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A New Year's Resolution to Help the Children of the Agbogbloshie Toxic Waste Dump
A New Year's Resolution to Help the Children of the Agbogbloshie Toxic Waste Dump
A New Year's Resolution to Help the Children of the Agbogbloshie Toxic Waste Dump
A New Year's Resolution to Help the Children of the Agbogbloshie Toxic Waste Dump

A New Year's Resolution to Help the Children of the Agbogbloshie Toxic Waste Dump

Date Posted: 17/01/2016
Read an introduction to Agbogbloshie - West Africa's largest and most toxic waste dump and home to thousands of vulnerable families - and start this new year with a resolution to help VWA support some of the world's most underprivileged children...
The community of Agbogbloshie is world famous. Literally, it is on one of the 'top ten in the world' lists. Its fame, sadly, is not related to a reason worth celebrating: In 2013, Agbogbloshie was named as one of the 'top ten most polluted and toxic places in the world'. Its toxicity is a result of it being an electronic waste (e-waste) 'processing' site. Electronic devices, such as TVs and computers, need to be recycled in a specific way, due to the toxic chemicals they house. This process is, of course, expensive to complete properly, so an attractive option for international corporations and governments is to dump the items outside of their own areas of responsibility, and for the last decade this site has received millions of tonnes of such waste.

I was shocked (and probably a little naive) to learn that developed countries, such as the US, are major contributors to this activity. An activity and process which at times contravenes international law. The shipping of electronics to be 'recycled' are sometimes masked by the cover of 'humanitarian aid' or donations of materials. A cynical process which many Ghanaians are now trying to correct and prevent.

Last week, our team, led by Volunteer West Africa's Project Manager; Inusah, visited  Agbogbloshie. Our group was made up of Sophie, a dietician from the UK who was volunteering with VWA for her second time, Brooke, who is a Paediatric Nurse volunteering with VWA for one year, and me, a science/pathology student from Australia working with VWA to develop a Malaria Prevention Project for vulnerable children.

Being a suburb of Ghana's capital city Accra, it took about an hour for us to drive from the VWA guesthouse in to Agbogbloshie. Once in Agbogbloshie, we sat in traffic for perhaps thirty minutes or more to drive a short distance up the road so we could park Lilly (VWA's trusted Land Rover).

The busyness of the food markets buzzed around us on each side, my first thought was that it was chaotic. There were people everywhere. Women carried sacks of rice on their heads and weaved through other people who were pulling along wagons stacked full of yams. People were loading vans with sacks of onions; nearby other people were dividing onions out into bowls to put out for sale. Amongst this, people were walking through the traffic selling bags of water, snacks and assorted other things. Not far in the distance, I could see smoke wafting away from the ocean of e-waste, adding to the thick haziness and smog that blankets Agbogbloshie. 

Sitting in traffic for a while though, I stared at this chaos that was humming around us for a period of time. I started to really watch people. I wondered what they were doing, what time they started work in the morning, what time they would finish, if they had children and if they did, where they were. These were just a few thoughts that were roaming through my mind. I started to realise as well that although what I was watching seemed chaotic at first, it wasn't. People moved about with purpose, with specific places to go and specific things to do. The busyness was moving, always flowing. 

If you weave through the maze of houses in Agbogbloshie, you will end up standing by the 'lagoon'. The lagoon is filled with all kinds of e-waste. If you look closely, you can see that it's bubbling. Chemicals and hazardous waste react with each other in the lagoon so that it is always seething and bubbling away, adding to the overall toxicity of Agbogbloshie. There are islands scattered in the middle of the lagoon. You can get to them by walking across old computer monitors that form a sort of stepping stone bridge. Thick clouds of smoke rise from those islands in the middle of the lagoon where people had been burning the cables to get out the valuable copper. From where we were standing we could also see cows standing out there trying to eek a living. From a health perspective, my mind was drawn to the types of issues that would arise from the cows being amongst the waste and then in contact with humans. Tuberculosis immediately came to mind. And, of course, Malaria: what an attractive breeding place the lagoon would be for mosquitoes, who love to breed in areas of stagnant water. 

The purpose of our visit was to see Amina, who regular readers of our Facebook page will know is a fifty something year old woman who runs a day care centre that is supported whenever possible by VWA. She cares for between thirty and fifty young (and very small!) children. When we arrived at her home, Amina wasn't there. The children were though. They were being cared for by another lady. They stared at us with big bulging eyes as we shuffled inside. Some hid behind the drying clothes that were draped on the lines hanging along the walls. Her house reminded me of an enlarged shoebox or a shipping crate. Although narrow, it was long. It is sheltered by a corrugated iron roof which I realised was scattered with patchy holes of varying sizes. When the wet season comes? I can imagine it would put the children at greater risk of Malaria and/or Dengue Fever.
The care that Amina gives the children provides them with a whole host of benefits. The children are provided with a meal during the day and are also bathed. They are surrounded by other children each day which would encourage their social development. Most importantly, though, children that are under Amina?s care are protected from being amongst the e-waste during the day. If they weren't in Amina's care, they might instead be strapped to their mothers back, playing amongst the e-waste or even helping to pick through the waste to generate income for the family. In line with VWA's primary objective to provide access to education to vulnerable children, Amina, and her daycare service, provide obvious opportunities to offer support to some of the most underprivileged children in West Africa. And our visit to Amina was part of an ongoing process of monitoring the children's needs and developing projects and programmes with Amina that VWA and its volunteers can deliver in partnership. Past programmes have included health screening and treatment events for Amina's children, oral health lessons, and a range of donations of clean water and food stuffs. VWA's sister organisation, Partner West Africa, has also offered Amina support through the donation of various resources, along with generous personal donations made by PWA Trustees and friends.

Exposure to the fumes in Agbogbloshie has actually been linked to inhibiting normal development of the reproductive system and the nervous system, especially the brain. The fumes that are created by burning the e-waste also contain dangerous levels of lead. I was speechless when I read later that day that 80% of children in Agbogbloshie have dangerous concentrations of lead in their bodies. Eighty percent! Lead poisoning can slow and even stunt a child's growth, as well as causing a number of learning difficulties, thus hampering their development. I was informed that many men in their twenties who work amongst the e-waste at the site die from cancer. They likely grew up amongst the waste, being exposed to the toxicity for years. And even if exposure doesn't lead to death, it causes debilitating headaches, constant eye twitching, chronic nausea and a whole host of lung problems, making it painful and difficult for people to do something as simple as breathing. 

Amina doesn't just care for the children but she provides them with protection from exposure each day to an environment that could disable them for the rest of their life. I was really glad to have been given the opportunity to go and see firsthand a local child care provider that VWA supports, as this year - 2016 - is the year VWA intends to solidify its partnership with Amina in order to start offering structured programmes of close support and assistance. More information will follow on the VWA website over the coming weeks, but, in the meantime, if you would like to offer your time and skills as a VWA volunteer to assist Amina and the children of Agbogbloshie, please register your interest by completing our very quick online contact form. If you are not in a position to volunteer, but you would like to make a donation or complete a fund-raising event instead, please visit our Donate & Fundraise page to browse the range of ways you can help.

Thank you.

Taylah Bennett - VWA Volunteer
Author: Taylah - VWA Volunteer

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