Ghana Together News

Ghana Together works with our Ghanaian friends of Western Heritage Home, a Ghanaian-registered and managed non-profit, to improve social, educational, and health conditions in Axim, Ghana. Together we accomplish projects, connect WHH to resourceful individuals and organizations, and create sustainable programs. We make a real difference to real people in a local, grassroots effort. Our website at tells our story.

Oct 31, 2015

What about that Jerome Chandler Science Room at Axim Girls Senior High School (AGSHS)?

Happy Halloween! A perfect day to inquire about that Jerome Chandler Science Room at AGSHS you’ve heard so much about …perfect, because one of this year’s additions is just so darned appropriate to highlight TODAY OF ALL DAYS!!!

Plus, on our recent visit to Axim, we had firm instructions from Jerome to learn all we could about what’s happening to his precious Science Room! 

They were moving the Science Room to the new classroom building, and classes hadn’t begun, but we talked with the teachers, and this week --about a month into the school term -- we received photos via the magic of “Whatsapp.”

A scientifically accurate 1/2 size plastic human skeleton
Science teachers opening the skeleton. Dept. Head Eric Jim is second from the left. The five AGSHS science teachers – integrated science, chemistry, biology, physics, and agriculture – use the Science Room about once/week or as needed for practicums.

What the heck????

Three junior high schools – Life International, Morning Star, and Catholic Government School – regularly send students to the Science Room for practicums.  Akyimen-Brawere JHS has asked to join occasionally. Ahlesunna has been invited and hopefully will accept. All of these schools are within walking distance---within about 30-45 minutes. Teacher Jim schedules these schools for end of the day, so students can walk straight home after the practicums.

If you want to know what they're looking at, call Jerome!!

In addition, during the one-month school holidays in 2015, science vacation classes were held every day for junior high students.

This year, thanks to our ever-generous science fans back home in America, we supplied a scientifically accurate human skeleton, and also a little more than $1000 worth of chemicals, dry cell batteries, dessicator, and teeth and jaws of sheep and dog (!). 

We thank Evans Arloo, Western Heritage Home Operations Manager, who traveled via tro-tro the nearly 300 km to Kumasi to purchase these supplies from the same business that supplies the science department and medical school at Kwame Nkrumah Science and Technology University.

The AGSHS Science Room is equipped with both computer and overhead projectors, tables, stools, shelving, 50 scientific calculators, numerous posters, stethoscopes, and all the materials needed to support hands-on teaching of the JHS/SHS Ghana Education Science curriculum.

Jerome also wrote a definitive manual of experiments to demonstrate all the major concepts in the curriculum (reviewed by Rich Ward, who pretended to be a junior high student!). We bring Science News Magazines, for the science teachers, who have few intellectual resources. (Hint: if you subscribe to a science-oriented magazine, we can help recycle your back issues!)

We thank AGSHS Science Dept Head & Teacher Mr. Eric Jim who has worked with us from the beginning, and also Headmistress Theodora Appiah, who well understands the importance of science education (and happens to be married to a university chemistry professor!). 

Madame Theodora took leadership of AGSHS in January 2015, and she, Eric, and the teachers have put the science program into high gear! It's been fun to help them with their goals! And so we thank YOU, dear Reader!

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Oct 21, 2015

Ghana 2015 – Fun

Four of us went to Ghana in September of 2015.  The group consisted of Maryanne Ward, Susan Hirst, Louise Wilkinson and her 18 year-old granddaughter, Alexis.  All of us but Alexis had been to Ghana before.  We have written about the Leadership Workshops we did.  This is about the experiences and fun we had there as tourists! We recommend it!!

Alexis, Susan Hirst, Maryanne Ward, and Louise Wilkinson

Ghana is, as usual, friendly, colorful, and chaotic.  Because of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, there were very few visitors in Ghana last year.  Although Ebola never reached Ghana, it still is influencing tourism this year, we were told.  We were almost the only people in the hotels where we stayed in both Accra and Axim.  Perhaps that’s why internet was unavailable which made contact with families at home much more difficult.

Axim Beach Hotel with its wonderful ocean view and clean beach. It's a bit rough for swimming, but perfect for walking, enjoyiing sunsets, and just overall sheer beauty.

However, there has been a tremendous improvement in the main road from Accra to Axim.  Those bumps and potholes are mostly a thing of the past and the travel time has been cut almost by half!  But the dirt roads in Axim have not improved and getting to the Axim Beach Hotel (with its beautiful beach and comfortable thatched-roof huts) was always a wildly bumpy adventure. So was the beach road we took to the Ankroba Beach Hotel.  We were stopped by young men pulling in a long net - a boat’s catch, and Alexis was able to help them.

Cottage at the Axim Beach Hotel. Comfortable, clean, safe, good food...:)

Pull, Lexy, pull!! The guys certainly appreciated the "help" of their American friend who just happpened on the scene as we drove the coast road from Axim to Ankobra. Fun!!

We went to a Kundum festival in Nsein, a neighboring village.  It was much smaller than the Kundum in Axim but the procession and dancing were again wonderful.  The chief was carried on a palanquin on the heads of four men who were all dancing, and Alexis caught the attention of numerous handsome young men.

Nsein Villagers marching to their Kundum Festival. Can you hear the drums?

The "Dignity Ladies" dancing in their colorful blue hats and beautiful dresses.The theme of the festival was "Women Empowerment"
Finally the Chief arrives in his palanquin, to the acclaim of his people, and with a small royal princess leading the way before him. We were honored to be invited to a private meeting with the Chief, just prior to the start of the festivities.

The slave castle in Axim is 500 years old, as of this very year—2015!  We took a tour there and learned about a hidden tunnel to the island of slave embarkation and about the commandant who fell to his death while watching the ocean for the ship carrying his fiancĂ©e into port. Involvement in the slave trade makes the castle a depressing place, but there are terrific views of Axim town and the colorful fleet of boats.

The slave castle in Axim, built by the Portuguese in 1515, owned also by both the Dutch and the British, over its long history, and looking today much as it did then. We've been told the Dutch Embassy sees to its painting every so often.

Sunday we dressed for church and walked through Apewosika, the east end of town extending from the hillside down to the sea.  The hill is lined with wood and corrugated steel huts, many fish smokers, and women, children, chickens and goats.  The children and some adults were greeting us with “obroni” meaning “white person,” and “Hello how are you I am fine” in one string of words.

Typical Axim street scene while walking from the hotel to church

Mostly people are friendly, welcoming. Few "obronis" visit Axim, especially in the town center. T

The Methodist Church was full of women dressed in bright print dresses and colorful headdresses or carefully done hair with weaves.  The men look stunning in white or colorful shirts and pants and often wear shoes with long points.  We tried to slip into the church but were spotted (we do stand out) and ushered to the front and after the sermon, Maryanne was called upon to speak.  She is well-known here since she comes every year.  She did a great job of speaking and pointing out people in the congregation who had helped with many of our education and sanitation efforts in town.  Then the best part – the offering.  Row by row people danced to the front of the church to put their offerings in the basket.  There is such joy in the dancing.  Of course when it was our turn we joined them – but we can’t move like they can despite the compelling music. 

Our friend, Miss Frances Polley, a retired math teacher, dances her faith at the Axim Methodist Church. 

We were invited to the King Awulae’s home for dinner.  We were ushered into a dark living room with huge leather couches and a massive TV which was turned on for our entertainment, showing what must have been a Nigerian soap opera.  After a time we were invited to a table and served a wonderful fish soup with rice.  During this time Awulae had spoken to us only briefly which, it turns out, is customary here. 

Louise and Paramount Chief "King" Awulae Attibruskusi at her home near Seattle in 2011. He is the hereditary chief of Lower Axim and manages land and resources from Axim to Ivory Coast on behalf of his people. We were honored to have him in our midst here in NW Washington after his business trip to California. He serves on the Ghana National Petroleum Council, and in the past few months has launched a Foundation to support needy students.

However after dinner we had an interesting conversation with King Awulae and Mr. Bentil, a Ghanaian and a good friend of ours.  Awulae spoke vehemently against President Obama visiting and saying that Ghana and other African nations should legalize gay marriage.  It is very much against their culture and the law.  He spoke positively about women leaders and thinks they are not as corruptible as men.  However, when they are corrupted, they can do more damage because people have trusted them. The corruption of 30 plus justices in their court has been the big public topic of discussion here.  That is only about 10% of the justices, but Awulae is outraged that they could be corrupt when they are the keepers of justice for the people.  The head of their court of justice is a woman.  He didn’t seem to be blaming her, although he said she should take responsibility.

We spent time visiting the children formerly in the Heritage Home, catching up with them and seeing how they’d grown.  Some are at Nsein High School and others at Manye Academy.  It was wonderful to see how lovely and smart they had become.  We took toys to a preschool, and visited the Apewosika elementary school where Ghana Together is sponsoring a number of students. The children were full of energy and joy, fascinated to see these white foreigners, and swamped the delighted Alexis. 

Philo, Peter, and Charlotte---our WHH senior high scholars. They sent a message that they needed scientific calculators for their classes, which we brought for them. They are thriving at Nsein SHS.

We are proud of Kingsley, who just graduated junior high, and received a scientific calculator to celebrate! Kingsley will attend a school for welding and fabrication, and maybe some automotive mechanics training. Ernestina also graduated JHS, but was with extended family in Accra during our visit. She also received a calculator as her graduation gift.

Some of the WHH Scholars with their mentor, Evans Arloo. They attend Manye Academy, and live in the dormitory there.

Lexy with students from Apewosika Village School. Ghana Together provides tuition for 50 students from this very impoverished neighborhood. The extended family must provide uniforms, shoes, underwear, exercise book, and pencil.

Lexy and Maryanne show the new learning materials to children at the Anglican Creche in Axim. The materials are a gift from Crossroads Preschool in Burlington, WA---THANKS!!! 

We visited the Axim Library with Mercy Ackah, the former Axim librarian who is now head of the region for the Ghana Library Authority.  We have been sending books for the last several years to the Axim Library and it seems to be the only one of her five with any significant holding. While we were in Axim, 16 more boxes of books (about 2000 volumes) arrived, given by Americans, to the library. Thank you!!

Mercy Ackah, Regional Library Director for Ghana Library Authority; Gaddiel Eyisson, Axim Public Library Director; and Maryanne

We hung a picture of Tom Castor, Louise’s late husband, in the One Laptop Per Child computer room to honor his work renovating the small computers and lovingly teaching the children of Axim how to use them. 

On our last night in Axim we went to a lovely resort at the end of the point east of Axim, Lou Moon.  We were able to swim there (the lovely beach at the Axim Beach Hotel has an undertow and so swimming is not safe).  We watched a spectacular sunset and had dinner there.

Sunset with fishing canoes at Lou Moon Hotel/Restaurant---Wow!!

We met Gifty Baaba Asmah in Takoradi for lunch.  She is still working hard to improve Ghanaian life through her non-profit.  She is currently collaborating with the University of Rhode Island on ways to recycle the plastic ever-present in the Ghanaian landscape.  We spent the next few days at Kathryn Roe’s house near Cape Coast.  Kathryn has a program to provide scholarships to poor students who pass their high school exams but otherwise would not be able to continue their education.  It was a very comfortable house and we hardly noticed the 12-hour loss of electricity.  

A very nice lunch place in Takoradi with long-time friend Gifty.

Some of us did the Canopy Walk in Kakum National Forest, toured the Cape Coast Castle and “petted” the crocodiles at Han’s Botel.  And we were able to walk through the little village where Kathryn lives, Mpeasem.  

Children, children. Ghana's population is young! Ghana now provides tuition-free education through junior high school, but it's a challenge for many parents to provide the uniforms, etc. and the schools are crowded. But the difference is striking from our first visit, nine years ago.
The people were friendly and children followed us everywhere.  We bought bananas and took pictures.  It is dirt and huts, chickens and goats, and seemingly a lot of family warmth and play.

Typical family scene---Mom is a fish seller. Kids "help"!!

Kakum Forest Canopy Walk. A wonderful way to experience tropical Africa!

We spent two days in Accra, taking in some key sights - Osu to shop, Kwame Nkrumah’s tomb and museum, a workshop for coffins in shapes related to the dead person’s activities (a truck, a pineapple, a camera) and the Makola market.  We walked to the Cultural Arts Center and saw how much of the craft work is actually done.  We had dinner with Frank Cudjoe and his family – Anita and children Sue and Leif.  And we stayed at the Afia Hotel, which is charming, but has a tremendous amount of trash on the beach.

Yes, these are coffins---made after the interests of the family member who has died and will be laid to rest in them. One of Ghana's interesting traditions!

Another coffin. No doubt the family member had a love of photography and cameras! He or she will be buried in this coffin, which probably closely matches the actual camera owned by the deceased.
We recommend the Afia Hotel in Accra as a great place to stay. But, this beach, near the hotel, highlights the huge challenge Ghana faces with keeping trash off the beaches and struggling with sanitation generally.

The trip was wonderful.  We spent a lot of time working hard and interacting with high school students, and were able to relax and enjoy some amazing places.

Our all-time favorite photo, taken by Susan Hirst, photographer extraordinaire! The three children are "students" at the Anglican Creche. We LOVE the hairdo!!!

So much pure fun with wonderful friends. We are grateful, especially for the wonderful care given us by the staffs of the various hotels, the many drivers who transported us safely---esp. Quamie Annan, to Kathryn Roe for her hospitality in Cape Coast, and to the friendly, welcoming people of Ghana!

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Ghana Together is a US-registered 501c3, EIN 26-2182965

Oct 14, 2015

Leadership Workshops in Ghana

Recently, you’ve been reading News Updates about toilets, building renovations, and scholarships in Axim, Ghana. This News Update breaks some new ground!

Four of us have just returned from a trip to Ghana: Maryanne Ward, the head of Ghana Together (GT) who travels to Ghana every year; Susan Hirst, GT supporter who has taught science, been a middle school counselor, and was an AIDS educator on three former trips to Axim; Louise Wilkinson, a board member of GT and retired educator from Boeing who has extensive experience working with adult groups on leadership and cultural diversity and who traveled to Ghana twice with her husband, Tom; and Louise’s 18 year-old granddaughter, Alexis Coats. Alexis just graduated from High School in Vancouver, WA, and is headed for a nursing career.
Maryanne Ward, Susan Hirst, Louise Wilkinson, Alexis Coats, and James Kainyiah (Chair of partnering organization, Western Heritage Home)

The three adult women are original “founding mothers” of Ghana Together and have been involved in Axim one way or another for almost nine years.

The purpose of this journey was to work with Ghanaian youth on personal leadership. We had floated the idea for several months among the Head Mistress and teachers of the Axim Girls Senior High School (AGSHS), and to the Director of the Axim Community Vocational Technical Institute (CDVTI) where they teach dress-making, cooking, hair-dressing, electrical work and auto mechanics as well as some academic and entrepreneurial skills.
Louise and Madame Safiatu Seidu, Director of the Community Development Vocational and Technical Institute in Axim, Ghana. They are planning the Leadership Workshop for the coming week.

We also proposed the idea to Kathryn Roe of Cape Coast and Bellingham, WA. Kathryn is the Founder and Director of Anansi Education, which provides scholarships to enable good but impoverished students to attend high school in Cape Coast.

All of these leaders responded with a lot of interest so we developed a curriculum and began scheduling several months in advance of the visit. The Ghanaian school administrators suggested we give the Leadership Workshop the first two weeks of the new term, because we would be working with Form 3 (senior) students. The Workshop would be the perfect orientation, launching them into their last year of senior high school with some new skills to figure out their futures.

And so, after considerable planning, we bravely embarked! We were confident! We had all the bases covered for presentations on Leadership Skills to Ghanaian high school students. Of course, it would go smoothly. After all, Louise is a specialist in leadership and multicultural understanding, Susan in junior and senior high students, and Lexy, in being a real teenager! What could possibly go wrong??

The Axim Girls Senior High School (AGSHS) building---newly opened during the first days we were there

HA! We had forgotten to take into consideration that we were in Ghana!

Little did we or they know that a changed Ghana Education Service policy required the AGSHS girls who were boarding at the Heritage Building to move out, pronto, never mind they had just arrived on campus hours before!

Computer/science/administrative/teachers’ rooms became instant “dormitories” more or less in one day. Mattresses strewn on the lawn. Bunk beds crammed into rooms. Teachers and students carrying desks, tables, chairs, contents of administrative offices, computers, science materials to a newly-opened classroom building.

Mattresses on the grass. The "boarding" students had to move quickly with their meagre possessions---a mattress, sheet, two uniforms, probably one other outfit, personal items...

The school’s electrician, whose Nzema name actually translates as “God the Father” (comforting thought!), had to bravely install the solar panels on the roof of the new two-story classroom building to keep the Internet-In-a-Box and computer lab running, and that only with help with a specialist from Toronto via the shaky internet connection!

Lacking their hastily vacated teacher’s room, which was suddenly filled with bunkbeds, mattresses, and the small bags of personal belongings, teachers were simply sitting in chairs under a tree putting together the new academic year as best they could!

On top of that, there were two national holidays during our two-week window---Kwame Nkrumah’s birthday, and a Muslim Holy Day---that had not been factored in.

But this is Ghana, where everyone somehow manages to cope with grace and dignity, no matter how trying the circumstances.

Headmistress Theodora Appiah, keeping her cool (and demonstrating “leadership under pressure” beautifully!), continued stoically working from her makeshift “office” in one of the classrooms, trying her best to keep some semblance of order and hospitality for her foreign guests.
The "ever-cheerful-no-matter-what" Madame Theodora Appiah, Headmistress of AGSHS. Her motto is: "I would rather try and fail, then not try at all." An example of leadership right there in front of her students.

Teacher Jerry Kwofie managed to pull together the rather frazzled students, who, of course, having just arrived on campus hours before after a month’s vacation, had no idea that they were going to be the first-ever participants in Leadership Training in the entire Nzema East District!

And yes! We DID manage to conduct three wonderful workshops in Axim, and another in Cape Coast, with about 100 students total, mostly in groups of around 25.

One of the groups received six hours of class time. Others had four or five hours, and one group had two hours. Not quite as planned; however, we felt that all the groups appreciated the information and learned something from the presentations.
Leadership Workshop participants at the Axim Girls Senior High School

Louise led the discussions, as Susan chimed in and Alexis wrote information on the board and provided real life examples. 

We started out asking students to name good leaders. They named political figures, local headmistresses, and their local tribal chief. Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana, was on every list. These leaders all had positions of power. We asked students to list what things made these people “good” leaders and they came up with lists of characteristics befitting these famous leaders.
Louise working with AGSHS girls in a small group

We then asked them to list people in their lives who had influenced and helped them. Parents, siblings, and friends made this list, and these were people without fame or titles who were able to influence others. 

We pointed out that each student there was a leader because they could use their “leadership” qualities to have influence over themselves and others. We asked them to look at the list of good qualities and think of which qualities they now had and which they would like to get. Alexis said that she was very shy and it was hard to speak in front of a group, so she was using these classes to work on confidence. The students were very impressed with her honesty.

We divided the students into small groups, gave each group a different situation, and asked the groups to report out on what they would do in this situation. For example, one group had to decide what, as leaders, they would do if “You see a friend of yours stealing a computer from the school computer lab.” Another group was challenged with “A younger girl you know starts going home with an older man.” The students really worked on these situations and gave great reports.

Susan Hirst working with students at AGSHS

As we worked through the program, Louise introduced the themes of trust, critical thinking, and emotional intelligence, using words and examples that the students could understand. These were presented as leadership skills that provide the foundation for creating good relationships and making good choices, for themselves and others.

Group work followed and the students were again given a variety of situations which related to their larger community: “An oil company opens an office in town. They bring workers from their country. You ask why they don’t hire local people. You are told the local people are not adequately educated and are not reliable or prompt. What would you as a leader do?”

And: “Women cut up fish on the beach. The beach is dirty and some people get sick from the fish. You ask why the beach has to be dirty. People say there is nowhere else to go to the toilet. What would you as a leader do?” Again the students really worked together and gave great reports about how they would deal with these problems as leaders in the community.

AGSHS students. These young woman are probably among the first in their families, and in fact in Ghana itself, to attain a senior high school education. Ghana generally, and Axim specifically, especially through the leadership of Chief Awulae Attibrukusi, has put major emphasis on "girl education." One of the Chief's common sayings is, "Educate a woman. Educate a family."

At the end of each class, students were encouraged to review and affirm their learning by saying together, “I am a leader, I am a leader of myself, I am a leader of others, I am a good leader…..” adding more qualities and ending with “I am a leader!” There was wonderful energy as the students left the room and then waited outside to take pictures of us, and especially of themselves with Alexis.
Lexy Coats assisting her Grandmother Louise by capturing concepts on the board. The students had personal notebooks in which to capture the concepts for themselves. Lexy had the opportunity to make friends among her peers in Ghana---we wish every American teenager could have such an experience!

Adults sat in on some of the courses, helping us communicate well with the students and providing us perspective on how they might be receiving the learning. One adult suggested that we include religion more clearly in the curriculum, noting that prayer is used more than choice when making good decisions. Another said the group exercises were very powerful, enabling students to apply what they had learned. Another, James Kainyiah, told the group that they were very fortunate to have had this leadership learning so early in their lives, and that he wishes he had had this advantage. We felt we had given them some very useful information and, as usual, learned even more from them.

We are working on getting feedback from the students (and adults). These types of class activities---using groups, personal stories, open-ended real-life situations, open discussion, role-playing---are new to them. We’d not only like to know how the classes affected the students, but how they can help us improve! After all, the Municipal Chief Executive (Mayor) of Axim has requested the workshop for his staff! Who knows…???

The Workshop leaders with some of the AGSHS workshop participants. 
The Leadership Class at the Community Vocational Institute. This class included  young men learning such trades as electrician and auto mechanics. 

Maryanne’s role was basically logistical---seeing to introductions, lodging, meals, taxis, classroom space, etc.  She also reviewed a number of Ghana Together projects, including checking up on students on scholarship with Ghana Together, working with the library, computer and science lab people, including delivering a complete half-size human skeleton, visiting old friends in the community and, we understand, giving a very graphic demonstration on how to use the new toilet that had been installed.
A half-size human skeleton (plastic) given to the AGSHS Science Lab, courtesy of the one and only Jerome Chandler, and somehow carried all the way to Africa by Maryanne. And thank you Ghana Customs for having the sense not to look too closely! And there we are...what we do for science!!

We are grateful to have had this opportunity. We thank our Ghanaian hosts for their welcome, and for encouraging their students to participate wholeheartedly. We hope the Workshop made a positive impact on their lives. 

Thank you!

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