Saturday, May 26 , 2018, 1:33 pm | Fair 67º


Women to Women International Fundraiser Helps Educate, Empower Ghana Girls

Santa Barbara benefit raises funds to provide 15 students with another year of high school

Helping young women succeed in underdeveloped regions of the world often begins with education, and the Third Annual Women to Women International Ghana High School Project aims to help 15 young women achieve their education and business goals.

More than 60 guests attended an Aug. 28 fundraiser on behalf of the Ghana High School Project. The benefit was held at a private home on Santa Barbara’s Upper Mesa.

The charity event was an intimate affair mixed with a delightful pinch of good cheer and a dash of international flair.

When guests arrived at the ranch-style house they were greeted warmly by Michel Nellis, founder and president of Women to Women International, who stood near the doorway.

The intoxicating rhythm of jazz horns, bongo and guitars flowed from hidden speakers throughout the home as visitors made their way across the bright and airy foyer and into the dining area, where a large oval table was laden with delectable food.

Guests helped themselves to an array of international cuisine shared by volunteers and staff members, who prepared and provided the diverse ethnic dishes.

The carte du jour ranged from spicy black-eyed pea fritters from Ghana and chile rellenos and spicy lemon shrimp from Mexico to chicken satay with peanut butter dipping sauce from Thailand.

Small groups of people formed around the table, chatting and sampling the tasty dishes, while others filled plates and ventured out to the patio and dined in the warm afternoon sunshine.

Later, everyone regrouped on the patio as Nellis welcomed the guests. She asked all the volunteers and staff members to stand up and graciously thanked them for their efforts. Sara Weber and Bob Hurlbett were also acknowledged for their generosity in opening their home to host the fundraiser.

Nellis explained to the crowd of onlookers that the afternoon’s goal was to raise the funds necessary to sponsor 15 exceptional girls enrolled at St. Anne’s Secondary School for Girls in Damongo, Ghana.

“It costs only $400 per year to educate, feed, house and buy books and uniforms for each girl, which totals $6,000 per year to send 15 girls to school,” said Nellis. “Our overhead is minimal and we want nearly every dollar we collect to support these girls and the school.”

During her speech, Nellis said she formed the nonprofit organization in 1992 as a way to help educate young women worldwide. She said she heard about the young women at St. Anne’s from her friend, Silvia Morgan, CEO of the Ghana High School Project, and felt compelled to reach out to these brave young women and help them succeed.

“I’ve had people ask me why I think this project is important,” Nellis said. “Because, if you educate a girl, you educate a family, and if you educate a family, you support a village.”

Nellis said the students, who range in age from 16 to 21, have great aspirations for the future. Without this annual sponsorship, the young women would not have the opportunity to attend school and would likely be forced to work in subsistence farming, care for younger siblings and possibly have children of their own as teenagers, she said.

St. Anne’s is located in the small village of Damongo, one of the most desolate and poverty-stricken areas in northern Ghana. While the school has access to the Internet and limited phone service, the area is prone to frequent power outages that leave more than 400,000 people without electricity for weeks at a time.

Nonetheless, Nellis and Morgan recently made contact with the students at the school through Skype and were overwhelmed with emotion.

“When I first saw the girls, I just started crying because they all became so real to me when I saw their little faces,” Morgan said.

Monthly meetings are now scheduled via Skype with the school principal, Gabriella Wumnaya, to check on the students’ progress.

In 2009, the first annual sponsorships enabled 15 young women to be admitted to St. Anne’s. The girls are currently in their junior year, excelling in mathematics, English and business administration courses.

“All the girls want to go college,” Morgan said. “And some of them want to study in the U.S. after they graduate.”

Since the founding of St. Anne’s in 2003, the school’s high academic standards have attracted young women from all over northern Ghana. Attendance has risen to 180 students from 30.

Additionally, the Catholic boarding school welcomes girls from all faiths and tribes, which is important in a region populated by diverse sects of religious beliefs and practices.

“Even though St. Anne’s is a Catholic school, the staff promotes nondenominational practices,” said Morgan. “The goal is not to convert, but to educate.”

After her speech, Morgan asked the guests to sponsor a girl of their choice and called out each girl’s name, desired occupation and future goals.

For example, Gloria Issah wants to be a lawyer because when women have legal problems many don’t have the peers or proper representation that’s needed to assist them. Lawrencia Zimpah wants to be a journalist and report on important issues in remote villages, such as the need for drinking wells.

“Whatever their goals are, we strive to help get them there,” said Morgan. “I want the girls to have hopes and dreams and thoughts of greatness, and most of all I want them to achieve.”

Morgan went on to explain that if someone is unsure how much they can give she often reminds them that the project is not about donations, but contributions.

“If you learn about the project and tell one other person, then you have done a great part in spreading the word,” said Morgan. “Because even a small amount goes a long way in Ghana.”

The 2011 Women to Women International Ghana High School Project fundraiser again met its goal of supporting the 15 girls for the upcoming school year.

Click here for more information about Women to Women International and the Ghana High School Project. To donate or sponsor a student of the Ghana High School Project, call 805.964.6688 or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews, and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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