Friday, September 30, 2011

GHEI Spreads The Word...

A picture of Saga, holding the front page of GHEI News, which has a picture of Saga, holding the front page of GHEI News, which has a picture of Saga...

I was out on a full moon night a few weeks ago, and as is often the case if you take in Humjibre night life, someone struck up a conversation with me on the main road.  He asked me this:

“Please, what does GHEI do?”

I sputtered foolishly. I am spending much of my time here in Humjibre, telling the rest of the world what GHEI does, how is it that this young man who lives in Humjibre, doesn’t know what we do?!   

He went on:

“I know that you are helping young people, I know you do good things.  But…”

Anxious and flummoxed in that uniquely western way, I finished his sentence. “…you don’t know what those good things are.”  He said, yes.

So, this is the first step in what we at GHEI are trying to do to better tell people in Humjibre what those good things are.  This is our first newsletter to the fine people of Humjibre.  We’re going to put it in the library for everyone to read, right next to the Daily Graphic, and the slightly dated copies of the African Report. 

The stories are already there, because, well there here.  I’ve edited out some of the strange cyber-rhetoric, but in general what you see here at GHEI News is what you can read in GHEI NEWS in the Library.  Traditionally, newspapers come out in print, and then a blog starts.  But we here at GHEI are not traditional folks.

This also coincides with a big push to get the word out about bednets in Humjibre.  We’ve discovered  thanks to a big survey in the community in the summer, that although GHEI has effectively covered Humjibre with bednets for every sleeping area, not as many people are using their bednets as we thought.  Aggie and Mensah are spreading the word, on our endearingly annoying Public Announcement System and in churches, and the CHW’s are making their own PSA throughout the community.  Aggie’s script for the radio announcement is copied word for word in the newsletter, but unfortunately what we can’t copy is her lovely song that accompanies it on the loudspeaker. 

But her words are included in GHEI News along with a few of the other good things that we do in Humjibre.  
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Friday, September 23, 2011

Scholarship Updates: Meet Freda and Janet

A couple weeks ago, we heard about how important GHEI High School Scholarships are to Humjibre.  Since then, the scholarship program has been moving fast.  Dozens of students have come to pick up scholarship applications, and dozens of of applications have been submitted.  Some of them are students from our YEP program, some are the young women in the Girls' Empowerment camp in July, and still many more have never been part of GHEI program but they know GHEI might be able to help.  The scholarship committee is meeting to decide on these applications in the next few days; there has been unprecedented interest, and yet less funding then years past...

Before the current GHEI scholarship students head back to classes in October, I had a chance to sit down with a few of them and see how they're doing. 

This is Freda Donkor.  She is currently in Form 3, roughly the equivalent of senior year in High School.  

She attends school at Sefwi Bekwai Senior High School, which is about 10 kilometers outside of her home of Humjibre.  She is currently focusing her studies on life sciences, and also agriculture and animal husbandry.  She wants to continue studying after High School and study Nursing.  “I want to become a nurse to help those who are sick in my community.  Hopefully, I can come back and work at the Humjibre clinic.”  She is also studying animal husbandry and agriculture because her family are farmers, and “maybe one day, I can help them if I cannot be a nurse.”  However, she is also considering becoming a veterinarian.   

She stays in a boarding school there, and is still able to come back to Humjibre on the weekends to visit her family.  She likes it there, and says she’s quite comfortable.  How is the food though?  She says, “The food is good…somehow.” 

She has one extra-curricular activity, and she takes it very seriously: she plays football (soccer to the North Americans!).  She is a midfielder on the school team, and apparently they are very good.  There is a league between the other High Schools in the district, and they win quite often.  In the last two district wide tournaments, they placed first and then second overall.   

She doesn’t seem intimidated by what the future holds for her, and in fact she’s considering maybe putting off college for a bit.  She is thinking of coming back to Humjibre for a year to gain some experience. “I want to teach a little here and there at primary schools. And then, God willing, I will go to college for Nursing.”

This is Janet Ofori Amanfo.  She is 15 years old and in Form 2 (which is somewhere between sophomore and junior year in USA.  The Ghanaian High School system takes three years).  She attends Twene Boh Kodah Senior High School in Kumawu, about 150 kilometers outside of her home in Humjibre. 

She takes mainly science classes such as physics, biology, chemistry, and elective maths.  Her favourite class is, believe it or not, elective physics.  Why? “I find the calculations easy and enjoyable.”  How?! “I don’t know, I just do!”  She also enjoys social studies, but she is quick to point out, “I like physics more.”

Unsurprisingly, she is a member of the science club at her school.  They meet on Saturdays and go over particularly difficult problems together, and also form a sort of advocacy group.  “If one of our teachers is not performing well, we write letters to the administrators.”  They also help students who are having difficulty in the classes, or at least the ones who don’t find physics easy and enjoyable.   

Attending boarding school is difficult for her sometimes because she is away from her family, and the distance means she does not see them very often.  However, “I like it there, because it means I get to learn things.”  According to her the food is okay, but she says this with a slightly sour face, as though she is being polite about it.   

She wants to become a doctor, and is already picturing herself as one.  “I see doctors and nurses in their uniforms and it makes me so happy.  I know one day I will be one.” 

Both these girls have been sponsored by the Wanawake Wa Wari Cooperative student group at Cornell University.  You can support GHEI Scholarship Program and help a young person in Humjibre attend High School here

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Looking back...

GHEI staff had their annual staff retreat in late August, this time at the lovely Aburi Gardens.  Though we had some time to walk around and savor the beauty, much of our time was spent in heated discussion, and thoughtful reflection.  It was exhausting, but invigorating.

Local staff came up with three volunteers that they felt should be specially singled out for enormous dedication and spirit during this years summer serve and learn session.  Those four will be announced shortly but we have to let them know first! Check back with us next month...

The nostalgia extended to last year, and everyone who was a part of Serve and Learn 2010 fondly remembered it, and went off on tangent stories about various fond memories with volunteers from last year. Those of us who weren't in 2010 felt left out and pouted.  Here are the four winners of the 2010 Outstanding Service Award.

Tamara Mason 

"I participated in the 2010 Girls’ Empowerment Camp.  The Girls’ Empowerment Camp focused on the empowerment and development of adolescent girls in the village.  With a group of six other volunteers, we developed and led educational sessions to encourage the girls to pursue a high-school education, be more assertive, and have more self-confidence. The Girls’ Empowerment Camp helped the adolescents learn how to make decisions to give them more control over how they choose to live their lives, promoting healthy and happy relationships and families."
"My volunteer experience with GHEI in Humjibre has impacted me tremendously.  The experience humbled me and made me realize that as American citizens we are fortunate to have consistent access to seemingly simple things such as electricity and water.  Since returning from Humjibre, I try to be more mindful of the amount of water and electricity that I use on a daily basis!  On a professional level, volunteering with GHEI enabled me to participate in development work in an international setting and to also participate in community and consensus building in a grassroots fashion."

Monique Mounce

"I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Humjibre, Ghana in June 2010 with GHEI as a member of the Prevention of Childhood Disease through Handwashing Serve and Learn session. With the help of the Community Health Workers, we planned and implemented effective outreach events to mothers with children under 5 years old as well as all of the schools within the village." 

"One of my most treasured memories was when I went on a run down the main road in Humjibre, and as I was running, a little girl in a dress and sandals ran with me while singing the “Soap and Water” song. At that instant, I realized the power of my presence in the village and the impact on these kids’ lives. Although my time in Ghana was short, I believe I made an impact on their lives, but I had no idea that they would make a bigger impact on mine."

Tianying Zhang

"I feel that GHEI has helped me gain a fresh perspective on charity work in developing countries as well as shape my own character and priorities in life. This Serve and Learn Session with GHEI was my first exposure to grassroots community project and it has strengthened my view that truly lasting development work requires the empowerment of the community."
"Despite poverty and despite difficult living conditions, the people I’ve met Humjibre were some of the most welcoming and lovely being I’ve ever met. They smiled through their hardships, laughed in the face of their misfortunes and toiled against all odds. Their infectious smiles and optimism, made me feel so humble, and made my problems feel insignificant. This experience has made me want to be far more involved in charity work in the developing worlds, where I can try and make just a small difference for such truly deserving people."

Ramona Mendoza

"My most memorable moment in Humjibre was discovering and connecting with Eunice in the library during the read-a-thon - a beautiful, bright and engaging young lady with tremendous potential."

"Humjibre is a very special village for any volunteer to experience. The Ghanians make it memorable; the time with them truly precious. I’m honored to have participated in filling the community center to capacity with screaming kids, their proud parents and village tribal elders. I hope future GHEI volunteers can engage the wonderful hard-working women of Humjibre through the fabulous library resource to improve their literacy skills and capacity to improve family/community health and welfare."
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Friday, September 9, 2011

A Back To School Message From Humjibre

As many of us, and our younger friends, head back to school grumbling, let’s take a moment to think of those who cannot start classes this September, but desperately want to… 

Here in Humjibre and surrounding communities, students who complete Junior High School (JHS) often do not continue their education to Senior High School (SHS).  It’s not because they don’t want to.  While primary school is free, SHS is not, and if a student in Humjibre wants to go to SHS, they have to go to a boarding school, as there are no High Schools locally.  Tuition is expensive; tuition and room and board is far too expensive to most. 
Anglican Primary School, across the yard from GHEI
In 2002, the year before GHEI began offering after school programming and extra tutoring session to JHS students, only 29 students sat to take the entrance exam (the B.E.C.E.) to get into Senior High School: 24 boys and 5 girls (all figures from Ghana District Education Office in Bibiani).  The pass rate was 28%. Think of that for a moment: Imagine your 8’th grade class is that size and only 8 of you go on to High School.
GHEI’s decision to start the Youth Education Program (YEP) in 2003 was clearly a good one.  And it got results…results I’ll share a bit later.  

Not much info exists on how many students who can go to Senior High School do go to Senior High School, but anecdotal evidence from Lawrence and Christina’s own experience, and in discussion with GHEI Country Director Clement and Education Program Manager Happy, it seems like a little more than half of those who can go to SHS, do.  If that held true back in 2002, 4 or 5 students likely went to Senior High School.  The rest may not have gone because of obligation, but more than likely, their family simply could not afford it. 

At GHEI, we believe the surest way to strengthen a community is to invest in its future, which is why GHEI began the Senior High School Scholarship program.  For those whose families could not afford it, an option now existed.  GHEI doesn’t see this as helping one student; we see this as building a brighter future for this community.  When students complete Senior High School and return to Humjibre , they bring expertise, options, and energy.  Their success becomes the community’s. 

Brown, during the Reading Club quiz
Ernest “Saga” Badu completed SHS thanks to a GHEI scholarship, and now teaches the YEP students in Humjibre, and develops programs on staff at GHEI. 

Samuel Godfried Brown Tano, completed SHS thanks to a GHEI scholarship.  He teaches at a primary school in Humjibre as part of a pilot initiative sponsored by The Ghana Ministry of Education to focus on struggling students.  He also volunteer teaches with GHEI.

Alfred Appiah completed SHS thanks to a GHEI scholarship.  He is now studying Agricultural Economics at University of Ghana. 

Now let’s think back to September 2002.  A few students might be going to Senior High, but GHEI is already cooking up an education program for the next year, something to get even more students into SHS.  YEP and tutoring sessions begin in 2003, and the scholarship program follows in 2005.  Quickly, GHEI grows, a Transformer movie is released, Lehman Brothers goes bankrupt, Barak Obama is elected president of USA, Professor John Atta Mills is elected president of Ghana, and another Transformer movie is released.  It’s April 2010, Ghana is preparing for a fantastic 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and in Humjibre, 74 students sit to take the B.E.C.E. and they all pass. All of them.

In 2002, 8 out of 29 students graduate JHS in Humjibre, and in 2010, 74 out of 74 students graduate JHS in Humjibre.  That’s an extraordinary difference, and it still gives me goosebumps. 
How girls in Humjibre have done taking the B.E.C.E. till 2009

What hasn’t changed?  While education capacity has grown, the economy has not grown at the same speed, and the average family isn’t all that better off now than they were in 2002.  According to Clement, still, only a little more than half of those students will go to SHS.  That means more students are going to Senior High School, but it also means more students who can go to Senior High School, don’t.

More than ever, Humjibre needs the GHEI scholarship program.  And more than ever, GHEI needs your support. 

Sponsoring a student through all three years of High School at one of the regional boarding schools is only $900, and we don’t commit until we have all of Senior High covered.  It does seem like a lot to ask, but you must have 8 friends, right? Imagine each of you gave $100, and formed a coalition to support one student in Humjibre, a student that you would get regular updates on, a student that all of you could root for.  Imagine yourselves as “Team Kwasi” or as “Team Gloria”.  But really, supporting GHEI’s scholarship program means you’re joining “Team Humjibre” as well.  It’s a good team to be on, we’re an optimistic bunch!

Are you going into 9’th grade this September?  If thirty of your fellow freshmen gave $30, all of you would go through High School knowing that you helped someone across the world do it too.  So, while I’m sure there’s a bunch of you really bummed that you’re going to High School, where you’re at the bottom of the social food chain (been there, kids, solidarity), here in Ghana, there’s a bunch of kids really bummed that they aren’t going to High School this year. 
The YEP students on their field trip to the Cape Coast Castle in February. Many of these students are graduating JHS this year.  To see more pictures of JHS students, check out our slideshow taken at The Career Opportunity Lecture Series this year

Please hurry, high school starts later here in Ghana, but not much later, and our deadline for scholarship funding is approaching fast. Over 100 students sat for the B.E.C.E. in Humjibre this year, we want to help as many as we can. You can donate here, or write to us at if you have fundraising ideas or want more info.