I felt like I was riding on a horse rather than in a taxi as I made my way on the bumpy road that led to Old Fadama. Stalls lined the streets, where vendors who sold the same product were all clustered together. For several feet, all I could see were onions, piles and piles of them — many were of the same variety, which made me wonder how one could make a living this way.
Old Fadama is Ghana’s most populous slum and the second biggest in West Africa. The shacks are lacking water and proper sanitation, yet nonetheless migrants illegally reside in them and call it home. The air around the slum is dense with toxins from the roughly 20 acre e-waste scrap yard, called Agbogbloshie, which neighbours it. I drove by men burning car tires and in turn creating a thick black smoke which they breath in throughout their days work. To them, this is the fastest and cheapest way to recycle, yet it is also the most harmful to both their health and the environment with its production of high levels of carbon monoxide. Other workers, were perched on pieces of scrap car parts, trying to salvage metal or copper from unusable electronics sent over from richer, Western countries. (Click here for a more in-depth article from the Smithsonian to read up).
What had brought me to this area on this overcast Saturday was not to be poverty stricken, but to recognize a positive step a part of the community had taken. I had gone with New Lens Travel, an immersive culture experience that challenges voluntourism. As a small group, we went to see a group of young people who were forward-thinking and were working to deviate from the stereotypes that often follow the “slum” life. Creative Writers and Young Debaters Club (CREWDEC) is an initiative of youth from 11-17 years old from Old Fadama. They meet every Saturday to discuss and debate the happenings of their community and the issues surrounding life of Ghanaians. After their meetings they write their articles by hand and share the stories with their community as well as with the government to express what needs to be done to improve their quality of life and to end the stigmatization of its people — talk about taking matters into their own hands.
I stepped out of the taxi with my fellow travellers by the sweet potato vendors, which was the closest landmark to the doorless brick building where CREWDEC met. We navigated around the stalls to the building and sat around chairs where I proceeded to listen to conversation about political issues in the area. Timothy, a teacher and journalist based in Accra, led the discussion. Although I had barely any context for what I was hearing, I was taken aback by how opinionated and passionate these young people were about issues that were larger then them and that would undoubtably affect their lives and the lives of those around him. What I learned is the importance of having these conversations, in order to breed smarter and more conscious adults who will become the foundation for their community in the years to come.
Later, I snuck off to the top of the open-roof building with my dear adventurer, David Venn, and took photos of the market. From above, the fluidity of movement down below was mesmerizing— a hustle like no other. `