AFRICA: Memorable Encounters in Ghana

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By Yuki Sakaguchi in Tokyo

Akwaaba, which means welcome,” was the first word I came across upon my arrival in Ghana. Many people identify Africa with words that have negative connotations, such as poverty, conflict or disease. However, there is much more to this vast continent than such associations. This is what I learnt during my one-year study visit to Ghana. I found so much hope and potential there.

Fifty years ago Daisaku Ikeda, the founder of Soka University -- where I am a student -- and president of the lay Buddhist organization, Soka Gakkai International, said: Those who have suffered the most will become the happiest …The 21st century will be the century of Africa.”

I share these sentiments. In order to better understand Ghana, it is necessary to consider the coun-trys political history and the living standards of its ordinary citizens.

Ghana was the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to gain independence on March 6, 1957, and Dr. Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972) its first president. Nkrumahs leadership skills had been honed during the many years he led the struggle for independence. His social background, lack of financial means and the hardships he experienced trying to support himself as a student, had further equipped him with an understanding of and ability to relate to the people.

Although he suffered some criticism from the educated elite during his time in presidential office, he remained a man of action for the people and, because of the kind of leader he was, continues to be highly respected until today. He could not maintain his struggle for the happiness of his people due to a military coup and his resulting banishment in 1966.

But the fact remains that due to Nkrumahs perseverance, Ghana is currently a peaceful democracy and one of the oldest democracies in the whole of Africa. In fact, Ghana is a prime example of a peoples victory.

Despite this, the lot of the Ghanaian people is far from faultless. Due to the lack of infrastructure to support continuous electric and water supplies, people face electricity interruptions and water shortages every day and, because of the lack of job opportunities, serious financial problems.

Furthermore, women are often denied their rights and suffer because of some remaining tribal cus-toms. For example, when I went to a village in the northern part of Ghana, I met a woman whose mouth was held shut by a padlock. Traditionally, she is not allowed to use her mouth unless her hus-band decides to unlock the circular part of the lock mounted on her top lip from the one on her bottom lip. This is regarded by men as an attractive and desirable physical feature for a woman to have and is the style in this particular village.

In the northern part of Ghana, known as Tongo, I met the chief of a village who had 18 wives and 300 children. Whilst being shown around the village by one of the chiefs subjects, I noticed about 30 women sitting under a tree, a long way from the chief’s palace, and learned that women are only per-mitted to enter the chief’s palace when he allows them to do so.

However, such customs aside, there is an astounding sense of community and a profound focus on human-to-human interaction in Ghana, which is evident in the way people communicate. This, I believe, is Africas key asset and will be essential to its future development.

The interaction between people is amazingly close. Ghanaians shake hands when greeting one another and continue to do so at numerous times whilst in conversation. Friendliness is interwoven into their culture. Every time I walked through town I was greeted many times with the words Obruni (foreigner), how are you? by people I didnt know. I decided to count how many times I shook hands with my friends and how many people greeted me on the road. I found that I shook hands more than a hundred times and approximately 30 people actually stopped to converse with me.

However, it is not the number that is important, but rather the essence of these greetings. I had so many dialogues with people I met on the road and these dialogues taught me so many important things. I had conversations with elderly people about the future of Ghana, about the power of culture and potential of art with a painter, and with children about their dreams. These dialogues on the road were the moments that I best understood Ghana and its culture.

Having asked so many of the children that I met on the street what their dreams were I realized that many of them dream of being football players. However, most children are unable to pursue their dreams because of economic constraints and the lack of opportunity. These chance interactions with children made me think about their struggles and shed light on my mission -- to make their dreams come true -- and I decided to start up Tsubasa Football Academy.

Although the Academy does not have its own school building or pitch yet, 50 students are training there and working towards the realization of their dreams.

It was through talking to all those teachers I met on the road and learning from their many lessons that I found my mission. Now, I am able to contribute to the culture that taught me the true meaning of community spirit. I am determined to help make the 21st century the century of Africa.

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