Sophia Dauda is on a journey of gratitude.
The 26-year-old Ghana native had never been on a plane before coming to Canada this month to thank the Central Albertans who paid for her university education through Tools for Schools Africa Foundation.
Dauda had never travelled outside her West African country before stepping onto the sponsored flight to Canada. She never owned a passport or had a birth certificate. But she applied for all documents needed to make the intimidating trip because she wanted to personally tell her beneficiaries how they changed her life.
“The eyes of my family are upon me,” said Dauda, a soft-spoken economics and business administration degree holder from the Catholic University College of Ghana in Sunyani.
She explained she’s now responsible, as the only university-educated person in her family, for supporting other relatives.
“My message is to thank (sponsors) for supporting people like me… My coming here is evidence of what can be done (in Ghana). I would like to encourage (people) to continue to support and contribute for us and (give them) a sign of appreciation,” said Dauda.
“I am so happy, and my family as whole is happy. Being the first to get a degree is really wonderful.”
Dauda is the featured speaker at the Tools for Schools Africa Foundation Shine fundraiser, held Thursday night at the Westerner’s Harvest Centre. The fourth-annual 7 p.m. benefit features a chance to buy donated new and gently used jewelry, art, purses, belts and scarves.
Vice-chair Cindy Jefferies hopes to raise at least $35,000 from the event towards putting some girls in Ghana through middle school to university.
“If families can’t afford to educate all of their children… girls are the last to be educated” — yet women tend to pass their knowledge on to their children, contributing towards the economic gain of their family and community, said Jefferies.
Tools for Schools Africa Foundation was started in 2003 by Red Deer resident Marilyn Pottage, who was in northern Ghana in the late 1960s with her parents, economic development workers.
She returned to the same area many years later and was saddened to see few improvements.
Dauda grew up with her mother, father and seven siblings in a remote village without a school. She and a brother were taken in by an uncle living in the city of Damongo so he could help educate them. But her uncle had 10 children of his own, “so it was difficult,” she recalled.
When there was no money for her education beyond high school, a head-mistress who was very impressed by Dauda’s intelligence, dedication and leadership abilities, asked if Tools for Schools Africa would consider sponsoring their first university student.
Dauda remembers it as near miraculous that she even received the phone call asking her to come for a meeting at the school.
Her brother happened to hang his cell phone on a branch in the only area with reception in their parents’ village.
At first she worried she was in some kind of trouble, before hearing the unbelievable news that Tools for Schools Africa would help her get a degree.
Besides the Central Alberta charity’s scholarship program that’s helped about 70 Damongo girls, the group has also delivered shipping containers of books, computers and other school resources to Ghana, provided teacher training, built classrooms, a library, and a boarding school addition with help from University of Manitoba architecture students.
Despite this assistance, “there are so many girls in need,” said Pottage.
Tickets to the Shine fundraiser are $35 each (or five for $150) from www.tfs-africa.org, or at the door. A glass of wine, dessert and entertainment from an African band are included.