Routes events are about connecting airports and destinations with airlines to create connectivity; but it’s also important that we as an events organiser consider the underlying reasons for this. We want to facilitate business growth and help countries to develop their sustainable tourism offering to create more stable economies.
So with this in mind, some of the Routes Africa team took time following the event in Accra, Ghana, to visit an incredibly special education project in one of the city’s most impoverished areas.
BASICS International provides education for Ghanaian children, along with inspirational guidance on living a successful life. It even offers a good meal; for some kids it’s the only thing they will eat all day.
In the public schools there can be up to 70 children in a class. Private schools are much better but the cost is about $200 per year; the minimum wage in Ghana is $2 per day. The barriers to education we learned about are oppressive and manifold; from parental pressure to work and contribute financially to a house, a lack of schools in an area meaning children must walk miles each day to class, and sexual predation among young female students leading to pregnancy.
So BASICS provides education, a safe space, and general life guidance for up to 80 children and young people, and is run entirely on donations. Its founder ‘Auntie’ Pat Wilkins is an American citizen who has dedicated her entire life since 2000 to the charity.
In its own words: “The key to permanent change is not to provide ‘aid,’ but rather to share our wealth, information and resources to those less fortunate. By arming our brothers and sisters with information, they are able to demand what they need from their leaders; better education, sanitation, working conditions, gender equality, social equality and accountability.”
The Routes Africa representatives were privileged to spend time with a class. We discussed, among other things, the importance of citizen journalism in Africa to create the positive messages required to break down preconceptions that currently prevent the tourism travel and investment badly required across the continent. We also helped to equip them with the basic skills to create a story, and I was genuinely amazed by the quality of some of the work they produced.
To put the scale of the opportunity for African tourism in context, it currently attracts around 60 million tourists. That’s roughly the same number as France. And we’re talking about a continent as big as the US, China, India, and most of Europe put together.
We also provided them with a haul of stationery; the BASICS children earn stars for good behaviour, neatness, work, attendance, and they can spend these stars in the school shop. But packet of notebooks can cost $20 – more than three days’ work on the minimum wage.
After the session our contact Nii took us on a tour of the neighbourhood. It was an eye-opening experience to see the scale of the poverty and lack of basic amenities which we might take for granted; litter collection, running water and sewage disposal. However it was also incredibly moving to see the joy, warmth, openness and friendliness of the Ghanaian people, who live in conditions few of us could imagine.