Last week, thanks to the help of all our sponsors, my sons and I travelled from West Berkshire to Upper West Ghana to deliver donations and support the work of Action Through Enterprise (ATE), the small charity based in Ramsbury. The journey took two and a half days but was totally worth it as we really felt we were making a difference to families living in very remote northern Ghana. Everyone was very grateful for all the clothes, school bags, glasses, mobile phones etc that our friends and community here in the UK kindly donated.
Here is a short vlog (edited on my phone while in Ghana) documenting our 5,000 mile journey:
Our experience volunteering with ATE in Lawra is probably the hardest but most rewarding thing we have ever done. From the moment we decided to go, we were full on fundraising for the trip for about 8 months. We are very grateful for everyone’s support (including Toby’s £500 grant from Berkshire Young Farmers) and the great news is that we were able to pass £1,000 directly to ATE to spend in Ghana on supplies needed by the schools.
We had never been to Africa before so the learning curve about travel preparation and what to expect was very steep. We were most impressed by the people we met – from the officials at the airport (who instructed my sons to look after me) to the helpful staff at the hostel in Accra and the friends we made on the bus journey. The small children were so well behaved – Ghanaian parents are very strict. Like the lady who runs the urinal at Wa bus station. Her young daughter was writing out lines in her school exercise book “I will not speak when my teacher is talking” 20 times in beautiful hand writing. As I walked past with my teapot of water to flush the urinal after I had had my wee, I complimented the girl’s writing and exchanged a knowing smile with her mother. We met many people whose lives on the surface seem so different from ours but whose values are actually very similar.
Life in Lawra
There is a lot to get used to in Lawra, 770 km north of Ghana’s capital of Accra and very close to Ghana’s north west border with Burkina Faso. This sub-Saharan region is desperately poor with an estimated 60% of people not having access to toilet facilities and the estimated per capita daily income is about 50p.
Lawra is a friendly market town similar in size to Hungerford. In daily life you have to cope with very dusty, bumpy motorbike rides, weeing in urinals, and needing constant protection against the sun and mosquitoes. You have to get used to sleeping in the heat, eating with your hands and a very different diet (eg no milk, butter, cheese, fruit juice, chocolate, little fruit or meat, and a limited choice of rice or banku as a main meal).
And the dust during the dry season at this time of year…your skin and clothes turn orange from the dust and it’s really hard to hand wash them clean.
But it is all worth it to feel part of an incredibly effective and positive team of ATE, the charity set up by Sarah and Habib Albeboure in 2012.
The ATE staff are local people from the town of Lawra dedicated to making life easier for people living in the remote rural communities of the district who have to cope with a very harsh climate and economic situation. They are supported by Leela Shanti and Sarah Livesey based in ATE’s Ramsbury office.
The Lawra staff took us out across the district by motorbike on dirt roads to visit the schools and small business owners like weavers, hairdressers and dry season farmers that the charity supports.
Adam and I shot over 1,000 video clips that we are editing into short films about ATE’s work.
This is Margaret, a weaver who has successfully expanded her business with ATE’s support and now has 3 apprentices.
Dry Season Farmers in Lawra District
Climate change, longer dry seasons and soil degradation means it is increasingly hard for farmers to grow enough crops to support their families and buy uniform and books for their children to go to school. ATE supports several farming groups including a group of blind and disabled farmers.
Students in Lawra District
The teenagers we met in the remote rural schools were very humbling and inspiring. The same age as my sons, yet they are striving so hard with few basic necessities like food and sacrificing sleep in order to get an education.
Their parents are subsistence farmers who did not go to school themselves and have to pay for school costs, uniform and books by selling the crops they grow like groundnuts, millet and maize. There is often not enough food left for the family or to pay for health insurance. We met a girl with a leg problem who still walks miles to school but hasn’t been to hospital for 8 years because her family can’t afford it.
Regina is 14 years old. She leaves home every morning at 6.30am to walk over an hour to school. Her mother cooks only 3 meals a week at home because this is all they can afford. Regina wants to become a nurse and her favourite school lunch provided by ATE is rice and beans because she knows she needs the protein to stay healthy.
These teenage pioneers into education work incredibly hard (especially as they are studying in English, their second language). From the age of 12 children are responsible for the family housework which takes up their daylight hours at home. So many of them get up in the dark at 4am to do school work before leaving home as early as 5.30am to walk hours to school – to study a very similar curriculum to kids in England.
Meeting these students has really changed the way I think about life. If I feel hungry or tired or worry that life is hard, I now feel inspired by them. If they can cope, so can I.
How We Can Help
Our visit to Lawra and meeting these teenagers has made us realise how much we in the UK take for granted. But think how little we have to sacrifice to make a difference to their lives – just £5 a month donated to ATE provides school lunch for a student every day of term.
Please watch this short video I have made:
Working with Sarah and the ATE team and meeting the students has inspired me to achieve things I never thought possible.
I have now set myself a target of persuading 50 people to set up £5/month donations
so that ATE can provide school lunches for 50 more students.
A meal today supports education and learning for a brighter tomorrow
so please click here to set up a monthly donation.
BARREKA!! THANK YOU SO MUCH!!