Tamale is the capital of Ghana’s Northern Region, one of the poorest areas of the country. Across the country, overall poverty has all but halved in recent years - but in rural parts poverty rates remain largely unchanged. Nowhere is this more evident than in the north, where drought and lack of infrastructure leave many people in ongoing food insecurity.
Unlike many other cities in Ghana, Tamale is made up both of traditional wood buildings and modern houses. The region is peopled by a mix of ethnic groups, with the traditional tribe still performing an important role in rural parts.
Tribal rivalries provoke conflict
Tribal rivalries over land, politics and religion have erupted in violence in recent years. Recurring violence has led to large-scale migration away from the rural north and into the big cities of Ghana’s south.
A great burden is placed on women in rural northern society. Women play a vital role in agriculture, and are also expected to take on the full gamut of household duties, from child rearing to fetching fuel from outside. Women are also expected to fetch water, which can take a great deal of time depending on where the water source is located.
Girls face poor educational prospects
Gender disparities have a profound impact on the life chances of girls in the Tamale area. Education is a prime example of this. While many boys go to school, nearly two thirds of girls are thought to go without any kind of formal education. Partly, this is caused by the household responsibilities expected of girls, as well as marriage at an early age, discrimination in favour of boys, and religious traditions. Without a decent education, it is hard for girls to break out of generational poverty.
Girls as young as a month old face allegations of witchcraft
A more sinister problem faces women in the rural north. In some areas, superstition endures and many girls and women are accused of witchcraft when things go wrong. When death or illness occurs, or when financial hardship befalls an individual, the cause is often attributed to witchcraft - the punishment for which is exile, torture or execution. This has been known to affect babies as young as a month old.
In the north, ‘witch camps’ persist to this day. These are places where branded women take shelter following lifelong exile. As many as 1,700 girls and women are thought to call a witch camp home in Ghana’s north. It is likely that many suffer mental illness, and greater awareness about mental health is desperately needed is women are to avoid a similar fate in future.
What are we doing in Tamale?
We have helped vulnerable families in Tamale since 2008. Many children in the region can no longer live with their families. For these children, we provide a new home with an SOS family, under the care of an SOS mother. Children attend our SOS nursery along with children from the local community, before going on to begin their primary education at our SOS school.
Providing essential services
We carry out much of our community work in Tamale from our social and medical centres. Our family support work helps people in the community work towards self-sufficiency. We provide the means of starting a business so that families can get on the income ladder and begin to earn a sustainable livelihood on their own.
We also provide education, nutrition and healthcare to families for whom even these essential services would otherwise be out of reach. At our medical centre, we treat disease, perform surgery, and help couples with family planning. We also provide food and medicines as well as psychological support to those who are really struggling, which a special focus on HIV/AIDS.
Rural poverty and inequality for girls means that many children in Tamale struggle to achieve in life. By providing essential services and better opportunities, we are enabling young people to flourish.