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 17, 2011

About the WHH Children's Home Phase-Out

This is a long but important article. As many of you know, WHH phased out its Children's Home, as of mid-August this year. This article explains why. We hope you'll take the time to read it through. Thanks!

In December 2010, an official from the national level of Ghana's Ministry of Women and Children (MOWAC) visited the WHH Children's Home in Axim. The Home had been in operation since December 2007, caring for 25 or so children at any one time---some permanent residents and others taken in temporarily until their family's situation could be sorted out. The WHH Board, with Ghana Together's financial support, had already supported school costs for a good number of children at a nearby neighborhood school beginning September 2007, and by December had their facility ready to take in about 25 of the most town’s most vulnerable children, providing shelter, food, health insurance/medical care, and clothing.

The MOWAC official inspected the facility with positive results, recommending only a few improvements: raise the walls on the girls' shower from six to eight feet, build a small "lip" between the boys' shower and entry way to prevent water from flowing out, and build sturdy concrete steps to the volunteer quarters to replace a somewhat steep, slippery path. WHH made these improvements immediately.

However, she also shared with WHH leaders that a few months back--in October 2010---MOWAC adopted a new national policy called the "National Plan of Action for Orphans and Vulnerable Children." The "Care Reform Initiative" part of the Plan de-emphasizes reliance on care for vulnerable children in institutions in favor of moving towards family and community-based care services for children without appropriate parental care. The goal is to reintegrate the child with the extended family (called “kinship care”), and if possible, to find relatives who are able to create a caring and stable environment for the child. If kinship care cannot be provided, temporary or permanent care with foster families can still provide a good home and if there is no possibility of a family reunion, to find the child an adoptive home, preferably with a Ghanaian family.
She explained that while there are four certified orphanages/children's homes in the region, the Ministry had decided to consolidate and certify only one of them for institutional care going forward. It is located in Takoradi, a nearby city about 45 minutes drive from Axim. She offered to move WHH children to the Egyam Orphanage, as appropriate to the individual child’s situation. She also suggested that the excellent WHH facility could well be converted into a women and children's shelter serving the entire Western Region, and that MOWAC would certify it for that use, if the WHH Board was in agreement. It was subsequently made clear by Social Welfare officials that WHH would not be certified as a Children’s Home in 2011 and beyond.

The WHH Board met late January 2011. They spent the better part of a day discussing options, including whether to turn to legal counsel to advise them or to ask their local Member of Parliament to intercede with MOWAC on their behalf. But Ghana is a democracy, and the WHH Board felt they needed to support and follow national policy. And, so, the final consensus was that since this is a national policy, and unlikely to change, the best option was to petition MOWAC to let them continue their Children's Home operation until the children had finished their school year in mid-August 2011, and meanwhile to work with Social Welfare to find homes in the Axim area and prepare the children for this major transition. They believed the children would be better off staying in Axim, which after all is not a very big town and is familiar to the children. They could attend their current school. And, if they were in Axim, WHH folks could keep an eye on their situation.
The Board rejected the idea of turning their facility into a regional shelter, believing that their mission is to support Axim specifically, especially the care and education of children and youth. They decided rather to work with the headmistress of the new All-Girls Senior High School to turn the first floor dormitory section of their facility into a senior high girls' hostel, thus opening an opportunity for girls living beyond walking distance of the high school.

They also decided that regardless of living situations, they would continue to support the children’s education and health insurance costs, monitor school attendance and living situations in collaboration with Social Welfare, and invite the children to come to the WHH Facility to use the computers and enjoy occasional social activities.
Maryanne Ward, President of Ghana Together, who was in Axim at the time and attended the meeting, assured the WHH Board that Ghana Together would continue to help them with school and health insurance costs, and would support their efforts to develop their building for other worthy educational and community purposes. We are in this together.

The WHH Board comforted themselves by thinking back on all they had accomplished---the struggle to build the facility, the satisfaction of admitting the first children, the years of constant care and attention, and pride that these children, so lacking in everything when they first came to them, are now attending school at an age-appropriate grade level, are healthy, can read, write, do math, see to homework, cook, clean, launder and press their precious school uniforms, and even have some computer skills. One WHH Board member remarked that these are not the same children who came to them in 2007. They are robust, some are leaders in their school, and they are ready to go out now and help their families and their community. She recited the WHH slogan---"Making Leaders of the Least"---and remarked that indeed, these children are young leaders in the making.
During the months following that momentous meeting, WHH and Social Welfare held a number of kinship/family meetings. They arranged family homes for every child. During the April school break, the children visited their future homes for a week. Then, in mid-August, on one eventful day, they each received a packet of rice and other foodstuffs, tied their meager belongings into a towel, and were delivered by WHH staff Isaac Bentil and Barbara Davis to their homes. School started early September, 2011.

So, where do things stand as of October, 2011? Seventeen of the children continue to live in Axim, and are attending the same school as before. WHH, with Ghana Together's help, has made sure all are in school, tuition is paid up, textbooks are in hand, and attendance is monitored. The families provide food, basic care, and ensure school attendance, and nurturing and guidance, and we might add, wisdom in the ways of Ghanaian family life. WHH will provide health insurance. Mr. Bentil reports he often sees them on their way to school and enjoys their greetings.
James Kainyiah, Chair of WHH Board, and Isaac Bentil, WHH Manager, have each taken a boy with no kinship options into their own families. Four others have been placed in kinship homes in other parts of Ghana.

One of our American Ghana Together friends was in Axim for the recent Kundum Festival -- the highlight of the year for Aximites of all ages. She met most of the children, gave them each a flashlight (their homes in all likelihood have no electricity for lighting and flashlights are prized in Axim), and said they seemed their "usual robust selves."
While this has been stressful for Western Heritage Home leaders (and we of Ghana Together looking on), we all need to remember that, like we ourselves in the US, Ghana has come to believe that children generally do better with families than in institutions. It will be a long transition, because Ghana has relied heavily on orphanages, often supported by international NGOs. But Ghana is working with UNICEF and others to transition children out of orphanages and into family homes where possible. For us in the West, this is common practice; for Ghanaians it's new and indicates their desire to adopt modern social practices.

As for our WHH Board friends, they will continue to support programs for kids and youth, based on their judgment of the best "bang for the buck." They are led by a couple of savvy, extraordinarily compassionate businessmen, a modern priest who leads a wonderful "youth service" every Sunday, and three very wise women who are leaders and know their community in and out.

As for our WHH Scholars, we’re pretty confident that with some extra support for school and health, they'll be OK. They will struggle---after all, they'll have to walk far for water, live in very close quarters, sometimes lack enough food. Life in Axim is not easy. But they will also have an increased sense of belonging and will add to their already strong arsenal of skills those needed to live in Ghana as it is today.  

All of us---donors on our side, and WHH leaders on theirs---can be thankful that we have had the privilege of giving them a giant boost! We send them out with faith in their capabilities and our loving regard.