JPIC-VIVAT Ghana Workshop and VIVAT Ghana National Group Launch: Creating a Just and Reconciled World

Bertha Amani CSC and Evance Koech SVD

Coordinators of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation from Ghana and beyond gathered for a five-day workshop/official launching of the VIVAT Ghana at Arnold Janssen Spirituality Center in Bortianor Hills – Greater Accra Region from August 21 – 25, 2023. Altogether, over 30 religious and a few lay persons representing seven VIVAT member congregations in Ghana participated in the workshop. The participants were a mixture of nationals from Ghana, Togo, Liberia, Papua New Guinea, Nigeria, India, the United States of America, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Poland. They contributed from the wealth of their national experiences and their missionary experience in Ghana to enrich the gathering. The choice of the venue matched the need for a peaceful and conducive outpost for relaxed discussions on justice, peace, and environmental issues plaguing Ghana.

The theme underscores the focus on promoting justice, reconciliation, and the well-being of all living beings. It aligns with the values and founding principles of JPIC and VIVAT. The workshop was both expository and an interactive discourse that ultimately resolved key advocacy issues VIVAT Ghana intends to pursue vigorously. A wide range of topics discussed include but were not exhaustive of an Overview of JPIC–JPIC-related contemporary issues in Ghana, the history of VIVAT, VIVAT’s mission in biblical and Catholic Social Teaching perspectives, and Operations of Faith-Based NGOs at the United Nations. Furthermore, the workshop offered a range of topics on reporting VIVAT activities, an overview of human rights mechanisms, and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism.

Further, some participants shared their best practices in engaging with the issues of Girl-Child Empowerment, Plastic Waste Management Project, Green Ghana Tree Planting Project, and Organic Farming Practices. They also shared about VIVAT Spain’s experience with UPR engagement and VIVAT-Ghana’s success stories. Finally, the participants brainstormed on Ghana’s contemporary issues related to JPIC and mapped the VIVAT-Ghana Strategic Plan.

During the workshop’s brainstorming sessions, the branch identified ten key areas of interest that call for urgent advocacy attention. They were issues concerning illegal mining, Child Abuse and Neglect, Forced Marriage, Teenage Pregnancy and Prostitution, Human Trafficking, Organ Trafficking, Deforestation for Charcoal Fuel, Women’s Health, Girl and Boy Child Empowerment, and Plastic Waste Management. VIVAT Ghana was persistent in her assessment that these were social burdens plaguing Ghana as a nation for which urgent and actionable systemic change is imperative.

However, due to limited resources and funding, the branch narrowed down its preferred area of focus to two most pressing issues, crying for urgent intervention – Plastic Waste Management and Action Against Deforestation. This decision was made after robust engagement in an interactive game devised by the workshop facilitators aimed at teasing out the target interests. Below is a brief periscopic overview of the two issues identified.

Plastic Waste Management

VIVAT Ghana identified some of the adverse effects of plastic pollution, which ravages Ghana’s urban and rural dwellings and coastlines. They include Health Issues – breeding of mosquitoes causing malaria and cholera because of filth, annual Flooding – causing death and destroying properties, Eutrophication affecting aquatic lives (marine and freshwater), and Poor Soil Formation leading to poor agricultural harvest and, in turn, poverty and starvation.

The ultimate goal of the Plastic Waste Management Initiative is to create awareness (Education) among the local, regional, and national governments to actively engage in cleaning the Ghanaian environment, especially regarding plastic pollution. It also aims to create job opportunities by hiring workers and trading fairly with the poor waste collectors, collaborating and networking with other interested bodies (both groups and individuals), and partnering with ethical benefactors and donors. These include Churches (Archdiocese of Cape Coast and Sekondi / Takoradi Dioceses), Schools (over 50 schools in both Western and Central Region), other organizations (Environment 360), volunteers, Donor Agencies, VIVAT Member Congregations, and other religious groups.

Deforestation of Ghana Vegetation for Charcoal Fuel

Sr. Joy Abuh, MSHR, and Fr. Nicholas Aazine, SVD, provided the update on the current deforestation crisis in Ghana and the ongoing efforts made by VIVAT Ghana to boost the tree planting campaign, especially in Kwahu Afram Plains of the Northern region. VIVAT Ghana has now adopted the action initiated by the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary as a core strategic initiative it wants to embark on. Deforestation, which has become a big business in the country, disrupts the ecological balance that tropical rainforests provide. The primary driver of this ecocidal activity is the quest for charcoal fuel due to the lack of alternative energy sources.

Inauguration of VIVAT-Ghana Group

After successful preliminary engagements at the workshop proper, the VIVAT–Ghana was officially launched by Most Rev. Emmanuel Kofi Fianu SVD, the Bishop of Ho diocese, on August 25, 2023. Bishop Fianu was, before he was appointed Bishop, the immediate past Executive Secretary of VIVAT International. The SSpS, SVD, CSC Provincial superiors, the representative of the Accra Catholic Archdiocese, and the Secretary to the Ghana Bishops’ Conference all attended the function. Also present were the current Executive Secretary of VIVAT International, Sr. Gretta Fernandes SSpS, and Fr. Kachi Adindu CSSp – the VIVAT Representative at the United Nations Office in Geneva. Both facilitated the workshop.

Workshop Communique

A brief communique issued at the end of the workshop expressed the group’s commitment to oneness of heart and mind in pursuing the set objectives. The text of the communique reads:

“We, the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) Coordinators of the following Congregations: The Society of the Divine Word and their Lay Partners, Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit and their Lay Associates, the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary, Sisters of the Holy Cross, the Comboni Missionaries, the Sisters of the Holy Cross, the Society of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and the Spiritans participated in the second VIVAT Seminar in Ghana from 21st – 24th August 2023.

Over these days, we deepened our knowledge of VIVAT and its operation on the theme of “Creating a place in the world that is just and reconciled – providing a dignified life for all creatures.” Our shared experience called and challenged us to live the Gospel values with a new perception and understanding of VIVAT in today’s world. In the spirit of journeying together as people who want to be a voice for the voiceless, we looked at the following topics: The history of JPIC and the Social Teachings of the Catholic Church, Contemporary issues in Ghana related to JPIC, Girl Child empowerment in Ghana, what is VIVAT and how VIVAT runs, how to report VIVAT activities and how to use the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism.

The various sharing of insights by participants, especially the success stories most congregations shared, led us to appreciate what we are already involved in and a new and deeper understanding of the dynamics and intricacies of advocacy in Ghana. This experience led us to be afire and committed with a greater determination to make an impact in our country. In light of the above, we commit ourselves to (1) helping reduce plastic waste in the country and (2) encouraging afforestation.

We resolve to make VIVAT-Ghana an organization that will stand at all times as the voice for the voiceless by partnering with other organizations with a similar vision to VIVAT.”

Bertha Amani CSC and Evance Koech SVD