Monday, January 6, 2014

Homelessness in Ghana

By Kerry Tuttle

It's a hot December day in Accra, Ghana and the bus I'm riding on slowly moves through traffic, leaving a cloud of exhaust fumes and dust behind. The road is cluttered with cars, taxis and buses, with pollution and poverty lining the city streets. Two of the most concerning things I've seen while in Ghana have been the issue of pollution and the amount of disabled homeless persons that line the side of the road. I've seen blind men being led by small children, people in wheelchairs, a man with no legs, a man whose limbs had clearly stopped growing years ago, homeless women breastfeeding children, and one man with elephantiasis.

It is alarming to me how little Ghanaian society does to help those with disabilities. According to various Ghanaians with whom I've brought up this issue, these disabled people are considered to be second-class citizens. There is not a strong sense of community outreach or support for them. Instead they are left to fend for themselves on the streets of Accra or if they are lucky, they are left with a family member who does their best to make life comfortable.

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Homelessness is a problem in all major world cities. People become homeless for different reasons but at the end of the day, that person's life lacks a critical basic need that provides shelter, safety and stability. It is estimated by GhanaWeb that over 100,000 persons are homeless on any given night in Ghana. What bothers me about this country's homelessness problem is the prevalence of disabilities in the homeless community. Ghana's disabled welfare groups estimate that 10% Ghanaians have some form of physical or sensory impairment.

My friends who spent some time volunteering in an orphanage in Ghana had it explained to them that in many parts of the country, children born with disabilities are believed to be a result of evil spirits or witchcraft and the child is ostracized. In some cases infant homicide occurs. Those with disabilities are viewed by this society to be completely useless and unproductive. What Ghana fails to understand is that "disability" does not equal "inability."

A nation that neglects or marginalizes 10% of its population will see the side effects of only giving 90% of citizens the chance to participate in nation building. These disabled persons lack the required help and support needed to have a stable life off the streets. This is not a 'disabled person' problem. This is a societal problem.

Every person has a story and this is what I constantly think as we drive down the streets of Ghana. I wonder who these people are, how they got to this point in their life, who has helped them thus far, and what could be done to help them even more.

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