December 11, 2020
Returning to Winnipeg from Ghana on Dec. 7 was different this year. Normally in early December, following my annual November visit, there is a joyful hum as people in the city exchange holiday greetings and prepare for extended family gatherings. This time, however, the streets are quiet and holiday plans are shut down due to COVID restrictions.
During my three-week visit, I remained diligent with mask wearing, but it was evident that the majority of the people had little fear of the pandemic that is gripping the rest of the world. Ghana’s active case count remains below 1,000, a relatively small number given Ghana’s population of close to 30 million. Health officials there continue to test medical personnel every two weeks and follow contact tracing.
The lack of concern for COVID was opposite to election fervor. Banners were everywhere. Last weekend tens of thousands of Ghanaians took to the streets in rallies supporting their favourite candidates. On this past Monday, Ghanaians went to the polling stations and voted for the incumbent, Nana Akufo-Addo.
Our libraries started up cautiously in early July with reduced hours and an array of COVID protocols. Initially they were closed to younger children in keeping with government policy of primary school closures until January 2021. Municipal offices donated supplies and OCLF augmented as needed. In August, as case numbers dropped, we allowed children to return. Many libraries have created exciting programs during this time. Vivian Amanor, Goi’s dynamic head librarian, started a reading clinic. During my visit to the fishing village’s library, I could see groups of children eagerly embracing their lessons. Social distancing was no longer possible and mask wearing wasn’t enforced, but everyone washed their hands carefully and the library was thoroughly cleaned each day. Goi has not recorded a single COVID case.
A dozen children at our library in Osu held a book club where they took turns reading different books. Their favourite novel was A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielsen. It tells the story of a family separated by the building of Germany’s Berlin Wall. Such books enliven the history and awareness of countries far from the children’s home compounds.
One afternoon I visited the busy Nima Centre, an OCLF facility built in 2006. When I arrived, there were dozens of women and men in full swing making soap, hand sanitizer, beaded items, and leather sandals. It was part of a 10-day workshop sponsored by the local Zongo community. At 3:30 p.m., after the place was immaculately swept with all chairs away, others arrived. This time, it was a group of young classical musicians ready to perform a concert for their peers. For many, this was their first time to perform on stage. By 4:30, members of the theatre group were anxiously awaiting the start of their rehearsal. When I left the Centre at 6, the literacy students were already arriving for their 7:30 classes. What a lively place and with such an array of activities!
As always, it was inspirational to meet our adult literacy learners. David Anankaning, a 49-year-old night watchman who has attended for seven years now wrote, “I have learnt a lot from the library and I am still learning. My dream is to go to the university.” He enthusiastically explained to me that the University of Ghana has an entry option for mature students. I said OCLF would do its best to support him. When David began, he didn’t know the alphabet.
In the coastal village of Kablevu, I completed the photography for two new board books that will eventually be distributed freely to new mothers who attend family planning sessions in conjunction with well-baby monthly weighing and vaccination clinics. Local fishermen made every effort to help me as I recorded shared moments between Moses, a fisher for more than 50 years, and his namesake grandson.
The real highlight of my visit to Ghana was on Nov. 29 when we opened a new library in the aforementioned Kablevu, a fishing and salt-mining community where the entire village came out to honour the occasion. Children recited poetry, the youth pledged their support, and the chief in all his regalia cut the ribbon. The event concluded with frozen yogurt treats for everyone and loud music that the children energetically danced to. The library recorded 1,239 visits in its first week of operation.
As this year comes to a close, we wish you well, holding hope for a decline in COVID cases and the promise of a vaccine only days away.
Thinking of everyone,