Blind inspirational speaker, workshop facilitator and author Lois Strachan debriefs u|Chief on her recent trip to Ghana.
Traveling as a person who is visually impaired, whether on business or leisure, may sound like a challenge. Having had the opportunity to travel extensively since losing my sight at the age of 21 I feel I’m qualified to say that it’s possible to gain a good sense of a place and culture using your other senses. This was true of my recent trip to Ghana, where I was presenting a keynote at a conference on disability in Africa.
Sadly my schedule didn’t allow me to experience much of Accra or Kumasi so I didn’t get a real sense of what it’s like living and working there. However, I find I’m left with strong impressions from my time in Ghana that will stay with me for some time.
I found the Ghanaian people warm and welcoming. They are friendly, willing to assist, and solution-focused. I enjoyed the entrepreneurial spirit that seems to pervade Ghana and is evident from the thriving sidewalk businesses that line most busy streets.
While I’ve since learned that people with disabilities often face challenges in Ghana, I found people willing to assist me, whether it was in offering a helping hand as I climbed out of a bus, or in assisting me to navigate my way round the conference venue. It also made my life significantly easier that English is the official language of Ghana.
I was startled at the high percentage of imported groceries we saw in Ghana – from South African milk to Spanish fruit juices. I was also very aware of how much business is cash-based – neither of the guest houses at which I stayed accepted credit cards. I was also unprepared for the number of unexpected costs that mounted up, in the form of gratuities for those who assisted us as we travelled. I wasn’t so much surprised by the fact of the payments as the amounts. On one occasion we were charged almost R800 to load 25 bags onto a bus. I don’t know if this is normal practice in Ghana or whether it was because we were visitors to the country.
As a speaker and workshop facilitator in the field of disability and inclusion, my visit to Ghana helped me to internalize the real challenges faced by governments and organisations developing policies and strategies to increase the inclusion, education and employability of persons with a disability. This was a message that was strongly brought home at the conference I attended and will inform the work I do.
The insight made me realize once again how fortunate I am that I have the education, knowledge, and resources to live a productive and independent life despite my blindness and to travel as extensively as I do to broaden my experiences.
One of the memories that will remain most vividly in my mind was when our bus had a tyre blowout on the 5-hour trip from Kumasi to Accra.
I was impressed, not only by how efficiently our bus driver and his co-driver changed the tyre, but by the number of other buses that stopped to check if there was anything they could do to help and I’m not meaning trying to gain extra passengers from amongst those of us who were stranded on the side of the road! Instead, they stopped to offer the use of a hydraulic jack or other tools.
To me, that epitomizes the spirit of the Ghanaian people.
If asked whether I’d go back to Ghana should the opportunity present itself I would answer positively yes. The only change I’d make is to ensure I had more time to experience the places I visited, and to buy a lot more of the delicious Ghanaian chocolate I discovered while I was there.
Lois Strachan is a blind inspirational speaker, workshop facilitator, author, blogger and world-traveller who demystifies disability to increase the inclusion of persons with disabilities into society and the workplace. She is the author of “A Different Way of Seeing: A Blind Woman’s Journey of Living an ‘Ordinary’ Life in an Extraordinary Way” and the illustrated children’s books, “The Adventures of Missy Mouse”, available through her website or Amazon. www.loisstrachan.com