June 19, 2020
Q & A with Naa Mohenu, Ghana Country Director
Naa Mohenu, Bethany’s country director in Ghana, shares insight into the challenges many families face in her country. Parents without financial security worry about the well-being of their families in the face of COVID-19. Naa also shares the risk of children living in orphanages and how her team is working to bring and keep kids in families.
Today we're talking to Naa Mohenu, Bethany's country director in Ghana. Join us as we look at the world through her eyes, exploring the realities of the most vulnerable during the global pandemic.
Before we get to the many questions we have about how the global pandemic is impacting Ghana, it would be great to learn more about you and about Bethany's work in Ghana. What is your job at Bethany?
I'm the country director of Bethany Christian Services’ Ghana office. I have a very small team here, but it's very proactive. We have three main programs: foster care, adoption, and Family Preservation and Empowerment. I'm a lawyer by profession and joined Bethany about seven years ago. I'm married, I'm a Christian, and I have three boys.
Where's Ghana located in Africa, and what's Ghana known for around the world?
Ghana is in West Africa. Ghanaians are noted for our rich cocoa and our gold. We used to be known as the Gold Coast, until we gained independence from the British. Then we became Ghana. In terms of human relations, we are known as a very peaceful country, and we have a very great sense of humor. We always look at the lighter side of everything, and that keeps us going.
How does Bethany and your team support children and families in Ghana? You mentioned the Family Preservation and Empowerment program and foster care and adoption. What does that actually look like in country?
Our programs mostly deal with human concepts and physical context. We visit families, we do assessments, and we advocate in churches. Sometimes we are able to advocate on the radio and T.V. But we partner with churches a lot. We do a lot of human physical interactions, where we visit to provide psychosocial support. It's mostly done one-on-one, seeing the people you are working with, reaching out to them, going to where they are. In our programs, mostly it's direct contact.
I know that in Ghana, the government took steps to stop the spread of COVID-19 by implementing border closures and lockdowns in several regions of the country quite early on. To-date Ghana has about 6,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and a little more than 30 deaths. How has Bethany's work in Ghana changed during COVID-19?
It's changed a lot because we had to switch quickly and stop physical visits. Now, we do more visual visits, using apps like WhatsApp to call families. We also advertise our hotline where people can call in at any time to connect with us. For some of the programs, we provide support to families through stipends. They are registered under the mobile money transfer registration system, which is like internet banking and online services. When it comes to food and personal protection equipment distribution, we ensure social distancing by scheduling different times for pick-up. In extreme cases, we go directly to the family to distribute, wearing the right personal protective equipment.
Those families whom you're distributing food and personal protection equipment to—are those families who are in Bethany's Family Preservation and Empowerment program, or are those also families in the broader community?
They are mostly families in our programs, but some families come with their neighbors. We also give foster families whatever we give to our families in Family Preservations.
Let’s talk about the impact of COVID-19 on foster care—one of the core programs that you provide in Ghana. Have you been able to continue serving our foster parents in Ghana as well as the children who aren't in the foster care system?
Yes. We have WhatsApp groups for all of our families so that we can connect with them. And their states have provided students with a local educational T.V. station because schools are closed. We’ll post those kinds of helpful resources to the WhatsApp groups to help families who don't have internet access. Some are not able to even connect to the T.V. station, so we’ll connect those families with helpful WhatsApp resource pages as well as contact them through phone calls. We look to see what kind of help we can provide—no matter the distance.
In the U.S., we're seeing a significant impact of COVID-19 on our communities, including unemployment numbers being at a historic all-time high. Are you seeing a similar impact in Ghana?
Yes, unfortunately. A lot of teachers in the private schools have lost their jobs because children are no longer in school. People in the airline or hospitality businesses have lost their jobs. We have minivans that do intercity travels, but they have to ensure social distancing and so many people have had to look for other jobs.
With significant unemployment in Ghana, what are some of the greatest needs you see for the families and children that your office is serving?
There were a lot of people in denial from the beginning. So, in terms of personal protection equipment, we had to educate them. We've also noticed that, for the children who don't have access to the internet and technologies, we need additional pictorial materials for them—like books. Food is another area of difficulty because of unemployment. People are hungry. They need food to survive.
The primary focus of your work is advocacy and education that's leading to change in the way children are cared for in Ghana. Your aim is to see children placed into families rather than cared for in institutions. Does COVID-19 increase your sense of urgency for helping children leave orphanages and find families?
Yes, although things have been a bit slow. Because of the lack of adequate space, getting things done right now has been slow. Measures were put in place to prevent people from donating to orphanages as a way to prevent the children from being affected. So, orphanages are not taking in additional children, which is a good thing. But there are still delays.
What are some of the ways that your team is innovating to support your foster parents and adoptive parents in Ghana during this time?
We introduced a hotline service that’s 24 hours, 7 days a week. Families know that if they pick up a phone, there's someone on the other side to respond to them and support them with their needs. We are very social people, and we like to have physical contact and interactions with other people—to see and connect with the person we are talking to. We haven’t received many calls yet, but we also understand that is mostly a cultural thing. It’s new, and I'm sure with a little more publicity, people will start recognizing it.
What are some of the questions that children and families are asking during this time? What are their concerns or fears?
I think the pandemic is kind of seen as a militia for some people. Many people didn't think it was that serious at first. But when we registered the first confirmed test and the numbers keep increasing, people now feel the need to take this seriously. They have to really pay attention. For children, they are always wondering when and how they will go back to school—wanting to play with their friends. And for parents, I think because some have lost their jobs, there is a lot of uncertainty. They also pray that Bethany stays in a position to be able to help and support them.
You don't like the phrase, “social distancing.” Why don't you like it, and is there a phrase that you would rather people use?
I’d prefer if people used the term, “social distancing” instead, so we know that we only need to be physically distant, not socially. Social is too strong of a word.
In addition to your work at Bethany, you've taken calls from people who are experiencing domestic abuse in the home because of extended stay-at-home orders. That has to be incredibly challenging. How are you taking care of yourself?
You can see the frustration of people losing their jobs, or frustration from spouses having to spend the whole day with family when they’re used to walking around. So, from the calls I receive, it looks like unemployment, frustration, and having to stay at home all the time is creating some of these issues. I also personally had to spend about four weeks quarantined with my family, but for me, I looked at the brighter side of what was happening. I try to enjoy my family as much as I can. I try to spend quality time with my boys and let them just enjoy their mom. I don’t think it's that easy for everyone, but you have to push yourself to capitalize on the positives. That's how I have managed my spirit.
In what ways can people help or support your work in Ghana?
Prayer is something that we really need. Prayer is key, so I hope that you always remember us in your prayers. We also ask that people advocate for us in the programs that we do. We want people to know more about the Ghana program and know how families are doing. We want to help tell their story very well to everybody.
If there was one thing you wanted Americans to know about Ghana, what would you tell them?
The key word for me is family. Like I keep saying, we are very social people, and we like to keep our families together. That's why Bethany has a strong presence in Ghana—because we want to strengthen families. Keeping families together, I think, is at the heart of the work of our heavenly Father and at the heart of the work we do at Bethany.
What a beautiful way to wrap up this conversation. Thank you so much for sharing your unique perspective from Behind the Front Lines.
For more information about Bethany’s work in Ghana, or to learn how to help, visit Bethany.org/Ghana.