shea industry in the Northern Savanna Ecological Zone in order to promote opportunity for women in the communities, increase economic growth, expand the value chain of this product, and encourage reforestation. The goals of A Rocha Ghana emphasize creating a sustainable environment while improving the livelihoods of surrounding communities, two key aligning development factors.
(Above is a photo of me at the A Rocha Ghana stand at the 2nd Annual REDD+ Forum, advocating for protecting of the Atewa Forest.)
My colleagues have told me that many people in Ghana do not have concern for the environment, as they do not know the importance of a clean environment, nor do they have the time or resources (often money) to worry. In living in the capital city, I roam streets that are scattered with garbage and have overflowing gutters. Upon leaving the city, the surrounding landscape is ecologically diverse, plentiful, and absolutely beautiful. However, in doing research for my organization I know that deforestation and land degradation are at an all time high. This makes me wonder: Why is the environment not something that is pressing on the Ghanaian political agenda? Or many political agendas? What will it take globally for environmental concerns to become a more important issue? Is money essential for environmental improvement and management or is the environmental just not valued enough?
(To the left is a photo of an example of the beautiful biodiversity in Ghana.)
In a conversation with a colleague I learned that the idea of “reduce, reuse, recycle” (3 Rs) is not a commonly known concept here. In fact, it is a foreign idea to many. This is something that I have learned in school for as long as I can remember so it was a bit of a shock to me that it was not more widespread, but I guess that was a poor assumption on my part. My colleague is working on a project to introduce the 3 Rs into church programs that are connected with my organization. He explained that he wants to emphasize the importance of reduction first, as it is the most important for changing perceptions, habits and saving money. Most importantly it reduces the amount of waste that there is circulating through the city. He explained that there are no real recycling program or good waste collection program here, therefore unless there is effort made to reduce waste, there will likely be little change.
From this conversation, I created a 3 Rs themed school program to help teach the students to repurpose plastic bags to make skipping ropes. I hope that this will inspire the children to not only reduce their waste consumption, but to learn about different ways they can reuse their waste and create something new, free, and exciting. Alongside this topic I plan to incorporate the importance of a healthy lifestyle, and how a healthy environment and a healthy lifestyle go hand in hand.
(To the right is a photo of the skipping rope I made by repurposing plastic bags!)
In my first 2 months of being here I can see that there is a long road ahead for Ghana to improve their environmental condition, but more than that I can see great potential in this country and among these people. The biggest questions I am left with are: What will it take for people to rethink their lifestyles in order to benefit the environment? and is the environment an important driving factor in development?