Volunteers from Elgin, IL help start lunch program and library in Ghana

A team of volunteers from Elgin just returned from a 10-day visit to Ghana where they helped start a school lunch program and library, and visited an orphanage they built.

The projects are supported largely through the fundraising efforts of fifth-graders at Sycamore Trails Elementary School in Bartlett and members of First Baptist Church in Elgin.

We raised a total of $8,200 for the lunch program between my church and a school in Oswego and Sycamore Trails," said Jim Reed of Elgin, who teaches fifth-grade gifted students at the school and is leading efforts in the West African nation through his charity, Two Pennies Ministry.

The money will feed 300 schoolchildren from 3 to 14 years old in kindergarten through ninth grade in the town of Katakysie through November, Reed said.

"We're giving the money to them as they go," Reed said. "We've sent them $2,300 so far so they could get that (program) started."

While most public schools in Ghana don't provide lunch, students at the Katakysie school are now being served full meals -- black-eyed peas stew, sweet potato leaf stew, cassava, yucca and fried plantains.

"The kids loved it. There was not a morsel leftover," Reed said. "It probably was much better than the food kids eat here. There were quite a few students who are now coming because they have lunch, which is really encouraging for us. The teachers were also saying the students were much more alert after lunch."

Three women from the town prepare the lunches, providing those families with steady income.

"We were creating some industry there, which is nice," Reed said.

Reed said his group is working with a teacher and middle schoolers at the school to create a more sustainable, locally sourced lunch program.

"It's up to the students to decide how they are going to do it," Reed said. "They can either start a garden, or they were talking about (having) chickens or pigs. They could either raise money or trade for what they needed, or grow what they needed."

Once students present a business proposal, Two Pennies Ministry will provide the seed money, Reed said.

Gift of knowledge

The volunteer team -- including two Judson University professors and members of the Elgin church -- also set up a library with roughly 2,000 storybooks at the Katakysie school, where students previously had access only to government-issued workbooks.

Sycamore Trails students and First Baptist Church members shipped more than 7,000 books to the Cape Coast region last summer that were distributed to schools in the area.

"Most of the library books were still in the boxes because teachers didn't know what to do with them," Reed said. "We set up a real rudimentary library system ... showed them how you would use library books and how you engage students in learning."

The volunteers and some upper-graders organized the books by reading levels on two bookcases in the headmaster's office. At first, students were allowed to borrow one book each for a day.

"They were just absolutely glued to these books," Reed said. "The next day, we almost hit a girl on the road who was walking reading 'Dora the Explorer.' She had taken it from the library. The headmaster said, 'Never in my whole life have I seen a kid walking down the road reading anything.' Kids who didn't like to read, you couldn't get them away from reading the books."

Teachers were coached on how to engage students by reading aloud and asking questions, a fundamental shift from their learning styles of rote memorization and chanting, Reed said.

The group also donated 200 electronic Boogie Boards with LED screens on which students could write answers, erase and reuse 50,000 times. They were an instant hit.

"We saw it immediately click with the students and teachers," Reed said. "You get 100 percent participation."

The care students took when handling the books and their eagerness to learn was inspiring, said Nancy Farquhar, 59, of Elgin, a First Baptist Church member who became the de facto librarian.

It was Farquhar's first and the charity's fifth mission to Ghana.

"The library itself was extremely rewarding ... more so because one of the teachers really took it to heart to take it over," she said.

Farquhar said she was struck by the warm welcome the group received from the students and townspeople.

"I really was just overwhelmed with the love, friendliness and affection," she said.

Building connections

Reed's ministry, with help from First Baptist Church members, provided $115,000 in funding to build an orphanage in the town of Asebu, about 25 minutes from the school.

The five-room house, completed in early January, includes separate dormitories for boys and girls, a study room, a waiting room, separate boys and girls bathrooms, and space to house more children.

It is run by a Ghanaian couple, Ebenezer and Comfort Obiri, who are caring for 10 orphans. The visitors brought along books and gifts for the children and spent time playing, reading and talking with them in hopes of deepening relationships. Reed's goal is for members of his Elgin church to sponsor individual orphans, helping supplement their education, textbooks, school uniforms, and other expenses. Sponsors would get progress reports on their charges and connect with the orphans through future missions.

The Katakysie School's headmaster, Aboagye Prah, who helped get the orphanage built, also has started a nongovernmental organization that will serve as the Two Pennies Ghana branch, Reed said.

"His vision is to be able to provide health care or healing for people who can't afford it," Reed said.

As for the Elgin volunteers, he added, they are planning another trip to Ghana, possibly in August or over Christmas break.

Source: Dailyherald.com