Not such a "dark continent"...
We are quick to be disheartened by negative commentaries in the press about African development. Such reporting inevitably encourages harmful and inaccurate stereotyping of a continent so diverse that over 3000 native languages are spoken and so large it could contain the United States, India, China and Eastern Europe, as well as much of Western Europe within its vast landmass. Indeed, with the relentless news of merciless civil wars, widespread government corruption and horrific droughts and famines, it is easily forgotten that in reality numerous countries in Africa are currently making substantial progress.
A stable economy
Although it is true that a deepening energy crisis, sharp depreciation in the currency and rising inflation have meant a slower pace of economic growth over the last few years, Ghana’s medium and long-term growth prospects are more encouraging. The economy is predicted to grow mainly by greater oil and gas production, combined with increased private sector and public infrastructure investments, as well as an improved macroeconomic framework and political stability (The World Bank).
There is, then, a bright future in Ghana. A trailblazer in many respects, it was the first African nation to gain independence in 1957 and has a stable democracy, with the last five consecutive elections rated as 'free and fair' and an impressively harmonious civil society. Not only do different tribes peacefully coexist but there is also a rare religious tolerance. It is a very Christian society but the small Muslim population (around 10%, mostly based in the North) is well integrated.
Despite all this, with just under 7 million people living on less than $1.25 a day (Christian Aid) poverty remains a real problem for many people in the country.
Free education up to 14
In the midst of all these concerns education is a central government theme, with free and compulsory primary education being key to the Education Strategy Plan. Despite this, most parents still struggle to pay for the incidentals such as uniforms, textbooks and travel to and from school.
It is the same story for Junior High School; tuition is still paid for by the state but costs multiply as the students get older.
Senior High School- out of reach for over half the population
This is the point where the whole system seems to break down. Many youngsters are unable to attend secondary school because of the crippling fees- with the institutional focus on primary enrolment rates and subsequently unsubsidised Senior High School fees in Ghana, a secondary education costs so much that most parents simply cannot consider it as an option.
The figures speak for themselves: upon completion of the primary stages of education, over 60% of Ghanaian children will not attend Senior High School (UNICEF). This is the so-called “poverty trap” that many families in Ghana face today; too poor to gain access to the skills they need to lift themselves out of poverty, they face what ActionAid has termed an effectual “dead end for the poor”. Senior secondary education, and the skills needed to attain jobs and further education, are monopolised by those who can afford it; the poverty cycle becomes self-perpetuating.
With just a small NGO in a little corner of Ghana we have to be realistic - we cannot hope to change the world. Our aim is simple: to continue to improve the facilities and broaden the scope of the teaching on offer at the school, and to produce graduates with integrity who are well-rounded, self-motivated, employable and environmentally aware. We do not want to expand the school much beyond 400 pupils, and we never want to compromise class sizes, but this would allow us to run 4 parallel classes per year. With this potential to produce annually 140 senior secondary graduates with an all-round education, not only will we be transforming their lives but also standards and opportunities within the local area, as well as creating social mobility.
Take Harriet, for example, who left AWSHS in July 2013. She worked hard at school but is not particularly academic, and the results of her final exams (A level equivalent) were hardly outstanding. Nonetheless, even before these results were released she was able to secure a job in a bank and is now a smiling, well turned-out and confident young woman. This was a shy student who came from such an impoverished background that she needed help from our Hardship Fund so she could eat once a day. Now the money that she brings home every week puts food on the table for her many siblings, and may even pay for another of them to go to senior school; thus the benefit is spread.
Another student, Gabriel, was very bright and did well in his WASSCE exams. He could certainly have gone to university, but his experience at the school convinced him to take a completely different course in life. So fired up was he with what he learned at the Business Club, where students are taught the principles of commerce using the micro-enterprises based at the school as real-life examples, that he decided to start an apiary business of his own! Honey in Ghana commands a high price, and demand outstrips supply by a long way. Gabriel has the tools he needs to make a success of his scheme, and to create employment for others in the process.
Our biggest success story to date is arguably that of Eric Nyame. His family could not afford to pay his senior high school fees so, despite being academically gifted, Eric was destined to be apprenticed to his uncle in the local market as a rubber stamp maker.Once at Awutu-Winton, Eric excelled in his studies, outdoing all expectations and securing himself a Mastercard scholarship to study at the renowned Ashesi University; arguably one of the best tertiary education establishments in the country. He is now following a BSc Business Administration programme and hopes to become a Chartered Accountant one day, starting his own practice locally, to help the area prosper. Eric is pictured to the left, teaching local primary school children just before he began studying at Ashesi.
These examples emphasise how we can directly effect change in the immediate community, but it is also our hope and belief that we can widen our influence by providing a model for other NGOs to follow in other regions.