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Ghanaian humanitarian scoops international award

AWARDED: Joseph Asakibeem

JOSEPH ASAKIBEEM grew up in Kassena Nankana, rural Ghana where children born with disabilities or deformities were believed to be possessed by evil spirits.

This fear of spirit children, a superstition developed over generations of poverty, lack of education and healthcare, can result in children being neglected, abandoned or even killed.

For one man it has been his life’s mission to overcome this harmful belief and protect these children through education and providing support in their communities.

The 42-year old’s tireless work in Ghanaian villages has earned him the Bond Humanitarian Award 2018.

Asakibeem, a project manager at AfriKids Ghana, was nominated for this international award by Charlie Hay, COO at AfriKids. She explains: “Joseph Asakibeem has dedicated his life and career to proving there is no such thing as a spirit child. He grew up with the belief of kinkirigo (spirit children) and knew how powerful and deeply held it was.

Generations of poverty and limited education and healthcare had failed to challenge the explanation that children who were different must be bad omens. Children were being locked up, abandoned or even killed, to stop them bringing harm to the community.

Enlisting a couple of friends, Joe set out to change minds and save lives. They were so determined, they drank dangerous herbal concoctions to prove their integrity to local soothsayers and secure the trust of their communities. The idea was simple: listen to local people to find the solutions.”

PICTURED: Joseph Asakibeem and Richmond

“Joe spoke to everyone – parents, chiefs, village elders, local authorities and critically, the soothsayers and concoction men who were 'diagnosing' children as spirits and supplying the remedies that would kill them. Respectfully hearing everyone’s views was fundamental to designing the solutions.

He organised events in the community where adults with disabilities spoke as role models, allaying fears and demonstrating the potential that was being lost in children killed. Treatment and extra support were found for children with health conditions and they worked with the Department for Social Welfare and local children’s homes for children without a safe home.

With simple tools, concoction men had alternative livelihoods: goats for rearing and bicycles to peddle herbal treatments for common ailments. Crucially, everyone had a part to play: empowering them to buy into, lead and maintain changes for good.

The most powerful testament was concoction men reinventing themselves as Right to Life Promoters. The men who had previously killed children are now ardent ambassadors for child protection. Reports of birth complications or family misfortune still come to them, but now they help by coordinating professional advice and support.

Joe and his team achieved complex change where foreign interventions persistently failed, eradicating the belief and killing of spirit children from their community by working from the ground up. Not a single report – official or otherwise – has been made of a spirit child killing in Kassena Nankana since 2012.

Following this remarkable achievement, they expanded their work into more areas and have now celebrated the end of the spirit child phenomenon with eighteen communities (11 between 2014-2017).

Today, they continue to work with new communities, while taking on the next challenge – better services and support for children with disabilities. Their latest work in Kassena Nankana has already helped 14 children with cerebral palsy walk for the first time.

Joseph Asakibeem, Bond Humanitarian Award winner and project manager at AfriKids Ghana says: “This award tells me that people around the world are watching and appreciating what I am doing and the best thing for me is to keep moving ahead with work that continues to help the little ones.

"I am sure this award will encourage more people to come and support AfriKids so we can do even more work in Ghana.”

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