Imagine going about life as usual. It’s Saturday morning and you wake up to the enticing vapours of palm-nut soup emanating from your mother’s kitchen. You stretch your body languorously and scratch your stomach in mindless fashion.
You search for your phone to catch up on news on Twitter. As you flip through what you missed during the night, your eye catches on news that violence has erupted in the city and it looks like some incensed people are going from house to house killing opposition party supporters. What do you do? Where can you go?
Imagine being forced to leave your country in order to escape war, natural disaster or persecution based on your religion, ethnicity, or political affiliations.
This is the reality of many refugees around the world. War has caused them to walk miles, cross seas and deserts to save their lives and families. There is an ongoing call for support for refugees to be hosted in other countries. There are those who are for this call whilst others stand against it.
I recently went to one of the refugee camps in the Central Region of Ghana; Egyeikrom Refugee Camp. This is one of the emergency camps set up by the Government of Ghana and UNHCR to host Ivorian refugees who fled their country during the 2011 conflict.
The visit was an initiative by UNHCR with other Ghanaian creatives to share the real stories of hope and the dreams of refugees in Ghana. Emmanuel Bobie, prominent Ghanaian photographer and Louis Appiah an animator and graphic designer (creator of Tales of Nazir) came along to understand the lives of refugees and to capture heir hopes for the future in photography and animation.
My first time in a refugee camp and I was really curious to hear the stories of people like you and I who have been forced to leave their homes, businesses to another man’s country for safety. The long dusty road from the main Elmina road led to the settlement which seemed built on a sandy-rocky falling and rising elevation.
We were welcomed by the camp management team who briefed us on the settlement activities and procedures to follow during our time at the camp. We then met the Refugee Council members who were also briefed on our purpose at the camp. They were a bit hesitant at first at the mention of photo coverage. They were still wary of exposure getting to the wrong persons it seemed.
I was so thankful I could speak French if not fluently. My days at Ghana Institute of Languages was paying off.
I met Jeff the artist who spoke ardently about his struggles as an artist at the camp and pleaded for support towards his work. He showed us his work on canvas, wood carving and cane. His demeanour was that of someone looking to learn and improve his skills in painting and to make a living selling his artwork.
Jeff The Artist
The settlements are a combination of plastic tents and semi-permanent transitional shelters. The plastic tents looked strong. But how long should a person live under this?
Some refugees were hesitant to let me photograph their faces so I chose a different focal point to be able to still share their story.
I came across several pregnant women in the camp who seemed to have similar dreams of opening their own hairdressing shops whether in Ghana or another country.
I want my children to have a better and brighter future and life than mine.
Would they want to go back to their country to start life again? The response was negative. They seemed more eager to be in another country aside their own. Some interestingly declined to live in Ghana to make a living, choosing to travel to Europe and other countries.
The settlement was like a mini-town having several facilities for the persons of concern. Children of school going age wearing the Ghanaian government school uniform ( gyigyi k3 nkati3 as we used to call it in our childhood years) made their way to a primary school which seemed central placed on a hill.
Life on the Egyeikrom Refugee Camp
I had a chat with some students on what their aspirations were and just like any Ghanaian student at that age, they wanted to become either a lawyer, teacher or a scientist.
My name is Israel. I want to become President of Cote d’Ivoire in the future.
Je suis Bellima. I want to be a teacher in the future and teach citizenship.
Saint-Michel, School Prefect.
As school prefect I give instructions to the students to do this and that and keep the compound clean. I want to be a scientist one day.
I am Grasse Natasha. I want to become a Doctor.
I want to become a lawyer one day in Ghana.
Saint-Michel and his colleagues all have dreams of being professionals, leaders just like you and I. They are not different from us. No matter how small or ordinary their dreams may be they need support as well.
The three class-room block school has a library filled with French text and story books. The headmaster appealed for English books to help the students improve their English speaking and writing skills. The library was still new and smelt of freshly sewn wood. Interestingly, the furniture in the library was internally sourced and built by one of the camp inhabitants.
Other organisations like the United States Embassy in partnership with UNHCR and others have supported several projects within the camp. A typical example is the establishment of the Egyeikrom Integrated Agric Project Cassava Processing Centre for the production of Attieke and other cassava based products.
Although there wasn’t any being prepared during our time there, I had the opportunity of meeting a former mayor of Cote d’Ivoire who demonstrated how it’s prepared. This former mayor also fled the country for fear of the opposition coming for him and his family. He was the first of refugees who actually started doing something for himself in order to take care of himself and family. He did this by starting an attieke eatery on the camp. He shared his dream of seeing his children and grandchildren living a better future than this. His eyes glistened as he remembered events from his country.
Demonstration of how attieke is prepared.
Similarly to the mayor are other inhabitants who prepare and sell local meals to their neighbours. Its a matter of survival for these refugees.
Due to an exponential increase in numbers of persons forcibly displaced by conflict to the largest since World War II, the resources available to UNHCR has dwindled. Therefore most of the attention is being focused on newer humanitarian emergencies. UNHCR has over the past three years been building capacity of the refugees through vocational and technical skills training, apprenticeship, small business support and agriculture so that they will be self-reliant
A Community-based Health Planning and Services (CHPS) compound established by the Ghana Health Service currently provides health services to the refugees.
I sensed a lot of bitterness, hope and aspiration when I spoke to several people. They were bitter about their country’s leadership and conflict. They dream of a better life outside the camp. They hope for a better future for themselves and for their children.
There’s so much we can do for refugees in Ghana.
Here’s the reason why; Not only is it a humane thing to do but its also a Christian thing to do as its written in Deuteronomy 10: 19 18
“ He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. “
Interested in sponsoring and supporting the refugees at the Egyeikrom Refugee Camp? Please contact:
Nii Ako Sowah
Public Information Associate
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