Accra, September 18, 2014 – Thirty-eight-year old Benjamin Panford is a ‘master’ mechanic at Odawna, a suburb of Accra, notable for its perennial flood. Benjamin has been an auto mechanic at Odawna for 10 years. He is married with three children. As an auto mechanic, Benjamin is the main bread winner of his family and oftentimes extended family.
Benjamin is one of over a thousand Ghanaians, including vehicle parts shop owners, auto mechanics and food vendors at Odawna.
Literally translated as the bank of the odaw river, Odawna is a huge area where informal sector mechanics and enterprises, mainly dominated by men but with active women participation, are indiscriminately spattered.
In efforts to curb the HIV/AIDS endemic, the informal sector trade and work area is identified as one of the vulnerable groups but frequently overlooked. A 2012 vulnerability assessment carried out by the International Labour Organization (ILO) identified the lack of access to health and HIV services and safety nets away from parental control, guidance and care as risk factors that increase young people’s vulnerability to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
The UN System, led by ILOAIDS and funded under UBRAF, refurbished the dilapidated wooden structure into a youth friendly centre. The Centre has been handed over to the Ghana National Association of Garages (GNAG), Odawna branch at a brief ceremony. This activity is being carried out in partnership with the Ghana AIDS Commission (GAC) and PPAG. The total cost of the project, which included the training of 50 peer educators; purchasing of 100,000 condoms; printing of 2000 copies of National HIV & AIDS Workplace policy booklets and the refurbishment of the centre is $25,000.00 (US Dollars). The centre will serve as a one stop area for information on HIV/AIDS, counselling, sexuality education, STD management and entertainment.
Ms Akua Ofori-Asumadu of ILO advised members of the Association to use the Centre for the intended purpose and to encourage the youth, most of whom are peer educators, to access the facilities available in the Centre and to help promote women workers’ rights, particularly, pregnant women and nursing mothers through Maternity Protection at work and PMTCT.
The Country Director of UNAIDS, Mr. Girmay Haile commended Ghana for setting the pace under the Protect the Goal campaign to increase awareness on HIV and prevention. He however cautioned the youth to continue to be diligent in their sexuality education to help reduce the rate of HIV infection.
The Chairman of the Odawna branch of the GNAG, Nana Amoquandoh Joseph expressed his appreciation to the United Nations for the facility, which he described as a blessing. He admonished members to use the facility wisely and expressed the hope that the United Nations and other partners will work with them to provide knowledge on HIV/AIDS at the informal sector.
The members of the Association could not hide their joy and appreciation for the refurbished Centre as they unanimously roared “no” in disagreement to a suggestion to take away the TV set and return it after the protective storage was erected. Office furniture, executive chairs, a 32-inch flat screen television set, condoms, donated on behalf of the GAC from their defiant Global Fund project on HIV & AIDS and some publications, donated by UNESCO, were also handed over to the Association for use at the Centre.
The creation of such an enabling environment for access to HIV services through the establishment of this youth friendly Centre will definitely “…go a long way to help us to learn and share information about social issues including maternity protection, sex and HIV/AIDS” says Benjamin, a beneficiary.