Matthew Wilkinson is an amazing seventeen year old American high school student who is spending this school year in Ghana via the YES international exchange student program. Just recently Matthew’s family moved to Bellingham. He and the other five YES students in Ghana helped the Anansi staff with their home visits for their next year student selection. The following is one of Matthew’s reports:
In late February, I, along with a few other American exchange students in Ghana, conducted home visits with Anansi. Each American was paired with an Anansi staff member or volunteer and went to a different area to visit the homes of low-income junior high school students. We had been provided the names of students in need of a scholarship by their junior high school headmasters. Dennis, who graduated years ago as an Anansi student and is now a nurse, was my partner, and he and I were assigned villages just outside of the prosperous city of Cape Coast. Because of their proximity to Cape Coast, I expected the villages to be relatively well off. After comparing notes with my friends who went deeper into the countryside for their village visits, this turned out not to be the case.
When Dennis and I crested the hill that led up to Kofufrodo, I was immediately surprised, since the village was clearly underdeveloped even by the standards of rural Ghana. Most of the houses were made of aging concrete, and the rest of mud bricks. I had been advised to take note of the roofing materials in the villages, and Kofufrodo’s roofs looked to me like they could barely keep out the rain. All the houses I saw were roofed with thin metal sheets, some held in place only by the weight of bricks placed on the edges. Once inside the village I noticed that there were no plastic water sachets among the litter on the ground. In another context this might actually have indicated wealth, but multiple residents told me it’s because they don’t have the money to buy treated water.
After a short search, we found Francesca, our first Kofufrodo student, cooking in a small mud structure which turned out to be her extended family’s shared kitchen. We greeted her and she woke her mother and we moved to a nearby concrete building with four or five rooms, and sat outside one of them, which, they explained, was where they lived. Dennis explained our mission in fanti and we began our interview, which lasted about 15 minutes. Most of the interview was conducted by Dennis in Fanti, but Francesca speaks English and I’ve learned a little Twi in my time here so I was able to engage her and her mother directly for a couple of questions as well. Dennis translated what I could not understand and I took notes throughout.
Francesca is 15 and lives with her single mother and her four siblings in the little room we were sitting outside of. The family’s only source of income is the mother, who makes kenkey (a fanti dish of fermented corn) which the children sell. The mother has an untreated eye condition which interferes with her ability to see clearly. A family like Francesca’s clearly can’t get the money to fund a high school student together. Someone like Francesca has so much to gain from a secondary education, which represents a chance to break the cycle of poverty and uplift her family and community.