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Akramaman Reading Camp

IMG_2345By Mr. Seth Agyakwa

In Ghana, one problem we normally encounter in the public school is lateness to school. During reading camp, the same pupils and teachers, who normally report to school late, are always very punctual. Even though lessons start at 9:00 am, by 8:00 am all are present. This is not because of the “whites,” but because the organizers and sponsors of the programme have put in all their best.

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Pupils and teachers do not waste time at home for food because food is served during the reading camp. The food given is not like Ghanaian school feeding programme that pupils refuse to eat even though it is prepared by Ghanaians. With this programme, pupils can even go for more if they are not full.

IMG_6379Again, there are sufficient teaching and learning materials which facilitate teaching and learning. Supervision is very strong. Due to this, pupils who refuse to read in our normal schools are eager to read during camp because of the good atmosphere and materials used. Pupils are also encouraged and motivated to read. I can see it is a factor in pupils showing interest in reading.

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IMG_2336IMG_2332God bless you all for your support towards the reading camp. We pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul. Amen

Seth is a teacher at St. Paul’s Junior Secondary School. He has been volunteering at our summer reading camp since 2011. He is married with three children. Last weekend the team attending his newborn’s “Outdooring”, the baby naming ceremony. It was fun to welcome baby Perez into the family. Seth’s hospitality to the team was heartfelt.

Thank you notes are on the way.

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Putting together two Reading Camps simultaneously is exhausting, but so rewarding. I have to admit last night I was wondering just what have I done. Our camp at Akramaman is going great. We have a wonderful facility. We know the area, the cooks, the children and what to expect. Akramaman will have a Reading Camp but my team will not be there. The Ghanaian team will staff that camp.

I have asked my seven American team members to step out of their comfort zone, really way beyond the norm. The team is headed to Trewebo, a village in the bush. The school is crumbling apart. The adult bathroom was never finished so we have to use the children’s facility–think of an outhouse with only a hole in the floor. I have never met the cook and if it rained the drive would be very difficult.

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This morning by 6 am I was packing the tro-tro with all that we would need: school supplies, 150 pounds of books, corn dough, mackerel, sardines, cookies, tomatoes and the list goes on and on. By the time I got all the supplies in the tro-tro there was hardly enough room to fit the team.

Mercia, my Ghanaian hostess and Executive Director, got up at 2 am to cook for the team. Thanks to her, we had a great breakfast of torpedo bread, Laughing Cow cheese, and hardboiled eggs. She also cooked our lunch: jollof rice, vegetables and chicken. Then she drove to Akramaman to get that camp started.

Meanwhile, back at Trewebo we hung up the Reading Camp Banner,

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created a library,

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hand washing stations,

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and then we gathered the children for prayer.

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Before long the children were enjoying songs, and stories

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Art class and lunch.

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There was just a little monkeying around.

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At the end of the day there were 40 smiling children and 15 exhausted, but smiling, American and Ghanaian team members. I can’t wait for tomorrow, outhouse and all.

 

Are We There Yet?

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Helen and Kim at Monkey Forest

By Helen Lang and Kim Tompkins

Remember that question? Today there were times where it felt like that. Our adventure-filled day began at 6am when we were whisked away in a tro-tro (local transportation like a van with hard seats and no shock absorbers). During our three and a half hour drive, we saw many small towns teeming with people selling everything you can imagine. There were wide open spaces with beautiful vistas of tropical vegetation including lots of pineapple plants. 

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Left to right, Becki, Zach, Deborah, Helen, Bruce, Kim, Debi, Malcolm

After traveling down a long and bumpy dirt road we arrived in the misty rain forest at Kakum National Park, for a fantastic, fun time crossing seven suspended rope bridges, 1100 feet high up in the tree canopy. Imagine stepping out in faith onto a single plank suspended by ropes. There were lots of ohs & ahs and more than a little trepidation.

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Kim

Next we visited The Monkey Forest. Dennis, a Dutch National who has devoted the last 10 years to rescuing animals that have been found wounded or stranded shortly after birth, is such a good caretaker. It was a great opportunity to see native wild life. The monkeys were adorable (and mischievous!). Malcolm, a teen on our trip, became fast friends with a 2 week old Genet cat as it snuggled in his arms.

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We ended the afternoon on a more solemn note. St. George’s Castle, Elmina, is a former slave trading site. In the dungeons where male and female slaves were held you could feel the heartaches and atrocities soaked into the five hundred year old stones. We were so disheartened to learn that the Dutch had built their chapel right above one of the dungeons where unimaginable suffering was taking place. Our guide said “I don’t tell you all that happened here to open old wounds but to encourage you to treat one another with respect and human dignity.”

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Fort St. George, Elmina

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The Door of No Return

The castle is built on the edge of the ocean. As we were leaving we saw all of the colorful fishing boats leaving the seaport to head out to sea for the night!

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Today was an exciting and informative introduction to Ghana.  We just arrived back at the hotel, 9:30 pm, and now for a few hours sleep because tomorrow we’re off to the market!

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Helen at Elmina

I thought deeply about this question as I packed three suitcases with school supplies, water filters, children’s blankets and pillowcase dresses getting ready to leave the US. Then I packed three more suitcases for the team that is arriving next week and pondered some more. Why do I leave my family and all the comforts I take for granted every day, to travel 9,000 miles, at least 17 hours on a plane each way, to sit in the dark at night with no fan, then to be tossed about like a rag doll in a car or bus each day as we travel the torn up dirt roads of Ghana?

This is why.

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I have always wanted to help children and when I felt that tug on my heart in 2004, I knew that God was calling me to help these children. When I first came to Akramaman in 2005, it was truly a village. Many children wandered around aimlessly. Only a handful of children went to school, mostly boys. There was no electricity, no clinic, and for many no Hope.

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Akramaman 2006

Now it almost a city. Electricity flows through many homes. The clinic serves 15,000 plus people in surrounding villages. The school system has over 500 children enrolled, a new computer lab and they are building a high school.

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Just a few of the classes at the primary school

Today at St. Paul’s Preschool graduation, I listened to the Assemblyman, the Pastor of a local church, the head of public education for the region and the representative for the Anglican education system implore parents to take raising their children seriously and to support education whether it is St. Paul’s Nursery, Preschool, Primary or Junior High. They talked about holding teachers accountable and encouraging students. There is much more than a glimmer of Hope for these children.

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I watched 37 excited six year olds put on their cap and gown and march through the crowd of parents to receive their Kindergarten diploma. Most of the children I have known since they were born. God willing, one day I will watch them put on another cap and gown and receive their high school diploma.

Smile after smile warmed my heart and told me the answer to my why. It’s the same answer I give my grandchildren each year when they ask “Grandma, why are you leaving.” “Because someone has to go and Jesus asked me to help him take care of the children. If I don’t go, who will help them?” Some of us are called to go, others are called to stay at home and mind the home fires and others are called to support those of us who do go. Thank you to my family, friends and many, many donors who have made all of this possible through the years. I may be the one here in Ghana, but YOU ARE THE ONES WHO HAVE SUPPLIED THE HOPE

DSC_0385By Deborah Albert

So far, so good! The experience so far has been way beyond my expectations. I came as a newcomer to West Africa, and what better country to first visit. As expected, I was a bit nervous when I first arrived in Accra, and my biggest hope was that I didn’t get sick from any of the food or water. My focus, however, quickly shifted to the work I’d be doing as part of the GMHope Team.

After the initial team briefing at Aunty Mercia’s house, I felt very at ease and excited for what and who I’d meet at each village.

DSC_0066One highlight of the journey to the first village has to be the lovely and relaxing boat journey. Well, I was a bit reluctant to get in the boat as I have a fear of deep water and countless past experiences that testify to that! More the less, the calm and stillness of the nature around me filled me with peace and serenity.

DSC_0245After meeting, interacting with and teaching the mothers, I knew that all the planning, preparation, saving-up, fundraising and excitement of the trip was well worth it.

The mothers were very delighted that we came, as were the chiefs and assembly men. The sing-a-longs that broke out during the program were heart warming and allowed me to witness the sense of unity which glues many of these villages together.

DSC_0418DSC_0437Overall, I am having the time of my life but if there is something that I must say I’m not pleased about, it is the long bus journeys. None the less, these journeys are not a problem when I see the smile I bring to the mothers’ and babies’ faces

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Ellen Baffour-Arhin is center and Deborah to her right.

Deborah Albert is  a 19 year-old British -Nigerian Medical Physiology student at the University of Leicester. Her understanding of the socio-economic determinants of good health has made her very passionate about providing high-quality care where possible.

DSC_0275Deborah is the first team member that we have accepted from outside of the United States. Working with small children poses problems is we cannot get a solid background check on each team member. Most team members have been referred by previous members and clergy. Deborah’s youth pastor and college professors convinced me that Deborah would be a good fit for our Water Mamas program. They were right. Deborah is a strong, confident young woman and excellent trainer.

Many thanks to Water With Blessings for their program.

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There is so much that goes on behind the scenes here in Ghana thanks to Mercia Laryea, our Ghana Director. Each year after our camp we have extra supplies and books that are given to Mercia to disperse. Through Mercia we have had an impact on schools throughout the coastal cities of Ghana.

Mercia met Mrs. Blankson through Samaritan’s Purse-Operation Christmas Child-when they were both on distribution committee. Mrs. Blankson was opening a Kindergarten in her home village, Beyin, a small village in the Western Region of Ghana about forty-five minutes from the border of Ivory Coast. Mercia gave her some books and other materials we left behind. The school was so grateful and Mrs. Blankson insisted that we should come and visit.

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Sophia, Mercia, The Chief and Debi

On Sunday, Mercia, Sophia, another Ghana board member, and I journeyed to Beyim. Before leaving in the early afternoon we made sure we had a fire extinguisher in the car. It’s the law. There were five police check points along our route. Since the trip was so far, we hired a driver.

It was a beautiful driving along the coast until 6:30 pm when the sun set. Then it was just—DARK. I am thankful we had a driver because neither Mercia nor I could have maneuvered the pot-holed roads. By 8:00 we thought we were close and called the hotel for directions. Over the next two hours, every time we called they said “you are close.”  When we finally arrived at the Tenack Beach Resort it was 10 pm and the kitchen was closed so no dinner for these hungry travelers. I forgot to pack a snack.

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The Chief,  of the village wanted to thank us for helping their school so he arranged for a visit to Nzulezu, the village on stilts built on the Amanzule river. Mercia thanked him kindly and told him that I was the only one brave enough to travel on the water. Early Monday morning, after a walk on the beach, I set off to find a ride to Nzulezu.

The hotel directed me to Nathaniel, a tour guide. After paying my boat fee, $10, Nathaniel showed me the life jackets available. I decided that I was better off swimming without a life jacket, after all the bright orange jacket just might slow me down and make me crocodile  bait. Later I found out that the Chief had arranged for me to travel by speed boat but the message did not get to me in time and I’m happy I “missed the boat.”

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My ride was a roughly made canoe with very hard and low benches. The trip would take an hour each way. Nathaniel and his crew, Daniel, each had one rough oar/pole. Some places in the channel to the river were very shallow. Often Nathaniel stuck the pointed oar into the mud to push the boat. During the dry season, November through May, the channel dries up making passage longer from another outlet down river. The crocodiles are more dangerous in the dry season.

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Malachite Kingfisher

This day was delightful. The sun was hot but a pleasant breeze was blowing. Birds singing and the rippling of the water from the oars broke the incredibly peaceful silence. Kingfishers glided through the air as we entered a lush, green mangrove canopy while water lilies bedazzled me with their beauty.

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When we entered the Amanzule river, I could see the stilted village in the distance. Villagers are fishermen and farmers. They farm land across the river and set up traps for fish along the river. The homes are simple bamboo structures with one or two rooms. The village backs up to marshland and they have electricity. Each building sits on wooden piling which has to be replaced every 4-5 years. The walkways are made of bamboo. There are stores, a church, restaurants, bars, and a primary school.  Children in grades 7-12 paddle up river an hour and walk 20 minutes to attend school on the mainland.

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I visited the primary school. Grades 3-4 were in one classroom with a teacher and grades 5-6 in another classroom with a teacher. There were no teachers for  Kindergarten through second grade. Keeping teachers or getting them to show up is a problem. It just might be the commute that is keeping them away. The school is not supported by the government. The community pays the teachers and all repairs by asking tourists for donations to support the school.

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Twenty or more children without teachers were all in one classroom playing. I couldn’t resist teaching them a few songs. I could have easily spent several hours working with the children but knew Nathaniel and Daniel needed to paddle me back down river. I was a good tourist purchasing 3 hand carved toy boats and some fabric.

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Back in our canoe my heartbeat matched the rhythm of the oars, slow and steady. A pair facinating ducks fluttered in front of us. I slowly stood up-brave woman that I am-to snap a photo, the clicking sound of the shutter breaking the silence. I did not want this trip to end. Like standing in the middle of the single plank canopy walk thirteen stories above the forest floor at Kakum park when no one else is around, I could feel the palpable presence of God. With all that is happening back home and elsewhere in the world, I could feel God holding me in His hand at that moment and whispering “You will pass through deep waters. But I will be with you. You will pass through the rivers. But their waters will not sweep over you.” I can see why the Nzulezu people continue to live their quiet life on the water.

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By Debi Frock, Founder/Executive Director

My good friends in Ghana

My good friends in Ghana

I just landed in Ghana yesterday. The sights, sounds and smells brought back a flood of beautiful memories as soon as I stepped off the plane into the sunlit sky. Each year when I return it feels like I never left.

The flight was longer than usual; going from Washington, DC, to Dubai, laying over in Dubai for 23 hours than an 8 hour flight to Ghana. I think I am caught up on all of the latest movies and the trip in Dubai was very interesting. Have you ever seen a 7 star hotel?Dubai 3

I arrived around noon and I was tired but I needed to stay awake to acclimate my body to the time change (four hours later than on the east coast of the U.S.) On top of that was the 86 degree temperature with no air conditioning. It was a long day but I made it to midnight when the electricity died, no lights, no fan. But I knew that my next day, Friday, July 8th would be a day to celebrate.children

In 2010 the United Thank Offering of the Episcopal Church, U.S.A., gave Ghanaian Mothers’ Hope $40,000 to build a primary school. Notice the small building with the taxi in front of it. That was serving as their primary and junior secondary school at the time. About 100 children attended school. After opening the preschool/kindergarten more children wanted schooling. Now with the new primary school the old building became the secondary school and over 400 children attend the two schools.

Unfortunately, the government does not provide funding for materials, like text books or science materials or computers. After finishing Junior Secondary School (junior high school), you must pass the government exam to enter high school. The exam is exactly the same for village school as it is for private or more prosperous city schools. No one from Akramaman has been able to pass the exam and the teachers are so frustrated.

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Mable’s parents encouraged her to attend school in Accra

Several years ago I met Seth Owusu. He is a Ghanaian living in Maryland working for Best Buy and a computer geek. Seth began restoring old computers to take to Ghana and build computer labs in villages though his nonprofit, evcoafrica.org. Seth and I have been planning to add a computer lab to Akramaman for about 5 years. As with most small nonprofits, funding is the major issue. In April Seth made me a deal I couldn’t refuse but I still needed funding.

Seth had his team in Ghana go to St. Paul’s, Akramaman, to check out the proposed lab site. It was perfect. The PTA rounded up funding to help get tables and chairs. Unfortunately, we still did not have funding and Seth was leaving for Ghana. I had applied for a grant but it was too soon for an answer. I told our Ghana directors that it would probably by October, Seth’s next visit, before we could have a computer lab.

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Then a miracle happened! Church of the Redeemer in Sarasota, Florida, approved our grant funding the day before I was leaving for Ghana. I contacted Seth on Facebook to say that we had the funding and on his next trip he could include our 15 computers. To my delight and surprise, Seth informed me that he had already shipped the computers and was ready to install them. I was arriving on the 7th and he was leaving on the 9th. July 8th would be our magic day! At 10 am the fun began!

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The children bring in the equipment

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Sabina learns her letters by finding the letter on the keyboard so the lizard can eat his leaves.

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Seth and his team helping the children

THANK YOU SETH OWUSU, EVCO STAFF, CHURCH OF THE REDEEMER, SARASOTA, AND THE PTA OF ST. PAUL’S ,AKRAMAMAN.  WHO WILL BE THE FIRST STUDENT TO QUALIFY FOR HIGH SCHOOL IN 2017?

 

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