In 2001 when I was Director of Environmental Health
& Safety at the University of Texas at Arlington, I also began work on my Master’s Degree in Community Based Wildlife
Management. That same year I was invited to travel to Ghana, West Africa, by two friends who are biologists. During our brief
stay we were guests of the Ghana Wildlife Division. Our travels took us to the twin villages of Abrafo-Odumasi near Kakum
National Park, where we stayed with Mr. & Mrs. Gyinah, who operated an elementary school for the children of the two villages. With
the creative use of vacation time and unpaid sabbaticals granted by a very understanding Vice President, I returned to Ghana
in 2003 and 2005 to complete my research project in Ghana. Each time I returned I stayed with the Gyinahs.
And that’s how it all began. Mrs. Agatha Gyinah took me under her wing; she showed me around the villages, and
within a short time I had become part of her extended family, and she had me calling her “Mama.” Through
her I met many of the people in Abrafo-Odumasi; teachers and staff, assemblymen, parents and of course the children.
I saw many young children who were eager to learn and had very few educational opportunities.
I saw first hand that the children have hard lives; each day those lucky enough to attend school must first sweep the yards
early in the morning, fetch water from the community well, care for siblings and cook in the afternoons and evenings.
For children in Africa, school represents the only time each day where they can focus on doing something just for themselves.
Being in school gives them a chance to be kids. But in a larger sense, I realized that education is the key component
in breaking the cycle of poverty for future generations of Ghanaians.
she introduced me to the Natilla School; I met its teachers and its students. The school was named to honor Natilla,
a young German woman who first came, with her friend Stefan, in 1998 to carry out their national service. She was so
taken with the children of the villages that for the past ten years she has returned many times, putting her heart and resources
into expanding the school and helping the children there. Natilla and Stefan recently helped the school purchase
a bus which has proved to be a very successful investment; not only has it increased safety for those children
who no longer have to make a long trek on foot, it has increased enrollment by over 100 children.
there are 46 dialects spoken in Ghana, English, the primary language, is taught there, and the school is secular, including
children of Christian and Muslim faiths. By our standards, the school was primitive; it lacked electricity and running
water, there was a constant shortage of books and learning materials, but children and teachers shared and made do with good
humor and determination.
When it was time to return to Texas in 2001, I gave Mama Gyinah
$100 to put toward books and supplies–a modest amount, but one which went a long way in Ghana, where most teachers
earn less then $100.00 a month and $100 will allow one Junior High School student a full year of education,
including all supplies, books and uniforms. When we parted, we promised to keep in touch by email and phone, and
from time to time I sent packages of materials easily found in the U.S. but hard to come by in Ghana.
home, I couldn’t stop thinking of the good people, the wonderful kids, and the school in Ghana. There was so much
that needed to be done. I confess I bent the ears of my friends, colleagues and family about the things I had seen,
and they soon shared my desire to help. We began holding informal gatherings, auctioning off Ghanaian items to raise
money for the school. Since 2001 I have made eight trips to Ghana, always spending time with the Gyinahs, assessing the
needs, making plans for the school. In 2003, I was able to see to it that electricity was supplied for the school.
Since the school is near the Kakum National Park, a rain forest, it was expensive and time consuming to run the lines.
Mr. Samuel Gyinah, a retired draftsman by trade, had crafted a master plan for the school. I knew the
Ghanaians are adept at local construction methods, mixing and pouring their own sun-dried blocks and clearing land.
But what they lack is capital to fund a project from start to finish. Often by the time one wall was completed, months
could pass before funding for the remainder of the project is available. Over time, the torrential rains and humid conditions
in the rain forest would cause one wall to slide or topple before the next wall could be built. Truly, capital was needed.
And so GIVE (Ghana Initiative for Valued Education)
was born–a non-profit I founded in 2006 to provide educational opportunities to children of Ghana. The
Natilla School was the first to receive grants from the foundation and now we are expanding our program to provide scholarships
to children in rural areas of Ghana.
At the school, GIVE has added classrooms, indoor plumbing,
a septic tank, water well, storage tank and pump, chalkboards, books, and an oven for the canteen, where basic lunches are
cooked each day for the children. The school has grown into one of the top schools in the Central Region. One
of our proudest accomplishments was bringing running water and toilets to the school. In addition to improving personal
hygiene, which is vital to preventing the spread of disease, we wanted to give the students a sense of personal pride.
While a flushing toilet and hand sink is something we take for granted, it is pretty huge here in the Central Region of Ghana.
Today there are over 400 students enrolled in the Natilla School, from nursery/kindergarten to grades 1-9.
It is one of the few schools in the local district to have running water and electricity.
could not have been possible without the assistance of Pier 1 Imports who has given three generous donations, which was the
first seed money of GIVE.
retirement in 2008 enabled me to devote more time to GIVE programs. I was able to wade through the paperwork necessary
to secure from the IRS the 501(c) (3) non-profit status, which allows for tax-exempt contributions.
Since beginning our scholarship program in 2010, GIVE has awarded 633 scholarships. The scholarships range from
grade school to university, with an emphasis on junior high school. A special thanks to my Ghanaian family and friends, especially
Mr. Samuel and Mrs. Agatha Gyinah, Propietors of the Natilla School Comkplex, Mr. Robert Darko, Kraft Export Consult,
Ms. Martha DoDoo, Mr. Emmanuel Tobiah, Mr. Moses Sam and Mr. Dickson Ageyman with the Ghana Wildlife Division;
without your support in Ghana our work would not be possible.
And now our fund raising begins
again to support our GIVE Scholarship Recipients for the 2017-18 school year.