– Part 1 of a Series by Professor Heather Heckel, American University
Each spring, my international environment and development class has the opportunity to travel to Ghana. The students who are participating in American University’s Washington Semester Program tour Ghana in an effort to learn about challenges and successes in a developing nation.
We travel through much of the country, from Accra (the capital) to Kumasi, the cultural and historical capital of the Ashanti people, up to Tamale, a regional capital in the Northern region. Through this trip, we see rapidly growing wealth on the coast, pride in history and culture throughout the nation, but sadly still enormous inequality between urban and rural and North and South.
The Northern regions are part of the Sahel geographic zone and struggle to farm in an area with little water and rapidly expanding dessert. The poverty as well as the lack of clean water, sanitation, education, and other infrastructure, is quite difficult. My students engage in fundraising and awareness initiatives while in Washington, DC to help support projects in six villages in this region including scholarships to school, the construction of a primary school, health insurance funds, and clean water access.
Finding Inspiration in an SOS Village
One of the highlights of our trip, is our annual visit to an SOS Children’s Village in Ghana which has served the children of Ghana for over thirty years. There are many challenges in Ghana, especially with the education system, and visiting SOS is always an empowering and heartening experience, because my students and I can get to see a model for how things could be for all children.
At the SOS Village, the houses are taken care of, updated, and made a point of pride for the children and the SOS staff. Children live in families of eight to twelve in nice houses with running water, toilets, electricity, and perhaps most importantly loving mother’s and aunts.
We met one ‘grandmother’ who was retiring from SOS after 30 years of working in this village and she was given an honorary room in one of the homes for her retirement. Her SOS children and grand children come to visit frequently and she was truly an inspiration to us all.
And we met ‘the quads’, four identical children who were abandoned by their young mother who simply could not care for them. The first year we met them, they were about three, very small, very shy, and not yet talking and I was very worried for them. Last year, they were six, and I held back tears as I watched them running around, playing with my students, and talking all about their favorite things at school and at home.
SOS Putting Education First
Most impressive to me, as a lifelong educator, is the school, where there is a library with actual books, a computer lab that works, and most importantly children and teachers engaged in focused learning throughout the day.
On our last visit the older students were studying hard for exams on a Saturday! Now this may not sound remarkable, but it is, because sadly in much of rural Ghana, the schools lack teachers, electricity, water, toilets, chairs, chalkboards and even the most basic supplies.
I have toured schools where two or three teachers were working with 300 or more students using a handful of tattered books, while the children sat on the dirt floor in 100 degree heat.
Bringing Hope Back Home
The opportunities the children of SOS Children’s Villages receive, and the sharing of those opportunities with the surrounding communities are a true success story and an inspiration to my students, and I, each year.
I admire the work the staff does, I am grateful to the many donors involved, and I am given hope by meeting the young people and knowing that though they have experienced many hardships, they are resilient, hard working, talented, and they have very bright futures ahead of them.
- – - – -
Throughout the upcoming weeks, SOS will be posting blogs and photos from Dr. Heckel’s students about their experiences visiting an SOS Children’s Village and Ghana on this site. Bookmark this site or subscribe to this blog’s RSS feed to read more stories about Professor Heckel’s class and SOS Children’s Villages in Ghana.
You can help children in Ghana and around the world. Learn about sponsoring a child with SOS Children’s Villages and sign up to receive the SOS USA eNewsletter to stay informed on issues affecting children.