I have just returned from an extraordinary week in Ghana, in West Africa. I spent half term visiting getting more familiar with the work of a micro-charity I am involved with, Sabre Charitable Trust (www.sabretrust.org). Sabre specialises in supporting the improvement of schools and education, currently in one district of Ghana, which is particularly needy even in the context of that country. The charity places strong emphasis on working in partnership with local communities – nothing is done without full discussion and involvement of local people.
Last week was an especially exciting one for all those involved in Sabre, as a brand new kindergarten facility was inaugurated. The kindergarten is in the village of Dwabor, a tiny, dusty community largely of subsistence farmers where there had previously been only very poor provision for very young children. Unless ways can be found of having good early years learning, the chances of keeping children in school through to higher levels and improving their, their families’ and their communities’ life chances, are negligible.
The new kindergarten, or KG as they call it, is made entirely from locally sourced green materials. The design and construction process has brought new skills to the community which can be used again for other projects, so the community’s capacity has been developed through the whole process.
The inauguration was a remarkable, uplifting day. I had had the chance to see other primary and early years facilities in other similar villages earlier in the week, and the contrast was marked. The opening ceremony involved not only Sabre, but also the designers, workers, teachers, children, local education authorities, and the traditional tribal leaders and chiefs. Christian prayers were said, and traditional dances performed by children from the local primary and junior high school. Teachers and students have been given a real boost, and if that can be sustained it will really help to improve things for these children.
A key dimension of Sabre’s vision is the development of sustainable partnerships between Ghanaian schools and UK schools, with an emphasis not only on albeit badly needed material support, but also on learning about and from each other over a period of time. My involvement with the charity is mainly to do with getting these partnerships off the ground from the UK side.
Arriving in Ghana from an English February is quite a shock to the system in lots of ways. Accra, the capital, is teeming with people, sticky, hot and smelly. Many Ghanaians live in very humble shacks and huts, and survive by trading very small quantities of local produce. It is in the tropics, so has a lush appearance, even in the dry season. Local products are pineapples, yams, cassava, rice, beans, coconuts and so on. Temperatures were up to 38 degrees in the day, and never less than about 28 at night. Malaria is rife, and the biggest killer, especially of children. I was protected with mosquito nets, repellent, and malaria prevention medication. Most Ghanaians cannot afford any of these, and although malaria can usually be cured, only those who can pay for the drugs can get the treatment, even if they are children.
Elmina, the largest town in the area Sabre works, is a thriving fishing port – it can be smelt at several miles! There is a castle which was used by the Portuguese and Dutch for holding slaves prior to their deportation to the West Indies, before being passed to the British in the nineteenth century. Before independence from Britain in 1957 Ghana was known as the Gold Coast.
Despite all the problems and obvious physical poverty of the place, I was bowled over by the warmth and welcome from local people. I wandered around all parts of the towns and villages, and at no time met anything other than gentle curiosity. It was incredibly humbling to be so warmly received by people who have so little.
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