By Jocelyn Edwards
I’m pleased and proud to share with the Journalists for Human Rights community the result of several months of hard work by the students at the Ghana Institute of Journalism. The new blog of the JHR GIJ chapter went public today, an exciting accomplishment for a club that isn’t yet even a year old.
With articles on topics ranging from discrimination against people with disabilities to the problem of youth unemployment, the blog tackles a variety of human rights and social issues confronting the nation.
Work on the blog first started in April, when students came up with the idea of doing a series of articles on people with disabilities in Ghana. Chapter members hit the streets to talk to disabled beggars and find out about the sigma they face in society, and how they manage to survive in spite of it.
One of their first days doing interviews, the students met Kweku Appiah, a 45-year-old disabled man in a wheelchair. He described to students the discrimination he often faces from people on the streets of Accra.
“Some (people) pull away when you get close. Excuse my language, (but) I don’t reek of human excrement,” said Appiah, providing the students with a candid introduction to the world of human rights reporting.
As part of the same series, other JHR students visited the children’s ward of the Accra Psychiatric hospital. There, they found nurses struggling to care for the 14 children of the ward often without essential tools such as gloves, diapers and disinfectant.
Students discovered that the acute shortages faced by the hospital staff are the result of a desperate shortfall in funding. While over four million dollars is required annually to run the hospital effectively, when students visited the hospital it had received less than $200,000 so far this year according to the accounting department.
Later, as part of internships facilitated by JHR at a local newspaper, Ama, a fourth-year student at GIJ tackled the issue of road safety on one of Accra’s largest highways. Over 50 people have lost their lives in road accidents on the N1 highway in since it was opened two years ago.
With footbridges constructed an unreasonable distance apart, many people chose to scurry between cars on the six-lane highway in order to get across. Intrepid JHR members, who themselves had to dodge cars and jump gutters in order to do this story, spoke to a number of pedestrians about the road.
“I fear for my life anytime I cross this road, so all I do is pray,” said 20-year-old Gilbert Mensah.
While doing these stories, students often found themselves frustrated in their attempts to hold the government accountable. Frequently they encountered public relations officers at the ministries who stalled or didn’t respond to requests for interviews at all.
Thus, it was particularly fitting that Ali, a third-year student, wrote about a workshop on the Right to Information in Ghana. Civil society advocates at the workshop pointed out the need for a robust bill that would require government to provide information in a timely and transparent manner to all Ghanaian citizens.
“(Transparency and openness) are vital for the success of any government,” said Victor Brobby of the Centre for Democratic Development. “The more we have access to information, the less likely corruption is to occur.”
The students worked hard on these articles, and have progress greatly in their journalism skills as they did so. So I would invite you to read, respond and help us get a conversation started on some of Ghana’s most pressing human rights issues.