Our March 2015 newsletter is ready.
This edition features stories about our programs, achievements and testimonies from volunteers and students.
As always it is filled with pictures, news, testimonies and encouragement.
If you would like a hard copy, after reviewing please let us know by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Now its time to read this months edition. Open the following link :
B.A.S.I.C.S faces new challenges as West Africa fights Ebola
The Ebola virus that has been devastating West Africa since March this year has left a trail of destruction in its path. The virus is widespread through Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone and has not only affected those diagnosed, but has impacted on the lives and economies of everyone in the region.
Much of West Africa, including Ghana, is experiencing a drop in their tourism sector. Large events expected to see important foreign investment such as the UN World Tourism Organisation Conference have been cancelled or postponed, leaving the Ghanaian economy and hotels suffering.
Other industries are too feeling the effects of the outbreak, with some vessel traders banning entry to the region for fear of their crew contracting the disease. This leaves local commodity traders struggling to find vessels.
Disruptions to the planting season in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone have led to fewer staple crops being planted later than scheduled. In Liberia, the price of the staple crop Cassava has increased by 150%, with food prices expected to increase across the region and food price shocks likely to lead to inflation.
Ghana is currently Ebola free and has not had any reported cases of the virus. This does not leave the country immune from the ripple effect on health, businesses and day to day living. Fear that the disease will infiltrate the country is high, particularly at the under resourced medical facilities in the country. Dr. Abdallah, a doctor at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra has reported that he and his colleagues will run away if Ebola reaches the hospital. “I mean we really, really don’t feel safe…. Our system isn’t ready for Ebola.”
The outbreak of Ebola is affecting also non-for-profit organisations in the region, including us here at B.A.S.I.C.S. As a result of Ebola, B.A.S.I.C.S volunteers have drastically reduced. Volunteers scheduled to arrive have delayed their trips, and partnering Universities, which B.A.S.I.C.S has relied on for some time to send enthusiastic and passionate Volunteers, have suspended their volunteer programs until the crisis has passed.
B.A.S.I.C.S also runs a major fundraiser each year in order to keep Nana’s House II running. Expenses such as overheads for the centre, food for the feeding program, and supplies for tutoring are covered by this annual event. The major fundraiser for 2015 was set to be a grand tour of Ghana; ‘Journey to Africa.’ Due to the circumstances, the fundraiser has been cancelled, and our resources are now stretched thin. We need your help!
We are turning to the community for support through this difficult time. We required $50,000 USD in order to continue running Nana’s House II, staff the centre, and continue our programs in 2015. We are raising funds through our Razoo Page and are also accepting private donations. Please get in touch at info@basicsinternational if you would like to contribute.
You can read more about the impact on the region here:
Jess O’Farrell volunteered with us for two months in 2010. She can’t get enough of us here at B.A.S.I.C.S and still helps out when she can! Here’s her story:
I had just turned 19 when I touched down in Accra on a hot Sunday morning ready to begin my two month stay in Ghana. Allotey, (the Programs Manager) greeted me wearing a bright green tshirt that read B.A.S.I.C.S.
Phew. So far so good.
Allotey welcomed me to Ghana with a quick tour of city on the way to my accommodation. I sat in the car and studied the traffic, which didn’t appear to observe any of the road rules I was used to back home in Australia. Allotey pointed out fruit and vegetable markets, and used colourful language to describe the other drivers on the road. He also invited me to come along to a special excursion that day. B.A.S.I.C.S was taking 50 students to a swimming pool as a special treat to those children who had a good attendance record and exhibited good behaviour. I was keen to get started so off I went.
My first impression of the children was that they were just like the kids I knew from home. They were singing songs on the bus, squealing at sights outside the windows and playing games with each other on the journey to the pool. I felt like I could have been on any one of my own childhood school excursions. The children embraced me immediately, asking me to teach them to swim, and splashed around playing games in the pool. It was clear that this was the first time most of these kids had ever been to a swimming pool.
I was put in charge of monitoring the showers and toilets at the end of the day, where I noticed some of the familiarities slipping away. Never had I seen children of primary school age clean and ring out there clothing with such ferocity, and once I had explained how the soap dispenser worked I had to monitor its use so that every child did not collect ten handfuls of liquid soap each! I found myself explaining how to flush a toilet, and watched as many of the younger children had little idea how a routine toilet-visit might play out. This is where it hit me that I knew very little about where these children lived, and what their lives were like.
Over my two months I did learn. It was common for these children to sleep on the floor of their homes, sharing one room with their whole family. There are no toilets in Chorkor, evidence of this can be found on the beaches. Girls at the age of 12 find themselves faced with pressure from their community to get pregnant and drop out of school (if they’re even attending.) Children work around their schooling hours to support their family, and many will be expected to continue their parents trade of fishing or selling goods at the markets. Each child had a story, some involving heavy abuse, and even trafficking.
The founder, director, and local hero Pat Wilkins, showed me what altruism looks life. Pat willingly puts her blood, sweat and tears into B.A.S.I.C.S each day to give these children the best chance at breaking the cycle of poverty.
The children at B.A.S.I.C.S are just regular kids. Teacher’s pets, class clowns, sporty kids, academic kids and creative kids. B.A.S.I.C.S is giving them the opportunity to climb out of poverty and fulfil their dreams of become doctors, astronauts, football players, and funnily enough, a lot of them wanted to be bankers! Must be a Ghanaian thing…
Superstar volunteer Stephanie Wiley shares her story with us, and we are so grateful for her hard work! There is always room for you at B.A.S.I.C.S Steph.
I had become involved at B.A.S.I.C.S. International as a volunteer by participating in a study abroad program through Michigan State University during June 21st-August 2nd 2013. The month and a half that I had spent in Ghana was much more impactful on me than I expected; and I know this sounds cheesy and cliché, but it truly was a life changing experience. Prior to going on this trip, I was somewhat nervous by working with children because I haven’t been around kids too much and I was studying social work, not education. But I can say without a doubt that after spending time with these amazing students they made me realize how much I really do enjoy children. They are the part in the world that is pure innocence and joy; and this entire experience made me see the greater things in life.
I was placed with the second grade classroom, and it was interesting because even though most of the kids were around the same age, there was a little bit of variation in ages. The class was close to evenly split with five boys and six girls (who were all in the same class at school). All of them were able to communicate in English quite well for being as young as they were; even though sometimes they would forget that they would not be able to talk to me in their local language, Ga. I do regret not learning basic words in their language, so hopefully if I do get a chance to go back I can learn a little bit!
The way our routine would start at B.A.S.I.C.S. was by having the all of the volunteers stand at the front of the facility inside the gates so they would be able to greet the children as they walk in. Slowly but surely the students would make their way in and would go to each individual volunteer to say hello to them. That was one thing that I really appreciated and respect about B.A.S.I.C.S.; not only are they helping improve the child’s education, but they are also teaching them great everyday life lessons. Some of the kids are too young to realize what an impact a basic greeting is to someone, but I bet once they get a little older they will soon realize that it is something greatly appreciated among adults.
Once all of the children had made it to the facility and went to their grade assigned table, they would work with the volunteers for just a brief time or socialize for a time as well. Afterwards, they would take about 10-20 minutes for ‘meditation’, which actually would turn to nap time for some which I thought was hilarious since sometimes I’d catch people drooling. And plus, I wish I was able to fall asleep in under 10 minutes! Once everyone woke up, they would then say their daily prayer before receiving a freshly cooked meal.
I personally really enjoyed the Ghanaian food and was very proud that I was finally able to enjoy spicy food and a little bit of fish. I would say that the two meals I liked the most at B.A.S.I.C.S. was banku with okra stew and jollof rice with beans I think as a side (I can’t remember exactly). My favorite meal that I ate a few times while in Ghana was Groundnut Soup with either a rice ball, banku or fufu-so if you get a chance you should try it! Sometimes the food was quite spicy and the children would laugh at us because we just could not handle the heat. The children would have to clean up all of their dishes afterwards, and once again this teaches them daily life routines that they aren’t even realizing are being reinforced.
Once the meal was finished, we would start working on the homework they had been assigned for the day. Because I was in the second grade class, all of their work was quite basic which I was happy with because like I said, I was nervous about having to be a tutor for them. I especially enjoyed reading with the children. I will always remember working with one student who wasn’t very confident in his reading and writing skills. I encouraged him that it was okay to make mistakes as long as he kept trying; and soon enough he actually wanted to read to me instead of me pushing for him to. All of the grades would also do weekly spelling tests which I found fun to observe. All the kids did quite well, and they would receive stars or points depending on how well they did, which was then displayed on the board for their specific class. The children would become competitive which was encouraging to see, but then when some would feel defeated a volunteer would be there them to comfort and explain to them that everything will be okay.
Another cool part about B.A.S.I.C.S. was that they would do different clubs and activities on Fridays which I really enjoyed being a part of. I chose to help with the music club since I had been involved in the drumline in high school. There was quite a variety of instruments that were provided and it was so great to see the children really interested in how to play an instrument. Whether it was the drums, keyboard or guitar, all of the kids who were part of the music club truly enjoyed learning about this different type of art. Various other clubs were also available such as: games, choir, reading, computers and I think dance.
As far as living arrangements went while volunteering at B.A.S.I.C.S., we were not staying at the boarding house that most, if not all of volunteers usually stay at. Because my program was arranged by MSU and we had additional travel plans, we had stayed at a house about an hour drive away. (Do keep in mind it probably should not have taken an hour to get there, the traffic was just quite demanding). If I do get the chance to return to B.A.S.I.C.S., I would have no problem staying right in the heart of Charkor and actually wish that was where we had to stay for the program. Yes, the lifestyle is completely different than my life here in the U.S.; but if you are able to get right into the culture and truly see how another one lives in the world, why would you want to pass up that opportunity? I feel like I would definitely have had a more in depth experience with the children and the families within the community if we stayed there and that would provide me a greater understanding for what their lives are really like.
My time in Ghana had showed me a completely different way of life; and all of the experiences I had encountered evolved me into the person I currently am today (which let me tell you is drastically different than before). I cannot express enough in words how grateful I am to have received such an extreme paradigm shift after being in Ghana. Not only did it show me the bigger picture to the world, but it also helped me understand what it means to be truly happy. I cannot say for all developed countries, but at least in the United States, happiness is often correlated with more money or materials; and let me just state that that idea is completely inaccurate.
Happiness has nothing to do with the stuff you have, it has to do with your positive mindset, gratitude and finding joy in the smallest things. The Ghanaian culture taught me to be free to express myself and enjoy who you were made to be. To just dance to the fullest, smile always and enjoy life; because for all we know, we only have one life to live. Just because everyone is alive, does not mean you are actually living; many simply just exist, following a routine they think life is supposed to consist of. Life is meant to be exciting and filled with adventure, so if you are lucky enough to take the chance to make your way over to Africa and explore, I suggest you have B.A.S.I.C.S International as a brief stop throughout your journey!
Here is another insight to what volunteering at B.A.S.I.C.S is like. The fantastic Bridget Hochwalt donated her time and talents at the centre during the summer of 2012. She shares her story with us today.
“I was recommended to volunteer at B.A.S.I.C.S by a friend who had studied abroad in Ghana the year before I arrived. Little did I know how much BASICS would change my interests (I now have a passion for education reform,) and open my eyes to a world of new experiences, people, and lifestyles.
The children of BASICS taught me more about myself than I could ever repay them in the hours I spent tutoring, singing, and dancing during my stay there in the summer of 2012. For six too-short weeks, I stayed at the girl’s boarding house, where the girls taught me how to dance Azonto, eat Ghanaian food, and speak Ga. The generosity and love which those girls showed me during my time at the house is something I will never forget. Their easy laughter and friendly demeanor made every day interesting and exciting at B.A.S.I.C.S. Each day, I would make my way to the Center, where I tutored preschool children in the morning and 6th graders in the afternoon. The preschool children proved an added challenge- few spoke English- but despite the language barrier, we were able to connect through games and song. My 6th graders were one of the biggest highlights of my day; I miss their wit and kindness and I know that they will grow up to do great things.
To be sure, not every day was easy and lighthearted. My weeks in Ghana and with B.A.S.I.C.S were some of my most challenging. Learning the customs, dealing with the language barrier (when there was one), and learning how to be a white girl in a black country were each apart of daily life. However, it was by working through these challenges that I gained experiences and memories like nothing I have ever had in the US or other abroad trips. Traveling with other volunteers on the weekends, trying local dishes, and meeting new and unexpected friends were all some of these memories that made my BASICS experience special. If I could do it again, I would, but this time it would be for a few months rather than a few weeks.”
What a pleasure it was to have Ann volunteer with us this year. Anne began her placement in January and stayed with us for six months. Here is a little insight to her time in Chorkor:
"Living in Accra, Ghana and volunteering at BASICS was both the most challenging and the most rewarding thing that I have ever done. Each day presented new opportunities for me to learn something about myself, about my students, and about the ways that developing countries and NGO's function.
This Wednesday the 16th of October saw the observation of World Food Day. This year's theme was 'Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition.'
So what is world food day all about? Well, it's an oppurtunity to foster awareness for the critical state our world is in regarding access to food. World Food day teaches us about issues in the developing world that relate specifically to food, this year's theme promoting the idea of a sustainable food supply being reliant on strong food systems.
Everyday more than 840 million people go hungry
The UN defines a strong food system as 'smarter approaches, policies and investments encompassing the environment, people, institutions and processes by which agricultural products are produced, processed and brought to consumers in a sustainable manner.' This means that there needs to be more investment in infrastructure that supports clean water and farming, as well as in education on these issues.
Here in Ghana we have been improving our food systems and are happy to see some positive changes:
Mr Clement Kofi Humado the Ghanaian Minister of Food and Agriculture has announced that Ghana is now self-sufficient in the production of most carbohydrate foods such as maize, cassava, yam, cocoyam, sweet potatoes and plantain. This is a great achievment for Ghana, with Mr Humando attributing the change to the result of prudent agricultural policies. An example of some of the changes occuring in Ghana include rehabiliting small dams, and extending irrigation systems, which communities rely on for water and farming. Unfortunately this is only a small step on the journey to ending hunger and malnutrition in the country, which ravishes specific pockets; including peri-urban areas such as our home here in Chorkor. Mr Humado advised that the root cause of hunger and malnutrition encompasses a broader economic, cultural and political environment, which we here at BASICS are combating through our very own feeding programme.
"Adressing hunger and malnutrition therefore requires intergrated action and complimentary interventions in agriculture, natural resource management, in public heal and education and in broader policy domains." Mr Clement Kofi Humando
What can you do to help?
One of the best ways you can help is to get educated. If you know about World Food Day and the issues effecting different areas of the world, it means so will your family and friends. Talk to you parents, siblings, friends, workmates, teachers, students, plumbers, postmans and pets! Drive change in your communities. If more people are aware of these issues more action can be taken. How much aid does your country provide for the developing world? Can you campaign with various groups in your council, city or state to increase the aid budget? Not only can you talk about these issues, but you can donate your money to specific BASICS' programmes. Our feeding programme addresses the issue of hunger in Chorkor directly and strives to educate the children at BASICS about nutrition as well as providing them a hearty meal; sometimes their only meal of the day.
Did you know that here in Ghana we spend half of our day in darkness? Its true! We have 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark, thanks to our handy parking spot just north of the equator. As most of Ghana is without electricity, the night's sky is ranked number one on the Bortle scale making it the darkest kind of sky possible.
Most of the children in Chorkor spend their days working with their families to provide financial support around their schooling hours, which can really cut into their homework and study time. The same goes for children in rural Ghana who are also required to work on their family farms until after sunset. As we mentioned, much of Ghana is without electricity, so how can these children be expected to study at night when its really really dark?
Well, the US charity Empower Playgrounds have created an innovative way to help out in these rural areas by engineering a merry-go-round that can generate portable lights for school children! Merry-go-rounds have been built in rural schools so that whilst the children play on them, power can be generated, which then powers portable LED lamps. These lamps can provide 40 hours of light from a single charge, and are then distributed amongst the school children who take them home to study at nighttime.
Although the benefits of the portable lamps are obvious, there is also a great deal of value in the merry-go-round itself, which for most children would be their first experience of play equipment. Providing these children a new way to play as well as exposing them to innovative designs can only encourage creative thinking and inspire them to dream and think big!
We love education here at BASICS, but we also love to empower women! Despite making up half of the world's population, woman make up 70% of the world'd poor. This means we need to invest in women, and inspire young girls who will grow up to make positive changes for women.
Empower playground obviously agrees, because they have set up a 'lantern leaders' program for girls who are sent to school. Due to lack of money and cultural practices, girls are less likely to be send to school then their brothers, perpetuating the cycle of poverty amongst females. Now they have another great reason to go to school; they will be given the responsibility of providing light for their community.