Monday, 25 May 2009

Solutions? Workshops and Discussions

The situation is complicated. There are many stakeholders and many perspectives on the issue of how to deal with Old Fadama.

The government wants to wipe out the settlement, erase it from the map. Human rights watchers, mainly the People’s Dialogue and COHRE have stated that they believe there should be an alternative to putting the people on the streets. A relocation was discussed, but never implemented. Over time, the neighborhood has been stigmatized to the point that nobody wants the relocation near them, making the matter even more difficult to solve.

In the meantime the settlement has continued to grow, and grow.

There are two emergencies occurring at once. One is the massive migration of rural dwellers to the city in search of a better economy due to prolonged droughts in the and unpredictable flooding in the North. The other is the constant presence of unsanitary flooding, pest infestation, and fires.

The settlement is unstable, changing every day. Houses are built; the presence of a micro-economy drives the movement of goods, and construction of structures like a sophisticated group of ants. Inhabitants pay rent, somehow. Water and electricity are purchased and distributed within the community legitimately through Ghana water and electrical companies.

The conditions are not healthy, to be honest, but as always, despite the suffering people continue with their daily lives.

An area of houses burn down and people begin building in blocks. Fear of government whistle blowers versus fear of fire. Built- with- least structures too delicate to withstand fire are replaced with permanent or built-to- last structures.

We had a workshop at the Tenteye office of Old Fadama with the Homeless Association. Just as we were thinking to bring in other stakeholders or professionals into the conversation, a group of students stepped into the meeting, visiting from the University of London. The discussion of empowerment via micro-loans and savings was brought up and details are discussed regarding the implementation and accountability of the system. We listened a lot, and exchanged contact information. Although we were not able to steer the conversation, we plan to follow up with this group in the near future.

The People’s Dialogue seems to suggest that an upgrade would be dependent on land ownership, or at least protecting investments, so as not to scare away international and outside funding. Safi Sana, an organization has already located a site in the settlement and would like to begin construction of toilets, but the company would not like to see their efforts demolished. I hope it works out because the sanitation problem would be greatly improved if people could organize the waste within the settlement, and recycling would be ideal in my opinion.

Father Arcadio, a catholic priest, operating a school in the neighborhood suggests that giving the land to the people directly could be disastrous. It would be an all out war about land rights!

My fear is that if the settlement was cleaned up and upgraded, it would quickly be gentrified. It is strategically located in the center of the city, and the property values would be tremendous, pushing out the inhabitants it was originally meant to protect.

When asking Mohammed from the Kayayei (porters) Youth Association, what he believed the solution to the problem is he gave an interesting answer, and that was honesty. This is true for many sides. The inhabitants of the slum need to ask for help and set up a support network. Governments and NGO’s need to stop taking money for themselves and begin to take actions to make real changes. Time and time again, people walk in, talking to him, interviewing people, filling their questionnaires and surveys, and yet all they do in the end is write reports. It does nothing to help. He has also organized a proposal to help many of the most vulnerable Kayayei by creating jobs in Kumasi via a wholesale warehouse, set up to train and produce products, which can then be distributed throughout the country or even abroad. If China does it, why can’t Ghana? He’s basically suggesting the creation of industry and a stepping up of the value of Ghana’s natural resources, which it tends to sell unprocessed at very low prices.

When asked about what he felt was the source of problems in Old Fadama, he gave another interesting answer, which was conflict. People in the North are fighting over large and small issues, and it kills productivity. Curfews are enacted. When people waste all of their time fighting, their farms suffer, and the youth move south.

We have only begun to brainstorm these ideas… We hope to follow up soon with more details as we begin to explore these in more depth.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Slumdog Architects

We have arrived to Accra in search of a better economy, and have moved into the largest slum of the city. Now that our bulk luggages being stored around the city with our friends, we are free to live with the city as our living room, the market our source of daily bread. We only come home to sleep. It rained heavily the day before last, and we began perfecting our skills of gutter-jumping. Pants rolled up and ready to go, we are living in the heart of Accra. The rainy season is intensifying and there are malaria mosquitos everywhere. In the next few days Gabriela will attempt to get a job with the market queens of Agbogbloshi, while the boys focus on the more "manly" activities of bulk-breaking.

Old Fadama is strategically located in the city. The settlement lives with the Agbogbloshi market, however, the sellers from this area also operate around the entire city.
Mapping a slum is not easy. The settlement is extremely dense and home to about 100,000 people. We are hoping for a very high quality sattellitte image soon from Quickbird, and in the meantime using google earth, space syntax, and GPS to map the are.

We are also developing our character sketches and scenarios. Soon we will interview Jean-Jaque's mother and wife to Akokora from Wiaga. She is a migrant worker who has been residing in Accra for 3 years in hopes to find ties to our previous study.

Our House, In the Middle of our Compound

Life continues in between broken buildings, the newly built, and those under construction, portraying a chain of events: man-made and natural.

We (all of us) built a house for a family, in the middle of a large compound shared by 3 bothers and their family [16 kids in total]. The state of the compound is the direct result of flooding in these areas. Amidst the ruins of the old structures started our house project, which directly inspired the family to complete their whole compound before the coming of the rain. With our project finished, the remaining houses are raising at a constant rate.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Construction, Climate, Culture

For the last three weeks our focus has been on construction, or reconstruction. We have fetched sand, water, gravel, wood, and other materials countless times. We've formed piles, and moved these piles one shovel-full at a time. We have made bricks, burned them, and carried them, made mortar and plaster. The carpentry and masonry were outsourced to specialists, but we did our best to participate.

A couple of technological interventions in the way of flood adaptations have been incorporated in the new work. Most noted are the use of a solid foundation, four courses deep of concrete block, and the addition of bitumen to the plaster mix for the protective outer coat of the building's envelope. The zinc sheets were not our decision. However, they were clearly preferred by the owner of the house and the local NGO we have been working with called TIMAACHAAB (this translates to "lets work together" in the local dialect, Buili).

Working together with these people we have gained a tremendous insight into the minds and hearts of the residents, who are regularly plagued by floods, drought, food insecurity, and poverty, yet live with a resilience and strength that is admirable. It has also been a great lesson in teamwork, making the overwhelming challenges of recovery seem both feasible and pleasurable.

Stepping inside the newly roofed space the room seemed cool, and there was a slight breeze moving from the doorway out of the window. We decided to sleep two nights in the compound, in order to test the difference between sleeping on the roof of a traditional structure, to sleeping inside our newly built work. Although the second night we were tempted to sleep on the roof again (nothing compares to sleeping under an open sky), we were driven indoors by the rain. Unfortunately, we noticed a few slight leaks in the roof and window, but overall we staid dry. The noise from the rain was also very loud, but the fatigue and repetitive nature of the sound, made it easy to sleep.

Monday, 20 April 2009

(April 18th) Bricks are Finished!

We woke up in the morning to discover that all the bricks had been finished! The landcrate bricks will take 4-5 days to dry, while the cement bricks take between 1-2 days. We sprinkle water on the cement bricks each evening to make them stronger.

(April 17th) Making Bricks

Fetching concrete from downtown Wiaga, before taking a tour of other flood adaptation projects aided by the local organization TAMAACHAAB.

Making bricks one by one with a mold.