SEPIA - Supporting Education Projects in Africa
Registered Charity Number: XT26516
SEPIA newsletter 2015
Would you believe that I started writing this newsletter on my phone whilst out walking the dog. I am not suggesting that is a good thing I should really have been admiring the countryside but it does highlight how things have changed. I'm often amazed how quickly change is accepted. Digital TVs providing over 100 channels instead of 4, texting and e mails taking over from writing letters and then there is the World Wide Web! When I started teaching in 1992 my main tool was a blackboard and chalk and yet today I cannot imagine trying to do my job without the aid of a laptop or tablet. You might be surprised to know that chalk was still being used in the school I worked in up until 2004. Coincidentally 2004 was also the first time I travelled to Ghana and my first contribution to the school I visited was a suitcase full of chalk! Ghana is adopting change too, cheap (and not so cheap) mobile phones have swamped the country, satellite dishes and huge TV aerials are becoming a common sight, and laptops and tablets are desired by many even though not always attained. In the schools we work with though change is slow, chalk is still the main tool, children sit in Victorian style wooden desks and the printed worksheet, now frowned upon in our schools, has yet to arrive. As a consequence a lot of our projects focus on providing and improving the bare essentials. We try to ensure classrooms are structurally safe, that each child has a desk to work at and that the teachers and pupils have some basic equipment. Our goal is to increase the number of children gaining an education and, at present, we see this as being the best way to help. With that in mind, here is what we have been up to in 2015.
We work with four different schools at the moment and in each we have been involved in a building project. One of the first schools we ever worked with is the Salvation Army School in Asafo; this houses both primary and secondary children. Here we are building our second classroom block and this year we have be able to complete the walls and provide roofing. These classrooms are now safe so they are already being used even though we are still fundraising for the final stage to be completed. (See picture 1) In the nearby town of New Tafo we have been continuing our project to build and refurbish the New Tafo Methodist Basic School. Again, we have been working with this school for many years and in 2015 we have managed to get the walls of our new three classroom block plastered both inside and out. We also commissioned a local carpenter to make tables and chairs for these classrooms to ensure every child has a place to work. (See pictures 2 & 3) We are particularly pleased that these classrooms are now structurally complete because it means that the school will no longer have to use space in the half built church nearby for lessons. Our third school is 6km west of New Tafo in a village called Bomponso. We only started working with this school in early 2014 and have already completely rebuilt the primary classrooms. The main framework of the building was completed in 2014 and this year we added the roofing, window shutters and doors and, most recently, we have had all classrooms plastered ready for painting. (Pictures 4 & 5 show the classrooms before and after) Prior to this rebuilding project the classes were either held outside, in temperatures which regularly reach 30 degrees, or in the back of another classroom if it rained. Bomponso School, like many schools in this region, is built in an area of cleared tropical forest and one of the extra-curricular duties pupils have is maintaining the schools grounds. This is done with hand held machetes that children bring with them from home. Even though the children are fairly skilled with these tools, having used them at home, accidents do occasionally happen and the school has asked if we could help them buy a mower in 2016 to avoid such dangers! Our last school project is taking place in Kute Buem, several hours east of New Tafo on the border with Togo. As mentioned in the last newsletter we were invited to visit Kute in 2013 by a Headteacher we had been working with because he wanted us to see his home village. It is certainly different to the settlements in the New Tafo area in that it is much more remote and therefore the goods and services available are few and far between. The schools are fairly similar though and, unfortunately, in a similar state. Much of our efforts in 2014 centred around constructing a footbridge across the river to link the two sides of the village so in 2015 we have focussed on repairing the Junior High school. As with all projects our first priority was to ensure the buildings were safe and then try to improve the learning environment. For the latter we have been coordinating a joint project with the Rotary Club of New Alresford in Hampshire and the Rotary Club of Ho in Ghana. Our aim is to buy enough desks and chairs to ensure all pupils have their own work space and so far we have managed to supply over half of the 70 needed thanks the support of the New Alresford branch (see picture 6). We hope that we can gain a grant from the Rotary in Ho very soon in order to buy the remainder. Our next project is then to start work on the primary classrooms and add the necessary furniture.
When SEPIA was originally set up in 2008 we decided that we would not ask our supporters to sponsor children but instead we set up a bursary scheme which students could apply for if recommended by a teacher within their school. In the main these bursaries are aimed at supporting students who wish to further their education beyond the initial Primary and Junior High level because this is when fees become a barrier for many who really wish to continue. Currently we are supporting five students, Ishmael Oburi, Richard Yeboah and George Tegah who are all at Senior High, Seth Osei who is now in his second year at the University of Development Studies in Tamale and Lizzie Larbi who has just been accepted at a university in Kumasi to train to be a nurse.
So where did the money come from to do all that?
Thanks to our amazing supporters this year we managed to raise £5244.30, excluding any last minute surprise donations! Our first large donation did not arrive until March, however, thanks to our dedicated friend, Lesley Jones, who is still our only supporter to donate through a direct debit (we would love more) we also received a nice boost in both January and February. In March, Jo Davies, Head of Science at Perins School, kindly offered her support again. Having helped us to buy desks and chairs for New Tafo Methodist Basic School in 2014 Jo is now coming to our aid in Kute Buem. Jo knows from experience the issues that can arise from having more pupils than furniture and her help will ensure that we can alleviate this problem as we continue our work on the Junior High and the Primary classrooms in Kute. In April we received a most welcome cheque for £400 from the Colles Trust. This came about because my brother and 2013 SEPIA runner, Alan Clarke, was talking about the charity to his work colleagues, one of which happened to be involved in this Trust. They suggested that we should submit an application for a grant from the Trust based upon one of our projects and luckily for us we were successful. This money was again used in Kute Buem but this time for work on the fabric of the classrooms. Also in April we received a donation from the Chester University Archery Club. Now this was not quite as random as it might seem because our son, Aaron, is studying there and is also an active member of the club. So on one of the club evenings they devised a charity shoot and members were encouraged to contribute in exchange for the chance to shoot their arrows at some rather unusual targets. I now believe that their archery club is free of zombies so everyone benefitted! In May one of our trustees, Gemma Fehrenbach, decided it was time to do something extreme for charity. Gemma had already helped raise funds as a member of Team SEPIA in 2014 but she was obviously not content with just running as she decided to compete in her first ever triathlon. This involved swimming 750 metres around a quite murky lake, cycling for 22km and then, just to finish it off, running 5 km (see picture 7). It was a great event and Gemma was amazing, firstly for completing it and secondly for raising £500 in the process. As a teacher herself Gemma knows first-hand how important it is to have access to an education so with her agreement most of the money went towards paying for the student bursaries listed above. In July, I returned to Perins School as they had agreed to hold a ‘free-dress day’ for us and I wanted to explain to the pupils where their donations would go to. One benefit of being a small charity is that we can take the time to show people exactly how and where their money is being used so as part of my visit this year I was able to feed back on the previous projects they had supported. As always at Perins the pupils were really interested in finding out about the schools and the children in Ghana and I look forward to returning in the New Year to give them a report on how their contribution had helped yet again. July also saw the re-emergence of Team SEPIA as we took part in our third British 10k. This year’s recruits were Kerry Allington, Lizzie and Simon Clarke, Lewis Desforges and Richard Andrews with myself trotting along behind. For four of us the aim was to raise funds for the building projects whilst Simon and Lizzie agreed to raise money to pay for a student bursary for a girl who wants to train as a nurse. As a nurse herself Lizzie Clarke was only too happy to help and we are pleased to say that, as mentioned above, Lizzie Larbi (yes they are both called Lizzie) now has a place at a university in Kumasi to fulfil her wish. We all dressed in Ghanaian clothes again and had a most enjoyable day, even Lewis who ran the race in a lovely flowing dress (see picture 8). In total the 2015 team raised £1500 and our thanks go to each of the runners, our supporters on the day, Andrea Andrews and SEPIA co-director, Helen Clarke, and of course all the people who sponsored the team. Helen was also involved in the next donation because it came from her long term friend and work colleague, Charly Ryan. Charly retired from the University of Winchester this summer and when asked what leaving gift he would like he said that he would like people to donate to his chosen charities, one of which, luckily for us, was SEPIA. By the end of the summer our joint Rotary project had gained approval both in the UK and Ghana but due to a change of chairperson in Ghana the funding had been delayed whilst the new person got to grips with the job. Our aim had been to buy new desks for the school in Kute Buem by September but this was now looking unlikely. However, when I explained the situation to the New Alresford Rotary Club they kindly agreed to give us their contribution, a cheque for £1200, so that we could start the process, and as picture 6 reveals the desks are now in use.
One final area of funding which goes on all year is our link with Easyfundraising. This is an online shopping website which works with most of the major retailers to ensure a small percentage of the purchase price is donated to a chosen charity. The donation comes from the retailer and does not affect the price of the good you are buying so it’s a way of raising funds for your chosen charity for free! It really does work and since joining we have received over £400 from our supporters shopping on line. So if you feel that you would like to help us but haven’t really got the time to hold an event then this perfect for you. To find out more just log on to www.easyfundraising.org.uk sign up and, of course, please select SEPIA – Supporting Educational Projects in Africa as your chosen charity. So far we’ve got 29 supporters, why not become our 30th?
Looking ahead to 2016; our first event will be the launch of our JustGiving text number which we have just acquired free of charge! This is a new and simple ways to donate to our projects which lets you choose how much you wish to give up to a maximum of £10. It’s live now so if you would like to try it out just text GHNA24£5 (or any amount up to £10) to 70070. In February I am returning to Ghana to visit our projects and discuss future plans with the schools and local communities. Then in the summer Team SEPIA will be metamorphosing again to take on our fourth British 10k and you, I hope, will continue to support us on our merry way.
For the latest information on the projects please check out our website www.sepiaprojects.co.uk and follow the link to our Facebook page.
Finally, Helen, Aaron and I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your continued support and wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year!
To see the picture mentioned please see the copy on our website.