We Are Still Looking For Water
Franciska Issaka will show you a long scar on the back of her left calf and tell you that it is the reason she does thework she does. The scar commemorates an incident in her childhood that haunts her still. She and her sister had been sent to find water for cooking. In the dry season in Northern Ghana this was no simple task. In fact the only water to be found was in an irrigation ditch surrounded by a barbed wire fence. The girls had to sneak under the fence, fill large barrels with water and then carry them on their heads back to the house. During one trip the night watchman awoke and began to chase them. Franciska sent her sister ahead and injured her leg trying to get away. She had to leave her water behind and the leg became infected. Now, over fifty years later she has made it her mission to ensure that no other child carries the scars of poverty and lack of opportunity into adulthood.
Ms. Issaka was born into a family of girls in a culture where girls were and are still not valued. In fact her local name, Atisbange, translates as “yet another girl” . According to tradition, Franciska and her sisters were destined to be married off at young ages in exchange for cows and other resources. In fact, the oldest of her sisters entered into an arranged marriage as was expected. She and her remaining sisters could have met the same fate had not the husband of her eldest sister encouraged his father in law to leave his remaining daughters in school. Franciska completed her bachelor’s degree at the University of Cape Coast and then went on to attend the University of Denver and Durham University in the UK where she received a Master’s in Business. Through it all she remembered that scar.
Upon her return to Ghana Ms. Issaka served as Deputy Minister for Local Government and Development under President Rawlings. Her work in the government brought home the fact that her country was wasting one of its most precious resources. By marginalizing women and children Ghana was losing access to their talents and input. She knew she had to do something to correct the situation. She eventually realized that working within government to effect change was not sufficient, so in 1994 she and her sisters Margaret Mary and Elizabeth founded The Center for Sustainable Development Initiatives (CENSUDI).
CENSUDI’s focus is gender equality. The organization works to give women and girls access to resources and education. They also work to eliminate traditional practices that are harmful to women. This is not as easy as it seems. Changing a culture requires changing longstanding attitudes and mindsets. This means working with local community leaders to redefine women’s roles. CENSUDI has developed processes that allow community leaders and families to talk about the ways in which traditional practices have helped or hindered their communities and then to develop new ways of working together. Change occurs one leader and one village at a time, but this sort of careful, slow progress is the kind that endures and spreads. The organization has made great strides in the rural area of the Northeast region of Ghana, but there is still much work to be done. As Franciska says, “Fifty years later we are still looking for water”.
Source: Jackie Jonas Interview; September 2011, Pittsburgh, USA
• Improve access to quality education for girls and women
• Mobilize girls and women for leadership
• Provide advice and support to communities and organisations to eliminate Traditional Policies and Practices that Discriminate Against Women and Girls (TRAPPDAW)
• Support specific activities that benefit and empower women, reduce poverty and generate wealth for long term development
• Transform communities and organisations for sustainable poverty reduction
• Mobilize resources to support our work