Why did we go to Ghana last month? We were invited to participate in the August 16, 2012, dedication ceremony for the brand new high school in the remote northern village of Sakote, Ghana. We were there as honored guests and greeted by the entire village, the chiefs and elders, elected officials from the region, clergy, teachers, and, most-importantly, the children who stand to benefit from a high school education in their town. This new school building was entirely funded by The Ghana Project and we went to accept thanks and stand in the place deserved by all of our donors and supporters.
After several travel travails, we arrived in Sakote about two hours after the ceremony was “scheduled” to begin. By American standards, we were very, very late. In America, our extreme tardiness would have put a damper on everything. But not in Ghana. And not in Sakote. Everyone waited for us, kings and kids, the bishop and even the Regional Minister (equivalent to the Governor of an American State), old friend and new ones. All of them sat there with patience unimaginable. When we finally arrived, joy exploded.
I had visited Sakote once before, in March of 2011. When I was there, it was an empty field. We participated in a dedication ceremony for three newly drilled bore hole wells, providing clean water where there was none before. And we also broke ground for construction of this school. The ceremony was unforgettable. So was the village. At the time, I described it as “beautiful, though absolutely dry.” August is in the rainy season. It was still oppressively hot and Sakote was still beautiful, but now green and lush. But green plants and trees and grass weren’t the biggest difference.
When our van turned off the dirt road, I was nearly in tears. I was definitely smiling from ear to ear as I first caught sight of the massive new bright blue and yellow structure, with shiny tin roofs reflecting the sun. The paint colors seem inspired by Ghanaian Methodist school uniforms, blue pants or skirts and yellow tops. The school was so big, much bigger than my imagination allowed. The building consists of three wings in the shape of a U. Entry into the complex is through an iron gate into a concrete courtyard. Up two steps to the left and right, the long wings of the “U” contain three classrooms each. In the middle is the administrative wing, with an office, library, and computer lab. But all those details I saw later. On arrival, the crowds and the drums and the ceremony were a little distracting.
When our group stepped out of our van, we were greeted by a troupe of dancers and musicians playing on flutes. The dancers also provided their own rhythms with metal castanets (not an accurate term here, but its as close as I can come up with) in their hands. This group played for us and danced for us and followed in our wake as we, eventually, walked through the gathering, into the school courtyard and up to the head table behind the podium. There the group of continued, dancing and playing in our honor. The men and boys in the group went on and on for several minutes in rapid rhythm. These guys combined the timing and technique of Riverdance with the soul of Motown and the cardiac endurance of marathon runners.
When “our” dancers finished their performance for us, they danced their way over to the assembled chiefs, and the chiefs’ dance troupe moved over to perform for us. Wow. These guys were all incredible. Even though we were so late, it took a while for things to quiet down. Observing Ghanaian protocol, those of us at the front table (our visiting group, plus the Regional Minister, the Methodist Bishop of Northern Ghana, a member of parliament, and the local Methodist pastor - who was the emcee of the ceremony) walked over to formally greet the chiefs and queens and elders. Then, after we returned to our seats, those same chiefs and elders walked over to formally greet us. And, after that, the ceremony could begin.
I won’t bore you all here with a rundown of the speeches. There were many, and too many of them were long. But it is important to realize what a big deal this ceremony was. Television cameras were there. Newspaper reporters were there. Dignitaries were there. Everyone seemed to be there. The ceremony was important because the school is important.
The difference that this school will make in the lives of hundreds, thousands of children will be incredible. It is hard for 21st century Americans to imagine a place without a high school. But Sakote and its surrounding area has never, ever had a high school. There was no school at all until the 1950s, when a primary school and junior high school were built, but those schools were all the people there had. Most children for generations in Sakote have hit a brick wall after finishing junior high. A lucky few, if they got a rare scholarship or happened to be rich (which is even rarer in that part of the world), could go to a boarding school out of town. But as the Regional Minister told us, even that exacerbated the poverty of Sakote. The brightest children who got the scholarships and continued their studies elsewhere rarely returned to the region. Once they got out, they never came back. And Sakote never improved.
But the situation has now changed. There is no brick wall anymore. All children can continue their education, learn a trade, learn skills beyond junior high right in Sakote. That’s an amazing gift to give the next generations. Thanks to The Ghana Project. And thanks to God.