The first thing that you notice as you drive up to Kojokrom, in Ghana’s Western Region, is the shiny new train station nestled in the slight valley. The newly rebuilt tracks neatly bisect paths leading to churches and schools in the busy community, and soon trains will once again be running to Sekondi-Takoradi, the regional capital. In the long run, the government plans to rehabilitate the railway as far as Tarkwa, and maybe even Kumasi, which will greatly help the local community buy and ship commercial goods. For now however, the train tracks are primarily seen as a source of suffering and trouble.
Soon after construction began on the railway in July 2014, the contractors accidentally cut the community’s water main. Over 200 families lost their access to water, and the community’s appeals to local government and the railway construction company to repair the damage went unanswered.
Some people in the village were lucky enough to have boreholes in their houses and they shared their water with their neighbours, but the added stress on the boreholes meant that they began to dry up. Children were walking 20 minutes each way to a water source in a nearby community, and soon the lack of water began to have adverse health effects.
Mr. Napoleon is a highly respected local community member and he sat down to speak with us about the effects of the water shortage. “During that time, children suffered the most, because they would have to go fetch water for parents to take their baths, before the children could take their baths and go to school. We would see boys and girls at wells and streams every morning and late evening trying to get water for the household. Parents would get to work late, and we started to develop skin diseases.”
In July 2015 the Western Region Coastal Foundation introduced its unique community dialogue platform to Kojokrom. Through several rounds of conversations, households and communities gathered together to discuss the issues that affected them, and selected the most important issues to raise to the district and regional levels. In Kojokrom, the dialogue highlighted the problems that had been caused by the railway construction, and the community ranked the water shortage as the top social issue affecting them.
Spurred by the dialogue platform and frustrated by the lack of response from the construction company, the community leaders in Kojokrom decided to solve the water problem for themselves. On instruction from the local chief, leaders levied every household 100 Ghana cedis (£40), and those who could afford it donated more. Together the community raised 4000 cedis, and the local MP donated an additional 2000. A local supply company agreed to provide 12,000 cedis of materials, with the expectation that the local assembly would eventually provide the rest of the funds and reimburse the community for their donations.
Mr. Napoleon credits the conversations not only with helping the leaders find a solution, but also with reducing tension and averting violence. “WRCF brought timely engagement with the people as to what we had to do,” he remembers. “When the conversation came, we had the option of not demonstrating on the street and destroying things because we didn’t have any water. And people would tend to do that when they’re not getting feedback.”
Mrs. Amoah is a local fufu seller whose business suffered during the water outage. Although it was a large amount for her, she was happy to donate towards the cost of fixing the water main.
“When the water supply was cut off, there was no water close by to fetch,” she says. “Our children had to wake up at 4am in the morning, carry our gallons and go out to look for water. Until we find water, the children don’t bathe, and those times we didn’t get water, the children stayed at home because they can’t go and sit in the classroom without taking their bath. Now that water is back we are happy as things are back to normal,” Mrs Amoah smiles.
As WRCF’s dialogue platform in Kojokrom begins its third year of conversations in 2017, Mr. Napoleon earnestly believes that the dialogue is crucial to continued stability.
“If it had not been for the intervention of WRCF, sometimes people would think that the money had been reimbursed [by the district assembly], but you were refusing to give the money back. But through the conversation they get to know plainly that we have not received the money.” Mr Napoleon adds, “Riots and demonstrations have become a last resort, and we will not do that as before in the community.”
The Western Region Coastal Foundation’s Dialogue Platform has to date directly reached over 60,000 people in the Western Region’s six coastal districts. WRCF plans to reach an additional 120 communities during the 2017 dialogue series, which includes conversations at the household, community, district, and regional levels. In addition to the dialogue platform, WRCF designs, implements, and provides technical expertise for projects that aim to increase skills for employment, growth and jobs, resilient communities, and women’s economic empowerment.