When we mentioned to Clinton, our fellow coach and apartment-mate, that we were hiking to a village on top of a mountain for an overnight stay, he asked, “Oh, are you staying a Guest Lodge up there? The answer was, “Not exactly”….
Wli Todzi (pronounced “Blee Toadghee” ) is a village on a 3,300 foot mountain. No road. No cars. No running water or sanitation. No cell phone or Internet. No health care center. And, no Guest Lodge!
Wli Todzi is a traditional community of family compounds constructed with mud blocks and thatched roofs. The main access is by a grueling footpath that ascends the mountain (shown above). There are 1,000 residents in the “city limits”--300 men, 200 women, and 500 children.
We visited this village with our new friend, Jeremy Kirshbaum, an enterprising 23-year-old Californian. In 2010 he was an exchange student from UC Santa Cruz, studying at the University of Ghana in Accra. He visited Wli Todzi after meeting Yaw Nutsugah, an Accra-based drumming and dance instructor from this village.
During Jeremy’s initial visit, Jeremy and Yaw met a local woman, who said, “You visitors…. You see us poor. You leave us poor. It makes us feel like zoo animals.”
This comment affected Jeremy and Yaw deeply. They put their heads together and made a plan to make a difference. Yaw knew that the European Union Development Fund had built a foundation for a Village Health Care Center between 2001 and 2007, but abandoned the project. The community desperately needed this center, because in the last ten months, twelve people had died including seven children. It was sobering to learn that women in labor often die when they have a medical emergency and need to be transported down the mountain on someone’s back to seek care.
This experience led Jeremy, Yaw, and other volunteers to found a nonprofit, Rise Up Development Cooperative, to finish building the Health Care Center for the community. To raise awareness, they started a tourism program to bring visitors to Wli Todzi.
Needless to say, we were much older than the normal college-age tourists who trek up to Wli Todzi for a weekend visit. It took us four hours to ascend on Saturday and two hours to descend on Sunday. We started Saturday’s hike in a downpour. We got completely drenched, but it didn’t matter because we were sweating so much due to the climb and the exertion. The rain stopped and we continued to climb.
Luckily, we met two local boys along the path who had been hired to transport our packs. This most certainly took a weight off our backs (ugh!).
The trail became quite steep and slippery in parts. There was even a rebar line to hold on to along the parts that seemed to go straight up.
We arrived at the village shortly after dark and were greeted by enthusiastic residents.
After a dinner of fufu and pepper soup, we went to bed early in a small room with a mattress.
In the morning, the local “queen mother”, Sarah, fed us a hearty breakfast of rice with red sauce.
We played with the children, who loved mugging for the camera and looking at the shots.
We learned that Sarah’s family had adopted many of the children when their mothers died in childbirth. Her uncle, Mr. John, worked extra hard in the fields to provide for this enormous household which includes 15 children.
Each child had his or her own job, which they performed with no complaints.
Famous and Dixon found time for a game of hide-and-go-seek around the traditional stone vessel where the men had pounded the cassava into fufu with wooden pestles the previous evening.
Famous also was quite adept at whittling.
Famous also enjoyed mugging for the camera with his brother Amos. (You can’t make this stuff up!) The village claims no knowledge of their namesake cookie brand.
Also, in the courtyard, all of the animals coexisted peacefully with the residents. Two small dogs, numerous chicken and chicks, ducks, and goats roamed the facility in harmony.
A young girl swept the courtyard on a regular basis, so it was very clean.
Community members passed around the babies who were cared for with love.
We attended the Sunday church service at Global Evangelical church.
The women changed into their beautiful outfits for the services. The drumming and dancing in the service added to its spiritual nature, and even though it was in Ewe, the local language, we could follow the general flow.
After the service, the congregation posed for a photo with the guests.
On the way down, we were sure that Saturday’s rain had given the plants along the path a growth spurt, so now the path was overgrown and hard to find.
We made it down and were glad to find our driver, Tony, waiting at the bottom.
Jan was initially concerned that she was spending the entire weekend “without” a comb or brush. But, this was insignificant when compared to the items that the residents lived “without” – e.g. without health care, sanitation, or roads. But, the villagers are happy and at peace. They follow the traditions that have been in place for over 400 years. Subsistence farming on the plateau produces prolific harvests and an abundance of fresh produce. The villagers work together to improve their community and together they adopt the children who are orphaned by maternal mortality. The children attend the local school (primary and middle school), and those who can afford it, attend boarding school for high school, either in Accra or Hohoe, the closest city. (This is called, “studying abroad.”) A Health Care Center will improve their quality of life dramatically.
We have great respect for the community of young volunteers who are doing grass roots fundraising to build the Health Care Center. They have raised $19,000 of their $25,000 goal. Yaw and the locals are building of the Center and are almost ready to install the windows and doors. An additional $25,000 will be needed to receive surplus equipment from the US.
The cooperation between the US grass roots effort and the local community is working well. The hope is that once the Center is competed, the district government will staff the facility. Each dollar donated here will truly make a difference. There is no substantial overhead or bureaucracy behind the effort. We encourage you to take a look at their website and join us in contributing if you can.
When we returned to our apartment (and our plumbing and AC), we felt blessed to have experienced this side of rural Ghana. We’ve been forever touched by Wli Todzi and its residents and look forward to staying in touch with the efforts to build and staff the Health Care Center. You can view more photos of our weekend in a gallery.