Happy Spring Everyone!
I hope all of you have experienced a wonderful year so far and are enjoying the nice weather. We’re sorry for being a little M.I.A. as of late. We had to make a few very important decisions involving the direction of the organization, and wanted to make sure that we had thought everything through as carefully and thoroughly as possible.
As some of you may know, I recently visited Ghana to assess the progress of the school that we helped fund and also to grasp a better understanding of our role as a non-profit organization in other communities.
Erica Memorial International School (EMIS) was established by Felix Kyere Yeboah from the FL Faith Child Foundation, and was officially opened in January of 2012. They decided to name the school after Erica since we are the sole benefactor for this project. In June of 2012, we had two volunteers, Sho and Ken, travel to Ghana to assist them in making major repairs to the school. Cracks in the walls were plastered and the entire school was cleaned and then painted. Desks and chairs were bought for all of the teachers, much needed teaching/learning materials were purchased, supplies for a school kitchen were secured, and a urinal for the boys and girls was constructed.
By the end of the year 2012, there were over 150 students ranging from K1 to 2nd grade. It was incredibly encouraging for us to hear that things at this school seemed to be going so well. Upon visiting it, however, I saw that there were many unforeseen issues that we had not anticipated.
Many of them that stemmed from the fact that the school is located in a very remote, rural location. One of their main reasons for choosing the location was because of its remoteness. But, unfortunately this discouraged many of the kids in the surrounding villages from attending the school because of the distance and poorly constructed roads they would need to travel to get to it. EMIS is currently the only primary school in the area, so all of the children in Essakrom and the neighboring village interested in being educated must go to it. They hired five teachers, all from Essakrom, and most, if not all of them, had not yet received their teaching certificates.
Initially, although they weren’t completely qualified, it seemed like they would be able to work with them, as most of the teachers had received some secondary level education and because many teachers in other private institutions within the country worked under-qualified. However, it became apparent that they were not effectively teaching the students from the material that had been provided for them. In addition, there were several teachers who would often show up hours late to school. They tried to brainstorm solutions for this problem, like bringing in teachers from other villages. But the nearest town with a good teaching program is several hours away from EMIS, so it wouldn’t be practical to have those teachers commute to our location. If we helped pay for their relocation and moved them closer to the school, we would also have to provide for their housing and living, which would likely get very complicated and expensive.
Inexperience was not the only issue. The teachers required more supervision and guidance. Felix Yeboah, the coordinator of the FL Faith Child Orphanage (a home that we also fund), started the school and has been the acting director for EMIS. His home and orphanage are located in Berekum, which is a little more than 4 hours away by car or taxi. In order for him to manage both projects, he is required to travel back and forth a few times a week, which is both time-consuming and expensive for him.
They looked into hiring a head master for the school. While in Ghana, I went with Felix to interview a few candidates who qualified for the position. They needed someone who we could trust to do the job, had previous experience, and could keep this school running largely without our involvement. Once again, they encountered the problem of finding someone who lived close enough to the school.
Felix at this point had the idea of moving the school to where there are more educated teachers and a chance to draw in more students – an opportunity to bring education to an even greater number of children. It was ultimately our choice for what we decided to do regarding the outcome of the school since we would have to fund this move, and it put us in a very difficult place. While it was clear that we had to take some action, we knew that relocating the school would mean giving up the school that we had helped set up and that the kids in Essakrom and the neighboring village would have to return to long commutes to school. With the lack of collaboration we received from the teachers and the difficulty working with the limited availability of resources, we knew that this school would not be able to sustain itself for long.
When I came back from my trip, I met up with Connie and Phil to discuss the current issues with this school and what would be best for both it and the non-profit. In the end, we came to the conclusion that starting our own school elsewhere would be the best option, ethically and financially, for both the villagers and us. With a new school however, we will have to start from the ground up. Previously they had taken an old abandoned building and simply renovated it. This time, we will have to buy a plot of land, build a structure for the school, and move all of the supplies, desks and chairs from the old school to the new one. There will be much more work involved this time, but we believe that a school we can manage from the beginning has a higher chance of success and the potential to become a self-sufficient, self-sustaining school.
Along with these decisions involving the direction of the non-profit, we discussed the possibility of changing the name of the organization. While the original name that Ms. Teevens came up with when we founded the non-profit, Erica’s Helping Angels, was well-suited and befitting, we realized that the name has many religious associations and that, as a non-profit organization, we should remain secular so that more people can relate to the fundamental mission and goals of our organization. We finally came up with Erica’s Global Outreach, which I believe reflects Erica’s dreams to reach out and give to the world. I want to say thank you to all of those that put in name suggestions and helped me throughout this process, and I also would like thank my brother for helping me come up with the name.
I just want to finally express my gratitude for all of your ongoing support and dedication to our mission and honoring Erica’s dreams – without your help, we would not be able to do the things we do.
Please keep checking in for more updates and news!
With much love,