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  • Writer's pictureThe Old Farmyard Forceleap Farm

So, what do you do in Ghana?

So, what have I been doing while the kids are at school? Well living in Ghana is all a bit more complicated and time consuming than England! Keeping the house clean and insect free takes thought, managing food when your children refuse to try anything spicy is tricky, sorting out drinking water when it involves a drive, keeping cloths clean in this hot dusty environment without a washing machine, fixing the car, getting kids to school and then doing home schooling when it is too hot for them to be in school, and generally trying to keep the boys healthy and not too hot in 38 degrees, all take up time, as does writing my blog!

But I have found time to consider what to do with James and my little project, that we have run in Langbinsi for the last 10+ years. The Langbinsi Community Fund was established to provide general support to the poor or needy in the area. It was started with funds from selling my car when I first came home from Ghana. Over the years we have done different things, but have settled on 2 forms of support.

Firstly, we run a revolving fund to provide small loans to support livelihoods. The loans are only £50 here, £100 there, and are mainly given to women working in groups of about 2-5 people. They borrow the money, taking on collective responsibility to repay it within 12 months with 10% interest. It is loosely based on the Dragon’s Den! The only rules are that their plan must be legal, and they must be able to convince James and I that they can make it work! We have now supported dozens of groups. I am pleased to say that only 1 loan was not repaid. It happened when the group leader died suddenly, just after she had collected the repayments from the group, so the cash was sitting in her house. Her family, fairly reasonably, argued that any money in her house belonged to the family, not the fund and not the group, so I had to let that one go. 

Secondly, we sponsor orphans to enable them to attend school. This was named the “Gifted but needy program” by Martha. It supports 6-10 orphans, who are missing out on going to school, to attend Great Stars Academy which is James and Martha's school. That support is to cover their school fees, but we also pay for two sets of uniforms, books, pens, a satchel, and sandals, so they do not look out of place with the other kids. No one wants to be the charity kid!

James and I have been discussing the future of the fund and we both feel the time has come to make it more structured and officially establish it. To do that in Ghana, we must register it as an NGO to enable us to set up a bank account. So, we have started the process of registration. All extremely boring and bureaucratic, but I feel overdue! More excitingly, on Mikey's advice, I have decided to create a new form of sponsorship to support other needy kids at the school, apart from orphans. We will now take on kids with disabilities. Here people with disabilities or disfigurements are really in trouble. At best they are ridiculed and bullied, or at least undervalued and kept hidden away at home, at worst they are abandoned to live in abject poverty begging for scraps. Some are even considered cursed, or by association their family is cursed and so can be accused of witchcraft or even killed. They are not considered to add any value to the household and, as a result, they are often trapped at home with zero expectation of what they could achieve. Until this trip I had not appreciated that this was something that James and Martha felt strongly about. But I have found out that over 20 kids at school don’t actually pay fees, as either they are the orphans that I support, or they are kids that James and Martha assist by waiving their fees. Some are orphans or abandoned children, but most have a disability of some sort. Mikey came up with the idea that the fund should support disabled students, as he has become friends with Cham-ne, who he sits next to in class.

Cham-ne has only got one leg, as the other was amputated after a hit and run car accident. James heard about the accident at the time, but a few months later he saw him lying on a mat at his house. When he asked his mother why he was not in school, she laughed at the very idea and replied that there was no point sending him to school, as he could not do anything, and she confided in James that actually, he had totally stopped speaking, so was obviously traumatised. James told them to get him a uniform and get him to the school and they would waive the fees, just to give him a chance. So, his family agreed, and they also somehow managed to get funds together to get a basic

artificial leg made. That was fitted and he has been in school for over a year now. His confidence has gradually increased and, according to Mikey, he zooms around the campus at full pelt. He has even started talking again (he would have to with Mikey as his compardre!). Unfortunately, as he grows, he is getting increasingly lopsided. Under their own volition, Mikey and Toby decided that when they get home, they are going to raise the money to get him a bigger leg. I think that is so great. I spoke to Martha about Cham-ne, and I asked if there were any other kids at the school with a disability. I then heard there were a couple of others with withered limbs, and there was one girl who has downs syndrome. A couple of the kids are nearly blind or have severe squints, and there is a deaf girl, who should go to Savelugu school for the deaf, but she is still very young, and that would involve boarding, so her family want to keep her here. Added to that, there are currently 8 gifted and needy kids that I sponsor, who are all orphans, and a handful of other really deprived kids who all have tragic histories, but thanks to James and Martha, they now have the chance to attend school. I love the fact that James and Martha have quietly instigated this support, and would continue to do so, with or without my help. They are motivated by their faith, that we are all God’s children and he created us in his image, and by their humanity, that everyone deserves a chance, and so they want to give these kids hope for the future. James’s longer-term plan is to build a vocational centre at the school, as he feels that for many kids in Langbinsi, learning a trade such as carpentry, electrics or dress making would give them more options then if they struggled through secondary school, only to find they could not secure a job in the area.

This small-scale support, working largely on a one-to-one basis, really has a massive impact on the individuals involved, and it is far easier to check that the money really ends up in the right place, you just ask the person it should have gone to! It reminds me of the African fable. A man walks onto the beach of a lake, just after it has rained, and as far as he can see, there are frogs, millions of them. A few are managing to escape by getting into the water, but the snakes are sliding out of the bushes to eat them, the birds are swooping down and grabbing their share, and the sun is beating down baking the rest.. The man sees a small boy who is picking up one frog at a time and throwing it into the lake. He approaches the boy and asks, “What are you doing? you can’t save them all!” Picking up another frog, the boy replies, “Yes that is true, but I can save this one.”

From my perspective this is the best way forward, it is not going to change the fate of nations, but it is having a major impact on the people it comes across, so I will continue to support it for as long as the fund has money! But funds are depleted after 10 years of support and so I have decided to give a large donation from selling my pickup to replenish it. But, although the revolving fund is self-sustaining, giving sponsorship is a one-way street which gradually eats into the capital. So, if we are to increase sponsorship to cover supporting kids with disabilities, we need to raise some money. If anyone is reading this and would like to help, let me know! I know we all get inundated with requests for help, but one thing in favour of this is that, as I visit Ghana most years, I check up on every donation and I know the people I am dealing with, and they know me!

I few years ago, a guy asked to borrow money from the fund, and while we were discussing his plans, I asked him how I could be assured that he would pay me back. He said he was confident he would pay back, so I asked him why. I suggested that if I was him, I would not pay as he knew I only come out for a week each year, so he could just avoid me while I was here? He replied that he would not like that as he would have to hide in the market. When I suggested that maybe that was risk worth taking, he replied, “But Madam Alice, I know that if I did not pay you back, you would cut my balls off!” I then knew then that he really was intending to pay me back, and indeed he did. What it is to have a reputation! Let me know if you want to get involved!

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