Big Dreams

What is reflected in the journeys undertaken for and presented in ‘Big Dreams’ is the relationship between gold miners in Ghana, who seem to be so detached from the center of the world, and the rest of humanity, and in a broader sense, the relationship between them and the world economy that has gold as one of its main forces. It is a search to tell a story about how human beings relate to each other across faraway societies.

In 2012, gold took up 26 percent of all exports and 8 percent of GDP in Ghana. It was the gold trade, rather than the trans-Atlantic slave trade, that provided the drive to build the imposing forts and castles along the shores of Ghana in the 1500s and 1600s.

I started working on this project in the immediate aftermath of the crackdown on illegal gold miners in Ghana in June 2013. It has been a collaboration with Chinese journalist Yiting Sun ever since, who has been doing writing on the story.

Gold is almost never what Ghana’s gold miners want. Gold is a conduit for achieving their big dreams, whatever they are: a big house, school fees for their children, artistic endeavors, a new life abroad, or a stable income.

“I felt I was going to find something,” said Nana Serebour, about the first time he went down a mining shaft. “Now I still haven’t found it.”

The 47-year-old father came to Gbane in northern Ghana in 1995 to mine for gold, two years after he was deported from Italy. In the years since, the texture of the soil and the dampness of the underground have become as familiar as the elusiveness of his dream.

The portrayal of gold miners has been largely focused on the suffering, the inferiority, and the disconnectedness of the miners. Only rarely have we tried to document their lives as they are, lives that are driven by desires universal to everyone.

Nana also teaches at the only private school in the Gbane village. Teachers at this school always come to class on time. It was founded by Joe Danka, who came to Gbane in May 2000 to check out the prospect of gold mining. “Children were roaming about,” said Joe. So in lieu of gold mining, he started a school in September that year. It was the only school in the village for nine years.

The only time Joe went underground like most people in this village was to crush some gold bearing ore as payment to teachers.

For some, the big dream feels like a mirage they can see but can never reach. For others, the big dream would morph into a new one as the previous dream has come true. This project is to document the individual journeys to their dreams