Ten quid. It’s not much, is it? I can spend that on a couple of books in Smiths when I am bored at Waterloo. Or on a new T shirt when I am out shopping. Or maybe when I am feeling lazy and grab a sandwich at 3pm because I didn’t do lunch at home.
Today we saw first hand, up close and personal just what a difference a small sum like £10 can make to people’s lives.
We visited the Basic Needs Trust, an organisation based in Accra that has been receiving funding since 2002. The Trust was set up to help ensure that people living with a mental health issue in Ghana have access to the drugs, facilities required to improve their quality of life.
There is a still a huge misunderstanding of mental health in Ghana, as there is in the rest of world. And this Trust is doing it all it can to not only educate people but give people with a mental health issue a sense of self worth again.
The Trust not only meets locally but arranges to hold clinics out in the community. Going out to where the need is greatest and being seen so that people feel they can visit easily. In a country were public transport is not very structured but is expensive it is often difficult to access treatments.
So the Trust does all it can to facilitate that. Helping anybody with a mental health issue receive medication and the help they need. And meeting with their family too to explain the treatment. Often it was found that patients didnt realise treatment was ongoing and couldn’t be taken sporadically, but needs to be maintained, and that is not something that is as easy as it sounds out in Africa.
We arrived as a monthly support meeting was taking place, chaired by an elected user from the group called Dora. Under a tree in a dusty yard, with everybody on plastic chairs.
There is always an agenda and first up was the approval of last month’s minutes. Then it it was on to the discussion of money.
Part of what the Trust does is make small loans to people to allow them to start a small business. A loan that is paid back within a set time frame. Bernard the Communications Officer explained to us that it is no good saying to somebody who wants to become a farmer that it has to be paid back in three months. Farming is seasonal and so a loan maybe for a year. Crops need to be planted, harvested and sold before any money comes in so the loans are made and terms agreed that sensible for all concerned.
I asked what the average, or a typical amount might be. If it could be as small as £10. “oh for sure” said Bernard. He went on to explain that £10 would allow somebody to buy a large pan and two bowls of nuts. These nuts are popular as a snack over here and are first boiled before being sold by the side of the road.
These will be sold within a day and there will be a profit.
And that person is making money.
Running their own business. Bernard explained that not only might this be a mother with several children and a husband out of work, but maybe school children too. Working after school to contribute to the family income.
So an important part of the meeting that is held monthly is to determine where people are at with their loans. Why a repayment might be late for instance.
Once that is all sorted out the meeting picks a topic in order to educate people. This week they were discussing Candida. Or “the whites” as they call it.
We had the honour of meeting Atta Kwambe who himself had suffered from mental health issues. He was a twin and his brother had tragically died but his mother had not told his father (from whom she was separated). When he found out, the father decided to cut Atta off and have nothing to do with him. Causing all sorts of psychological suffering. The local sooth sayer told Atta that his mental illness was his father’s fault and dismissed him. His friends laughed at him.
So when the Trust held a clinic in his community he attended. He had been trying to get treatment at the Mental Hospital but it was expensive and he couldn’t continue to visit.
Whilst getting treatment Atta attending meetings. Regularly. He never missed one. And when some officials came one day to assess who might benefit from some training he asked if he might train as a carpenter. This was granted and once trained he asked if he could have some money to buy some tools.
He now runs his own business making sofas, tv stands, tables and chairs.
In ten years he has gone from somebody who had seriously contemplating suicide to somebody who is now receiving treatment, support and is running his own business.
It was inspiring to listen to. And a privilege that he shared his story. The group was full of people with similar tales to tell.
Ten Pounds makes that difference. A tenner. Changes not only one person’s life but that of a whole family and ripples out to the community.
It is staggering to watch.
And to think what a tenner can do.
Really makes you think. Proof positive that every penny raised by Comic Relief makes an incredible difference.