Breaking camp: humanist service corps assists Ghanaians accused of witchcraft.

Author:Alhassan, Baako

In the early morning hours, Azara Majira is setting up her small store in her home village of Bandiyili in the Northern Region of Ghana. She sings softly to herself. Her store isn't much more than a table and some small goods outside of her home but it provides enough for Azara to feed herself and her younger sister as well as buy necessities such as clothes and cooking materials.

At the same time in the town of Bimbilla, Mumuni Damata is busy preparing a dish known as Wasawasa from yam peels left over from the processing of the vegetable. Mumuni lives near a primary school and sells the dish to the children during lunchtime and after school. It allows her to be independent and take care of herself and her grandchildren.

Though they now live and work in Bandiyili and Bimbilla, respectively, Azara and Mumuni spent the previous thirty years in what is known as a witch camp. Decades ago both Azara and Mumuni were accused of witchcraft and banished. These camps exist because of the ongoing issue of witchcraft accusations in the Northern Region of Ghana. All it takes is one such accusation and a woman can be banished from her community, forced to flee to one of seven camps--that is if she isn't injured or killed from the mob violence that often follows an accusation. The camps are believed to exist on land that takes the women's power, thereby rendering them harmless. They exist as a sanctuary, yet conditions are often terrible for the residents. Survival is a struggle and most of the alleged witches in the camps are elderly.

In her days in the camps, Azara would often go hungry and depend on the kindness of the people of the village in Kukuo, as well as women who were also banished along with her. Mumuni also faced these struggles. The women in the camps live in homes constructed long ago from mud brick walls and thatched roofs. Many of the dwellings have collapsed over the years and the women who previously occupied them are buried just outside in unmarked graves. The vast majority of women never return to their home once they are banished to the witch camps.

After being accused of using witchcraft to kill her nephew, Azara was forced to leave and seek refuge in the camp in the village of Kukuo. Mumuni ended up there as well after an accusation in her own community. Kukuo is about thirty minutes away from Bimbilla (the largest town in the region), but life in this rural community is quite different than the more modern town. While some homes...

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