Finding “Unconditional Acceptance” Under the Mango Tree

Before the age of ten, David Abdulai knew the true meaning of three things: hunger, poverty, and suffering.

At a young age, he had lost both of his parents and all ten of his siblings to poverty-related illnesses, and he struggled to survive on the streets of Tamale, Ghana. Under the hot, African sun, he scrounged for food in trash bins, slept on dirt, and knew the effects of mind-numbing starvation.

Shaped by this experience and his own determination, Abdulai put himself through school and received a medical degree. Eventually, he quit his job in public health and returned to his hometown to found the Shekhinah Clinic in 1991 with his then-wife Doris. This clinic was opened on principle of serving Tamale’s poor and destitute. One part of this clinic that has received attention of the international community is the food program for Tamale’s mentally ill citizens. This food program is also the subject of a forthcoming documentary,

Under the Mango Tree is a film directed and produced by Katrina Moore, a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and researcher of global food systems. As a then-graduate student of New York University’s Food Systems program, Moore found herself inspired by Dr. Abdulai’s unusual approach to health carein not only providing medical care but in also treating “his patients with unconditional acceptance.”

“I found that the mentally ill people,” says Dr. Abdulai, “roaming the streets of our town, were the most ostracized in our society. They are usually considered by the society as cursed people. And so a number of them will go hungry.”

Today, over fifteen thousand people living in Ghana’s northern region suffer from mental illness. On a whole, according to the United Nations, it’s a region that still struggles economically and leaves much to be desired for medical care. In fact, the Human Rights Watch has stated that there’s one psychiatrist for every two million people in Ghana. Psychiatric hospitals are few and far between and often lack the resources to provide adequate food, care, and medicine to their patients.

According to Moore, “The food program began [over] 20 years ago in response to complaints from market stall owners that the mentally ill homeless were stealing food, harassing the women, and causing public disturbances. After growing up on the street, Dr. Abdulai understood that these behaviors were caused by hunger.”

As a result, Dr. Abdulai and his then-wife Doris began delivering meals directly to the mentally ill, destitute citizens living on the streets and have found that these meals have reduced the amount of disturbances. Today, the clinic’s staff continues to deliver one nutritious hot meal, seven days a week, to 150 people. While Dr. Abdulai runs the clinic, his spouse, Mariam Alhassan Dokurugu, oversees much of the food program, including donation acceptance, food production, and meal preparation.

Despite Dr. Abdulai’s best efforts and intentions, the food program has started to suffer with rising food prices, a bleak economic outlook, and a lessened amount of donations. In the past, these “spontaneous donations from inspired visitors” have essentially given life to the food program and the clinic’s other initiatives, such as a microlending program for local women and small businesses.

Today, Katrina Moore hopes to bring attention to the Shekhinah Clinic’s food program through Under the Mango Tree. It is her hope to “create a lasting piece of media that can be used by multiple partiesthe clinic, nonprofits, student activists, etc.to tell the story of the clinic and inspire viewers to donate.”

Inspired? For this edition of Bucket List, we encourage you to donate to Moore’s Indiegogo campaign to finish and promote this film, as it is currently in post-production. The campaign runs through August 4, so donate today!

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“Bucket List” is a weekly series curated by Everyday Ambassador brand strategist Audrey del Rosario. Every Saturday, we will feature events, conferences, and happenings that spark conversation and ignite your inner activist. To stay current with our latest posts, follow #bucketlist or #EAinspired on our other platforms, and check back regularly for updates.

Image Credit: Marshall Langohr, Director of Photography for “Under the Mango Tree”



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