Culture for a cause – Hay River project helps students in West Africa receive an education

From left, Kiley Phillips, Zac Buchanan, Dani Phillips and Anna Cunningham peruse some of the Ghanain goods at the Fisherman’s Wharf on Saturday afternoon. Money from the goods sold goes to the Canada-Ghana education project that puts Ghanian children through school.

The Canada-Ghana education project has come a long way since it began in 2006. Its founder, Chelsea Simpson of Hay River first began the initiative by helping one boy in the small town of Cape Coast, Ghana. Since then, her mother Bette Lyon and sister Keelen Simpson have become heavily involved. They began selling imported Ghanian products at the Fisherman’s Wharf on Saturdays during the summer, have enrolled 24 children in schools and have witnessed two graduations – the second was this year.

This year’s graduate is Naana, she recently completed her final tests and is still waiting for results. Over the years, said Simpson, the cost of books, materials and registration has increased immensely, making it more difficult for parents to pay the required fees all in one shot. This results in poor attendance among students.

“Books have become insanely expensive there,” said Simpson. “A lot of kids there who don’t go to school at all or get kicked out because they can’t pay for a certain textbook, or shoes, or a uniform, they (staff) will send you away till you show up with it. They expect parents to pay for all of these things at once and it’s a lot.”

One of the members of their organization travels to Ghana every year with four large bags of school supplies. They also bring money to local volunteers who take care of school registration. Then they pick up goods to sell in Hay River to raise money for the project.

According to Unicef, the net attendance ratio in primary school in the African nation was 74 per cent for males and 75 per cent for females as of 2009. That number drops to 48 percent for males and 44 per cent for females by secondary school. The adult literacy rate in Ghana as of 2010 was 67 per cent.

Chelsea Simpson said the project is much larger than anything she set out to do. She recalled the first boy she put into school. Kwame was five years old, had no parents, and a grandmother who couldn’t look after his needs. He began working for one of her neighbours in exchange for a place to sleep and eat.

“He wasn’t really being taken care of,” said Simpson. “I thought if I can spend a small amount and put him in school then why not. I never thought about how much more we would get into it. Now these kids can go to school and they are guaranteed a full education and an opportunity when they might not otherwise have.”

by Angele Cano