Sweep, sweep, sweep, goes the broom as the cocks break the dawn with their loud cock-a-doodle-dos in many Ghanaian homes every day. Sweeping [with a broom] is an important household chore in almost every home in Ghana.
It is also now assuming commercial importance as cleaning services are gradually becoming part of the services economy. Sweeping is done first thing in the morning and repeated a few times throughout the day as and when it becomes necessary to do so.
Sweeping is steeped in our culture and its performance has a certain ritual around it. The traditional broom made from oil palm or coconut tree fronds is typically used for sweeping and its movements are taught to children in the traditional home to be able to sweep rubbish effectively, as part of daily chores.
In some cultures, however, the broom is considered as a feminine tool and it is considered taboo for men to handle it, let alone sweep with it. It is also mythically believed that a male adult may become impotent if he is struck with a broom by a woman.
Because of traditional upbringing, many Ghanaians, prior to adulthood, irrespective of gender, know how to use the broom in sweeping, even though, sweeping is more of a domestic activity carried out by females than males. In schools, however, pupils and students of both genders use the broom to sweep as part of keeping the school environment clean.
The Purpose of Sweeping
The purpose of sweeping, I believe, is to clean a place of rubbish. What could be described as rubbish comes in various forms: plastic material, paper material, organic matter, i.e. fallen leaves, animal droppings, or anything that appears to mar the physical appearance of a place. When sweeping is done on a concreted (hard) surface, not much erosive damage is done to the surface being swept, but on earthen surfaces, the erosive damage of sweeping becomes evident after a short while.
Considering that many places within buildings(apart from rooms), and around homes, markets, schools and other public buildings might not have such concreted surfaces, constant daily sweeping to keep them clean has rendered the surfaces rather eroded, rugged and unaesthetic. The effect of rain, wind and other human activities also exacerbate the negative effects on such degraded surfaces. The harmful effects of sweeping [with brooms] on the fragile environment, therefore, cannot be underestimated and needs to be established.
Harm to the Environment
Continuous sweeping of earthen surfaces results in constant removal of topsoil which is dumped together with debris. Even soil is dumped with debris in dustbins. The result of such activities are seen at the local dumpsites near homes which stand as mounds and which over time grow to become bigger hillocks.
Whilst the mounds are growing, the surfaces from which the soils are being taken constantly diminishes in elevation until they become sunken, leaving structures such as buildings and large trees hanging in space.
Ironically, though, while such loss of important topsoil is taking place, some attempt is made by the occupants of the structures to put in place stop-gap measures by laying or placing concrete blocks or stones, whereas the sweeping activities continues. It then becomes a “cat and mouse” scenario until the structure eventually collapses because its base would have over-weakened with time. Many houses, public edifices and even whole communities are in such dilapidated state but the sweeping continues unabated.
As indicated earlier, such degraded soils become easily vulnerable to the erosive forces of wind and rain which over time leave the place more rugged, structures weakened and dilapidated, and the general environment, unaesthetic and unsafe. It therefore makes you wonder what the objective of sweeping is. It is commonplace to observe people sweeping places which only have some few scattered debris which could easily be picked.
This also leads one to think that the purpose of sweeping could also be to remove vegetative cover entirely, as greenery appears not be easily appreciated generally, and its management and importance not well understood. Although there has been some national programmes geared at afforestation in the past few decades, most of the trees planted, especially, along streets have been felled indiscriminately to make way for kiosks and other temporary structures. The wanton manner in which our natural forest cover is being depleted also defies understanding. It is as if we can survive without trees and green vegetation.
Green(ery) is natural and cool, that is why this colour is used in places of rest and rehabilitation such as hospitals and care homes. The hospitality industry also takes advantage of greenery (trees and lawns) to attract premium clientele. Even deserts have oasis for balance. Ghana’s seat of Government, The Jubilee House has a typically green and cool environment, and ground staff are always on call, ensuring that the greenery is maintained and even enhanced.
So the point is that if such places where we spend shorter periods at relatively high costs tend to be so attractive because of greenery, then the same value must be placed on homes, offices, churches, mosques, markets, where we tend to spend longer periods of time, to make them also attractive and pleasant to inhabit. It means therefore that in the same way sweeping has been taught as part of traditional upbringing, maintaining greenery within and around human habitats must also be inculcated by society.
Clearly, the common means of maintaining greenery in Ghana up to date, have depended on the use of rather obsolete and back-breaking tools as cutlasses and machetes, which tend also to be male-dominant activities. This therefore, comparatively, makes sweeping more preferred in keeping the environment tidy of weeds and debris. Hence its persistent application by females who, culturally, undertake domestic activities like cooking, cleaning, and home care.
Costly but Ineffective Repairs
Considering the negative costs to environments and buildings as a result of sweeping, in terms of degradation and dilapidation, and also in terms of maintaining same after the degradation and dilapidation have occurred, it makes sense therefore to relinquish sweeping and adopt maintenance of greenery.
It even appears that we spend more time sweeping daily than we would to maintain the greenery of the environment. This cost in terms of time spent sweeping in addition to the costs of degradation caused by sweeping makes sweeping cost-inefficient.
I have already indicated that when the environment gets degraded, attempts at repairing with the use of cement for concreting is commonly adopted. But cement is already a costly material because of the high demand for it in construction works. Moreover, such repair work is done without regard to engineering due to inadequate expertise, and costs of materials and labour involved, and for that matter such repair works only last temporarily and also facilitate further damage from human activities and the weather.
It is high time strategies for cleaning of the environment and buildings is incorporated in the design and function of spaces so that future methods of cleaning do not become the cause of destruction to the facilities. It is also high time that sweeping with the broom to keep environments tidy is relegated to the background.
This therefore calls for attention to be paid to the sustainable use of the environment through enhanced public education and sensitisation programmes intended to make the citizenry understand, appreciate and adopt greenery.
Beyond public education and sensitisation, there should be in place legislation to ensure that maintenance of greenery around private and public buildings and facilities is enforceable. In addition, there must be enhanced investment in programmes geared at enhancing the environment such as afforestation, park development and maintenance of waterways.
It is hoped that in the near future, the same activities women have traditionally been engaged in to keep our environments clean will be conducted in a more environmentally-friendly manner with modern tools and equipment such as vacuum cleaners, blowers, trimmers and mowers. This will improve the aesthesis of our communities to attract visitors as part of our developmental efforts.
By: Godfrey Baidoo-Tsibu
The writer is Coordinator, Fisheries Committee for the West Central Gulf of Guinea Regional Monitoring, Control and Surveillance