When Ibrahim Barkho walked into the TV Africa newsroom two weeks ago, he was a man on a mission.
Tall in stature and one of the more energetic Ghanaians I’ve encountered, Barkho was a force.
“I wish to speak to the head of your newsroom,” he said to a reporter who was idly ignoring him. The reporter thumbs him in the direction of newsroom editor Fred Chidi’s office.
Barkho walks toward the office with a sense of urgency and almost prostrates himself before Chidi. Two minutes later I’m beckoned into Chidi’s office. I learn that Barkho is founder of an NGO called the African Trust Foundation (ATF). The organization was founded by four men to advocate for the rights of poor and ignored villagers across Ghana. ATF set its sights on Abramkum in the Upper East Region four years ago but they haven’t been able to move beyond it since. The plan was to start in Abramkum and spread access to clean water, education and health care to neighboring communities but it’s been an uphill battle for Barkho and his team—that’s what’s landed him in the TV Africa newsroom.
Children in Abramkrum gather dirty water daily for drinking, cooking and bathing.
“I have tried calling every media agency I can, I tell them to come and see what is happening in this village, but no one comes, so I am using my own money to come to the media,” Barkho says with a sigh. “They are the only ones that might be able to help.” He believes the media is the conduit for change and has a more modern approach than many village elders who simply pray for aid.
TV Africa’s policy is that unless reporters pay out of pocket to venture to regions outside of Accra, they’ll not be leaving Accra. Still, Chidi seems taken by Barkho’s plea and offers to at least watch the tape he brought. The film, shot my Barkho, reveals images of life in Abramkum.
We see children drinking murky water from a back road pond.
We see AIDS-infected pregnant women pleading for anti-retrovirals so their children stand a chance at not being born with their death already imminent. They sit and talk to the camera from the only hospital available to 48 villages in the area.
We also see vacant school buildings that haven’t been occupied by a teacher in years.
“We will try and send someone there,” Chidi says in a gruff tone that covers his look of sympathy for the people in the amateur video.
Meantime, I work with Edem Srem, a TV Africa journalist desperate to report in the rural regions, to file a story that night with rushes from Barkho’s tape. The first shot is of a child jumping into soiled water his family cooks, drinks and cleans with. The broadcast journalist in me thinks it makes for a great sound-up.
Two weeks later, Srem and I are heading to the village in the Upper East to meet again with Barkho. Waiting for us when we arrive are village chiefs from Abamkrum and more than 45 surrounding villages. All tell us they face the same challenges—accessing water and adequate education—and say government officials have come and gone over the years, but little action has been taken.
Eighty-six-year-old Thomas Yao Tonyeviadzi is Abamkrum’s head chief. Tonyeviadzi says ATF is his voice now, adding that elder chiefs no longer know how to follow politics in this country. They’re also not equipped to deal with new challenges, like HIV/AIDS, and need to rely on outsiders for help, he says.
We get to work filming children drinking lime green-colored water, the town midwife speaking of needless maternal deaths that happen on her watch due to lack of resources and a dust-collecting cocoa field that has remained untilled without funding from the Ghana Cocoa Board.
Srem has paid for his trip by pairing a story he is doing about AIDS in rural Ghana with this one. He applied for the reporting grant six months ago from Ghana Health Service. He needed to ask for outside financing in order to leave Accra and do stories on AIDS in the rural area—it’s an unfortunate reality for most journalists in Ghana, since newsrooms rarely have enough resources to send reporters out of town on assignment.
Srem says media interest in AIDS has waned and he wants to show Ghanaians how patients are still stigmatized and how access to proper medical care is a far cry from where it should be. He received enough money to produce a piece for the National Aids and STI Control Program. We agree that material we gather from interviews with HIV/AIDS patients in Abamkrum will compliment his AIDS documentary while providing human rights content we can also air on TV Africa.
It only took Ibrahim Barkho traveling down to Accra, shooting his own tape and pleading with the station, to get us here. But we’re here.