Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Katherine goes C.P.A

With the completion of my second term exams and report cards, my job as a teacher at Good Shepherd is essentially finished. It's a bittersweet landmark- on one hand, I'm relieved to be done with the stress of it and feel very satisfied with the results of my work. On the other hand, I already miss the time with my kids horribly. During my last seven weeks in Ghana, my main job has become managing the donation funds, which basically means making sure they have been successfully applied to whatever purpose they were intended before I leave. It's a surprisingly time-consuming job. It's put me up to my ears in unfamiliar financial matters and I feel like I am constantly darting from meeting to meeting, but I'm enjoying myself immensely. My Type A is having a grand old time with the business-y, organizational side of it, and my Type Me is so excited to finally see more than seven months of planning and fundraising finally turning into tangible changes for my Aflao community. I have three big projects in the works right now:
Using the donations from Ford's fundraiser, work will begin on April 15th to repair the roof on the House of Norway building. If it had caved in during the upcoming rainy season, the older students would have had no where to hold class right at the peak crunch time of preparing for their BECE exams. We're hoping to have all the supplies purchased by the time school closes next week so we can actually begin on schedule and have the job finished before we resume classes on May 9th. (Everyone who has been to Ghana before is scoffing right now, but we'll show you all!)
I'm going today to buy teacher copies of Math, English, Science and Social Studies textbooks for each grade at Good Shepherd. When the previous staff left over Christmas vacation, they took all the school's textbooks with them (not sure how/why that happened). Buying about 32 textbooks will only cost just over $100.
Then there's Success International....

Meet Livingstone Gomashie:

You know him better as Worfa, my host father. In December, Worfa shared a dream with my brother and I- the dream of building his own school right here in Awakorme.
Awakorme is a poor district of a poor town, where mostly farmers and fishermen live. Only a very small percentage of kids who live in this district have the opportunity to go to school. Remember my Meerkats, the ever-growing herd of neighbor kids? Only four of them have ever been to school, and even then only inconsistently. Worfa, who has been a teacher at a school in Lome (Togo) for ten years, saw his passion for teaching as an opportunity to give these kids a chance they might never get otherwise. And, when I received a private donation of 1,550 cedis, Success International School went from a dream to a reality!
Our house has been a construction zone for the last several months. This initial donation completely covered the materials and workmanship to construct a three-room school building in our courtyard, as well as building 13 wooden desks. The three classrooms are separated by interior walls (something I would kill for at Good Shepherd) and a corrugated metal roof keeps out the rain. The cement floor is being laid as I type and soon we are going to install the doors. I got a second private donation of 400 cedis last week, which is going towards outfitting Success with blackboards, textbooks, a clock and all the other little items needed to run an efficient school. 

In accordance with Worfa's intentions, the core mission of Success International is to provide education for kids who would not be able to afford it otherwise. Therefore, he is only charging a 7 cedi registration fee, compared to the usual minimum of 15 cedis. He plans to open after Easter in time for third term (Ghana uses a trimester schedule). As a sort of good faith gesture, Worfa is not charging school fees (tuition) until school resumes in September. He plans to charge 18 cedis per term. Again, compare that to the usual minimum of 20 cedis, although finding school fees even that low is rare. In other words, a child can go to school at Success International for under $40 per year.
And yet, even that is enough of a financial burden that some families may have to pull their children out of school- maybe temporarily, maybe permanently.
As Worfa and I were discussing all this, I was amazed by the steps he is taking to make his school accessible to everyone. At the same time, I couldn't help thinking about the realistic possibility that even though he's doing  everything in his power, some kids still won't be able to afford it. It didn't help that earlier that morning, one of my aunties had shoved a meticulously written letter into my hand, asking if I could help send one of her children to school. For 7 months I have watched student after student at Good Shepherd miss classes, skip exams or drop out entirely for financial reasons. It broke my heart every time. I guess my heart got tired to piecing itself back together, because this time it got mad and decided to DO something instead.
The Meerkat Scholarship was born.

First of all, for the sake of clarity, the scholarship is not anything legally or officially registered, recognized, etc. At this point, it is operating out of a personal-albeit-formal agreement between Worfa and myself. However, it is an official program offered at Success International School.
The function of the Meerkat Scholarship is to supplement families' incomes and provide an incentive for students to be academically successful. Each term, parents who cannot afford the entire school fee can apply for the scholarship to cover any portion of it by filling out a simple form signed by a witness (a pastor, elder, etc) stating that there is a legitimate need for assistance. It will also provide full scholarships for orphans and half scholarships (9 cedis per term) for families with 4 or more children enrolled, and for any student who stays at the head of their class at least three consecutive terms for as long as they maintain that position. The scholarship is also available to adults, as Worfa is going to offer night classes in English, and Ewe reading and writing.

I don't know how well this will work, in all honesty. Not surprisingly, I've never attempted anything like this before. And the scholarship won't go actively into effect until around October or November, when the due date for first term school fees is approaching, so it will be a while before I know if my plan needs tweaking- or total renovation, for that matter. But if I have to tweak, I will tweak. If I have to renovate, I will renovate.

I've traded my chalkboard for a spreadsheet, and it's feeling pretty darn good so far...

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