Building Schools, Bonds in Ghana

Schoolchildren in Ghana. By Nkemakonam Ejoh, New York Life Graduate Scholar, 2012-2013

This time last year, I was in the midst of preparing for a trip that would end up shifting my academic trajectory. We—myself and ten other students—were accompanying Dr. Jean Krasno, director of the masters-level International Relations program, as she presented the Kofi Annan Papers to key Ghanaian institutions.

We prepared by studying and researching Ghanaian governance. After we arrived, we traveled all around Ghana, talking to ministers and politicians, chiefs and villagers.

Africa is not celebrated enough for its architectural, cultural, and political history. As a native Nigerian, it was wonderful watching others who had never been to Africa enjoy its riches and assets. This was my first time in Ghana, so all of us bonded over this introductory experience in the region. We began to realize that we all wanted an opportunity to come back, as well as give back. We got that chance while on a walk exploring Kobina Ansah, a village located about 15 miles north of the city of Cape Coast, in Ghana’s Central region. The head teacher of Kobina Ansah and Akoanso Junior Public School (Akoanso is a neighboring village) asked us for assistance.

The school’s structural facilities are in desperate need of renovation for the sake of both basic human needs—sanitary conditions and guaranteed access to electricity and clean water—and making sure students are in an environment conducive to learning: currently the kindergarten and first grade classes meet in a fenced-off area outside of the school building.

Back home we remained excited about our trip and by our new mission to raise funds and began working with the community members to renovate the school. By October our excitement was funneled into action. As a West African, I felt especially close to this project: I realized the project’s potential impact on the community and became heavily invested in its planning, making it my MPA capstone project.

I knew that if this project was going to be successful, we needed to collect more data. It was important to analyze the ways in which such a project would impact the villages. In addition, it was important to make sure that our wishes for the project and the expectations of the community were all on the same page.  And then, of course, we needed to organize the qualitative and quantitative information into implementable strategies.

Nkem Ejoh at a fundraiser for the Ghana school project.

My graduate colleagues and I began by overseeing the architectural designs as well as the water and electrical engineering components. We wrote grants and organized fundraisers raising $13,000 between October and April,  and we recruited for our next phase: construction and completion of the new school.

Through a study abroad program, twelve CCNY graduate and undergraduate students are going to Ghana this summer to build the classrooms.  We raised funds in the U.S., but the materials and labor will be locally sourced: in addition to facilitating a better education for young Ghanians, our hopes are that this project does a lot to nourish the local economic market and keep community members engaged in all remaining stages of development.

We are not stopping with the schoolhouse. Plans for a library and a health center are already on the table. I am excited to see where this journey takes the Kobina Ansah and Akoanso communities—as well as where it continues to take me.