4-H key to improving young lives in Ghana

Mary Crave, a program development and evaluation specialist with the University of Wisconsin-Extension and a director of the UW-Madison’s 4W Initiative (For Women and Well-being in Wisconsin and the World), knows 4-H.

The Wisconsin farm girl joined at age 9, one of seven Crave kids in the program. Food, nutrition and sewing were her passions. What she learned was self-confidence, leadership, public speaking and other life skills. A 4-H exchange to Sri Lanka gave her a first taste of international experience and opened her eyes to how the program provides opportunities for youth. That early experience has taken her to more than a dozen African countries in professional roles.

A new grant from the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment gives Crave another opportunity to pay her 4-H experience forward, this time in Ghana­­­ in western Africa.

Students presenting The 4-H Saviour Club

She joins Global Health Institute Acting Director Christopher Olsen, professor of public health in the School of Veterinary Medicine; Sophia Friedson-Ridenour, a post doctoral fellow in the Gender and Women’s Studies Center; and AgriCorps to develop One Health and gender empowerment curriculums for 4-H Ghana and to train 4-H leaders to implement them.

For many African students, especially girls, education ends after primary school, Crave says. Girls who don’t continue their education often marry very young, have babies and are caught in a cycle of poverty. Youth and their families often see farming as a default occupation with little future. In many countries, 4-H is one of the few opportunities children have to discover their skills and their assets.

Mary Crave
Mary Crave

“Through 4-H, they can look at agriculture as a business and much more scientific and worthwhile, rather than I can’t do anything else,” Crave says. “The 4-H program can help parents see agriculture as a good option. …4-H can show girls they can do science and have new opportunities. They can learn to say no to unwelcome advances, learn general self esteem and feel confident.”

The project, “Enhancing Agricultural Knowledge and Human Thriving in Africa: An Integrated One Health and Gender Empowerment Approach,” received funding for two years to develop the curricula, train 4-H advisors and mentors, and develop assessment tools. It is a collaboration between GHI, the 4W initiative (For Women and Well-being in Wisconsin and the World), UW-Extension and the Schools of Veterinary Medicine and Education.

This year, 83 proposals were submitted to the Baldwin endowment committee for consideration. Along with the 4-H Ghana project, 12 other grantees received up to $120,000 each. The endowment also awarded 18 mini –grants. This year’s grants included several projects that will immediately benefit global health including “Bringing Clean Water to Tabuga: Engineers Without Borders-UW, Ecuador Project;” “Building Food Justice Capacity in South Madison;” and “Microgrids Partnership for Sustainable Global Development.”

By combining One Health with empowering girls, the 4-H Ghana project recognizes that 43 percent of the world’s farmers are women. Given the same resources as men, they could increase yields by up to 30 percent, increasing food supplies and reducing malnutrition. One Health recognizes the interdependence of the health of humans, animals and ecosystems and looks to many disciplines to tackle complex public health problems.

Christopher Olsen

“Given the vitally important role women play around the world in agriculture, it’s important to understand how we can empower women to contribute as much as possible to livestock and plant agriculture,” Olsen says. “By doing so, they will ultimately enhance their own well-being, and the health and well-being of their families.”

4-H Ghana is four years old with 384 clubs. Almost half of its 9,440 members are girls. One of the values of 4-H is that it allows students to apply the science they’ve learned in the classroom to the garden, working with animals or helping at home, Crave says. At home, parents learn from children the same way American parents in the early part of the last century learned about hybrid crops and new fertilizers from their 4-H children.

Working with Ghana colleagues, the UW project leaders plan to develop 15 lessons each in One Health and gender empowerment. One Health will explore topics such as how infectious diseases are transmitted between animals and people; best practices to raise healthy livestock and crops while conserving air, water and soil; and local energy production. Gender equity will include financial skills and programs to promote self esteem and address and prevent gender-based violence.

“We’re really excited to bring a new educational model around empowering girls and women and the connection between human and animal health at the level of children’s education,” Olsen says. “The children can carry it forward into their adult lives.”

The 4-H Ghana project could also become a model for other African countries, Crave says. “Having curriculum with One Health and empowerment lessons will be huge for other 4-H leaders.”

The Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment was established by UW alumni Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin. Ira Baldwin was dean of the UW-Madison Graduate School and dean of the College of Agriculture before becoming vice president for academic affairs. Ineva Reilly was assistant dean of women and assistant associate dean of the College of Letters & Science. The Wisconsin Idea Endowment remains one of the largest gifts ever given to UW-Madison.

By Ann Grauvogl/ June 18, 2015

Devin Lowe, University Communications, contributed to this story.