The Humanist Service Corps has been in Ghana working in the witch camps for about a year now and they’re doing some amazing work there getting medical care and clean water systems in place. Conor Robinson passes on this incredible story of how to help people while being sensitive to longstanding cultural beliefs.
Recently, Humanist Service Corps volunteer Rebecca ran into an interesting medical situation up in Kukuo. A woman woke up one day with an infection in her finger. Around the same time, a man in Kukuo also woke up with the same type of infection, but his progressed much faster than hers did. Rebecca was asked to go check on the man because he was in a great deal of pain and was in a very bad way with his hand. He had gone to the Kukuo clinic and had gotten medicine for his hand, so she just checked on him and chatted. While she was there, he mentioned that he thought a witch did that to him because it came on so suddenly and there was an accused woman in the village with the same infection. Rebecca and her translator talked with the man, reminding him of the local belief that the land around Kukuo is magical and thus a witch cannot operate if she is living on the land.
The best course of action, as sensitization against witchcraft accusations does not happen overnight, is to try to resolve or fix the situation as quickly as possible. In this case, getting both the man and the woman healthy again would probably be able to avert any formal accusations. The woman was treating her infection with local medicine, which was why it looked better than the man’s – western medicine in this case makes it worse before it makes it better. Rebecca drove down to Bimbilla and found a knowledgable pharmacist who was able to tell Rebecca which medications would be most effective. HSC volunteer Christian returned to Kukuo with the medications, made sure that the man was on all the best medications, spoke with him and listened to his story, and convinced the woman to try the western medicine. As this infection often requires surgical intervention if left too long, many people are too afraid to go to clinics with this issue. Therefore, it goes untreated with antibiotics until it heals with traditional medicine or gets so bad that surgery is needed. The woman had already been on traditional medicine for nearly week and was worsening, she agreed to try the antibiotics.A week later, Rebecca went out to check on the situation. The man’s hand was almost back to normal. He was no longer talking about witchcraft. The woman’s hand was still rather bad. She needed a second course of a stronger antibiotic, which Rebecca was also able to obtain. Within two weeks, she was well on the way to being healed of the infection.
This is the impact for human rights that the Humanist Service Corps can have in northern Ghana. It only can come about through established, trusting relationships, solid knowledge of the culture, and local partners to ensure that HSC doesn’t cross the line into cultural colonialization. Beliefs don’t change overnight and witchcraft accusations won’t stop overnight, but HSC and their partner organization Songtaba can do the long, slow work of engaging people where they are and working for the best possible outcome for everyone involved while also working to bring about a shift in the culture itself.
This is the difference between humanist and non-humanist ways of doing this kind of work. It’s a powerful story. And we need your help to keep the project going so they can continue to help those who have been exiled from their families and villages due to false accusations of witchcraft. You can donate here.