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.

Jul 30, 2012

Elena Robertson Returns to Axim

Elena Robertson (taken at Axim Beach in June, 2012)
If you click down to our news items of Sept 12, 2008, you’ll see an article entitled “Bellingham Teen Returns from Literacy Project at WHH Children’s Home in Axim, Ghana.” Elena Robertson was about to enter her senior year of high school, and she and her Dad, Doug, hatched the mother of all “senior projects” by traveling to Axim, Ghana and working with orphaned children sheltered, at that time, by Western Heritage Home in their facility now known as the Heritage Community Learning Center. 

Fast forward to spring of 2012. Elena has just completed her second visit to Axim. Much has changed. The orphaned children have all been transitioned into kinship or foster homes. Every one of them can read and write and some are at the top of their classes. Two are actually in high school! But Axim hadn’t forgotten Elena and Elena hadn’t forgotten Axim! Axim was delighted to welcome her back.

Here is her account of her visit...

My name is Elena Robertson and I am a senior Diplomacy and World Affairs major at Occidental College in Los Angeles, California. I received a John Parke Young Fund Research Fellowship through my department to conduct an independent research project on the UN Millennium Development Goals (UNMDG) in Axim and so, between May and June of this year, embarked on my own to Ghana.
My primary goals were to understand the progress that has been made towards accomplishing the UNMDGs—that encompass everything from ending malnutrition; reducing infant and mother mortality rates; universal primary education and gender equity in education; and providing affordable technology to all—in a non-urban area of one of Africa’s most stable and most rapidly growing countries, economically.
I spent the majority of my time walking around Axim and talking with people about their lives and that gave me a sense of the areas which have developed the most and which have developed the least.

While "walking around", Elena found time to help out with the story hours in the Axim Public Library. Ghana Together has been instrumental in improving the library since Elena's initial visit in 2008. Elena is the "obroni" there, way in the back!
Through my work, I concluded that nutrition; economic opportunity; and quality of education are the areas I am most concerned with.  The people of Axim simply do not consume enough protein or vitamins, and their overconsumption of cassava may be a major factor in their health problems. As several people told me in Axim, cassava can contribute to blindness or deafness which, I discovered, is due to its (naturally occurring) dangerously high levels of cyanide. If cassava is not prepared correctly, cyanide remains in the starch and is consumed.

In most of my conversations, people emphasized how much they would like to leave Axim or get a good job but that there was simply no way to do so.  While I do not have any theories of how to improve the economic condition of Axim as of yet, I will be working on developing some ideas throughout my last year at Occidental.

It was not, however, all bad news. The general health of the East Nzema District has improved dramatically within the last 10 years—maternal and infant deaths in Axim’s hospital have dropped by nearly 90%! People had very positive things to say about how the government was helping them and the good ways their community has changed in recent years.

I will be continuing to work with this information until my graduation in May, and am currently in the midst of applying for a Fulbright research grant to travel back to Ghana for ten months and expand my research project to look at the Northern regions.
Elena with teaching staff at the new Axim All-Girls High School
Ghana Together coordinated with Western Heritage Home, our partner organization in Axim to facilitate both Elena's 2008 and 2012 visits.

In 2008, we also arranged for some pre-trip mentoring by Barbara Gilday, who was on our Board at the time and had extensive Ghana experience, and Bonnie Olpin, a retired Skagit County Washington elementary school teacher. Bonnie introduced the famous "wallpaper" books, which at least one Axim girl has carefully kept in her possession all these years!
The children hadn’t been living in the Children’s Home long at that time, and had almost no literacy. Elena gave them an initial boost. You can imagine how exciting it was for them to have this “nice obroni” (white lady) living with them for several weeks! Probably their first experience with such an exotic creature!

Elena in 2008, teaching reading to orphaned children in the Western Heritage Children's Home

Go to Ghana Together Website to Learn More...