2013 - 2014 DAMONGO PROJECT OVERVIEW
November 15, 2013
Marilyn and I have been home from Ghana for two weeks and a lot has happened in that time. But first, I'll update you on our last few days in Ghana.
We drove north and bought a wonderful selection of bolga baskets to sell at future fundraisers, then flew to Accra to spend our last three days back in the bustling capital. We visited with Francisca and it was lovely to see her smiling face again and catch up on her journey after she left Red Deer. We also donated a box of our books to the Kathy Knowles Library (Kathy is a fellow Canadian who writes childrens' books and builds libraries in Ghana) and we provided books to Wild Gecko Handicrafts for them to sell on our behalf. While there, we also purchased a selection of African handicrafts and jewellery for fundraising.
As I reflect on the trip to Ghana I can honestly say it was life-changing. The Ghanaian people work so hard to feed their families, they are warm and generous of themselves and their spartan belongings, and they have so much strength and hope for the future. It was so gratifying to meet the girls we sponsor and to know how much they, and their families, sincerely appreciate the educational opportunity we are giving them. The whole experience reinforced how glad I am to be involved in such a hands-on, accountable organization that makes such a difference in the world.
And now it is back to Canadian reality ... The day after we got home we had our AGM. With regret we accepted the resignation of our treasurer, Marsha Smalley, a partner at Collins Barrow. We thank Marsha for her dedicated and thorough commitment. Existing board member, Gary Pottage, will take over as Treasurer and will continue to keep our books in excellent condition. Another board member, Michael Keyes, resigned from the board in order to act at arms length as our legal counsel. We look forward to continuing to receive his thoughtful and insightful advice. To fill the vacancies, we are pleased and excited to welcome to the board Susan Knopp, Architectural Designer at Bowood Homes and Sue Carmichael, Principal of G.H. Dawe Community School. We have worked with both ladies in the past and know that they will be a valuable addition. I am also happy and honored to say that I was elected as the new chair of Tools for Schools Africa Foundation. Marilyn Pottage will now become past-chair and will, of course, continue to be a big part of the organization. It goes without saying that we thank Marilyn for her passion and energy for the past 10 years.
We also had a follow-up meeting about Shine! where we discussed your feedback and our own observations and recommendations. We are certainly aware of the congestion at this year's event and are working toward a better shopping experience for next year. We are also in the process of sending out thank you cards which has been delayed because of our trip to Ghana. We would like to thank our volunteers for their hard work and donors for their support. We know that we couldn't achieve such success without your generosity and support.
We thank you for your continued support and look forward to seeing you at our upcoming events. Wishing you a festive holiday season with family and friends and happiness and good health in 2014.
October 24, 2013
Our time here at Damongo has nearly come to an end and we have accomplished a lot!
1) We have achieved our goal of delivering the remainder of our ABC books to the west quarter. Although we didn't make it to schools (a flat tire revised our schedule!) we left them with Father David at Bole who helps oversee education in the area and he will distribute them equitably to the schools.
The library with students
2) We were thrilled when the bookshelves arrived at the new library at Presby Primary and Junior High School. When we walked in Friday morning the students were continuing to put plastic covers on the new books and were excitedly placing them on the bookshelves. Soon the books from the old library will be cleaned and transferred over as well.The headmistress, Madame Vero, is keen on idea of keeping the library open after school has finished each day (1:30 pm) until 6:00 pm and two of our graduated secondary school girls will be librarians. On the right is Augustina who will be one of the librarians.
3) re: desk top computers. The tables and benches are in the new computer room at Presby. We have donated desk top computers to a government vocational high school and to the girls' senior high school. Computers will be delivered to Presby this week so it can be up and running.
4) one of the reasons we came was to attend the 10th anniversary celebrations at St. Anne's Girls Senior Secondary School. We have told you about that in a previous blog but it was certainly a highlight of our time here.
Girls wrapping books
5) The new building that U of Manitoba students helped us build in the spring looks great. We have met with our contractor Isaac. There were a few things that needed to be attended to so this week he has upgraded the wiring to include grounding. Unfortunately we won't see it entirely finished because we are still waiting for security doors to be put on the computer lab.
6) We have delivered 6 out of the 10 laptops to the post-secondary girls. Yesterday we were pleased to hear that another of our girls has been accepted into post secondary making a total of 11. On Monday we will deliver three laptops to girls in the Tamale area and on Tuesday Charity is riding the bus three hours one way in order to meet us in Bolgatanga to receive her laptop.
Mentors at supper
7) Last night we had the pleasure of inviting our mentors for supper. We were most pleased to meet Samuel Chelikye, a long time teacher at Damongo Senior Secondary, as a replacement for Jonas who was transferred. All of our mentors are so passionate about educating girls and the comraderie of the evening was further confirmation that they are as committed as we are. The mentors very generously presented us with a North African-styled tunic top and trousers so we will look very dashing at our next event!
8) While we were visiting the Saturday Market, a theme for the counting book we have long considered became evident ... We began thinking about a focus of "One Day at the Market" after photographing and then counting 13 beautiful hand brooms in a headpan. We grabbed our cameras, pen and paper and spent the next six hours sweating and shooting photos (it was 40 degrees in the shade!!). Perhaps the counting book will finish the trilogy and, if not, we got some great market photos.
9) One of the highlights has always been to visit the Mole National Park. Although we were unsuccessful in seeing elephants during our first visit earlier this week, we hope that Osman can perform his magic for us in the early morning before we head for Tamale.
What's next for our final week? On Tuesday we are visiting Bolgatanga to bring home some of the coveted Bolga baskets and on Wednesday we are flying to Accra to meet with Francisca. We will try to blog one more time before we fly out on Friday evening. Hope this finds you all well and happy.
Lyn and Marilyn
October 15, 2013
We have arrived in the north at Damongo after travelling 1200 km through the hustle and bustle of Accra and Kumasi. Internet and phone service has been very unpredictable since our arrival - you can have two bars of service and then within a second, there is no service so it not only makes communication with the outside world difficult, but it also makes it difficult to telephone our friends here in Damongo.
There has been so much to see and it is really wonderful! I could write page after page about our adventures but will, instead, focus on some of the highlights:
1) traffic in the big cities of Accra and Kumasi is chaotic. In addition to cars and motor cycles jostling for position - any position - on the road, you also have to contend with headpan sellers, roadside stalls and the ensuing people who cross the road whenever they want. Small children are even forced to cross over the busy roads to get to school.
2) walking with the people at the fishing village of Cape Coast was a real highlight. The men had just returned from their morning fish and the market was full of the sights, smells and sounds of people as they bartered for fish. Women were carrying 40lbs of freshly caught fish in their headpans and vehicles were loaded down with purchases and people heading home to sell their wares. We found a headpan seller who broke through the crowd and followed in her wake or else we would have been swallowed by the masses. At Cape Coast we also went to the Elmina Slave Fort and toured the dungeons where the slaves were kept. It was extremely powerful, especially in the dark, confined womens' dungeon as we learned about the cruel ways in which they were housed.
3) we stopped at a Brass Market in Krofrom, just outside Kumasi, and Marilyn purchased two gold dust spoons and an, as yet, unidentified brass cylinder. She researched the spoons and found out they were highly valued in museums around the world so she is very happy with her purchases! (Okay, so that was Marilyn's highlight, not mine!)
4) religion is an important part of peoples' lives and it is reflected in the names of their businesses. Here are a few: Super Natural Glory Prep School, God is One Food Joint, Jesus is Alive Beauty Salon, Jesus is the Answer Food Store, Psalm 91 Meat Shop.
5) as much as we are used to the conveniences of home, the people of Ghana are used to the inconveniences. We have spent nights without electricity and water, have gone to use a bank only to find out there was no money, and tonight we went for supper at the guesthouse to find out there was no supper.
Now onto our work here with TFS-A:
1) Yesterday we attended the day-long celebration (in 38 degree heat) of the St. Anne's Girls Senior High School where we sponsor a number of girls. The yard was filled with blue 10th anniversary fabric made into as many styles as there were people there. Men in vests, chiefs in traditional robes and hats, a cowboy style shirt with bright yellow accents, many tight kwaba and slits with as many necklines, sleeve designs, skirt styles and fashion accents as the eye could take in. There were hundreds.Sitting under a shade tree we took part in a three-hour mass and listened to speeches. It was a very happy occasion with lots of singing and dancing, including the traditional Gonja style.
We also met one of our post-secondary girls, Alfreda, who is in her fourth year of electrical engineering and she did a final inspection of our new building. We also met with the carpenter and saw our, almost completed, wooden bookshelves for the new library. He has promised they will be ready in a few days so we will hopefully be able to have the library fully stocked before we leave.
2) We have met four scholarship girls to date and presented them with a lap-top, including my girl Aloysita.
When the girls hear we are coming they make huge efforts to come and see us - Aloysita travelled 120 km one way by bus for the day. She also asked that we meet her family so this morning we met her brother who had travelled 80 km, her sister who had walked over an hour from her school residence, and her father who had delayed going to work in the fields in order that they could all greet and thank us.
It was a moving experience and a real reinforcement that we are making a difference and that the people here are really appreciative of all that we do for them. Below is Aloysita, Lyn and her family.
3) tomorrow we are heading to Presby Primary and Junior High School to meet the contractor about further upgrades still needed to the wiring of our building and we will take along the books we purchased in Accra to begin our library project. Below is a picture of our new building, and of kids covering books.
Later this week we will meet with a number of the mentors regarding more scholarship girls and we are headed to the West Corridor to deliver more books and laptops.
Students covering books
I could go on and on but won't!! Hope this finds everyone well and happy.
We are having a great time in Damongo and are certainly not having to worry about keeping warm.
Veronica, Gabriella and Marilyn
It has been in the high 30's since we came north. The tenth anniversary celebrations at the local girls high school on Saturday were great fun. Everyone was dressed in the cloth that was designed for the occasion, and it was fun to see it made into hats, vests, smocks, skirts, blouses and dresses of every imaginable design. I estimate there were perhaps 700 people there, including a fair number of our scholarship girls. Students from other schools were bussed in, the chief's entourage arrived and all the fathers marched in in a double row of white cassocks. Gabriella, headmistress, had a beautifully designed dress with the skirt fitted to the knee and then a full circle to the ground. She looked far too young to be retiring!
So far we have been able to meet with five of our ten girls in post secondary education and to give them a laptop. We stopped on the way north to visit with Janet in Kumasi and Sophia in Sunyani. Alfreda came to check the wiring on the new build so she got hers here in Damongo. Aloysita left her medical studies in Tamale to invite Lyn to join her family on Sunday morning. We had a wonderful time on the porch in the shade with the extended family. The beverage was really appreciated.There is no road to her house so it was a ten minute walk from where we parked the car. The sun was so intense I burned my arms and face in that period of time. Today we met with Anita who is studying landscape design, and she tells us she is really loving working with bees in the apiary at the Agricultural institute. She was so happy with her laptop she threw her arms around us and told us she was 'jubilating'!
We spent a good part of the morning at the new library, putting plastic covers on the new books to give them a longer life. Vero brought in four tables and chairs, and soon we had an assembly line of students wrapping books with poly, taping the cover on and re-stapling near the spine. The bookshelves should be arriving tomorrow so perhaps we can start cleaning books in the old library, sorting into subject areas, moving them to the new library and shelving. We also stopped by the Boarding House we built in 2010 to visit with the scholarships girls there. They are cheerful, warm girls but there are several health issues among them, including typhoid fever, ear aches, and ulcers.
It might be a school holiday tomorrow but it has not been announced yet so no one is sure. If it is a holiday we might see if the elephants are around. Osman phoned this morning to say they were back. They had been gone for five days because the rains have been so heavy there is standing water everywhere, so they don't need to come to the water hole. Every day is an adventure with many unexpecteds, so we will see what tomorrow brings.
October 9, 2013
Marilyn Pottage has returned to Ghana, this time with Lyn Goertzen, the sponsor of Aloysita, a medical student. One of the highlights of the trip was for Lyn to meet Aloysita and her family who graciously invoted us to their home and treated us to a cold beverage.
Just to let you know that all is well in Ghana. We arrived Sunday night to a balmy 27 degrees and the usual warm welcome from Sule, who met us at the airport.
The main focus on Monday was a book buying trip to the university bookstore at Legon, so Lyn got introduced to traffic chaos and headpan vendors selling toilets paper, mirrors, calculators, fresh fruit (including whole pineapples) and even coffee tables and guitars. We had never been to the university book store before and were really impressed with the variety and quality of children's literature and school textbooks available. We did a deal with a store employee who traded us cedis for US dollars, so there we were in the back room counting out stacks of bills. It worked well for both of us. The university students in the lineup at the cashier were not too impressed though as we proceeded to purchase 245 books, all of which had to be entered into the computer. The afternoon was an interesting 34 degrees. Monday evening we took inventory of our book purchases and discovered a lack of junior high math and primary social studies books, so back we went this morning. We also bought some primary books from Joanna at the Kathy Knowles library in Osu, so tomorrow we are heading north with our trove of book treasures for the new Presby school library. In total we purchased 440 books, all African content, so we were very pleased.
No introduction to Accra is complete without a trip to the Wild Gecko, an upscale gift shop. We took the opportunity to speak with management about handling our two books, and it looks like we might have a deal. We will speak with them further and likely leave books on our way home.
Lyn being an organization queen, we have now re packed our black tubs for the trip north. The morning (we leave at 6 a.m.) will take us to the slave fort at Elmina and by late afternoon we should be in Kumasi, staying at Noble's house. Thursday we will meet with some of the scholarship girls to share some of our new 'educational resources', as we told the nice gentleman at customs. That is a euphemism for the laptops delivered to each of the post secondary girls. This is Sahada on the left and Janet on the right, both of whom are in nursing.
The celebrations for the ten year anniversary of St Anne's High School are on Saturday in Damongo. No doubt we will have some descriptions to share with you then.
Hope everyone is well and happy,
Lyn and Marilyn
September 26, 2013
We are all tired but thrilled with the success of the second annual Shine!. This year the jewellery, purse and scarf sale was held at Red Deer’s Festival Hall. The event was once again sold out and for the first time we had a guest speaker directly from our project in Ghana. Francisca’s way was paid to attend the event by two accounting firms, Collins Barrow Red Deer and the Ellis Group, Edmonton. It was wonderful to have Francisca with us, and we very much enjoyed showing her the Rocky Mountains, and at the top of Sulphur Mountain, real Canadian snow!
It looks as if we have cleared in the range of $35,000. My goodness, that will send a lot of girls to school! It’s too good a thing to let go, so please continue to save your no-longer-needed jewellery, purses and scarves for us for next year’s Shine! evening. We are also thinking about belts and gloves for next year. How else can you clean a drawer, get rid of something you no longer really need and at the same time offer a girl hope, and education? It is a win-win all around.
Thank you so much to the committee heads and the many volunteers who worked Shine!. Over forty people were there that night, including nine kids from the Lindsay Thurber IB program, and many hours were spent cleaning items and preparing for the event. Special thanks to Phil Neufeld for the wine (second year in a row!) and to Cindy Jefferies for the wonderful desserts, the highlight of which was mango gelato! See you next year......