Ghana: Women and Climate Change

By Sr. Comfort Arthur CSC

“By empowering women in our work and partnering with parishes, schools, and the community to live the change we all want to see, we know that our future is bright” (Sr. Comfort Arthur)

In 2009, the Sisters of the Holy Cross co-signed the Family of Holy Cross Statement on Climate Change. In this congregational statement, we state that we aim to foster models of development that care for our environment. And so, years later, when Laudato Si’ was released, our passion for addressing climate change was reignited in myself and my other sisters on the Ghana Justice Committee.

Plastic waste in every corner 

In Ghana, you can easily find water bottles and a rubber sachet on the street. The polybag or plastic bags that we usually use are causing the problem in Ghana. Our beaches are filled with it. In terms of the gutters, our drainages are also filled with them. So, because of that, we have flood issues every year.

As a child, we used to have food served in plantain leaves rather than plastic bottles, bags, and other things. So, after eating and even throwing away, it can be composed to enrich the soil. It was only recently when plastic bags started showing up in Ghana. And look at what happened even food, when it’s hot, it’s now saved in plastic bags. Can you imagine the chemical composition of plastic and its effect?

I kept reflecting on what could be done because of the plastic waste built and built every day, creating a severe issue in my country. Not only does this plastic waste deteriorate our environment, but the plastic waste also clogs the drainage system and causes massive floods. The stagnant water causes water-borne diseases to spread more rapidly, and it even breeds more mosquitos that claimed lives through malaria. And this is only the beginning of the impact of climate change in my country.

People can see plastic waste everywhere in Ghana along the roadside, on the farm, and in fields. Can you imagine what the farmers are struggling with? On the beaches and in our river bodies and ocean, animals, and humanity, indeed, are truly suffering.

SOAR Program 

Ghana is now filled with plastics. And we only recycle less than 2%! And so, I ask myself what can be done? My Sisters in the Ghana Justice Committee and our Sisters worldwide asked what the Sisters could do to help the situation clean up our country, save lives, and reduce our impact on climate change?

This is where the SOAR program came in. SOAR stands for Sisters Organizing and Advancing Recycling. The SOAR started as a pilot program in 2017. Our mission is to utilize an integrated approach to provide waste management services, educate God’s people, care for the environment, and support the underserved. Our vision is to be a leader in recycling, education, and action in Ghana.

People are involved in our schools and parishes, and especially women. As Sisters of the Holy Cross, compassion moves us to respond to the time’s needs and show God’s love to all creation.

We were inspired by Laudato Si’ so that even if not to change the whole world at once, we can start from a small corner in Ghana. And hopefully, that light could glow to shine in other parts of the world, knowing climate change is a global concern.

We started by educating the public in the church. We talked to the parishioners after Mass about the importance of caring for our Common Home. We then provided recycling bins in the parishes and encouraged young members to fill them with plastics from home and around the church area. We didn’t stop there. We then moved to schools and educated students, faculty, and staff about their role in making a difference and inspiring their family members to do the same. So far as plastic waste is a concern. Also, there is a global concern about what is happening in terms of climate change. Recycling bins were then placed outside the schools to collect plastics from home and the school compound.

We didn’t stop there. We moved and used the FM radio stations and other social media outlets to educate the general public. We knew we couldn’t do this work alone. And so, we decided and dedicated time and resources to organizing volunteers and individuals to help us collect the plastic wastes. It was interesting how many women bought into the idea and started collecting a massive amount of plastic waste.

Creating Jobs for Women 

We paid the women for their hard work. Of course, we have to motivate them. This money supports them and their families to put something on their table and bring a smile to their families. Our aim and primary objective to help clean the environment now grew to include employment and job opportunities for women.

Environment Free System is one local Ghanaian nonprofit company initiated by a woman in Accra. They have a machine that produces the plastic sachet bags or bottles and makes them into flower pots, reusable pens, buttons. There are so many things they can drive.

But I also want to caution that groups in Ghana buy the plastics and then make them into another polybag that ends up back on the street, which is not good. So, when we see other people collecting, we tell them that they should take it to the appropriate place. It could be made into something durable and doesn’t just end up on the streets again, causing the same havoc.

And we encourage people not to burn because the plastics, especially those who do not give it or people who collect, burn and bring a lot of carbon, which contributes to climate change. So there is an environmental agency that buys and makes them well.

Hoping for a bright future

SOAR has seen significant growth as it is moving at a breakneck pace. Our hope is to one day use our machinery that can break down the plastic and use a 3D printer to create reusable plastic goods rather than single-use plastics. We hope that we will get our machine and get a 3D printer in the future. So then we can also make more reusable pens, like bowls, flower bowls, buttons, and other durable things, which can last instead of people making it into another polybag, which ends up on the street.

We are grateful to the vision of Laudato Si’ guiding our work and aligning our mission with that of other climate change advocates and supporters. We are proud of our work, and we know that when we heal the earth, which is the only home we have, we heal our neighbor. And when we heal our neighbor, we heal our relationships.

And by empowering women in our work and partnering with parishes, schools, and the community to live the change we all want to see, we know that our future is bright.