I have just had an enjoyable, challenging and hopefully productive visit to Ghana.
On arrival I was met by Siaka Stevens 'Misthy', the director of MCDC; we then travelled to Kumasi by the most comfortable air-conditioned bus I have ever been on, anywhere - 5 hours worth for £7-50! The traffic was heavy, the road in a mess in places as it is widened and also elevated and made into a dual carriageway at the Accra end. The weather was muggy and fairly hot initially with some rain. Later it became hotter (max about 35 degrees) and drier although very humid.
Reaching Akomadan after 96km in an over-full tro-tro minibus, we had a great welcome and it was lovely to see them all. There is a new name board up at the gate, I was impressed with how clean and tidy the place appeared, and how well they seemed to be coping on a shoe-string (albeit with candles instead of lanterns or electricity, and water in cans and barrels), both at the 'orphanage' centre and at the school.
Just after dark the children were all bundled haphazardly into a very ramshackle people carrier, we bought a crate of 'sodas' and were driven a mile or so to a house in town with electricity to watch the vital Ecuador match. Everyone (the boys at least!) was excited, but very calm and philosophical when Ghana lost, even though they felt a refereeing decision denied them victory. It was good to see the kids happy to share their drinks without squabbling.
The orphanage is run day-to-day by 'Papa' who cooks for the resident children (twice daily) and looks after them. Misthy also stays at the orphanage normally – although most of his family are now living in Kumasi to help make ends meet. Papa lives on site but his wife (who has been with Misthy Cee since the beginning and acted as the main carer) has been unwell for the last 6 months and lives at the family home; she thinks she is now improving (the diagnosis is unclear). I hope she will be able to return to work. Currently a number of the children go after school to visit her at home as they are missing her. The
other carer retired at the end of last year, and although the whole place was quite reasonably clean and tidy when I arrived, it is noticeable that it is very sparsely furnished and a woman's homely touch about the place is missing...
It is obvious that to employ good, enthusiastic, trained carers is the top priority. Fortunately a recent donor has given HATW funds to employ two carers for a year, and I met Yvonne, a prospective 'matron', during my visit, who has agreed to a trial period (initially on £35 per month with free accommodation, and meals with the children provided). We visited an inspirational lady called 'Aunty Mary' who is a trained social worker who has for 14 years been running a children's home at Offinso near Kumasi (about 2 hours away). She was able give useful advice on employing suitable carers, and offer some encouragement and training; she also talked enthusiastically and knowledgeably about how she has made her centre viable and self-sustaining through poultry-keeping.
Visiting the adjacent school for the first time since its completion, I noted that the 9 classrooms were looking clean and cared-for, most had desks in and writing on the blackboard. 15-18 double desks can be fitted into one room, and currently they have 90 desks and need another 90. The school is now complete except for a coat of paint, and some furniture. The toilet blocks will be finished soon. Six classrooms were in use that day, most children were in kindergarten 1 and 2, the smallest class of older children had just 12 pupils. The head teacher was teaching KG2 – he is the only trained member of staff, others are young school leavers. We are keen to send some HATW volunteer teachers to help as soon as possible. Please ask around your friends!
Only half the children were in uniform (blue check dresses for girls, blue check shirt and navy shorts for boys) – cast offs would be very welcome.
At the moment one classroom is being used as a dining room when it is raining, but it is really much too small. The verandah is also used, but quickly becomes dirty with food waste. Children from Akomadan pay 20p per day for lunch, others from further afield pay 25p which includes transport in the school bus. A much larger dining room is needed, to service both school and centre, with an indoor / covered cooking area. We have been shown a plan for this – it is very important for the future development of MCDC. Maybe we can help with this building next year?
At present there are no school fees at the MCDC school; they are due to be started in September with the new academic year, but only for those who can afford them.
There is no regular income for school staff wages, general running costs, incidentals like vehicle maintenance and repair, repairing the generator. In addition, some of the original bunk beds were made with inferior wood which is starting to crack and crumble, and they will need replacement very soon.
I took large numbers of pictures of the children for the sponsorship programme and sought to match them up with names and DOB. Sounds simple but isn't e.g. 2 sets of twins have the same name, spelling is very variable, few children know their DOB, and siblings often have very different names!
Funds sent from sponsors make a huge difference, and this regular income is much appreciated. However, a few of the 50 children are not yet sponsored and, of course, inflation constantly erodes the value of funds received. Fees charged for those children attending one of the local secondary schools are high and hence these children particularly are in need of more support.
Funds from MCDC UK have also been used to purchase a huge (10,000 litres = 2200 gallon) plastic above-ground water storage tank which has now been delivered and will be installed shortly. This will make a big difference to a very erratic water supply – mains water often disappears for days at a time, and when the barrels are empty the children carry jerry-cans from a suspect spring about 30 minutes walk away (as you can imagine, this is quite unacceptable). Funds from supporters have also just provided some solar panels to provide light in the evenings, as there is no immediate prospect of mains electricity and the generator is currently in a workshop for repair. Hopefully this too will make a big difference to the quality of the children's lives.
Whilst all the materials for bunks have been bought, some have not been assembled due to the carpenter's stopping work. We are looking for a replacement. Beds in use mostly have mattresses but none have sheets or pillows. Most of the children are said to bed-wet, and mattresses have a very limited life expectancy.
The centre needs painting and some running repairs, another good job for HATW volunteers sometime maybe?
Papa also looks after the garden: growing yams, sweetcorn, chilli peppers, aubergines, tomatoes and a green vegetable unknown to me. Older boys are expected to help in the garden, which they do with glum faces but no voiced dissension. The tight financial situation does not allow employment of gardening help.
Misthy is obviously very well known, much loved and respected in the local community. He behaves tenderly towards the children, but expects and gets helpfulness and good manners in return. He likes the children to take on responsibilities and be conscientious. He strongly dislikes truancy and won't tolerate violence towards children.
I hope you agree this report shows lots of areas of hope and reasons for feeling encouraged, even though there are many challenges for the present and the future. Any offers of help gratefully received!
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