Thank you for this opportunity to share the experience of our recent visit to Ghana with the small charity Action Through Enterprise based in Ramsbury and run by Sarah Albeboure (née Gardner) and her husband Habib. Thank you to everyone who supported our fundraising for the trip and donated items for us to take over.
In light of recent Oxfam headlines, I’m happy to report that we were very impressed by the small hardworking team at ATE who are 100% accountable and transparent and who help to make such a big difference to the people in their community.
West Berkshire to Upper West Ghana
This was our first visit to Africa. We didn’t know what to expect. All we knew was that many of the people there live in poverty and need things that we can spare. Some specific items to do with health, sport and education were particularly requested. Thanks to the many generous donations made by local people and companies these were assembled, organised and packed into five large boxes which (thanks to an equally generous luggage allowance) we were able to take on the plane at no extra cost.
Our family has strong Hungerford connections. Until last year Adam was at John O’Gaunt and Toby is now in his final year there. He had helped raise funds and awareness at the school before and after the trip. He also played for several years for Hungerford Town FC Juniors, which kindly donated two football strips.
It took two and a half days to make the journey – Heathrow to Accra via Lisbon; then to Lawra, the north-westernmost province of Ghana. The last part of the journey was by bus, over 700 kilometres through a country where the people and their homes looked very different to what were used to here.
Here is a short video about our trip:
The work of ATE
While meals are provided by the government for primary-school children, for those at secondary school they are not. The schools are also very short of basic educational equipment. Neither of these encourages regular attendance. ATE’s programmes now provide regular meals for nearly 1,000 pupils in the area and we were lucky enough to visit some of these and talk to the pupils and teachers about the benefits this has produced. We were also able to deliver many of the items of clothing and equipment kindly donated to us from people in West Berkshire. Perhaps the most immediately popular were some footballs and a complete football kit provided by Hungerford Town FC. This was used within hours for a match against local rivals Gombele JHS (which Lawra won).
We met many bright and diligent students who study, in English, a curriculum similar to ours. Other circumstances are very different. Many walk two hours each way to school and survive on three meals a week at home. The parents never went to school – there simply weren’t any near enough their homes until recently.
So this new generation are real teenage pioneers into education, desperate to get qualifications so they can increase their employment prospects rather than remain as subsistence farmers like their parents. Hunger is a serious obstacle to any ambition – with ATE’s help, this is now being addressed.
Life in Lawra
Lawra is a market town on the edge of Upper West Ghana, almost at the border with Burkina Faso.The population of the town is (according the 2010 UN estimate) 5,763 – only four fewer than was Hungerford’s in the 2011 census. Like Hungerford it is surrounded by villages and open countryside.
The people we met were intelligent, caring and motivated. They are just very poor simply because they happen to live in sub-Saharan Africa. Work is scarce and are hard to get, and it is increasingly hard to live off the land due to longer dry seasons cause by climate change and soil depletion. There are some government benefits (but these are very difficult to access due to widespread corruption) and very little charity support. Many people in Lawra travel south to find work in larger towns and mines. Families send girls as young as eight years old down to the capital Accra to work as porters to help pay for their brothers to go to school.
Without learning English people can’t get decent work and, without going to school, children can’t learn English. Without adequate food, however, children can’t or don’t wish to go to school. This leads to a cycle of poverty and missed opportunity and is one of the main things that ATE has set out to address.
Lawra District (which has a population of about 54,000) has 10 schools (five primary, four junior high schools and one secondary). Their education system was founded by British colonials and their curriculum is similar to our schools here. Faith is very important in Ghana and Lawra town alone has six churches and two mosques. There is also have a large hospital and three smaller clinics.
There are 10 bars, four restaurants and several takeaways and a big weekly market every six days where outlying farmers sell their produce. Many people in the town have bicycles and motorbikes, although many travel long distances on foot under the hot sun. Only very senior government officials and big business owners can afford cars – there are only about 20 in the whole town.
There are local government offices in Lawra, but there are still strong ties to the traditional life of the Dagaarti Tribe. The Paramount Chief is the most influential man by traditional law and his large extended family live at the Chief’s Palace.
We went to Ghana to help people needier than ourselves but actually by stepping into their lives we gained a new perspective on our own. I feel wealthier now than before I went to Ghana because I have seen what they can survive on.
I feel that I’m capable of more because if the teenagers we met can survive on three meals a week, walking two hours each way to school then I can cope with being hungry now and again, tired now and again, stressed now and again.
ATE is looking for people to make £5 per month standing order as £5 pays for enough food to feed one student every school day for a month. ATE also wants to provide meals in more schools.
Given what £5 is worth over here, this seems like a good use of our money. What this experience has given me is definitely worth £5 a month. I hope that we are able to share some of experience with you.
We are creating a Fabulous Fifty Club with the aim of signing up 50 kind local people to each set up £5/month standing orders.