A fundraiser for the Women to Women International Ghana High School Project was hosted recently by a group of local women at the home of Mary Ellen and Bob Logan in Goleta. The benefit raised more than $10,000 to help ensure that a group of young women living in northern Ghana, West Africa, receive proper education and opportunities for a brighter future.
“Women to Women International was formed in the mid-1990s to help educate women in developing countries,” said Michel Nellis, founder and president of Women to Women International. “Today our focus is both women and girls and particularly a girls’ high school in the small village of Damongo in northern Ghana.”
The mission of the organization is to help women achieve their educational and business goals by building schools, providing scholarships and supplying instruction and training to teachers and students within selected impoverished communities.
The Ghana High School Project benefits students of the St. Anne’s Girls Senior Secondary School in Damongo. The funds raised through generous donations at the afternoon charity will sponsor 20 exceptional girls and young women between the ages of 12 and 21 who are currently enrolled at the all-girls boarding school for a year.
The fourth annual fundraiser commenced with lively meet and greet reception at the Logans’ beautiful and secluded ranch-style home overlooking the Goleta foothills. Guests mingled in the cozy living and dining room area enjoying a variety of international ethnic dishes prepared by volunteers and board members. The delicious menu included crispy Chinese egg rolls; mouthwatering vegetable samosas filled with spiced potatoes, onions and peas; spicy Mexican shrimp; and Peruvian fish ceviche.
Many attendees ventured onto the spacious patio overlooking the rolling hillside and lush landscape, gazing at sprinkled oak trees and fruit orchards that set a festive mood and created a zest to bid on silent auction items on display. Some of one-of-a-kind items included colorful vintage African trade necklaces made in Venice to trade in Africa; a gift certificate at Mira Bella Salon & Spa; original artwork by local artists Cree Mann, Erica Shaw and Inga Guzyte; and a 90-minute massage from Eric Schlobohm of Santa Barbara Massage.
Later, attendees were asked to regroup inside the living room where Nellis welcomed the guests and asked that all the volunteers and board members stand as she graciously thanked them for their efforts.
Also during the presentation, Sunanda Bhargava, a former president of the Rotary Club of Goleta Noontime, presented Nellis with a $500 check to sponsor a student at the school for one year. And, other generous contributions were received from additional donors, including Microsoft, Patagonia and Santa Barbara City College students who raised more than $700 toward the cause.
Next, Silvia Morgan, Ghana High School Project CEO, explained the history and plight of the organization.
“Many people ask me why Africa, and specifically why the north of Ghana?” she said. “Women to Women International is a not-for-profit organization with no religious or political affiliation and we have selected to help young girls in this area of the world because no other organization is helping women to be educated in this region, which is impoverished due to geographical and geopolitical reasons.”
The boarding school, founded in 2003 by the Catholic Diocese of Damongo, located in the rural village of Damongo, population of 400,000, is one of the most desolate and poverty-stricken regions in northern Ghana. Due to the hardship and deprivation of career opportunities on the settlement, a large majority of young girls are often denied access to schooling.
“Many young girls at the young age of 12 to 13 in Ghana may have her whole future decided for her if her parents or step-parents consider her to be a burden,” Morgan said. “She may be married out to an older man who already has several wives, or engaged in child labor subsistence farming, or she may be sent to a far-off city to fend for herself and send money back home.”
Morgan stressed that young girls forced into such turbulent situations are often prone to young pregnancies, are at higher risk of contacting sexually transmitted diseases, and suffer from neck and bodily injuries as a result of carrying heavy burdens on their heads for tourists.
“If a girl is given the opportunity to finish school she will be much more likely to make a choice to continue with her education and really be able to help her family prosper without the need for the sacrifices involved in having these decisions made for her at an early age,” said Morgan, who teaches Spanish at SBCC.
The Catholic boarding school welcomes girls and young women from all faiths and tribes, which is important in a region populated by diverse sects of religious beliefs and practices. In addition, Ghanaians speak English as their official language, which makes communication easier between representatives at the school, students and board members.
Morgan also noted that accommodations at the boarding school are vital for the students because it provides assurance that the girls will be allowed to complete their studies in a safe environment away from family distractions.
“The temptation to ask girls to stay at home arises any time there is a new baby in the household, a new crop to harvest, goods to take to the market, or anytime a young boy begins attending school,” Morgan said.
Currently, 150 students are enrolled at the school and 20 of them received scholarships in 2011 from the Ghana High School Project. Additionally, the organization has successfully provided 50 scholarships to young girls over three years. To date, seven students have graduated from the program and are at different stages of application to technical schools, teacher training colleges and the university of their choice.
“We stay informed of the students’ progress by Skype and regular phone conferences with the school principal, Mrs. Garriella Wumnaya, who provides us with the photos, bios and updates on the girls progress,” Morgan said.
The organization spearheaded by Nellis and Morgan and a dedicated team of volunteers who make up the board of directors and sounding board meet monthly to coordinate outreach projects to ensure students receive needed supplies.
The organization partners with Ghanaian Fred Arthur, a volunteer from Oxnard, who donates space in his shipping container to safely transport items to the remote school, including laptops, encyclopedias, audio equipment, digital cameras, pencils and bicycles.
During her remarks, Morgan shared heartwarming letters written by students who have received scholarships from the program and each letter highlighted the student’s hardships, educational goals and immense gratitude.
Janet Kyepuo, 13, who has been attending St. Anne’s Senior High School since September 2011, studying in the business program, said her father died when she was just 3, leaving her mother, sister and three brothers to fend for themselves.
“My mother does a little farming to take care of the family daily bread,” she wrote. “As such, she cannot pay my school fees. It was by God’s providence that I came to this school or else I would not have continued my education. I am very grateful that I was chosen as one of your students on sponsorship so that I can have an education as a girl.”
Vera Sugem, a 17-year-old whose father died when she was 9, explained that her father was the family’s bread winner but that her mother was forced to work as a petty trader after his death. Yet, with financial assistance from her grandmother, Sugem was able to complete junior high school in 2011 and enrolled into St. Anne’s Senior Secondary School to further her studies. In her letter, however, Sugem noted that her grandmother could no longer afford to pay the school fees. Thanks to a scholarship from the organization, she is currently taking general arts courses and wishes to become a community health nurse.
Ayishetu Moro, 18, who is the 14th child of her father and the seventh child of her mother because her father has two wives, moved away from her parents to live with her educated brother because of the impoverished state of her family. She confessed that her brother could no longer pay for her tuition.
“I am a very serious and hard-working girl determined to make it in life but due to this setback in my family I am worried and actually need the support,” she wrote.
Moro is now a second-year student at the school and she said she was grateful to be accepted into the scholarship program. She plans to major in business administration and hopes to one day become a bank manager.
The school’s high academic standards have attracted young women from all over northern Ghana and attendance has risen significantly since 2003. As the number of pupils increases, the need for more educational scholarships provided by donors is fundamental to ensure that the young women attending school and those awaiting scholarships have opportunities for a better life that only education can provide.
All of the proceeds received at the 2012 fundraiser will provide scholarships, organizers said.
During her closing remarks, Morgan expressed her sentiments and hopes for the continued financial assistance required to help the young women achieve their dreams.
“The definition of ‘philanthropy,’ which comes from the Greek and literally means, ‘love of human kind’ or ‘love of others,’ is the definition applied to everyone in this room and friends within our community,” she said. “It is your love for others that urges you to share your time, your talent and your treasure, and it is in sharing that your heart expands and gives life deeper meaning.”
Click here for more information about Women to Women International and the Ghana High School Project.