Patrick, who is travelling with the Step into the gap volunteers, brings us up to date with the latest from Ghana.
It’s two weeks since we landed in Ghana, but so much has happened in such a short space of time.
We’ve been welcomed with open arms by the Holy Child Jesus Sisters. Our nine days in Bolgatanga has been a great experience and one that we’ll never forget. And it’s absolutely true what people say; Ghanaians really do go out of their way to get to know you and make you feel at home.
What has come across to us this last week is that school children in Ghana really do value their education. Many of the children we have met at St Clement’s & St John’s Junior High Schools see their education as a way to ‘lift’ themselves out of the poverty.
They are also prepared to make great sacrifices to help towards the cost of their education. While Primary School education is free to all, there are certain costs associated with the next level – Junior High School. These are exam fees, extra lesson costs, Parent Teacher Association levies and a computer levy which can all add up to prove extremely difficult for students and in some case impossible.
Stella’s story is so humbling yet at the same time uplifting. She lives with her mum in a village 10 kilometres from Bolgatanga. Without the support she receives from the Holy Child Sisters she would have no schooling and her future would be bleak. All of Stella’s siblings died, as did her father, and her mother was close to giving up hope. But through the encouragement of the sisters, her mother learnt the art of basket weaving. This gave her a reason to carry on and a means to contribute to her daughter’s education.
Talking with Stella, she says, “I walk into school every day for 6.30am, have a full day of lessons, and then walk the 10 kilometre journey back home in the afternoon.” But it doesn’t end there. Her village has no clean water, so once she arrives home, she sets off with her water carrier and walks 3 kilometeres to the nearest borehole to collect clean water. Stella returns home, empties it in a container at home, and then sets off again to collect more water. The two journeys to the borehole provide a basic amount of water for one day for Stella and her mum. Wow, it really knocks you back and humbles you when you here and see this first hand. The Sisters have really encouraged Stella and her mum not to give up. They also contribute towards her education costs; without which Stella would have no education. This has lifted Stella and her mum, given them hope. When asked about her future, Stella says, “I would like one day to be a Nurse.” I will never forget Stella’s story!
I spoke with Moses, the Headteacher at St Clement’s. He says, “My main challenge is the state of the buildings, especially the classrooms, they are not conducive for learning. We need facilities for the children to have practical lessons, having no computer doesn’t help. ICT is a compulsory subject in all schools in Ghana, and it is really difficult to teach without the technology.”
The school gets only 200 Ghana Cedis (approx £90) for the whole year from the government, so they have to appeal to parents for money. Many parents either can’t afford this or don’t view education as a priority. Moses loves his job and says, “The staff and the children are great. Seeing children learning brings me joy.” Moses is also a catechist in his community, which means he has to sometime leave school to visit sick people in his community. The parish community life and school life all tends to merge into one – he’s a very busy man.
We also met Melanie who runs the Sirgu Organisation for Pottery and Art. Melanie is 76 years old and was educated by the SHCJs. She set up this project which involves teaching skills such as weaving, wall painting and pottery to local women.
Many of the women are illiterate, so the project gives them a steady income and security. The aim is to give the ladies skills with a view to gaining more community bargaining power, as together they are stronger. It’s also very important for these skills to be passed on to future generations and not die out. So children who are not academic at school are encouraged to take up these skills.
We have learnt so much in Bolgatanga and already feel so much part of the community. Thank you to all those at home in the UK for your well wishes and prayers. We look forward to sharing more with you on our return.
Patrick (and the gappers)
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