Saturday, January 11, 2014

GUEST LECTURE: University of Ghana, Legon with Dr. Godson Ahortor

We went to the University of Ghana, Legon where we were given a guest lecture from Dr. Godson Ahortor on "RELIGION, RITUAL, HEALTH AND DISABILITY IN WEST AFRICA". Interestingly, Dr. Abortor is visually impaired due to coronary ulcers he has had since birth, and so hearing his views on the topic of disability were of particular relevance. He was a brilliant professor with a huge amount of knowledge to share—I need to do further research on the topics he was discussing in my own way, so that I can really grasp and understand the information and what it means in the larger sense. After discussing the lecture with my classmates, however, I was able to gain a clearer sense of the information, which I will share below. The following is what I took away from the lecture.

University of Ghana, Legon 
Our lecture was about how religion functions in Ghanian… and West African society, and about how it directly impacts the views that the society has on disability and disabled persons. The religions in Ghana are: majority Christian followed by Muslim and Traditional African Religion. Professor Ahortor discussed the negative attitudes surrounding disability and how these are grounded in religion and culture. The archaic beliefs are still very present today and affect the state of healthcare for those in need.

Liz, Darci, Janelle, and Mehir at University of Ghana... SAY CHEEEEEESE, CHALE! 

All religion in Ghana is grounded in the values of African Traditional Religion (ATR), which believes that spiritual justifications and spiritual healings are at the forefront of health. The spiritual cause is behind everything. This religion was the most discussed in the lecture and the one that was of most interest to me, as it is so different from my own beliefs. In ATR they believe that there is a heavy spiritual component to health that we in America do not prioritize.

**WHO definition of Health**
Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
In ATR there is a belief in reincarnation, however if there is evil in a person, which is anything that threatens life, then a person will be cremated so that they cannot rest peacefully with their family in death. Some evil acts are abortions, hurting animals or disabled people, murder, infertility and not giving birth. They emphasize the need for contributing to the society (growth), which is not something important only in ATR.
University of Ghana 
In terms of disability, the belief is that if it threatens life then it is evil---- Disability and sickness is caused by something spiritual (not medical, bad luck etc). An example of something negative spiritually causing bad health would be a curse, harboring ill feelings, evil or immoral acts or powers, spiritual powers. Disability is seen as a Divine Punishment.

One example Dr. Ahortor gave was that if a child becomes sick and goes to the hospital and is not getting better it is because there is something bad in the house causing the child to remain sick, something like a curse. The cause is believed to be metaphysical and until the parents resolve the issue that is supposedly making the child sick, they will not get released.

ATR believes that children born with disabilities did something in a past life and are being punished or the parents have done something evil and are being punished. When a child is born with a disability they are regarded negatively. They are kept indoors and treated as outcasts. They are subjected to ill treatment from peers in the form of taunting, insults, physical abuse and such.

In terms of healthcare and healing, there is a primary religious influence which comes in the form of confession, exorcism,  reconcillation with family and purification rituals. One of the other lecturers that spoke to our class answered my first question of the course, which was “Is there a stigma associated with disabled persons?”  with a NO… at the time I found this answer very, very strange. I knew that there was no way that this was true, and questioned why she would say that there was not a stigma and I continued to think about this question throughout the rest of my trip.

The two women that spoke to our class seemed to have a different view about disability that most of the other individuals and institutions that we encountered. I can’t help but think there is something about gender and education, as these women were both very educated. Perhaps they do not think that there IS a stigma, or maybe there is not one where they grew up or how they live. The theme for me of this trip was taking in information and deciding what to believe, think and make of it. I learned quickly not to take what anyone said at face value and do my own research and analysis after the fact…. This is something I am still doing.

Friends taking a breather at the Moven Pick 5 Star Hotel in Accra, Ghana 
I was not surprised at the information we were given at the University of Ghana, it is basically what I would expect the view of disabled persons to be especialy as there is such a religious component in the society and a need for everyone to pull their weight in the family. It is hard to survive in the best of circumstances so I can understand why adding disability just makes things so much harder. The answer for me is always education.. but of course we must acknowledge the underdevelopment of Ghana and that fact that Ghana has only been independent for around 50 years 

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