Mission Statement:  Tools for Schools Africa Foundation works to improve the quality of life in the
Northern Region of Ghana by enhancing educational opportunity and access to post primary education.

2012 - 2013 DAMONGO PROJECT OVERVIEW

The year began with the creation of a second book, Nine Degrees North: Full of Promise, a book written by our scholarship girls. You can find out more about it, in fact leaf through the book, in the Books link.

From February to April we created wonder ........

Building the Damongo Primary & JH library, computer room and office block

In April, a motion was made to release up to $50,000 for the construction and furnishing of the new classroom block at Presby. Kelley Beaverford and her students from the University of Manitoba drew up blueprints and in May oversaw the beginning of the construction. Marilyn P., Lyn Goertzen and Sara Coumantarakis inspected the building in progress.

To this date, 74,131.75 cedis (US $33,9887.90) has been released to the contractor. The building is solid and structurally sound. It is painted inside and out and has roof, doors and shutters installed. An additional 5650 cedis (US$ 2,590.41) was released to the headmistress for additional items including a water tank to capture rainwater from the roof, 8 large wooden bookshelves for the library and 15 double sized computer tables with benches for the computer lab. All are in place on site.

There are some items still unfinished. The contractor left unexpectedly because of an accident to his son, so we have asked for the remaining funds to be withheld until the final items are completed. He did upgrade wiring at our request to include grounding. Yet to be completed are the five metal security doors. There are other items for which we were charged that were not delivered, so we have asked for them to be removed from the original quote. Father William and Veronica Mbena Nornia are following through with the completion of the build.

To help stock the library, we purchased 2615 cedis (US$ 1,198.93) of books, mostly from University of Legon Bookstore and Kathy Knowles Osu Library. In return we donated Osu Library a box of our first book.

Oriole Park Elementary is undertaking a book drive in November on our behalf. Noble Donkor is shipping a container in December, and we can have space in it to ship the books.

Scholarship Girls

The major focus of our fundraising is scholarships for girls. We have once again expanded that program as some girls have graduated and others are being offered funding. At present we have eleven girls in post secondary. Those accepted this year include Rashida AlHassan (from SAGISS, in accounting), Sahada Mahama (from SAGISS, in nursing), Aliyatu Abudu (from DASS, In KNUST Science program heading for pharmacy), Anita Kotochi (from DASS, in landscape design) and Charity Larr, (from DASS in general studies). They join Alfreda Ajono (electrical engineering), Lydia AlHassan (teaching), Janet Antobam (nursing), Shafawu Baba (nursing) Sophia Daudu (business management) and Aloysita Gbanso (medicine).

All the girls are doing well and were very appreciative of the laptop computers purchased for them, $2,000 of which was funded by Joan and Tom Chapman. The cost was $499 per computer. We also gave them each two pen drives and a bag to carry it.

We are excited to have Gabriella Wumnaya accept a position as coordinator for our project for an honorarium of US $500 a year. I would also like to suggest that a laptop be given to her so she can keep records on girls as she travels from school to school.

We have two new mentors this year as two former mentors have been posted to different jobs. Evelyn will be taking over the mentorship at NDESCO, working with Sayid Seidu as he administers Camfed scholarships for the school. At DASS we now have Samuel Chelikye, a veteran economics teacher who will work with Jonas and Richard.

Second Book: Nine Degrees North: Full of Promise

In April we took delivery of our second book from Friesen’s Printing, Altona, Manitoba. The cost was $8,568.00 which came out to $5.71 per copy. The main purpose of the book is not as a fundraiser, but rather a method of spreading awareness for the purpose of our project and the culture/lives of the girls we support. We have considered digital publishing but to date the cost appears to be prohibitive.

We have an idea for a third book that will be presented to the Board from their consideration at the next meeting.

Gift Boxes for Admin Assistant Week and Mother’s Day

We had decided to focus on two fundraisers a year, one in the spring and Shne! in the fall. For a spring fundraiser, we undertook the production of 200 gift baskets. The baskets exceeded our wildest expectations in quality and appearance, and sold out. Special thanks to Melo Manning and Shirley Gaetz for the donation of working space, and to the hours and hours of work put in by our volunteers. We all agreed when it was over that it had been more labour intensive than we had expected, and that if we undertake such a project in the future, we should find ways to lessen the labour involved in production. The boxes sold for $50 of which half was profit, so approximately $5,000. was realized from this venture.

Shine! October 26, 2013 at Festival Hall

The second annual Shine! event was well attended and was pretty well sold out with almost 330 of the 335 tickets sold. Wine was again donated by Phil Neufeld and desserts by the Cindy Jefferies re-election committee. We were most pleased to have Francisca Akoako join us, thanks to the sponsorship of Marsha Smalley of Collins Barrow and Wayne Ellis of the Ellis Group, Edmonton. The decorations were outstanding and the venue served our purposes well although there were a number of issues with heating and access within the site. It appears that our final profits are likely near $34,000. We have remaining an inventory of jewellery, purses and scarves for next year. A final meeting and debriefing of the Shine Committee will be held on the evening of November 7th. A huge thank you is extended to all the women serving as heads of committees, and to the volunteers who helped both prepare and work the event. It was encouraging to see a lot of newer volunteers taking part in this event and offering their time in the future.

Committee Heads:
Advertising, Colleen Stuart
Printing, Signage, Entertainment and Ticket sales, Marilyn Pottage
Silent Auction and Raffle Baskets, Cathy Sather and Marilyn Ganger
Decoration, Melo Manning and Shirley Gaetz
Food and Beverage, Wendy Cawson
TFS Table and Coffee/Tea, Jean Mudd
Gift Bags, Marlene Bennett
Logisitics and Volunteers, Lyn Goertzen
Liability Insurance was purchased through Ing and McKee Insurance. Reports from each committee head will be tabled at the November 7 meeting.

Website

Although it is not yet live, a new website will be up within the next month. It will be a wonderful addition to spread our message. Thanks to Dennis Moore for hundreds of volunteer hours on this project, as well as upgrading laptop computers.

CONTRIBUTORS

Many thanks to the various Red Deer and area businesses and individuals who purchased our beautiful gift boxes. Our thanks once again go to Kelley Beaverford and her architectural students at the University of Manitoba for their design work and sweat equity on the new build at Presby. Thank you to Phil Neufeld of TrueLine Homes, the Cindy Jefferies re-election committee, the Bowers Ladies group, Collins Barrow Chartered Accountants and the Ellis Group of Edmonton for their financial support with Shine. Thanks to the generous Red Deer community that continues to donate items for the Shine event. To Joan and Tom Chapman, we extend our thanks for their help in supplying laptops to our post secondary students and all sponsors of the post secondary girls. We thank Sandy Stepien for her years of web work in the past. As well our gratitude goes to the Emmanuel Foundation, Blaine and Noble Donkor, who continue to help us ship books to Damongo. Finally, thanks to the Canadian Teachers Federation, service groups including Rotary, businesses and individuals who continue to support our projects.


Sara Coumantarakis and Marilyn Pottage blog from Damongo, NR. Ghana.

June 9, 2013

Sara and Marilyn

Sara and Marilyn

We are back at the coast having left the relative quiet of Damongo behind us. The car horns are honking, the evangelicals are singing to drumming and organ accompaniment, taped music is blaring - all in competition with the local rooster who is not to be outdone. We each decided to tell you the top three things we have learned on this trip.

Sara:

1. I learned that driving (and sometimes riding) is not for the faint of heart. Each morning, it seems that all of Accra's two million inhabitants head for the George Walker Bush Freeway. Unfortunately, there are very few traffic lights to get you onto it. It's do or die as cars, people, trucks, bikes, motos and the odd animal jockey for position.

sara carries a baby

Sara carries a baby

2. Babies are "backed" here and their mothers carry on with chores while baby naps. When I tried to "back" Elsie (the cutest baby in Damongo), she turned me into a human jolly jumper. I learned that it's harder than it looks.

3. I learned that it's fun to travel with Marilyn. She knows everyone. When we arrived in Damongo, Marilyn received a phone call from a taxi driver in Accra, a few hundred miles away. "I heard you were in the country," he said, offering to drive us. Marilyn's people network made the trip possible and fun.

Marilyn:

1. I learned all over again how valuable friends are. Jimah met us at the airport, Francisca bought us tickets north and had them ready, Sule met us at the Tamale airport and William had our money all looked after. Gabriella, Veronica and many other made us feel so welcome. Thank you to Canadian High Commissioner Trudy Kernighan who graciously received us Friday, made us coffee and offered sage advice. And of course it was fun to travel with Sara, a friend of a few decades. It's the people that count.

2. I learned how fast things have changed in Ghana in one year. Buildings are going up everywhere, there are massive infrastructure improvements, and new businesses are taking off. One is a line of haute couture women's fashion made from bright African fabric. That is just one of the many companies creating excitement and opportunity. The country is moving forward.

Sule

Sule - our excellent hard working helper

3. I learned how to get out of a traffic ticket (taught by the master, Sule). First you decline a ride to the police station and say you would like to speak privately. Then you start talking what it would take to drive away. When told GHS 160, you say you will have to phone a brother to get that kind of money. Police officers don't want more people involved while taking bribes, so it is likely he will drop the figure to, say, 100 cedis. You then drop the name of your uncle the police commissioner and tell the officer that it was his fault because he should have helped someone (you) unsure of the way. (Personally I thought this was brilliant!). Offer 10 cedis. When the policeman says that does not even cover his gas, offer twenty, ($US10) and drive away. Lots of lessons there, but no pictures allowed. The policeman seem to be rather sensitive to this for some reason!

new school under construction

New school under construction

I am pleased with our accomplishments this trip. The U of M students all left healthy, the roof is on the classroom block and Issac and crew are continuing the build. And as for the girls, I am still thrilled when I think back to that hall full of fine young ladies who have received the gift of education, thanks to your generosity. Sara so enjoyed meeting Sophia who she has sponsored for three years of university.

We are home to our families very soon, with stories that range from laughable to inspirational.

Hugs to all,

Marilyn

June 2, 2013

From Marilyn:

Students

Students

Yesterday was the most amazing day as all our scholarship girls gathered together in Damongo. Our post secondary scholarship girls travelled from far and wide to join the school girls here. I was truly humbled as more and more smiling, confident girls came through the door. To see the hope in that room, and know the stories of pain many of them have gone through was rewarding in itself. They are totally committed to their education. Sara has written a blog about interviewing girls and yesterday's event.

From Sara:

"Room for improvement!" That was a regular comment on my report card in school. It's the same here. Both Marilyn and the head mistresses of the schools, the TFSA girls attend, have said we all have "room for improvement!". We have now met with girl after girl and we are seeing it. Yes, in marks (which they call scores) but also in more confident voices, direct looks, firm handshakes and examples of leadership. "I'm the health prefect," says one girl and another adds, "I'm in charge of the locks and keys at my school."

As Madame Gabriella said today at the Shine Event, "this is not a once upon a time story, this is now", as the Northern Region is poised on the brink of change. TFSA girls are determined to be a part of this.

The obstacles are immense. As the girls share their stories, I'm struck by how many young lives have been devastated by early death of parents, sickness and disability, or unemployment which, in a country with no social safety net, leaves them at the mercy of relatives that are already stretched to the limit with their own large families. One girl started the new school year in November, after helping her senior brother, now her caregiver, harvest the crop so he could pay her school fee. Another girl sat out a year while she worked to raise the money for a uniform and books. It is not unusual to find girls three or four years older than others in the class because of obstacles like fees, uniforms and books.

students

Students

They persevere, finding a neighbour with electricity so they can complete homework, stitching up a hand-me-down uniform they have outgrown, borrowing books after a fellow student is finished studying.

Imagine my pride when I met Sophia, the girl I sponsor, the girl on the Dean's List at Sunyani Catholic University, where she has completed third year Business Management. She and her cousin Lydia, another TFSA girl, are the first in their family to go to university. For some families, finishing junior high is a victory; for others it's getting kids into primary school. We see kids everywhere and know the answer to, "why aren't they in school?" Not enough support for education, either financially or psychologically, with families struggling to survive. Is it grim here? Not on your life! Mahama always has a joke. Sule always has a smile. People on the street laugh and smile and talk. Ghanaians love to talk. And dance! At the farewell party for the U of Manitoba students, the Boarding School students drummed and danced like I have never seen, under the watchful eye of the Sister in Charge, who never put down the switch she carries in her hand. I didn't blame her. It seemed to me that we were on the brink of mayhem. Maybe dancing is part of Shining. "Shine in Society" Madame Gabriella admonished, "after you have changed your own life". TFSA shone today with its gathering of 70 plus girls and mentors. It will shine again in Red Deer on September 26. How thankful I am that I have all that I need and some extra to help someone else Shine.

Sara

May 28, 2013

The day will be dawning soon, and we anticipate another warmish day in the 34-35 C range. So far it is only the imam calling the Muslims to prayers, the odd rooster and me that are up. Early morning are the coolest and quietest part of the day, so I enjoy them.

Saturday's highlight was visiting the market, but it was so hot we were dripping with sweat. I had sweat running into my eyes and dripping off my chin. So we did not stay long, only long enough to choose a bit of fabric. It was also an evening of dancing and celebration as the U of Manitoba students left on Sunday. Their build of a classroom block is coming along well. The students were most amazed to see just about everything made on site: the cement blocks for walls, the roof trusses, etc. The trusses are now up and sheet roofing is here. Next the walls will be plastered inside and out.

elephant

Elephant

We had a wonderful Sunday as Mahama and I took Sara to see the elephants. Vero, one of our very fine mentors, a headmistress from the school where we are doing the build, went with us. She was raised in Damongo and had never seen an elephant, so it was extra fun seeing the experience through her eyes. It was also the best elephant experience I have ever had. Rather than just seeing them at the water hole, we found three different groups and tracked parallel to one group, watching them as they stopped to feed. Later we watched a group of four elephants drink and bath at very close range. Of course there were lots, and I mean lots of DLT's (our abbreviation for the various forms of Deer Like Things, most of whose names we confuse.). We saw red flanked duiker, and that is rare.

As I type, the sky is lightening. The first groups of local women are heading our with head pans to pick Shea nuts, visiting as they walk past our window. And a very enthusiastic group of weaver birds is now awake and letting us know the wonder of a new day.

The rainy season should be starting but since we arrived there have only been two rains in the night, so the farmers are anxious, not knowing whether to plant yet or not. The soil is so sandy the moisture is not held in the soil, so timing is everything.

Today we are meeting with the girls from one of the junior high schools. The girls meet with Sara first to update information in our records, and then they will discuss their academics with me. Most of the girls at this school is leaving (our equivalent of grade nine) but they will still have to pass entrance exams for high school, and are posted to any school in the North by the government. They have no say in their placement so the majority will be leaving home and living in dorms to do that.

Health wise we are both well, though several mosquitoes have enjoyed the vanilla flavour rather than the usual chocolate. We are diligently taking our Malarone so hope to avoid malaria.

The reason Sara traveled to Damongo this year was to meet her African daughter Sophia, the girl she has sponsored for three years at the Catholic University of Sunyani. They have corresponded often, so to meet the girl she has gotten to know through email was special indeed. We went to Sophia's home so were able to greet her family. Last semester Sophia had a 3.71 grade point average and is on the Deans list. She was proud to show Sara her marks and to let us know she will likely have a work experience placement at Ghana Commercial Bank this summer before she heads into her final year. Here is Sara learning how to back a baby. It was much more difficult than she thought!

The washing ladies are beginning to knock around their washing pans, the trees outside the window have turned from black silhouettes into green leaves so it is time to begin the real day.

Marilyn

April 23, 2013

Our first book, 9 Degrees North: The ABCs of North Ghana, has been reviewed by The Deakin Review of Children’s Literature at the University of Alberta, and awarded 4 out of 4 stars! It is highly recommended, and we are thrilled. Please read the review.

9 degrees north full of promise

9 Degrees North: Full of Promise

Our SECOND book, 9 Degrees North: Full of Promise, has arrived from the publisher and is available for purchase. It is written mostly by the scholarship girls we support, telling about their families and what we would need to know to live in North Ghana. It gives real insight into the girl's daily life. Topicssuch as how to build a mud hut, how to make charcoal, the prices you would pay in the market, how to count to ten in Gonja, how to weave smocks, how to organize a funeral and how to host a baby naming ceremony are covered.

Both books are also available on this site under the BOOKS link as well as at Artistry in Gold, Red Deer, Tuesday to Saturday during business hours (corner of Little Gaetz and Ross Street). Please note: if you order on the web, you must pay shipping and handling.

February 2013

In February we started work on the gift boxes which we produced for a spring fundraiser. Dave Manning supplied space, and many volunteers provided hours of work in hand producing the many items that went into the baskets. Melo and Shirley decorated each box beautifully, and our customers were so thrilled we are not able to meet the demand and ended up with a waiting list. It is a project we may undertake every two years as the commitment of time may be too much for each year. Special thanks for the large orders from Warren Sinclair LLP, the City of Red Deer and Collins Barrow Chartered Accountants LLP.

October 21, 2012

Firstly, thank you to all who attended Shine!. Our first try at an evening fundraiser was very successful. The funds will go a long way toward supporting our scholarship girls.

Great news from Damongo! Another of our high school graduates, Janet A, has begun classes in nursing and is very excited/appreciative to be there. As well two more of our high school graduates, Rashida A and Mahama S, have qualified for post secondary entry. Rashida is Muslim and since the death of her liberal-thinking father, the uncles are deciding whether Rashida will be allowed to continue her education. We can only hope that they agree to let this very bright young lady develop her potential.

The next build with Kelley and the students at the University of Manitoba will proceed in May 2013. Land titles have been checked, permissions to build received and a contractor is in place. Kelley's students are beginning to draft plans this week for the library/computer lab/administration block to be built at Presby Primary/Junior High School.

We have sold enough copies of our children's book 9 Degrees North: The ABCs of North Ghana in North America to fund the entire run, including free distribution to local schools in Ghana. We still have some copies available on the website. As well, we are beginning work on a book written in large part by the scholarship girls. We ask each of them to give us a little family history, and something that a Canadian would need to know to live in their culture. The result is interesting assortment of information about building a mud hut, preparing many local dishes, tribal facial markings, language, etc. Let us know if you might be interested in a copy - it will not be a large run.

Finally, a request. Because of the success of Shine!, we will run another Shine! event next year. We ask you and your friends to continue donating jewellery that you seldom wear any longer, fashion jewellery to the real stuff. Donations can be left at Artistry in Gold, corner of Little Gaetz and Ross Street in Red Deer, during business hours. As well, we will be expanding Shine! next year to include gently used purses and silk scarves, so if you can hang on to those things until the spring, we will let you know where and when we will start collecting. The philosophy behind Shine! is sound: items no longer being used are converted into educational opportunity for talented girls. It is a win-win for everyone!

Tools for Schools Africa Fdn. will have a table at Mosaic Market on Nov 3 at the HUB, Ross Street, in Red Deer. As well we will have a table at the Red Deer Christian School book fair and at Just Christmas in Edmonton on November 23/24. We have a good inventory of reasonably priced and unique African-sourced gifts: coffee, tea, chocolate, jewellery travel pouches, books, paintings, scarves, journals, etc. Please come by.

Let me introduce you to some of our scholarship girls who have completed high school, and are now in, or are seeking admission to, a post secondary placement. They thank you, and so do we, for your support of their education through high school and beyond.

Warmly,

Marilyn

September 1, 2012

This year’s trip was a remarkable experience because we accomplished so much in five short weeks. One of the most rewarding parts was the distribution of our book to the local schools. Another highlight was the day when the scholarship girls met together and were able to share their successes with each other.

To support the girls, we have a fundraising event on Sept 27th at the Westerner Chalet, 7 pm. Don't miss out on a free glass of wine, organic chocolate, desserts and live African music! Besides that there will be some really unique jewellery for sale. Tickets ($35 each or five for $150) are available on this website or at Artistry in Gold in Red Deer. We sure hope you will joins us. We are confident we will sell this event out, so get a ticket soon!