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Fresh from the Field: Arts help catalyze social change in Ghana

Art is a powerful tool, especially in social change. Art does not have a national language; it speaks across all cultural, social, and linguistic boundaries. Through art, we can conjure emotions in such a way that they resonate deep within the audience’s soul. In short, art can cause an experience of activism that has a unique impact.

This month, our Field Project Manager Isabel Carrió coordinated three workshops with our Ghanaian partners that focused on integrating community-based arts campaigns to bring about behavior change. Made possible by the New England Biolabs Foundation, three visual and performing Ghanaian artists collaborated with three of our environmental partner organizations, to design and implement projects to engage communities in developing solutions to challenging local issues such as climate change, pollution, water access, and wildlife and plant species conservation. Through these projects, participants hoped to support locally-driven solutions that would create real change in their communities.

· The Bioheritage of the Lolobi People: In the Volta region in Ghana, deforestation and farming practices have harmed the wildlife and plant species in the area. Over-cultivation of crops, slash and burn methods, and pollution continue to deplete water supply and diminish the biodiversity of the area. Finally, ancestral practices are no longer valued or practiced due to modernization and changes in local authority. Because of this, the Ahado Youth Environmental Club came together with artist Nicholas Wayo to paint a mural that depicts the importance of plant, animal, and water conservation. The club then presented this mural to the public and a powerful dialogue process deepened understanding of how issues like decreased and unpredictable rainfall are connected to climate change, which is in turn affected by the actions of individuals in the community. As a result, the residents committed to adopting community practices to support conservation, and other communities have asked Ahado to collaborate on murals for their area so that they too can address sustainability with their population.

Members of the Ahado Youth Environmental Club pose with Nicholas in front of the finished mural

· Pollution in Lake Bosomtwe: Members of A Rocha Ghana had a growing concern about the pollution of Lake Bosomtwe, the only natural lake in Ghana. While there are some laws against polluting the lake, community members continue to pollute the lake with their garbage and human waste. Together with installation artist Esther Ofosu, A Rocha Ghana hosted a public gathering where they discussed the harm of water pollution and split into groups to create woven art that promoted water conservation and the use of natural, chemical-free methods of fishing. These pieces were then mounted on a wire frame, along with a piece representing the lake. Participants then wrote a solution for water pollution and their name on a ribbon, which were then tied onto the wire installation. This project ultimately raised awareness about and pledged a renewed a commitment to water conservation.

A Rocha Ghana and Esther build their art installation

· Environmental Issues in Tamale: In Northern Ghana, communities commonly enact practices that are bad for the environment. Open defecation results in the spread of disease, and wildfires and deforestation have both contributed to climate change and diminished the biodiversity of the area. Young girls, as part of the Conservation Alliance, partnered with artist Stephen Ofori to create a theatrical performance as a unique tool to educate and address these culturally sensitive environmental problems. Three different skits were staged to educate over 700 school children, teachers, and community members about climate change and the negative effects of wildfires, deforestation, and open defecation. As a result of these performances, the community learned about the best ways to protect the environment, and adopted some strategies for similar social and community intervention. A head teacher of the Dahin-Sheli Junior High School said “Many thanks to Creative Action Institute and Conservation Alliance for bringing this new and innovative way of addressing sensitive social and environmental problems in our communities.”

Girls from the Conservation Alliance pose with Stephen

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