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November 10, 2008 | Feature Article

It Takes A Community To Engage The Diaspora Ghanaian Youth

When we say it takes a village to raise a kid, we often tend to assume that kids are the wards of the community; hence all of the community would have to act in concert as the eyes, ears, and hands, for and on behalf of all of us, collectively.

I am sad to say we have failed to act as one united community abroad. We have become a dysfunctional community. Too often we do not have community centres of our own, and have often fallen along town and tribal subgroups. As you would all bear witnesses, if a family becomes dysfunctional, the kids of such families become victims of waywardness. We have failed to come together to instil a sense of oneness and purpose for our children, except the occasional situations when we come together to celebrate, funerals, outdoorings, worship, and parties. The diaspora Ghanaian kid does not care squat about the ethnic and hometown associations, and the better we come together as Ghanaians and not tribes, the better it would help to draw them in towards positive courses and away from gangs.

Now how does this dysfunctional town or community affect our children? You have to look at the inner workings of gangs to realize our kids join gangs because of:

(1) Internal dysfunctional family situation, and

(2) Externally, as a result of the absence of the extended family structures, that we take for granted growing back in Ghana.

In a dynamic multi-cultural and racial society such as, Canada, USA, and UK, gangs pop up to fill in the gaps left by the absence of the extended family system. The typical extended family – i.e. community – is a close association of a group of people joined together by a common ancestor, marriage, and hometown. It is highly organised and bestows a sense of belonging, protection, and privileges for the members. Your sense of who you are is often handed down to you because you belong to a certain large external family.

It is the same with gangs. Gangs are groups of people joined together to pursue certain purposes and structures. It has a hierarchy, codes of conduct, and enforcers who ensure that gang members act collectively together. The only difference between the normal family and gangs is that gangs have inherent disposition towards violence, whereas the normal family has the disposition towards nurture and protection. The gang family promises to do anything for the member, even if it means fighting or dying for him. There is nothing positive about gangs. It is drugs, guns, jail, and death. They stick together to break laws, push drugs, or pimp girls, and impose their will on the larger society.

Parents and the community should recognise that gang membership is often a process and not an event. A kid does not just get up one day and say to himself: “Today, I am going to join the gang”. It is a gradual process.

The kid who is likely to join a gang is the one who is not doing well at school, has no internal and extended family support, terribly lacking in certain things, such as nice shoes and clothes, and parents do not provide him with pocket money. The gangs are recruiting from the school yard and on the internet through Facebook and Myspace.

It is obvious from the foregoing that we must as a community rediscover ourselves and come together to provide the extended family services for our kids. They need a sense of belonging, so we should provide for them a sense of belonging. They need protection, hence we should provide for them protection, and finally they need education, skills, and jobs, so we should help them to acquire just those.

When gangs descend on a community, they impose their will on it, such as the no-snitch code. You, the family, and community at large, become unwilling and unwitting participants of the drug business and culture, in that you are forced to cut down your outward activities and stay indoors, afraid.

All of us begin to pay the price of bad reputation when our kids join gangs. We might become so notorious we could begin to be discriminated against in hiring or subjected to extra body searches at airports or racial profiling. The property value of your houses would suffer serious depreciation, and good middle class families and businesses would take a flight from your area, further deepening blight, hopelessness, and unemployment. So the fight to take back our youth should be everybody's duty. If you live in a drug infested area, your school district could also suffer in that it might not be able to attract high quality teachers to your area schools. To that extent we should encourage our community members who live in the notorious drug areas of cities and are not by themselves involved in the drug business, to move away to better neighbourhoods and suburbs. Cheap rents are not worth the lives and future of our children.

We should approach the government as one group under the auspices of a unified Ghanaian Union, to acquire subsidised or government sponsored community centres, in central locations to be accessible easily from the highways. Such community centres should be retrofitted with facilities such as high speed internet computers - you would be surprised to know how many parents cannot afford DSL at home - table tennis, badminton, da'me, oware, soccer balls, playing cards, and satellite TV that can be tuned to Ghana. Failing to get the community centres, our churches should agree to turn over their premises for such activities during off hours. It is ironic we do not have community centres but we have big Ghanaian churches all over the place.

Our kids join gangs because we have failed to provide them the extended family structures that they seek in gangs. We should task our youth to compete for prizes like the best Ghanaian High School students across the city. We should try to get our youth in fun loaded volunteering services, gentlemen cookout versus ladies cookout competition, cultural dance, fashion shows, and trips to other cities and resorts.

Personally, I have taken the initiative of establishing a youth focused internet web site, called www.ghanatubes.com and www.ghanascope.net. What www.ghanatubes.com does is to offer the kids a value focused

e-learning centre. The site is to be resourced site with educational videos which would cover subjects in the area of maths, science, and social studies from KG to Grade 12. Again this web site would be a forum to match kids with mentors and tutors to help them with their homework, provide parents with family resource or empowerment kits and information to help them handle their kids in challenging times.

Let us join together to provide the kids and their parents the sense of belonging they are seeking, and help them with tutoring and mentoring. It is hard to see an academically succeeding kid joining gangs. They don't.

Eric Kwasi Bottah
Eric Kwasi Bottah

The author has authored 34 publications on Modern Ghana.
Author's column: EricKwasiBottah

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Eric Kwasi Bottah and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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