Welcome to our Summer 2019 newsletter
We now have seven Christian schools in northern Ghana in the villages of Bagri, Gberi, Korh, Pavuu Mettoh, Tungan-Zagkpee and (completed since the last newsletter) Boo. In this newsletter:
- Plans for the Future
- The Opening Day
- A Part of the Community
- A New School: Birfobaapari
- Work On All Fronts
- Thank You
Plans for the Future
You may recall that in our updates last year, we shared a vision for the future. It is well over a decade since we felt led to start the work of Savannah. The charity is now well established in the villages of this part of Ghana and already our schools are transforming whole areas. Over 1,900 children now enjoy an education and a meal each school day.
And yet, within this district there remain villages that do not yet know the profound influence of an education and a Christian school in their midst.
If the Lord will – and as funds allow – we outlined last year our prayerful intention of building enough schools to ensure that every child in this area in within reasonable easy walking distance of a school.
We are pleased to be able to report that, since our last newsletter, the school at Boo has now been opened (see The Opening Day). We have also started work constructing a school in the village of Baapari (see A New School: Birfobaapari).
The plan to continue our school building programme over the next few years remains a challenging – and sometimes daunting – prospect for the small team in Ghana and for the trustees in the UK. We are encouraged, and thankful however, for two things in particular. First, the ongoing and generous support from our supporters without which we could not continue. Secondly, we are seeing increasing evidence from Ghana that our work and the Savannah schools are having a wonderful impact on the individuals, families and communities that we serve.
The Opening Day
Boo Village School
Thursday 16 May 2019 is a day that will never be forgotten by the village of Boo. Although the school has been open and accepting children since the start of the academic year, this was the day appointed for the inauguration. We are pleased to report that, in the first year, there are a remarkable 157 children on the school roll. The buildings are now completed – and they will serve children aged 4 all the way up to 14. The school is painted in the familiar striking blue of the sister schools that belong to the Savannah network across this area.
A large crowd gathered to show their appreciation and excitement along with all of the pupils. Dignitaries from the local education office, as well as the Paramount Chief of Lawra Municipality, joined the gathering. Some special guests had travelled all the way from Chilliwack in Canada, having spent a week visiting all of our schools.
The villagers showed their enthusiasm through traditional dance and singing. The dignitaries made a number of speeches.
One of the speakers was the Paramount Chief who reminded the crowd of the background to the work of the charity.
“The history of Savannah Education Trust is, I can say, divine. When I took up the skins from my late brother and ascended the stool [i.e. became Chief], some young men from the UK had teamed up with some of our people here. They were on a simple mission to Lawra. That mission was to distribute Bibles. They were asked a very, very relevant question: ‘You are giving us these Bibles, but we have no school.’ They said that they would leave the question in the hands of the Lord, and make known the needs in the UK and London. And that is how Savannah emerged. They went back and, true to form, took the request of these simple villagers of Bagri back to the UK …
Today we are pleased to inaugurate the seventh school. And these schools are always placed in the most strategic position – to fill the gaps. So on this occasion, I want to stand on behalf of the people to express our appreciation.”
Although it was in many ways a happy day, there was a shadow over the occasion. On the previous day, one of the pupils at the school had died. This remains, sadly, a not unusual occurrence in these villages, particularly those without a school. It serves as a sad reminder of why our work remains so vital.
A Part of the Community
As part of the celebrations for the opening of Boo, we sent a short speech to be read out (as we were not able to be there in person). Among other things we emphasised – as indeed we have at the opening of every school – that “this is your school. It belongs to you. You built it with your own hands, and it is for your children.”
It is a simple statement but behind it sits an important principle. From the beginning, we have had a desire that our work is rooted in the local communities – and not run or imposed from the UK. There is already a church in this part of northern Ghana, active in the proclamation of the gospel. We have a capable team leading Savannah in Ghana. It is very important that communities are involved in helping to build the schools and taking responsibility and an ongoing role in supporting them. We are thankful that there has therefore never been a need for people from the UK to work in Ghana on a semi-permanent basis.
Once built, the schools are sustainable financially because the Ghanaian government is covering the teaching costs and, increasingly, the cost of the feeding programme too. But there is a more important reason that they are sustainable. They are part of the community. For each school the land has been donated by local tribal leaders. The villagers have been involved in the building work. The teachers are Ghanaian – not short-term international volunteers.
A New School: Birfobaapari
The road from Lawra (the market town where our office is based) towards Wa, the regional capital, heads due south. It is only a few hundred metres before you are out in savannah landscape, with the pot-holed road surrounded by beautiful acacia and baobab trees. In the dry season, the land is barren ochre earth for as far as the eye can see. But when it rains, the landscape changes entirely and comes alive with greenery in every direction.
If you keep driving, you soon pass the village of Mettoh (off to the right), where one of our schools was opened in 2013. A little further, but off to the left, is Tungan-Zagkpee where Savannah’s hill-top school was opened in 2017.
Continuing toward the southernmost edge of the district you take a dusty, red track down toward the Black Volta river and finally reach the community of Birfobaapari (or simply Baapari for short). It is a simple farming community, with scattered homesteads across the savannah.
It is here that our new school is being built and we are very thankful to be able to report that the walls of the new school are starting to rise. This will be the eighth school and we hope that the first classes will start in September, if the Lord will.
We very much appreciate the support that we have received from two grant-making organisations and a family – all of whom have made generous donations to cover the costs of the construction in Baapari. There remains a funding shortfall of £15,000 on the cost of the nursery school.
We are grateful for your prayers for the new school, and especially for the pupils.
Work On All Fronts
The sheer scale of the work is striking. Across each of the eight villages, as well as the standard teaching and providing of food for pupils, a few particularly significant projects are in progress or have been completed. They are described below.
- The major work to build a new school at Boo is now complete and building work has started at Baapari. At Tungan- Zagkpee the toilet block has been finished.
- At Korh, work has taken place to build a suitable nursery school. The building is currently waiting to be roofed. Mettoh will soon need a secondary school (called a Junior High School and intended for children aged 11 to 14). Work is poised to start soon with the building blocks already constructed.
- During February 2019, we organised a safeguarding conference for the staff at all Savannah schools (and also all of the other schools in the area) – focussing on keeping children safe while they are at school.
- The expanding work has also meant that our staff team are bursting out of their office space in Lawra. It has been decided therefore to build a new office on land in Lawra that has kindly been donated for the purpose. The current office is rented and so, in time, this will save us the small sum that we pay annually for rent. The office will also act as a resource centre and meeting place for the teachers across the Savannah schools.
- Two more schools this year are celebrating a full cohort of students who have completed their studies and are now taking the national examination (which children take aged 14). We are thankful again to reach this remarkable milestone.
We recently were invited to hold a meeting at Hullavington in Wiltshire and were encouraged by the warm welcome that we received. We are happy to provide updates to supporters at public meetings.
As the work continues to expand, we are thankful to the Lord for the provision of necessary funds. As trustees, we sometimes feel at the limit of our wisdom and stamina, and we are grateful for your support and prayer. It is needed now even more than it ever has been.