Thirty-five-year-old John Duut holds a Higher National Diploma (HND) in Social Works from the School of Social Work, Accra Kaajaano, despite his visual impairment.
“I studied at the School of Social Works from 2013 to 2016,” he says.
During his time at the school, John gained training in Criminology, English, Social Policy, Psychology and Sociology to equip him with the necessary skills for social work practice with diverse groups.
The ultimate goal of his training was to serve others to improve their lives and create a society where everyone will feel a sense of belonging while eliminating oppression and inequality.
But after his training, John’s story has turned out to be a contrary of what his education seeks to do in society.
John was not born blind. As a child, he could see like any other person until he got sick with measles which made him lose his sight.
“At that time I was staying in a village at Garu Tinpani in the Northern Region with my mother. When the thing happened, she tried using herbs to cure it but the sickness rather took my eye sight,” John narrates.
He said the situation, however, did not prevent him from continuing his education as he was enrolled at a blind school in Wa, where he had his basic education and then proceeded to the Wa Senior High School (SHS) in 2003 and completed passing all the subjects except English.
After his SHS education, he decided to do something for himself as he was becoming a burden to his mother who was a peasant farmer in Garu Tinpani.
“I moved to Kumasi, precisely Atwima Nwabiagya, to find something to do for myself, because although I am blind, I can move about with my white cane. That was where I found a wife and we have four children including a set of twins,” John narrates.
He says he stayed in Atwima Nwabiagya for the next ten years working as a peasant farmer on a half-acre of land a Good Samaritan decided to give him and did occasional begging at the markets by himself to sustain his family.
“Anytime I go out to beg and get some small money I give it to my wife and she will hire labourers to clear the land to cultivate corn, plantain and cocoyam. What we get is just for our feeding that is all,” he adds.
John, after years of begging cum farming, decided to further his education which brought him to the School of Social Works, Accra, through a friend’s advice and support.
“So I left my family, came to Accra, filled forms and I gained admission in 2013 to study Criminology, English, Psychology, Social Policy, Sociology and completed in 2016.
John served in the National Service Scheme at the Atwima Nwabiagya District Social Welfare Department. His service was later extended till March 2017.
“We were handling marital dispute cases, particularly resolution of marriage,” he says.
After the extension of his service till March this year, John’s life came to a standstill when he had to go back to his wife and children without a job.
“When I was doing the National Service, I bought Local Government forms and filled it. I brought it to the headquarters but they told me they were very busy so they collected the form and told me they will get back to me,” he says.
But after following up on three different occasions with no positive results, John gave up since he could not cope with the frequent travel from Kumasi to Accra.
The father of four with a stay home wife has had to resort to begging in the streets of Accra after several unfruitful attempts to gain employment.
“After the extension, I came to Accra in April to stay with an uncle to beg for a living. I don’t have a guide, those who have guides go to the traffic lights to beg with their guides, and they get money,” he reveals.
John says he does not want his children who are in school to engage in begging activities, so he goes solo in his begging business which does not fetch much money.
“When I go to the market, I get some coins but it is not like those who are on the street. Sometimes I go to Madina, Ashaiman markets and Tema Station. It is very hard, very hard because sometimes I knock people’s things off because I walk alone and you get insulted, but what will I do? In fact I could see that my situation is very bad, I am suffering,” he indicates. “
John is, however, able to save some money and send back home to his family in Kumasi occasionally.
“My wife is still in the farming business, I don’t have money if I had I would build a kiosk for her so she could have additional source of income, but I am able to send GH¢200,” he says.
No Support / Social Safety Net
Although a member of the National Blind Union, John says there is very little the union can do about his situation since the mandatory dues members have to pay was not forthcoming.
“We are supposed to pay dues at the meetings we go so there will be some form of assistance if a member needs help but looking at our situation we cannot pay the dues and so we do not have money to help ourselves,” he explains.
John’s family is also not on the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) initiative of government implemented by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection aimed at providing financial support to the extreme poor and vulnerable families who are also elderly aged 65 years and above, severely disabled who are unable to work or cater for orphans and vulnerable children.
John does not, however, fall within the category of the initiative which has reached the poorest people in Ghana numbering over 77,000 families in all 10 regions of the country.
Ghana has experienced steadily increasing growth of over seven percent per year on average since 2005. Following the attainment of middle income country status in 2010 and discovery of offshore oil reserves, per capita growth in the country has remained relatively high.
Despite the growth recorded, inequality has been increasing in the country and poverty remains prevalent in many areas.
Although the proportion of people living in poverty has declined by a quarter since 2006, the number of people living in poverty has only declined by 10 percent (from 7m to 6.4m), meaning that poverty reduction is not keeping pace with population growth.
For people living with disabilities, the 2010 Population Census reveals that while the proportion of economically active persons among the abled-bodied population is 72 percent, the corresponding proportion for those who are disabled is 57 percent, implying that they are in a more vulnerable position and, therefore, less able to withstand shocks and manage risks.
In May 2016, Accra hosted the National Forum on Inclusive Development, where over 300 participants from over 150 institutions from across government, civil society, trade institutions, private sector, development partners, academia and the media came together to contribute to the promotion of the equitable transformations of Ghana’s economy.
The forum, organised by the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC), with UNICEF, the World Bank, UNDP and ActionAid, was to ensure national aspirations resonates with the international and continental vision for development and transformation.
They also called for the expansion of the social protection initiatives like LEAP, which they agreed, is well targeted and reaching the very poor households and making significant contribution in boosting productivity and local growth.
“It only reaches one in ten households and it should be expanded initially from the current 147,000 households to 55,000 households by 2017,” they agreed.
Since Ghana has committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of eliminating poverty and leaving no one behind, inequalities are self-perpetuating, do not self-correct, and require conscious policy efforts to be reversed. Failing to eliminate poverty wastes the value and potential of our democracy, therefore, failing to tackle inequality risks the polarisation of our society.
“The National Forum on Inclusive Development are, therefore, a key step in the process of undertaking such deliberate policy-design to ensure a more equitable nation.
The expectation is that these suggestions will be carefully analyzed and supported with available research and practical experiences for incorporation into national policy-making and the upcoming long term national development plan (LTNDP),” they concluded.
For John, he wants to be employed by government in his field of training so he can stop begging in the markets of Accra.
“I want government to employ me at the Department of Social Welfare because that is where I have been trained because getting a sustainable source of income will help me and my family a lot,” John says.
By Jamila Akweley Okertchiri