Discovering commonality in the Gambaga Witches Camp

I visited the Gambaga Witches Camp in Ghana, West Africa in 2012 and 2014.  It was shocking to discover that in the 21st century women could be accused of being a witch and exiled to a camp. Located in a remote part of the north of Ghana, the environment is sparse and the area is dry and hot.  The camp lies within the village of Gambaga and has existed for over 100 years.  It is overseen by the village chief and his son.

Women of Gambaga
Women of Gambaga

The women in the camp earn a meager wage by working in the nearby agricultural fields.  They live in small round shaped mud huts which are built in compounds of 3-4 huts.  There are enough of these compounds to house about 200 women.  The belief in their traditional ways, which includes witchcraft, has fueled the continuation of the practice of blaming women for being witches and exiling them from their regular lives.  Some women have put themselves in the camps because they believe they are witches and have brought harm to others.  Are these women victims?  Are some mentally ill?  Yes, to both.  Some have brought their children with them to the camp.  In some cases, they are allowed to go back to their villages, but what is their life like when you carry the stigma of having been exiled to the witches camp?

I was deeply moved to be with these women.  They have to be incredibly strong to adapt to their new lives.  They seem to have formed a community and a support system with the other women in the camp. Still, there is exhaustion and sadness in many of their faces.  They seem to be resolved to keep going under extreme circumstances.  I kept thinking about our own mentally ill homeless women and our elders whom we place in minimal care “old folks” homes when we just want them gone and away from our lives.

Once again I found commonality between two seemingly different societies. The western world (developed world) seems content to warehouse our seniors. The creature comforts may be more in evidence, but where is the compassion? Where is the caring?