Group helping Ghanaian women gain education

Sahada Mahama is training to be a nurse. Rashida Al Hassan is well on her way to becoming an accountant.

Sahada Mahama is training to be a nurse. Rashida Al Hassan is well on her way to becoming an accountant. Alayitu Abudu is working towards a degree in pharmacy and Alfreda Anjono is the only female in her class of 128 on her way to a career in electrical engineering.

These are just some of the girls from Ghana that the Red Deer based Tools for Schools Africa Foundation is working with to ensure they have access to the quality educations they want.

The registered charity supports over 80 young women in the largely rural, sparsely populated northern region of Ghana through its five year-old scholarship program.

This helps keep them in school by covering tuition costs and associated fees as well as what amounts to about $2 a day for food and other items. Recently, every girl attending post secondary school also received a laptop thanks to a large donation to the foundation.

“We know all our girls personally . . . And many have experienced unimaginable struggle and are in need of extreme financial aid but they also show excellence in academics and leadership qualities,” said Marilyn Pottage of Red Deer, who spearheaded the charity in 2003.

“In the past, many girls were not educated. That’s changing now and the one thing many families want is to see their children educated.”

Attending school is not easy as the rural communities do not have junior highs and girls that travel to the bigger centre of Damongo for school need a safe boarding house, Pottage said.

Tools for Schools built a $80,000, 87-foot long addition to the boarding house at St. Anne’s junior high in Damongo in partnership with the University of Manitoba’s architecture faculty in 2010.

This past fall they also completed a “classroom block” with a library, computer lab and an administration office at an overcrowded primary school in Damongo.

Pottage said she has always had a special place in her heart for West Africa as she spent almost two years in Damongo during her childhood when her father was part of an agricultural project in 1968.

“It never really leaves you,” she said. “You see we have so much, too much . . . and there is so little over there.”

Years later Pottage was hired by the Association of International Schools of Africa for a teaching development tour.

They visited five African countries, including Ghana. After the conferences she began sending supplies back to teachers she’d met. She received a letter from educators in northern Ghana pleading for more books.

By 2006 Pottage had stocked two, 40 foot containers full of books and teaching resources for 300 teachers in the region.

She returned to Ghana in 2008 for additional teacher training after a local Catholic bishop had reached out to her and Tools for Schools was officially born, becoming a registered charity not only in Canada but also in Ghana so the funds are always directly managed by Tools for School volunteers.

Everyone involved with the foundation is a volunteer, meaning administration costs amount to less than one per cent, Pottage said.

This will be the first year Tools for School sees girls it first started helping finally graduate from post secondary institutions.

The charity has recently joined the local chamber of commerce and is striving to raise awareness and secure more business connections to expand its donor base.

While it raised over $100,000 last year, more girls are being added to the program every year, and additional funds are needed.

They plan to have a Father’s Day raffle in May and volunteers are already collecting jewelry, purses, belts and scarves for the third annual Shine! fundraiser sale in September. Donated items can be dropped off at Artistry in Gold on 50th Street.

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