Newfoundland musician’s generosity making a difference in African village
Lacob Lekpor is a teacher at Dzogadze Basic School in Ghana. He says students are benefiting from the donations of Newfoundlanders. — Submitted photo
The tropical forest of Ghana is probably the last place you’d ever expect to see a map of Canada or a list of the fish species of Newfoundland and Labrador, but you’ll find just that in Dzogadze.
The village of 1,000 people received thousands of dollars’ worth of help for its school thanks to St. John’s musician Curtis Andrews and other generous Newfoundlanders, and signs of Andrews’ presence are all over Dzogadze.
I’m in Ghana working for Journalists for Human Rights, a Canadian non-governmental organization, and I decided to visit Dzogadze on my time off to see for myself what the donations have done for the people there.
Dzogadze is a farming town where people grow peanuts, cassava beans, maize and potatoes on small plots of land. Most people make just enough to survive, and a few supplement their income with fishing and small-scale trading. There is no irrigation, and when it doesn’t rain people suffer from a scarcity of food.
The school lacked funding and students did poorly on their public exams. The head of the PTA told me pass rates were somewhere near zero per cent. Kindergarten students learned under a tree, wrote in the sand and stayed home when it rained because there was no building for them.
Andrews discovered Dzogadze in 1999 while he was in Ghana studying traditional African drumming and dance. He returned in 2002 and spent two months living in the village with his friend Ledzi Dzemegah, a fellow drummer from a family of musicians in Dzogadze.
Andrews saw that Dzogadze needed a better school. He returned to St. John’s and raised funds with the help of his mother and staff at All Hallows Elementary in North River. Andrews organized benefit concerts and raised $12,000, which was put towards a kindergarten block, computer lab and school supplies for the children.
“It’s helped in many ways,” Dzemegah told me. “It’s helped our children to go to school. Some parents didn’t even think of sending their children to school. Now they do because someone else has expressed this care in the education of their children.”
Computer skills are a mandatory part of the Ghanaian public education system, even when students have no computers in their schools. The two laptop and two desktop computers supplied by the Canadians are old, but they give students a better chance of passing their exams than ever before.
“It will enable the children to have access to information,” said Lacob Lekpor, a junior secondary school teacher.
“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.”
The library existed before Andrews ever came to Dzogadze, but it’s now filled with donations from Canada. There’s a map of Canada on the wall, and the shelves feature Canadian classics such as “Anne of Green Gables” and books about hockey.
The kindergarten block is the biggest contribution to the school. It’s named the Curtis Kordzo Andrews Block. “Kordzo” is the name traditionally given to males born on a Monday.
More children are going to kindergarten now because of the building, giving them an early start on their education.
It’s also drawing students to the school from nearby communities, according to Dzemegah, and the pass rate has risen to 60 per cent.
“When the school’s standard was falling, the children chose to go to schools farther away,” he said. “Now the parents want their children to come back.”
Dzogadze is far from perfect and it struggles with many of the same problems as other African villages. The community water pump breaks down a lot and people have to carry water from a stagnant pond. The village clinic hasn’t had a nurse in two years and many children can’t afford the uniforms they need to attend school.
One village can’t solve all the problems of being in a developing country with a few thousand Canadian dollars, but more children have a chance of escaping the cycle of poverty now that they are getting a better education.
The tradition here is that when people die, their land is divided among their children, and as generations go on the amount each person has gets smaller and smaller. With proper schooling, young people can move away to become professionals and leave more land for their siblings.
“People have to be teachers, and bankers,” Dzemegah told me. “Then the amount of people on the farm will be small and the land will be adequate. That’s why we need education.”
Andrews’ efforts have brought the possibility of something more than mere survival for an entire generation in Dzogadze.