Mr. Fuseini Yakubu, founder of PAMEPI, invited me to visit to Ghana and to attend at the launch of the “School for All” project. School for All is an “educational outreach project that seeks to address the challenges confronting African children especially those in the rural sector. It may simply be defined under this context as free and affordable access to standard quality education for all children in Africa irrespective of their social status”. (School for All project proposal)
According to UNESCO reports, only one out of ten children in Africa has access to pre-primary school institutions and four out of every ten primary-age children do not go to school. A survey conducted by the Ghana Statistical Services shows that out of a population of 6.4 million children between the ages of five to seventeen in Ghana, 2.4 million – or nearly 40 per cent of this age group – are economically active. About 1.27 million of these children are in activities classified as child labor, with 242, 000 engaged in hazardous activities. These are children who should be in school but are forced to work due to poverty. Official statistics also estimate that over 700, 000 children drop out of school annually with the majority coming from the rural communities.
After a pilot stage of two years the “School for All” project had its official launch in November 2011. The launch consisted of three official openings with government officials, press and PAMEPI representatives; one in the Northern region, one in the Western region and one in Accra.
The “School for All” project consists of six elements that are to be found of equal importance:
– Creating a basic infrastructure
– Setting up school supplies and material collection centers
– Developing community education funds
– Collaboration with the Parents Teachers Association
– Supporting the District Education Unit
– Designing and implementing community participation structures.
One of the reasons for me to support PAMEPI is that they address the improvement of, and access to education with focus AND with a broader perspective. One could call it an integral, whole systems approach. Improvement of education and access is not a matter of building schools and delivering materials only. PAMEPI tries to be effective by achieving sustainable results that are economically and socially embedded in the communities they work with.
Mr Yakubu and I participated in three events for the launch of the “School for All” project. In a village called Saakuba in the Northern region; at Manye Academy in Enzema East in the Western region of Ghana; and in Accra at the residency of H.E. Alia Mahama – Vice President of the Republic of Ghana 2000-2008. During our visit in the Northern region Mr. Yakubu and I also had a meeting with His Royal Highness Regent and acting King of Dagbon Kingdom. I will write more on this last meeting in my next posting on Leap into Life Ghana.
The “School for All” presentation in Saakuba was a traditional ceremony with most Chiefs from villages in the area present. PAMEPI has worked in close collaboration with the chiefs and official government representatives in this region called the Tolon/Kumbungu district. Building a relationship of trust with the Chiefs and the elders in the villages has played a significant role in the success of the “School for All” project in this region. Together with Honorable Imoro Yakubu – the Kumbungu District member of Parliament – we showed respect for the Chiefs and their people. Many people from villages around participated in the ceremony, naturally including the children as the beneficiaries of the “School for All” project.
Education is a key pillar to provide people in the region with the skills and knowledge to grow into a more prosperous future. Though, as I learned in Saakuba, the situation is too complex to invest in education only as an isolated project. It is not about providing in a school building, a teacher and materials only. In order to be successful with an educational project one has to look with a broader scope at the life conditions of the children; their families, tribe, health and economic situation.
It almost seems that there is a negative spiral to be turned: because of their life conditions (poverty) children don’t go to school and because they are not able to invest in their education their life conditions don’t improve. Not every family can afford the fee for education and a child at school also is one person less in the family that is able to generate income for the family.
As a country as a whole, Ghana is one of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world. But, with economic growth the costs of basic goods also are rising, including the costs of food and education. This brings extra pressure for those already in a weak position or living in poverty and might stimulate them NOT to have their children at school.
In my view a more integral approach is necessary to break this negative circle. The Sakuuba experience with PAMEPI has strengthened me in this belief. Because of economic growth in Ghana, the education fee and the salaries for the teaches also grows. The costs for education of the children became too high for many parents. By setting up a community farm and a children’s’ education fund PAMEPI has provided in a facility for micro financing that enables the children of Saakuba to attend school and their parents to be able to finance this through the community farm. The farm is run by the community and decisions on management and finance are made through tribal order with a significant role for the elders and supported by PAMEPI.
There seem to be no easy answers for complex issues like education and poverty. But the pragmatic approach by PAMEPI does seem to work. With practical support, sometimes small things, PAMEPI provides local communities an opportunity to resolve their issues themselves. The communities stay responsible and have to initiate action. Support is offered where it is most empowering for the community leading to sustainable solutions.
The second launch of the “School for All” project was held in the Enzema East District in Western Ghana. Professor Kaku Sagary Nokoe – Vice Chancellor of Wisconsin International University College-Ghana and – has played a significant role in setting up Manye Academy. This school provides education (and lodging) for several hundred students from primary school to high school education. Professor Kaku Sagary Nokoe also is a member of the School for All Elders Council.
Honerable. Rev. Ackah Cobbina – M.C.E. of Enzema East District (Axim) – addressed the significant role Manye Academy has in the region and the value of the “School for All” project has in bringing the children in the region more than just hope for a better future. Professor Kaku Sagary Nokoe gave me the honor to officially declare the “School for All” project as launched in Enzema East.
In a conversation with Professor Kaku Sagary Nokoe and Honorable. Rev. Ackah Cobbina they also addressed both the importance of education and the complex way it is intertwined with social and economic forces that do not always support education. Dealing with complexity and finding solutions that go beyond paradox suddenly becomes very tangible.
In preparation of the press conference in Accra we had a meeting with His Excellency Alhaji Aliu Mahama, former Vice President of the Republic of Ghana (2000-2008). His Excellency also is Chair of the Council of elders of School for All. The PAMEPI staff was most warmly invited in his residency in the North. This also was a great opportunity for me to learn more from the other young people who are running PAMEPI. What is driving these young (wo)men? I am still deepening this question.
A strong sense (understanding) of community combined with an (intrinsic) desire to act for the good of the whole and clear (serving) leadership by Mr. Yakubu and his staff seems to form a solid triangle.
The press conference was held on November 17th at the residency of His Excellency Alhaji Aliu Mahama in the African Union Village, Cantonment -Accra. A summary of the meeting can be found on the website of JCI Ghana. Mr. Yakubu asked Mr. Patrick Mang – 2011 Business Director of JCI Ghana – as moderator. Chairman of the occasion was Hon. Rev Ackah Cobbina, Municipal Chief Executive, Axim Western Region. Special Guest of Honor was Mrs. H.E. Sharon Bar-li, Israel Ambassador to Ghana. Mr. Isaac Ampomah from Concern Health Education Project (C.H.E.P.) Ghana also was invited as participant in the press conference.
As C.E.O. of PAMEPI Mr. Yakubu held a speech on “School for All” and the steps that have been taken in the regions. He also stated that the community needs more resources and assistance in terms of funding and transportation to administer the project and obtain more volunteers to champion the cause.
H.E Alhaji Aliu Mahama stated that Mr. Yakubu’s project was laudable and encouraged the youth of Ghana to take action. Further, the former Vice President added that government did not have all the needed resources and reiterated that other individuals and NGOs should put in much effort to implement similar projects as was being undertaken by School for all project.
The Israeli Ambassador, Mrs. H.E. Sharon Bar-li, addressed the close relationship Israel has with Ghana and offered her support for “School for All” and other PAMEPI projects. In a conversation after the press conference the Israeli Ambassador expressed that she would value a Leap into Life program in Ghana with Israeli participants. She also offered her willingness to support in realization of this. In March 2012 the Ambassador visited Saakuba and the Northern region on invitation by PAMEPI.
Visiting Ghana and the PAMEPI projects has helped me to step in as ambassador for PAMEPI. The work that is been done by people like Mr Fuseini Yakubu has great significance and NGO’s with local roots as PAMEPI and C.H.E.P. Ghana need international support to scale up their local successes to national and international level.
Another reason to connect more closely with Ghana is the way Leap into Life has been received in Ghana. Many committed local people in Ghana who also have the Capacity, Authority, Power and Influence to make a difference consider Leap into Life a catalyzer for their work.
I believe one of the elements that made my journey successful was the open attitude and appreciative way of collaborating with Fuseini Yakubu, Isaac Ampomah, Patrick Mang and other Ghanaian people I have met. Ghanaian people are doing amazing things for their community and their country. One of the statements I made was that the relationship with the West should be one of mutual learning.
The days in Ghana showed me a worldview that is so different from my Western perspective and also showed me limitations of my own thinking. Naturally, I also had thoughts on how certain things could (or even worse, should) be improved. But Ghana is not the Netherlands so what works here, doesn’t necessarily works in Ghana. This goes the other way around as well.
Developmental aid by Western countries is under a lot of pressure. It is becoming more and more difficult to achieve the objectives mentioned in the Millennium Development Goals. Still too many people live in poverty with not enough access to health, education and security. The financial crisis in Europe and the US also have a direct negative impact on the budgets for developmental aid. There is a lot of pressure to become more impactful with less (financial) resources.
But this is not about numbers and dollars, it is about people. People like the children in Saakuba who are quite capable te learn. People like Mr. Yakubu who are quite capable in doing what is necessary for their community. They do need support, but maybe not in the way a Westerner believes is most effective or cost efficient.
It is my belief that – in order to become more successful with less resources or to have more impact with the current budgets – we need to change the way we have been collaborating with each other. This requires of us to look deeper into the basic assumptions from where we act as an individual and how they are fed by our life experiences. And we should create new experiences, build prototypes where we can experiment, learn and grow. As individuals and as a collective.
Different perspectives and different viewpoints bring opportunities to grow. Personal attitude is significant for an individual to grow. Personal growth is stimulated by individual action and reflective practice. Life conditions are as much of influence as is individual capacity to learn. Growth is sustainable when it contributes to the individual, the community and the planet.
While writing this I realize this still is a very western viewpoint. It is very much held by my personal assumption that each individual is important. And even for a Westerner I am quite an individualist. But how would an African experience and express this?
African cultures are in the West honored for their sense of a collective. The South African “Ubuntu” is very often used in the West as an example for alternative ways to organize companies. Ubuntu literally means “I am because we are”. But how does a Westerner interpret and experience this?
Some key questions I hold are:
How do we achieve more with less?
How do we apply Ubuntu and budget control?
What do we have to learn from each other and as a collective with each other?
An Native American saying is that “we don’t inherit earth from our ancestors, but we borrow it from our children”.
What are we returning after we have borrowed?
It is my humble belief that the answers lie in the questions we dare to ask and the path we dare to walk. For me personally, stepping up in Ghana and walking the path as ambassador of PAMEPI and founder of Leap into Life is quite challenging.
My next posting will be on Leap into Life Ghana; how it contributes to collaborative learning, empowerment of Southern and Western participants, and what it takes to achieve sustainable, impactful results …