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Overview

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The Humanist Service Corps (HSC) is an international volunteering program of the Foundation Beyond Belief, a secular charity that provides grants to effective, innovative organizations to allow them to expand their work.

The on-the-ground support of Humanist Service Corps volunteers is a logical extension of this original program model - it is a high-leverage approach that combines the commitment of skilled volunteers and the provision of material resources at critical moments in the development of promising organizations.

Many groups already know what to do but with our assistance can become dramatically more effective, safe, and sustainable. The local organization identifies the problem, the available resources, and potential solutions.

We bring outside perspectives, leaders, and materials. We share our humanist values. Then we move on to the next nonprofit.


The Challenge

Centuries later, the United States is still traumatized by the Salem Witch Trials, where 20 people were executed. Today, imagine the trauma of 1,000 women in West Africa murdered or living in misery because of modern witch-hunting.

Witch hunting is caused partly by superstition and partly by harsh economic conditions that stir up social unrest. While more than 90% of Ghanaians believe in witchcraft, witch-hunting occurs primarily in Ghana's drought-prone Northern Region, where poverty and illiteracy double the national average. Life-or-death tensions make it easy for the populace to lash out at women who do not fulfill expected gender roles.

Right now, there are 600 widows, childless women, and unmarried women who have been branded as witches and forcibly exiled to "witch camps," where they are further mistreated and have even fewer resources. Another 500 young women act as caretakers and have effectively also been banished. In these refugee camps, the women are relatively safe from violence but the living conditions are deplorable. The accused women and their caretakers get no education, no healthcare, and no government help to secure their basic rights under Ghanaian and international law.

It's a moral imperative for humanists to fight superstition and inequality. In this case, two extreme examples go hand in hand. This project represents not just a chance to make a dramatic difference for victims of gender-based violence and discrimination, but also the opportunity to raise global awareness of the issue and provide an undeniable example of goodness without god.

Although we who do not believe in God are usually hindered by the defensiveness of those with faith, who do not want our positive deeds to make headlines, witchcraft is such a clearly insane practice and the abuses against these women so demonstrably wrong that in this instance mainstream society will embrace our efforts for the good work that they are.


The Opportunity

Humanist Service Corps works by enabling existing non-profits. In 2015, we'll bring skills and resources to Songtaba, whose promising and urgent work is an African gap that has been overlooked by international aid.  Songtaba is a coalition of 15 women’s rights groups in northern Ghana that restores dignity to the victims of witch-hunting.

We'll send volunteers and materials to work with Songtaba in the refugee camps, empowering women and teaching them to become their own advocates. Inside and outside the camps, we'll dismantle barriers to healthcare and education, disconnecting "witchcraft" as a source of violence against women. We began helping in 2014 and can show great progress with limited support. With your help in 2015, we'll jumpstart the local economy, heal community trauma, and send as many women home as we can. 


Impact

The Humanist Service Corps program achieves maximum impact with minimal volunteers. Instead of providing direct services, we train locals to perform vital tasks. We reorganize how Ghanian nonprofits work, to better leverage local resources. Each volunteer transforms  an entire initiative, empowering a half dozen local activists to serve hundreds in their communities.

Humanist Service Corps made a big difference with limited resources in 2014:

  • In Cambodia, we taught 350 students and improved access to clean for 50 villagers;
  • In Uganda, we taught 600 students; and
  • In Ghana, we trained 100 students in healthcare, gave food to 136 alleged witches, and served hundreds of mothers and vulnerable children through a local advocacy group 
  • In Haiti, we installed new latrines for 200 people, increasing access to clean water and preventing disease

In 2015, with this proposed Ghana project, we will further prove our impact with short-term measurements and long-term monitoring. We survey the community, test results, and interview key informants with a sophisticated methodology. Responses from volunteers, community members, partner organization staff, and local and national government officials provide the data that will show great progress. We'll train all of our partner charities to monitor outcomes as well, because demonstrating return on investment is the key to continued donor giving.


Project Plan

Humanist Service Corps will provide support under the guidance of Songtaba staff who have worked for many years among the residents of the witch camps. Songtaba works to facilitate the participation of women and girls in decision making by empowering and encouraging them to take up leadership positions in their communities, schools and local assemblies as well as holding those currently in power to be accountable and transparent in their decision making. Songtaba provides leadership training through community organizing using “Reflect Groups” in each of the witch camps. The Reflect Groups are small groups of residents who meet on a regular basis to discuss needs, receive training, plan and participate in advocacy efforts. The goal of these groups is to empower women and build a support network so that they can advocate for themselves to end the practice of witch accusations, close the witch camps and allow every woman victimized by this dynamic to be reintegrated into the community of her choice. Our support will help Reflect Group reach more women, and reach them more frequently and effectively.

Empowering women in the camps is only the first step. To reintegrate them with society, requires significant changes in the communities where accusations occur. Although belief in witchcraft is strong across all of Ghana, only the North has a witch-hunting crisis. Witchcraft is blamed for Hepatitis A, meningitis, typhoid, malaria and other water, food, and insect-borne diseases. Statistics suggest that rates of expulsion for alleged witches may double during malaria season in the North. In the other regions, where the role of mosquitoes in transmitting malaria is better-understood and where hospitals are more accessible and trusted, this does not occur. Our volunteers will work with Songtaba and other local partners to design and implement two-pronged eradication and education programs (e.g., distributing mosquito nets and literature in the local languages), which will decrease disease transmission in the region while giving Northern Ghanaians a better ability to explain those illnesses that still occur.


Needs

Improving the standard of living in the witch camps, eliminating the dynamics which lead to the violent exile of women, and establishing methods for reintegrating accused women are goals that will require deep work, and the Humanist Service Corps is committed to seeing that work through. We are currently seeking funds to send the first four Humanist Service Corps volunteers to Ghana. The program has a projected annual budget of $130,000, A detailed and layered budget, with a contingency buffer and the goal of self-sustainability, is available upon request.

Categories in the budget include:

  • Administrative - salary of HSC program director
  • Airfare
  • Ground Transportation - Ground transportation from the major airports to Northern Ghana is relatively inexpensive. However, once in Northern Ghana the cost of transportation is prohibitive. It will be necessary and ultimately more economical to purchase a vehicle for the use of HSC volunteers. There will be projects for volunteers not able to drive, but some HSC work and certainly the administration of the HSC will be greatly facilitated by it.
  • Legal - consultation with international nonprofit lawyer on HSC non-discrimination policy, application/selection procedure, volunteer contracts, releases of liability, etc.
  • Logistics - Foreign NGO registration fees, visas, foreign national registration fees, etc.
  • Office/Residence Space - our estimates are based off average monthly prices for safe real estate within Northern Ghana. NB: Ghanaian leases are paid yearly, not monthly.
  • Operating Costs - cell phones for volunteers, airtime, office supplies, office/housing upkeep, utilities, etc.
    Orientation Training - volunteer handbooks and educational materials for orientation, homestays and other cultural trainings, language classes
  • Programs - program costs will be minimized in the first year because HSC volunteers will work directly with Songtaba as they begin to build partnerships with other organizations and infrastructure for more independent projects
  • Promotion - includes travel for speaking engagements and the cost of promotional materials
    Selection - given the demands of the project we are proposing, our chances of success are only as strong as our team. It is highly preferable to meet potential volunteers in person, in particular to observe how they work with other applicants in situations requiring communication, teamwork, facilitation, and training.
  • Travel/Medical/Evacuation Insurance - the budget includes a midrange estimate.
  • Volunteer Stipends - Part of HSC's commitment to diversity - volunteer living stipends enable more humanists from low SES backgrounds to consider applying.


Contact

Organization: Foundation Beyond Belief
Contact Name: Conor Robinson, Humanist Service Corps Program Director
Contact Email: hsc@foundationbeyondbelief.org