By the turn of the century, London-based Ashantis were desperate to find help for the friends and relatives they left behind in Ghana.
Martha Boadu came to the UK in 1982 but never ceased to worry about her home village, Gyetiase, one of many tiny villages scattered across the scrubland of Ashanti.
She described how the villagers had to walk up to six hours a day for water to wash, drink, cook and give to their animals. She remembers how they were always tired and later realised this was the result of constant diarrhoea from drinking polluted water.
Martha went home for the first time in 2000. She said she was shocked by what she found. She had left a thriving community of cocoa farmers, but in the intervening years' climate change had set in and it had become impossible to grow cocoa as a commercial crop. The people had diversified into ‘Sahara crops’ like yam and cassava, but without much success.
Most of the people were hungry most of the time. They had lost their traditional skills having no time to pursue them, and women were occasionally forced to travel abroad to work as prostitutes. Some probably brought back HIV/Aids.
Martha eventually obtained an estimate of £32,000 for attaching Gyetiase to the mains water supply, and asked her neighbour, Penny David, for advice. Penny talked to David Williamson, consultant water engineer at WaterAid, who offered to fly to Ghana and try to bring the estimate down. He managed to cut it to £11,000, though inflation subsequently lifted it again to £18,000.
This sum was eventually collected, thanks largely to grants from the UK High Commission in Accra and Swiss charity, BasAid. The taps were turned on in April 2005, amid great rejoicing. Acting on David’s advice, a Ghanaian charity founded by WaterAid was commissioned to teach the villagers health, hygiene and the construction of latrines – one outside, stand-alone lavatory for each household.
Martha’s village was the first Ashanti community to receive these three key benefits. The difference they made was enormous. No-one any longer suffers from hunger, as the villagers have a lot more energy to look after their farms. Whereas one in three babies used to die before age two of water-related disease, babies rarely die nowadays. Families are shrinking, as parents become more confident their children will survive and be able to look after them in their old age.
Since then, Ashanti Development has provided the same benefits for many other villages, as well as providing other help – help with education and healthcare, for example, along with agricultural training and a training and loan scheme for women. There are still thousands of Ashanti villages that need this kind of help, so our story is by no means finished.
Ashanti Development is staffed in the UK by 100 percent volunteers. This means that every penny we are given is spent on our work in Ghana, particularly through our Develop a Village project.