Well, ladies, the Ghana Grant team was pleased to dip into West Africa recently. The occasion was a gathering of friends at a restaurant popular for West African dishes. Among those enjoying the feast were three people native to Ghana, including two nuns from the south of the country, and the bishop of Damongo, who is responsible for St. Anne Girls High School. You will recall that SIGP is supporting six girls in their quest for a diploma at this school.
Here is how it happened. Bishop Peter Paul Angykier was busy doing mission appeals in Chicago when he called SIGP member and former Peace Corps volunteer Carol Hofer, who had served in Damongo years ago. Together he and Carol arranged his trip to from the windy city to Detroit to meet our very own Ghana Grant Team of Diana Langlois, Myra Golden, Marya Malkovich, Mary Ellen Burke, and Carol. Team member Mary Clare Toffanetti could not join us that evening.
Plantain (cooked banana), rice, chicken, yams, and spinach were enjoyed by all, topped off with birthday cake to celebrate Mary Ellen’s special day, and ice cream cones. Note the looks of satisfaction on the faces of all.
St. Anne’s Girls’ Senior High School came into being in the year 2003 to provide quality and affordable education to girls in a conducive environment where Christian and moral formation will be given, and the best teaching methodologies and practices employed to breakdown the girls’ prejudicial self-perceptions.
As part of the Church’s vision to promote holistic integral development of the girl-child, the St. Anne’s School offers variety of programs to our students. Social interaction with other educational institutions in the form of debates, quizzes, entertainment and sports are part and parcel of the school program.
Furthermore, the celebration of the Holy Eucharist during the week and on Sundays for the students and members of staff have been an integral part of the program.
As enshrined in the vision and mission statement, the process of formation of the girls is based on four pillars:
Academic: The academic formation seeks a balanced and mature development of the mind and the intellect through the communication of lifelong skills such as listening, note taking and reading skills. They also learn the art of public speaking and leadership skills through participation in student associations and clubs such as the debating club through which they gain confidence in themselves and in their leadership abilities.
Religious and Moral: The religious and moral formation takes the form of developing in them the love for and practice of personal and communal prayer. The weekly time table makes provision for teaching basic and fundamental human virtues and values such as truth, honesty, integrity hard work, selflessness, sacrificial spirit and purity. This will also lay the foundation for abhorrence of such social vices as greed, laziness, jealousy, strife indiscipline, disobedience and corruption in its various forms.
Social and Cultural Formation: Through a weekly conference the girls are taught pertinent social values to enhance quality of life as ladies who will be culturally accepted at all levels of life both locally and internationally.
Work and Play: The school has on its time table a period for manual work as well as for indoor and outdoor games. Apart from the fact that they provide for recreating and resting the brain, both manual work /games also cater for the development of a healthy body and a sound mind.
In SAGISS, two approved Ghana Education Service programs were and are being studied. From the beginning it was General Arts (A option) that was the only programs until 2007 when the Business programs was introduced. Subjects studied under General Arts were English language, mathematics, integrated science, social studies, economics, Christian religious studies, French, government and literature in English. Business subjects were also made up of the four core subjects and in addition included economics, elective mathematics, costing or business mathematics, financial accounting and business management. These subjects were studied concurrently and guided by the syllabuses and time table of Ghana Education Service from 7am till 2:15pm every weekday. Extra classes were organized as at when the need arose at the cost of parents. Sporting activities were limited to jogging; playing games- mostly volley ball and football. Athletics were nonexistent because of lack of a developed sports field and facility. Other extracurricular activities that the girls got involved in were societal clubs such as drama, debating, health insurance, peace, climate change, cultural dance performances, scouting, entertainment and bird-hiking yet to be introduced.
As a faith based school, the church was also interested in transforming the lives of the girls and as such, the school had an additional time table known as routine time table. These activities included daily praying with the psalms during morning devotion, evening prayers, moral talks, retreats, celebration of special feasts, celebration of the Eucharist, recitation of the rosary, bible quizzes, legion of Mary and Catholic Students Union (CATSU) meetings, cleaning exercises and manual work.
As part of living in a boarding house, the girls were taught management of a home every weekend through chores like cleaning the environment, sweeping and scrubbing their dormitories, bathhouse, toilets, classrooms and dining hall, washing up after meals and washing and ironing their clothing.
These activities define St Anne’s Girls Senior High as a unique and an excellent school
It is still chilly in Michigan, but you might find of interest that at this time of year in Damongo, northern Ghana, West Africa where SIGP and friends are supporting six students, the temperatures can easily soar over a hundred degrees. This is late in the Harmattan season, when the sands of the Sahara Desert drift down to the south. Even as I write this, the sands are leaving a film of dust everywhere as they do every year, making it necessary for students to wipe desks and tables morning, afternoon and evening.
Our girls are indeed grateful for any help they can get. We are in communication with the Head Mistress of St. Anne Girls’ High School on a regular basis. She informs me that they are studying hard. They know they must take advantage of this opportunity or remain stuck in a life of grinding poverty.
I remember years ago trying to motivate my own students while in class on a scorching hot day with everyone sweating and nodding off and losing interest in the science lesson we were about to tackle. “I know you are hot and sleepy right now” I admitted, as the sweat trickled down my own back, “but we have to keep going and learn this.” “If you don’t,” I asked earnestly, “then what do you want to do with the rest of your lives, sell sardines?” The students laughed. They understood the point. In a poor area the people have few choices to improve their lot, but one way to earn a few meager coins is by selling bread and peanuts and tins of sardines by the side of the road.
Well, our girls know that this is not the future they intend, despite immense challenges facing them. That is why a mighty team of SIGP members are working on their behalf. Diana, Marya, Myra, Mary Ellen and Mary Clare are surging forward with Carol to reach the finish line in our SI grant application. It is important that our girls surmount obstacles they face in continuing their schooling, and money is key. Without it, no further education.
But here are some additional challenges.
The cultural mindset against female education leaves much to be desired. Men have a sense of entitlement and superiority in Ghana and in so many parts of the world, and the education of girls is not a priority. If a family has a boy and a girl, but can only afford to send one to school, the boy will be chosen, even if the girl is a better student. St. Anne works to change this mentality. An educated young woman is a boost to all of society. Consider this: studies in Ghana show that when females earn money, the money is more likely to be put into savings, into the community, into education, or into a family’s well being and health than when that same amount of money is earned by a male. Thus, females’ choice of spending tends to be more beneficial for the family, community, and country as a whole.
Unfortunately girls are often seen as commodities by parents, especially in impoverished areas, and are easily withdrawn from school for early marriages or commercial sex. The tradition of early marriage, with girls as young as nine being married off, has catastrophic consequences. In many regions it is typical for girls to marry around age 15, often to the dismay of most of them who are not ready or willing and who wish to stay in school. Thus, poverty and a stunted life take root. St. Anne seeks to combat this tradition.
Another problem is that female students often undergo uncomfortable harassment and teasing from their male peers, and a lack of privacy, which create an unwelcome environment at school, and discourages the girls from attending. They explain it this way:“A boy will ask you to be his girlfriend (this is sometimes a euphemism for sexual relations, and not an actual relationship), and if you refuse he will taunt you in front of his friends and spread rumors about you. Boys want to intimidate you, they want you to feel so inferior
At St. Anne, this barrier is broken because there are no male students. Teachers and staff are there to support the girls, creating an atmosphere of discipline and encouragement and high expectations to help these students “be all they can be,” strong, intelligent, women of integrity, capable leaders for their families and communities.
No doubt about it, this step is huge in the developing world.
Take a look here at the photos of the six girls that we are trying to help. Without support they could well remain among the destitute of the world. I for one do not want to see them selling sardines by the side of the road.