A Central Alberta charity is making a huge difference to girls growing up in northern Ghana, where polygamy and poverty are heavily entrenched, says a former Red Deer public school trustee.
Cindy Jefferies, vice-chair of Central Alberta-based Tools for Schools Africa Foundation, and also a Red Deer city councillor, returned recently from her first trip to the Western African country.
The two-week trip in May opened her eyes to the harsh realities of what it means to be a female growing up a country that’s slightly smaller than the state of Oregon and home to nearly 25 million people.
As Jefferies says, life in northern Ghana isn’t easy for people in general. Many don’t have shoes and they’d “be happy if they had a bicycle.”
Women haul wood, charcoal, water and other items while walking “miles with that stuff on top of their heads.”
She and foundation chair and founder Marilyn Pottage visited a region where polygamy is common.
“Without an education in northern Ghana, you are likely to be sold off by your parents to an older fellow to be one of his wives,” Jefferies said. “From there, you are bearing children and working physically.”
The men often have lots of children to support. If a man’s brother dies, for instance, he is then responsible for his sibling’s children.
Jefferies met one man who was trying to pay for school fees for 21 children.
“So without help, there are going to be children who don’t receive an education,” she said. “And often in those situations, it’s the girls who don’t get to go to school.”
Currently, four young women in post-secondary education are being sponsored through Tools for Schools Africa. One is studying medicine, another is in engineering and the other two are pursuing business administration.
Tools for Schools Africa matches sponsors within Canada who are willing to financially support a girl through school.
“The first four days that I was there, I walked around thinking about how we could even change anything around here,” said Jefferies.
She said the challenges seem overwhelming.
And yet, Jefferies said she could see that Tools for Schools Africa was changing lives for the better.
“The only chance we have at making a difference is a little bit at a time and it really comes through educating one person at a time,” Jefferies said. “It’s going to be that education that makes the difference and which will lead to change.”
For more information, go online at www. tfs-africa.org.