Mathew Gillings: Stark contrasts between Africa’s haves and have-nots

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A LECTURE by a sales manager to eager business students and a visit to a refuge for abused children in Ghana. The two events highlight the massive gap that exists between the have and have-nots in this beautiful part of Africa. The challenge is somehow to narrow it.

The sales manager Robert’s company is building 18 new luxury homes next to a hotel in Accra. They will be fully furnished, and their owners will be able to make use of the hotel’s services.

Essentially, they are selling a whole new way of life, and a whole new culture, for the price of $1.5m.

He is massively enthusiastic, telling the students selling a pen is just the same as selling a luxury home, providing you aim it at the right person and tweak your language accordingly.

I think back to my visit to a shelter for abused children in the city. It was quite a contrast.

Admittedly, I was a little worried and quite cautious at first – and I wondered whether a fleeting visit from a group of students was rather intrusive.

As I had a chat with the centre’s leader and began to learn a little more about what the shelter did, it dawned on me just how much they relied on people like us helping out.

Those children tend to stay at the shelter for around three months before moving on, and it houses around 70 children at any one time.

The police bring children in, but the incredible truth is that the government only gives the shelter 300 Ghanaian cedi per quarter. That works out at less than £50, which is nowhere near enough money to run a shelter for 70 children.

The centre relies very heavily on charity and visits such as ours, but unfortunately they don’t get many of those.

By the end of our short visit, the children were smiling and it felt good knowing that, even for just a few hours, we were able to transform their day.

These conditions, I believe, are something that should be recognised by the international community.

I’m on my second trip to Ghana after first arriving here earlier this year, as part of Lancaster University’s international exchange programme.

Aimed at forging new links with students in West Africa, it involved a group of 21 student ambassadors from Lancaster’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) visiting the university’s campus in Accra.

Lancaster University’s growing presence in Ghana means it is now offering eight undergraduate and two Masters degree programmes to students in the country, plus a foundation course.

It’s an initiative that will, hopefully, play its part in improving the prospects of people from across the country.

Lancaster University Ghana has an incredible amount of potential and it’s exciting to see its growth as a place of learning. It’s why I’m back here, helping to develop its marketing, branding and online presence.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the massive enthusiasm of staff and students will take the institution a long way, and its close partnerships with businesses and other centres of education will catapult it to success.

The research-centred approach to learning will transform the university into a hub of academia right in the centre of Accra, and I feel blessed to see it in its infancy.

Watching a new university grow from the very beginning isn’t an opportunity that pops up every day, and I’m happy to get involved in any way that I can.

I want to look back in 20 years and say “I made that. I helped make Lancaster Ghana what it is”. The big issue dominating the region, is of course, ebola and everyone is all too aware of the massive threat it poses.

A few days ago we welcomed Dr Joseph Oliver-Commey, a physician from Korle Bu Hospital, on to campus.

He gave staff and students a lecture about the dangers of ebola, and how best to avoid catching it. It was a useful talk, and he gave us the facts straight.

While I expected he would walk in and reassure everyone, he did quite the opposite and told us that it was a very real and very serious threat.

The two known carriers of ebola in Ghana are currently in quarantine, so now it’s just a matter of ensuring that it doesn’t spread throughout the region.

On the way to campus, he received the news that one of his friends in Sierra Leone had passed away after looking after a patient with it.

It seems incredibly easy to pass on, and simply touching a door handle, where the organisms are still living, can potentially transfer the virus if it makes it into your body.

Everyone on campus is now using anti-bacterial hand-wash frequently, and it has really reinforced why good hygiene is needed at all times, regardless of whether there is an epidemic or not.

Dewsbury student Mathew Gillings is in the middle of his second trip to the West African state of Ghana. The 20-year-old Lancaster University English Language student from Thornhill is helping develop the university’s new campus in the country’s capital, Accra.