It was a bright May afternoon in Fetentaa Refugee Camp, as hundreds of women, men, girls, and boys trooped to the camp community center; the unmistakable rhythm of Ivorian music blared over the loudspeakers of the camp public address system.
Amidst excitement and dancing, the master of ceremony announced the reason for the gathering;
“Today is a joyous day,” he said. “We are here today to inaugurate two refugee companies formed with the assistance of the Dutch cardiologists who have been our benefactors for the past four years.”
The two refugee companies being inaugurated; a tailoring group and a farming group were the brainchild of retired Dutch Cardiologist, Derek Haan and his foundation, Support 4 Ghanese Kids, after extensive consultation with their partners, the Catholic Diocese of Sunyani, and refugee beneficiaries of the project. Besides material and technical support to these two companies, the Dutch team with the support of the Catholic Diocese of Sunyani has committed to assist the beneficiaries in finding a market for their products through their extensive network in Ghana, Netherlands and beyond.
In order to appreciate the excitement of both benefactor and beneficiaries, we will have to take a journey back into time, to the year 2013, when a Medical team from Saint Jansdal’s hospital in Netherlands, on a visit to the Saint Mary’s Hospital in Drobo heeded to a suggestion by the Catholic Bishop of Sunyani, Rev. Matthew Kwasi Gyamfi to visit the Fetentaa refugee camp.
“We have some refugee brothers and sisters in Fetentaa Camp, and they are likely to have some heart disease due to the trauma they faced,” he told the medical team.
Though their mission was to support the St. Mary’s hospital with medical assistance and capacity building as they have routinely done for the past 27 years, the medical team agreed to visit the camp. As they toured the camp, Rev. Gyamfi explained the socio-economic situation faced by the refugees to the visiting doctors. Being touched by what they saw and heard, they asked what they could do to assist.
Aside from medical assistance which was the expertise of the team, Rev. Gyamfi proposed that the team looked into the possibility of helping with educational scholarships since the refugees were here for a long stay. “The best way to dismantle the camp is through education,” he said. “Once the young ones get educated, they will begin to move out of the camp in search of jobs, and that will lead to the gradual dismantlement of the camp.”
The very next year, the Dutch medical team returned to Ghana, this time with Fetentaa camp a prominent feature on their itinerary. The team came along with students and teachers from a school in Netherlands who donated some toys and recreational items to camp residents. During that trip, they conducted medical screening for many refugees, and cases that required further treatment were followed up at Saint Mary’s Hospital in Drobo and Berekum Hospital.
“The students and teachers upon interacting with the refugee school kids left as ambassadors and they went to appeal to their fellow student and teachers. That’s how they started to appeal for funds,” said Rev. Gyamfi.
The next time the team returned they came with computers and educational items.
They subsequently registered an NGO, by name Support 4 Ghanese kids through which they have been raising funds for refugee children in Fetentaa.
Seeing that there was no assistance for refugee kids to pursue secondary education, the Bishop with the assistance of the Dutch team instituted a scholarship scheme for refugee children who had passed the junior high school exams. As a result, 10 refugee kids were granted scholarships to pursue secondary school education in 2015 with a commitment to sponsor another 10 every year over the next six years.
The next visit of the medical team coincided with the withdrawal of general food distribution across all refugee camps in Ghana. This had resulted in a drop in enrollment in school as well as a potential decline in the nutritional status of the school children. To salvage the situation, the Bishop pitched the idea of running a school feeding program for refugee children, where they are provided with one good meal per day, to enable them to grow and develop their minds, and most importantly to increase enrolment and retention in school. The team quickly bought into the idea and had sponsored the school feeding programme from April till December 2016 after which the refugee camp school has been enrolled onto the national school feeding programme sponsored by the government of Ghana.
The decision to sponsor the school feeding programmeaffected the number of refugee children who would receive scholarships for senior high school in the year 2016, as it reduced the number to six instead of the 10 as has been previously planned.
In an interview with Derek Haan, Board Chairman of Support 4 Ghanese kids, he stated that “The original idea was to provide a scholarship for 10 students per year for six years, however when we realized there was a problem with food, we decided to sponsor the Bishops school feeding for a year.”
He explained that as the needs of the refugees grew, they realized that in order for their assistance to be sustainable, there was the need to focus on empowerment so that refugees can generate enough money to sponsor their own children to attend school. They, therefore, after consulting with the refugees and other stakeholders on the ground enlisted refugees to form companies based on their needs. The two start-ups that emerged out of these discussions were a tailoring company as well as a farmers group.
Hank Bralts, a medical technician by training and a member of the board of the NGO stated that “With these initiatives in place, we are hoping that they are able to gain a little bit of money to sponsor their own kids to go to school. It is our hope that after six years we do not still need to be here to provide this support.”
The impact of the good work done by the Dutch Medical team over the past three years was so far reaching that you could hardly find any individual living in the camp who had not been touched directly or indirectly by their benevolence. In addition to that, during their 2015 visit, they extended their largesse to residents of the other three refugee camps in Ghana who were transported to Saint Mary’s Hospital in Drobo to undergo free eye screening and treatment.
From health and nutrition, education and recreation, ICT and most recently income generation activities, Support 4 Ghanese kids have really left an indelible mark in the lives of the refugees living in Ghana, especially those living in Fetentaa Camp. In the words of Gohoula Gbagbo Amos, a member of the refugee leadership committee, “The Dutch, be it cardiologist or the other teams have treated heart and eye problems, and most recently women who had problems with their wombs were treated. They provided glasses, or cataract surgery and treated fibroid as needed. Everybody was given a chance to see them without any discrimination.”
He went on to outline the other interventions which the team have made including the scholarship for refugee children to attend Senior High School, the school feeding, the donation of computers and furniture for the computer lab, sports equipment and all other things which had culminated in the formation of the two refugee companies which were being inaugurated on this day.
The head of the tailor group speaking on behalf of the two groups thanked the Dutch team for their support over the years, and the trust which they had reposed in them. “We would like to thank you for your donations. You have shown great trust in us, and in return, we promise to produce something good to make you proud of us,” she said.
Camp Management and UNHCRused the occasion to thank the Dutch team for their benevolence remarking that the move could not have come at a better time than now when things had become difficult. They urged beneficiaries to put things to good use so that the benefits can be felt by other persons.
In addition to the equipment and material provided to the two refugee companies, the Dutch team also donated assorted sports items and clothes to the camp.
Established on 8 June 2011, the Fetentaa Refugee Camp which is located in Berekum District of the Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana, was the second of three camps established in 2011 to shelter displaced Ivoirians fleeing the hostilities following the November 2010 Presidential elections held in Côte d’Ivoire. The current population of the camp is 981 persons of concern (PoC). This number is made up primarily of presumed Ivoirian nationals with a little over 1% being other nationals who were in Côte d’Ivoire at the time of the crisis.
For more information please contact:
Nii Ako Sowa, Communication and Public Information Associate
(Email: email@example.com, Cell: 0544 340747)