I recently had the opportunity to travel to Tamale and the environs of the Northern Region. Throughout Ghana we have broad and rich relationships, but the relevance of our development efforts really crystallized for me in Tamale.
We all know that malaria kills more children under the age of five in Ghana than any other single disease. I'm proud that the U.S. Government has a program aimed at keeping mothers and children alive. It is called the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI). Through this initiative we directly provided more than three million Long Lasting Insecticide Treated Nets from 2010-2012, and provided the technical assistance to the National Malaria Control Program to develop a long-term distribution strategy. In the village of Mogla, I witnessed how neighbors opened their homes to Indoor Residual Spraying as a key part of ending preventable childhood deaths. And this partnership, this opening of homes and hearts, between Ghana and America has truly touched me. I met pregnant mothers who will be safe from the disease, as well as several children under five years of age who will now live many more years when compared to the time before spraying began. The women and children I met are among the 900,000 people this program helps protect.
Just as progress against malaria could not be made without close cooperation, goodwill, and the steady determination of the community members and traditional leaders, the same holds true when seeking to enhance agricultural production to reduce poverty. In Tolon-Kumbugu, we are supporting the largest irrigation scheme in the Northern Region. Through the introduction of improved infrastructure and technologies, farmers are realizing increasing yield and incomes.
For me, seeing is believing, so we traveled to the Botanga Irrigation Site to learn how The Agricultural Development and Value Chain Enhancement (ADVANCE) Program, a USAID-funded project, helps the farmers to get their produce to dinner tables. This project adopts a value chain approach where smallholder farmers are linked to markets, finance, equipment services, and information through relatively larger commercial farmers and traders who have the capacity to invest in these chains' staples (maize, rice, and soybean) to achieve a greater degree of food security among the rural population in the North. While women still too often have to go through the back-breaking labor of planting rice seedlings hand by hand, over time, modernized farming techniques coupled with fertilizer and advanced seeds, are gradually increasing the income of smallholder farmers.
Finally, we are changing lives by enhancing the quality and facilities of the Northern Region'' basic education services. Of the 38 Peace Corps Volunteers currently in the North, nearly a quarter of these dedicated public servants are teaching at junior and senior secondary schools and schools for the deaf in the subject areas of math, science, art, and ICT. USAID, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, has engaged in a total of 68 projects in the North.
The impact of these efforts struck me while visiting the Nyohini Presbyterian Primary School. The stark contrast of seeing classes conducted inside unstable wooden structures next to a newly constructed classroom offering electricity, flooring, and ceilings leaves one speechless. Seeing a newly constructed latrine facility left me with hope and belief that through our efforts, clear progress would be made in the areas of sanitation and hygiene.
As the children warmly sang to us throughout our visit, and the Parent Teacher's Association vowed to support and maintain the new facility, I left the Northern Region proud that the United States collaborates with partners on priorities determined by Ghana. From meetings with Regional Minister Ziedeng, to traditional rulers, to private sector machinery suppliers, I departed Tamale knowing that the Northern Region experienced America at its best. We are not only saving lives, but we are changing lives.
About the Author: Gene Cretz serves as U.S. Ambassador to Ghana.