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For many years, David and Lisa would come home after visiting Ghana and share their projects and experiences with me. I was so impressed by the number of ways they were supporting people in the remote upper region of Kongo, Ghana, Africa. Not until coming to Kongo with David and Lisa, did I begin to understand the incredible impact that they have in lifting the hearts, minds and health of the people living in the community. Some of their diverse projects include providing scholarships to over 70 students (total), who may not have had the opportunity otherwise, building schools, providing school lunches for three schools and nutrition for AIDS patients and their children, as well as nutrition for mothers and children who are malnourished, supporting women basket weavers receiving a fair wage for their labor, teaching farmers about sustainable farming practices and much more!

After years of longing to travel to Ghana with Lisa and David, the opportunity finally arrived. David asked me to help co-lead a teacher’s workshop. I was so excited and knew that this was going to be a learning experience for me. David and I worked with Head Master, Martin to plan, organize and teach a two-day workshop. I was excited by the teacher’s enthusiasm and dedication to the students in their classrooms. Teachers have very limited to NO supplies in some cases. No paper, pencils, books, visual aids, hands on manipulatives let alone, electricity and running water. These serious limitations make teaching and learning a challenge. I was fortunate to visit many schools where the children’s eyes would sparkle, and their faces would light up when I pulled out a picture book to read with the class. These children’s thirst for knowledge is so evident! While this was touching to see, my heart aches for all the potential not being tapped into due to the lack of books and materials we take for granted in the United States.

Marilyn (YWF Pres.), Lisa, and Julie meet with Piitanga school teaching staff. Mark (back row) is from the Salem Rotary Club.

While here, I met the President of Yakote Women Farmers, Marilyn who was my charming roommate. Marilyn’s boundless energy as she tackled the many projects she wanted to accomplish, has been very inspiring! Marilyn has worked to provide a community center for the Yakote area. On her visit she had benches made and rebuilt the base for the water tank at the Yakote Community Center, purchased goats for young girls to raise, built and distributed desks to schools, worked with the local organizations to get electricity into the community, started an adult English education class and much more!

I have been filled with awe watching Lisa, David and Marilyn work tirelessly on the behalf of people in need. I know that lives of thousands of Ghanaians have been touched by the love, concern and generosity of these three human beings with the biggest hearts ever!

My first and lasting impression of Ghana was how beautiful and welcoming the people are! I will miss the greeting of every person I walk by, the delightful group of children who would stop by my room for a reading lesson, waking up to the sounds of animals and watching the little piglets romp around in the front yard. I will remember the people I met and my time spent in Ghana forever! Julie

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Five years ago many of you chipped in to have an operating table, an anesthesia machine, and two patient monitors crated and shipped to Ghana. It was then transported by road to Kongo where they are now in use. Most recently a group of doctors is performing free hernia surgeries on anyone who shows up from the community. This week they will perform at least 120 surgeries. Here are some photos from yesterday.

This is outside the clinic where family members are waiting.

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Lisa and Olives are meeting to discuss food for the HIV patients. We are sitting on the small veranda in front of our rooms at the guest house.

Lisa and David’s niece, Britney, administered the YWF nutrition programs two years ago. She was the first to meet Olives, the HIV patient coordinator at the Logre clinic. A more caring and kinder person would be hard to meet. In Ghana, there is still a stigma attached to those families where members are receiving HIV treatment.The “Global Fund” is providing the clinic with free ARV drugs to achieve viral suppression.Due to fear of stigma in the community, patients can be reluctant to come regularly for the viral monitoring, have interruptions in their treatments with the drugs, and often are reluctant to get family members tested. Olives proposed that we offer food as an incentive. We have devised a plan to provide two packets of food as patients come in for their first and second visits to the HIV center. additional incentives are offered for family members to get tested. We project to provide 240 patients with two food packets over the next year at a cost of $1500. In this way, we feel quite optimistic about significantly reducing the incidence of AIDS in newborns.

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Work with farmers

We are extremely fortunate to have Tom Demeo with us on this trip. He has a strong background in colluding a PhD related to agriculture and forestry. He’s now visited 15 farms and organized two workshops. One workshop occurred last Friday, another for this Thursday. The farmers are very interestedAnd composting, natural pesticides, crops that generate more cash in the market, crop rotation, and crop selection to maintain fertility of their land. Subsistence farmers here usually farm the same land year after year and maintaining fertility is a great benefit. Families eat almost solely from the crops they grow.

This is our team attending the first workshop. Marilyn Schuster, president of YWF along with Tom and our local helpers with transportation and out reach.

Sitting under the mango tree for the workshop were 30 farmers, about 1/3 women which we were promoting.

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This is our third day in the village and already there’s lots of work underway. Teachers David Stone and Julie Aquilizan are intensely preparing to give a two day teachers workshop targeted to new teachers that have completed the teaching college scholarship program. The focus will be on arithmetic and literacy. In preparation for the weekend workshop, D & J along with some of the new teachers are burning the midnight oil in constructing abacuses out of jerrycans cut into strips, and small beads, along with lots of tape. It is their hope that having some manipulative objects for arithmetic learning will help improve math scores in the district. Students here tend to score poorly in math testing.

And this is a photo from the workshop itself.

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Why do fewer young Nabdam women apply for YWF college scholarship programs?
Why do girls in the Nabdam district get lower scores than boys on country-wide achievement exams?
Despite roughly equal enrollment of males and females at all levels of schooling, why are females far less successful?

With new attendance data from the Deputy District Director for Nabdam education, we are beginning to understand why females struggle with educational achievement. The data shows that while girls and boys are enrolled at similar rates, attendance at school is far from equal. In more than half of the primary (elementary) schools, females miss a remarkable ⅓ of the school days. Male absences are negligible.

There are many articles to substantiate the effect of truancy on education, even studies specifically in Ghana. As it turns out, truancy is the primary predictor for poor outcomes in education in Ghana. The second predictor is low scores in math. Indeed, math scores for Nabdam female junior high students are discouragingly low compared to Nabdam males.

This information provokes another question: Why do female students miss school?
Many possibilities come to mind, such as lack of uniform or shoes, shortage of desks and textbooks at school (maybe preference is given to male students?), lack of latrines and concerns about privacy, attitude of teachers toward female pupils, fatigue resulting from the many household tasks performed by females (gathering wood, cooking meals, drying and threshing grains, carrying water, household laundry all done by hand, no time for homework assignments, farming work – planting/weeding/harvest, caring for younger children in the household, and even untreated common health conditions, i.e. malaria, typhoid, and intestinal parasites.

YWF hopes to gain knowledge that will help girls to attend school more regularly. We are fortunate to have volunteer Julie A., a recently retired Portland teacher, traveling with us this trip. She will both work with David to present a math workshop to teachers with techniques to improve instruction and, importantly, to gather information regarding why female student attendance lags far behind.

During the January 2020 trip, we are firmly committed to improving education. In addition to funding lunch programs at three schools and conducting the workshop in math instruction, YWF has a Rotary Club grant for building desks, currently there are 2 desk seats for every 3 students in Nabdam schools. As we help to build more classrooms and desks, money from donors is set aside to also build latrines at those schools. Latrines definitely help in the prevention of typhoid and intestinal parasites, and they might contribute to better attendance for girls. The college scholarship program continues with a focus on finding qualified female students.

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The complete lack of sturdy fencing for farm animals can lead to a charming first impression in rural Ghana. Mother goats with their tiny, leaping offspring outside your door, a dozen skinny cows SLOWLY crossing the road, donkeys braying at your window. Not to mention, manure randomly deposited on fields, thus enriching the soil. However, one soon realizes, these are hungry animals. The average “free range” cow needs 24 pounds of quality forage and grass/day and they would love to eat your well tended tomato, onion, and bean plants to meet their daily requirements. During the dry season, animals aggressively break through the rudimentary corn/millet stalk fencing used by farmers that irrigate. One cow can destroy 2 acres of garden in a few hours. When a farmer has spent two months manually irrigating his crops while also sleeping in the field to help keep out animals, a sneaky break-in and 90% loss of garden crops is beyond frustrating. This mother donkey and cow were  frequent visitors just outside our door.


Anything but innocent when it come to destroying crops

The remarkably low cost of food in Ghana means that farmers operate at a very low profit margin. Wire fencing is financially out of reach, and indeed, it’s extremely rare to see agricultural fencing in Ghana. The farmers we have helped with treadle pumps have begged for help with fencing over the years. This led YWF to dedicate some funds for a fencing ‘pilot project’ on two farms. In this case, the fencing is designed to keep out animals, rather than to keep animals contained.

B wire on moto

David Stone trained Kolbil Ziib and David Tobiga to install the barbed wire.


          David sawing a brace         Chareundi on site as a corner post is installed

After research and cost comparisons, David decided on 3 strands of barbed wire, like American rangelands, with chicken wire added on the lower half to keep out small animals and fowls. Barbed wire is by far the most economical type of wire fencing. Having grown up in farm country, David is well versed at installing barbed wire and did quite a bit of training during our January trip. Chareundi Vansi of Portland OR volunteers with us in Ghana to coordinate projects for the dry season farmers. Fencing work continues in our absence at the two farms, YWF should soon know soon if the barbed wire/chicken wire design is successful.


A work in progress!

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