Unexpected news from HSC Ghana
20 Feb 2017
Trigger warning: This post contains an image and descriptions that may be upsetting to some readers. While they are not graphic, they do talk about death and make references to murder.
It is with great sadness that the Humanist Service Corps announces its volunteers are no longer living in Bimbila. Last Thursday, a chieftaincy dispute sparked gunfights between two opposing factions in Bimbila. All but one of the members of the HSC team happened to be out of town at the time. The HSC house is just outside the town, and the one volunteer who was home was not endangered. The violence was highly targeted and limited to the families of the two opposing factions. Nonetheless, the entire HSC team was moved as quickly as possible two hours north to Yendi, and the Humanist Service Corps has now made the difficult decision to settle the team permanently there.
This move does not end HSC's partnership with Songtaba, nor does it mean that the Humanist Service Corps will never work in Bimbila again. At whatever point in time it is safe to return to Bimbila, HSC will resume its reintegration and capacity-building work there. However, it is possible that it will not be the current team that continues that work. The Humanist Service Corps cannot ensure volunteer safety or effectiveness in Bimbila at this point in time.
The entire team moves forward with heavy hearts. We are in mourning for Bimbila. The official news counts are under-reporting the loss of life in Bimbila, as demonstrated by the post below from HSC volunteer Warren Tidwell. In addition to the loss of life, the community is now under a 4 PM to 6 AM curfew that will further devastate the local economy.
"Ghana is overall very peaceful, and this isolated dispute is a scar on the face of a beautiful country. The official report is that 11 died and numerous were wounded. The news said it was 6 women, 3 children, and 1 man. I now know that not to be true. While families were killed to punish members of the warring factions, it was much worse than we were told. My team and I all met up and waited at a guesthouse in Yendi 2 hours north of Bimbila for things to calm down. In that time we heard from people in the town that the casualty report was much higher, even as many as 30. We eventually secured a truck to make a quick trip into Bimbila to retrieve our things. While there, I made a short journey into town to check on everyone I knew. There was a heavy police and military presence. I was thankful to find all of my friends made it through OK, including my adopted Ghanaian family of Felicity, Olivia, and Daniel. One of those friends told me that the number killed was north of 50, and that many were buried at home or in the bush. I decided to make a stop by the cemetery. In the southeast corner, I found a mass of freshly dug graves. Dozens of them. I counted 46 I was certain were dug on the same day. It could have been more. I've never seen anything like it in my life. It was to me a killing field. So senseless were the losses of life, and I knew many innocents were targeted. Many were caught in the crossfire. We finished loading our things and headed out before the curfew set in. Our work will now be in a different area that is much safer. I realize this will be a huge shock to many of you, but know we are fine, and we will be fine. My heart is broken for the innocent people in Bimbila. I found many good people and made many friends who treated me with the utmost kindness. I certainly wish my time there would have ended differently. Now to push on through the year and finish strongly. I just received word that three women we were working to reintegrate will go home this week. That puts our final tally for the year at 14 who made it home, and 2 who sadly passed away just before going home. I can leave here happy about the ones we managed to help. I didn't know what to expect when I came here for my year, but I can say we have had the highest highs and the lowest lows, and it has been, without a doubt, the toughest year of my life. I wouldn't have it any other way. Yes, I would have gladly avoided coming and doing all this if it meant the violence in Bimbila never happened. But it did. And I cannot change that. I just have to continue on this journey of doing the best I know how and somehow making sense of a chaotic and senseless world."
Some of the photos in this series were taken the weekend after the violence in Bimbila, when the HSC team returned to collect its belongings for the move to Yendi. The other photos are meant to honor the relationships the Humanist Service Corps has built in and around Bimbila. As the Humanist Service Corps shifts its focus to working in Yendi, these people will not be far from our minds.
It is important to note that the HSC team will not be starting from scratch in Yendi. HSC had already been preparing to announce a new partnership with the Bangu-Manga Integrated Rural Development Society (BIRDS), though we had not intended to move our volunteers so soon. BIRDS is another women's and children's rights organization and was one of the organizing members of the original Songtaba coalition. Like HSC and Songtaba, BIRDS also believes that the best strategies for building peace and protecting human rights are to increase access to education, jobs, and healthcare. The organization has worked in the Gnani sanctuary for alleged witches, where the Humanist Service Corps hopes to replicate the capacity-building and reintegration efforts it has undertaken with Songtaba in the Kukuo sanctuary for alleged witches.
Thus, HSC's work with BIRDS will draw upon the lessons HSC learned in its first two years of partnership with Songtaba. Volunteers will begin to look at what work can be done in the Gnani sanctuary for alleged witches while building the necessary relationships to offer livelihood, business, and health trainings that decrease witchcraft accusations in the surrounding communities.