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BY Mildred Europa Taylor, 9:45am May 19, 2023,

Woman makes history swimming Ghana’s longest river – all 450km of it – to highlight pollution

Yvette Tetteh swims in the Volta River. Credit: BBC/Ofoe Amegavie Courtesy of The Or Foundation

Ghana imports about 15 million pieces of second-hand clothing every week, shipped from the U.S., Europe and Australia, but the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change says about 40 percent of it ends up in landfills and then in water. 

In light of this, Ghanaian-British activist and entrepreneur Yvette Tetteh has swum the length of Ghana’s Volta River (450 kilometers) from the town of Buipe to Ada to bring to light the issue of textile waste or water pollution. Tetteh was accompanied by researchers from The Or Foundation, an organization that tackles waste colonialism through education, research and action. Together with the foundation, they collected water and air samples along the way to test for pollution.

Tetteh started the journey along Ghana’s longest river in March as part of the Agbetsi Living Water research and environmental expedition. “The Agbetsi expedition sets out to build on existing research about the ecotoxicological impacts of secondhand clothing waste on the environment,” she wrote. “This research, which is carried out by The Or Foundation, an organization that works at the intersection of environmental justice, education, and fashion development to identify and manifest responsible alternatives to dominant business models, includes how pollution from clothing consumption is felt in communities and ecosystems throughout Ghana—especially in Accra where tons of textile waste inundate communities,” she further explained.

Making the longest recorded swim in Ghanaian history did not come easy for Tetteh, though. The young activist said when the expedition started in Buipe on March 7, the first challenge was how to put their made-in-Ghana aluminum research vessel into the water. Gradually, she and her expedition crew ventured down the Black Volta onto the Volta Lake, and made stops in towns and villages along the way, largely to top up on supplies or have boat repairs. Tetteh was accompanied by a kayaker as she swam to ensure her safety in the water.

Having completed the tough journey, the 30-year-old activist was surrounded by community leaders, young people and drummers as she emerged from the water. 

“We are acting to stop waste colonialism and its disastrous impact on our environment and people. Our team begins with research, working in and with the affected communities, and I begin with the absurd idea that I can swim the length of the Volta River,” Tetteh wrote ahead of the expedition. She also told the BBC that swimming creates awareness about water bodies and water quality and gets people thinking about nature. 

Tetteh prepared for the historic journey by swimming for 30 minutes in the pool at her mom’s house. “Swimming 450km of river in the name of research and environmental action is a wildly ambitious undertaking, but to feel yourself alive, whether in my mom’s pool or in the emerald waters of the Volta River, is a wondrous experience,” said Tetteh.

Last Edited by:Editor Updated: June 11, 2023


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