In parts of Ghana many families eat only one meal a day. Especially in the Volta region, where low-income farmers have struggled to make ends meet amid the recent effects of climate change, any sort of aid can be a literal lifesaver.
“They really have to struggle to find something to eat, especially … when they get to the end of the dry season,” said Helena Mananu-Hooper, a native of Ghana and an ELCA international scholarship recipient completing her doctorate through United Lutheran Seminary in Pennsylvania.
The construction of several dams has alleviated the situation, making water more accessible for both drinking and farming. The dams are one of several empowering, income-generating projects created through the Skills Development Program, funded in part by ELCA World Hunger and offered via Good News Theological Seminary (GNTS) in Oyibi, Ghana. In that country, GNTS serves the indigenous, independent African Instituted Churches (AIC), training their leaders and pastors.
“Good News, even though their primary role is to train pastors and have biblically sound teaching and preaching, has also seen the need to help pastors understand that the church can play other roles in the community,” said Anne Langdji, a former ELCA regional representative for West and Central Africa who lives in Cameroon and has spent nearly 30 years in the region.
“This skills development work is the kind of example of work that churches can do in the community, for the community, not just for people in the congregation.”
Good News Theological Seminary strives to empower communities to make their own way forward.
Mananu-Hooper, who heads the Skills Development Program, was invited to speak last summer at the ELCA Becoming Conference and share her story, the experiences of Ghanaian women and the program’s impact on their lives.
GNTS strives to empower communities to make their own way forward. Some communities have received bread-making machines so that, every day or every other day, mothers can bake their own fresh bread instead of traveling to markets in other communities, Mananu-Hooper said. They also can sell any extra bread as an income-generative project.
Other communities have been provided with trees and machines that can mill palm fruits and extract palm oil, commonly used for soup.
“These are some of the permanent things we want to do,” she said. “They should be able to manage on their own, and then we move on. … [We tell them], ‘We are here to accompany so you can get money for your own selves to put food on your table.’”
“In what ways can we accompany you?”
GNTS was founded in 1971 by Mennonites, but other denominations, including the Lutheran church, helped develop it.
“The Lutherans have been with us for all these years, more than 50 years, and they have helped us in many, many, many ways,” said Thomas Oduro, president of GNTS. “They help us to train almost all our scholars … so as a result, I am an alum of Luther Seminary [in St. Paul, Minn.].”
Mananu-Hooper earned her master’s degree from another ELCA school, Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. After returning to Ghana with her degree, she not only taught at GNTS but helped it establish the Skills Development Program to serve AIC congregations. The program started in the Volta region, where the GNTS team has worked with more than 100 communities in the Ziope Traditional Area.
“It’s a farming community,” Mananu-Hooper said. “It produces mostly tomatoes and maize. But that’s seasonal … so, [in] one of our reports, we indicated we wish they could have year-round farming.”
Access to water, she said, is an issue for everyone in the Volta region, adding, “They have to walk miles and miles in the morning and the evening to get water.”
The GNTS dam construction project has eased that burden. “They have five dams now,” Mananu-Hooper said. “That’s something that has never been done by anyone—not even a member of Parliament. The work we have done there, no one [else] has been able to do it.”
“That’s something that has never been done by anyone—not even a member of parliament.”
The extra revenue generated by farming year-round is helping Ghanaians to build their futures.
“The women are farming; it’s so beautiful,” she said. “[Many people] were only eating once a day. Now they can afford to eat twice or three times. If they’re able to produce on their farms and able to sell, they can use the extra income to be able to go to school.”
The Skills Development Program extends all the way to Ghanaian chiefs, helping them become better leaders and providers for their communities.
“We sit and discuss with them, ‘Where do you want your community to be? In what ways can we accompany you?’ And it has been very, very good,’” Mananu-Hooper said. “[We host] seminars for chiefs, for conflict resolution … and to increase confidence and character so they’ll be able to walk with their people properly.”
The GNTS team has established three more study centers in the region where it continues to train pastors and church workers.
Other classes taught by the Skills Development Program focus on baking pastries and making laundry detergent. Having such skills, Mananu-Hooper pointed out, provides families with sustainable livelihoods.
“We want mothers to be self-sufficient; we want men to be self-sufficient,” she said. “We want young people to come to school to form some sort of skills [as] they think about what will come next in their lives.”
Langdji recently visited a three-day training event during which 108 women learned how to make liquid soap, hair conditioner, antiseptic for cleaning and other items.
“Good News has become a household name. It’s been good. God has been faithful.”
“I’m sure more people would have been invited, but that was about the maximum they could handle,” Langdji said. “They were there for three days, [doing] hands-on learning, talking about the ingredients, figuring out how much it would cost, thinking about ‘Which one of these could I do to help provide me with an income?’
“We [also] visited some places where other people had already been trained, and other people had been provided some support for startup activities. The most marginalized women in the community had been given fertilizer, generally widows. It’s not unusual that people die quite young, so we’re talking about women who are relatively young but suddenly find themselves as the breadwinner for their children.”
Mananu-Hooper believes that such support, made possible through GNTS’ partnership program, can be transformative. “This is what the ELCA is doing,” she said. “And because of that, Good News has become a household name. It’s been good. God has been faithful. The ELCA has been good.”