By Yao A. Foli

The community’s point of view of understanding and defining noise pollution could be a pathway to a cultural and social noise pollution policy making. 

My name is Yao Foli, I am from Ghana. I am a community researcher and advisor with a national group of researchers representing underserved communities throughout the U.S.A and Mexico. We call ourselves the ICBOs (Independent Community-based Organizations) and we work in close partnership with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  We are trying to better understand why we have not made significant advances in fostering justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) research and  programming. Together we have been focused on understanding the role of partnerships in the implementation of equitable research. We, as community researchers, participate in all phases of the research and collectively have a community framework to help guide our work.

To learn more visit our NSF video: http://stemforall2018.videohall.com/presentations/1127

In the fall of 2018 the ICBOs (in collaboration with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology) received a 2.6 million dollar National Science Foundation award:  Developing the Processes and Potential to Engage Historically Underrepresented Communities in Public Participation in STEM Research Through Authentic and Impact (NSF DRL-1422022). Through this award, we are using our past research and community framework to co-create a global Community Science Project focused on Noise Pollution, a topic of concern to our communities. Our process includes a community review board of non-negotiables, working agreements, and methodologies that have helped us gain and maintain trust and transparency in our work.

I serve two communities in two continents namely Hohoe Ghana, and Ithaca NY, United States of America. As a community researcher, I function as a liaison between my community and the institutions for an effective and equitable collaboration research project. Connecting the thoughts and the thinking’s of the community to design a scientific solution with a scientific institution is my goal. You are welcome to Hohoe in the Volta region of Ghana. Hohoe is located on the eastern side of Ghana sharing a border with Togo. I am from Gbi Bla which is a sub area in Hohoe. 

There are two Teacher training colleges, many kindergarten, and elementary schools. Most of the lucrative are small scale business, roadside selling, farming, construction, carpentry, corn mill machine operators, chainsaw operators. Everyone learned a skill or a trade to provide bread for their families. Daily activities start after the rooster crows, hence the beginning of sound and noise. Mostly, all the occupations of my community members are loud or noise-based environments. “It is a challenge for some community members to understand noise pollution, due to a lack of awareness or education about the gradual and unseen effects of noise pollution.” Does this pose a question, does one’s occupation make it difficult to understand or define sound and noise? A good question for the community to answer. 

This has left me and the rest of Ndor Eco-Village members with the second question, how would the NOISE Project app help educate and create awareness at their various jobs and improve wellbeing?

Some people go beyond and work in hazardous environments which are detrimental to their health. What will you do when the wells run dry? Due to economic hardship, community members don’t have a choice. In certain situations, children assist their parents and are  exposed to loud noise working conditions. The parent is naive about the negative health impact on the child but, rather praises the child for being a helping and obedient child. How does a community member identify when he or she is having a hearing loss problem by giving a helping hand to parents in a noisy environment?  This is a tough question to ask. The answer might not be verbal but physical if this question is not asked appropriately. Many people speak loudly on cell phones and in-person conversations and I am one of them. Some say they are just a loud person. Who is born loud? There must be a cause of being born loud. This is where it could be difficult to define and understand noise by an individual who speaks loudly. 

For example, if we have three people from different job backgrounds (corn mill operator, office worker, and roadside food seller) to have a conversation. The voice recording of each of the three would read different decibels. What do the differences in decibels reading mean? What would the three friends do with their decibel reading? The decibel readings will vary due to their long-term working conditions at their various occupations. Office workers don’t shout, you must yell to communicate when the corn mill is in operation, it is loud on the street all the time by sound from cars, bikes, speakers. With the help of decibel reading, a person can tell how loud he or she is or his or her environment is. (That’s what I wanted the NOISE app to do in my community).

It was 9 am, December 24th, 2020. I received a phone call from an old school mate called David Dodoo. A little introduction to how I have known David. David and I attended the Kpando Technical Institute, in Kpando, Volta region of Ghana. David was learning to weld, and I was enrolled in an agricultural mechanic. After graduation, it was difficult to stay in contact since most of our friends are from Accra and I am from the country. I connected with David after many years in Manhattan NYC. It was a moment I will never forget. 

David called me on December 24th to wish me a happy holiday. During our conversation I told him about the NSF community science project, I am involved in with the ICBOs, Noise Pollution Project. David replied, tell me more about the noise pollution project. 

From a community researcher perspective, I told David we are working hand in hand with our communities to understand and define noise pollution. Our community definition and understanding of noise pollution will help the ICBOs create a noise pollution app to educate and create awareness of noise. David said, wow!What will the app do? Will it help people with hearing loss? I replied no, the app will not heal people from hearing loss but will prevent hearing loss by distinguishing between safe sound and noise. The app will measure how loud or how quiet the environment you are by the readings in decibels.

David then continued, Kwaku Amenume who is suffering from hearing loss is on hearing aid. Kwaku used to work at the Kotoka international airport for ten years. He is about 45 years old. What happened and what went wrong within these ten years listening to over 140 dB? 

One interesting moment during my conversation with David was, David realized the importance of the app and he said I wished they have an instrument (ICBOs noise app) like what you are talking about to help create awareness. He said there are a lot of people who aren’t aware of noise pollution and its gradual effects. How could we get our community aware of the effect and hazards of noise pollution? The short- and long-term effects of noise pollution is not a myth, it’s real. It is better we save our community from a lot of money curing or repairing hearing. What would other workers in the airport who cannot afford hearing aid do? to prevent is better than to cure. I hope to follow up with Kwaku when I go back to Ghana on February 20th, 2020.

Noise pollution inequalities in my community

In my community, certain status has privilege over noise pollution. Chiefs and queens, government workers, police officers, rich men, and women, for example, anyone that lives close to the Chief or the Queen must observe low sound at a certain time of the day and night. The same privilege is available for the bank manager and the account because they can call the police to intervene if the noise is not reduced. Once the police were present the first time, you don’t want the police the second time. On the other side of the coin, the old man living close to the drinking bar has no say about the loud noise from speakers and drunks. It is not fair. 

Therefore, community researchers must work with their elders and community members, help remind the missing part of the solution within the community with love and understanding. The safe sound level should be the birthright for every community member regardless of class, status, or occupation. Stories and histories from the community members about noise are important information. This information describes how people feel about noise levels without knowing the decibel of noise level, therefore we (my community) need the NOISE app to provide decibel reading to inform and create awareness. The individual perspective and definition of noise by community members would create a common ground discussion around implementing solutions and policy making to prevent noise pollution. 

Noise pollution policy making in my community

How could we get our community involved in noise pollution policy making? It is effective if the community discusses in detail the effects of noise pollution and opinions on people who are highly affected without any help. Knowing that there are older folks, newly born babies, and disabled, there is a need to have sympathy and empathy. Interjecting empathy and fellow feeling in policy making would be a great point to start brainstorming. These would help community members speak up and tell their encounter with noise pollution, making the community inclusive in decision creating. My purpose is to use the ICBO noise pollution app to enable my community to understand, define, and prevent hearing loss by implementing cultural centered rules and regulations. It’s time traditional chiefs and Queen stand tall for the right thing to be done and promote quality life within our communities by effective cultural centered policies. The policy made by the community and to be obeyed by the community. It is also time for community members to be awake and take heed for, enough is enough with anarchy being the culture of the community. The rules and regulations must be made by the community members, chiefs, queens and elders. Communities have refused to learn from epidemics and disasters from neglecting the reality of cause and effect.   The reason for this co-creation is to make implementation easy, “Created by the community for the community.” 

The scenario and the mindset of anarchy have become part and parcel of our norms making it difficult to see developments among our communities. Noise pollution, plastic pollution, air pollution, water pollution, and land pollution; what is the EPA doing? What is my community doing to help reduce the effects on our wellbeing and environment from the above-mentioned pollution? Some people tried and gave up, some keep their heads up high for the better tomorrow. There is a group of people that has little or nothing to do preventing noise pollution and all sorts of pollution. Newly born babies, elderly, and disabled people. Elders are highly respected in our communities; they are rated at high status due to their experience and advice and contributions when needed as an archive. 

It is a great idea to create an awareness about noise pollution and to see how my community would paddle the vessel forward. My focus is helping my community understand and define noise pollution with the aid of the ICBO noise pollution app to enhance safety and prolong efficiency at noise work environment and prevent hearing loss. I am thinking and worried about the cornmill operator, chainsaw operator, woodwork machine operator, welder, and all customers exposed to the noise generated during service. I hope our attention and awareness about noise pollution triggers a wake-up call to community members. A healthy mind in a healthy body. It takes a healthy individual to create a healthy community, lets act now for noise pollution and its effects are real and not a myth.

Cornmill operators in Ghana. Photo by Yao A. Foli.

To be continued…