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10/15/2010

From Newfoundland to Ghana with love

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Dzogadze School's Canadian-funded library features an unlikely mix of Ghanaian and Canadian literature. Photo by Shawn Hayward.

By Shawn Hayward

I sit eating my lunch and watch two women pound cassava into a fine pulp. One turns the white lump over just before the other woman brings down a wooden pole with a force that could easily break fingers. They work with a perfect rhythm—the woman's hand pulling back just before the pole comes down.

Rhythm is a part of life here in the Volta Region. There is a strong tradition of music and dance in the region, especially the town of Dzogadze.

That's what brought Newfoundlander Curtis Andrews here in 1999. He was studying drumming and dance in Ghana and was so impressed by the talent of the musicians that he returned in 2002 to live in Dzogadze for two months. The villagers welcomed him and he became known as Kojo, the Ghanaian name for males born on a Monday.

Andrews went back to Newfoundland with a plan to hold a fundraiser and use the money to improve Dzogadze’s school compound that was lacking space and materials. Over the next few years he organized a series of concerts in St. John's that raised over $8,000 to build a kindergarten block, computer lab and library.

When I asked Dzogadze Basic School teacher Jacob Lekpor to show me what the donations have accomplished, he pointed across the soccer field to a yellow building.

“That’s where our beloved brother Curtis Andrews has put up a school for our children," said Lekpor, a junior high school teacher.

When Lekpor came to Dzogadze four years ago, there was no kindergarten classroom. The children were forced to learn under a tree and write in the sand. Now the school is gaining a good reputation and drawing students from neighbouring communities.

Things have improved for older students as well. The computer lab helps students compete in the public school system where information technology has recently become a required part of the curriculum.

“It will enable the children to have access to information," says Lekpor. "The country is developing, and information technology is very important. I’m happy that even at this age they will be able to improve their computer skills.”

What’s more, the library is full of books donated from overseas that expand students' knowledge of the world outside Ghana.

Lekpor says attendance rates were very low when he began teaching in Dzogadze and very few students passed the graduation exams. Now 60 per cent of students graduate and move on to higher education.

Artifacts from Canada cover the walls and fill the shelves of this rural African school. The library includes books about hockey and classic Canadian novels like Anne of Green Gables. There is a map of Canada on the wall, and a chart of the different fish species of Newfoundland and Labrador.

It would be a lie to say Dzogadze is now a utopia thanks to generous Canadians. People still fetch water from a stagnant pond when the pumps don't work, and many students can't afford the necessary uniforms for school. The medical clinic hasn’t had a nurse in two years and patients have to be taken by motorcycle to the nearest hospital half an hour away.

Quality of life is still lacking in some areas but people here are thankful for what they now have thanks to one musician from the cold north.

“His presence has helped a lot of children," Lekpor said to me as we stood in the doorway of the Curtis Andrews Block. "Those that did not know the importance of education, they are now getting it.”

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Africa Without Maps


  • There's so much more to Africa than predictable headlines about war, famine and AIDS. From Ghanaian beauty pageants to music in Malawi, Africa Without Maps provides a rare glimpse of life in Africa from Journalists for Human Rights interns on the ground.

    Funding for the jhr bloggers is provided by the Government of Canada's Youth International Internship Program.

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