One of the greatest parts of my work with the Ghana Children’s Fund is to witness, again and again, how the prayers of the children in Ghana are answered in ways that also answer the prayers, wishes or needs of the donors. Starting with myself (a mother whose desire to never stop mothering has led me to where I am today as “Mother Lisa” to 400 children) and continuing to our latest project (to complete Phase 2 of the school that we started three years ago). These are remarkable examples of how philanthropy really can be a win-win-win solution, with the number of people who “win” being endless.
Let’s look at our latest project: In 2008, we built the first story of a large school building that houses three classrooms, a library and a computer lab. It is a wonderful building, but it has been awaiting a second story to be built. There are almost 200 students still learning in classrooms in a dilapidated, leaky wooden structure that is unusable during the rainy season, and the sooner we can complete the second story, the sooner they can get into a better learning environment. The cost of completing the school is roughly $50,000. Given all of the other financial commitments that the Ghana Children’s Fund has made to the school and orphanage, I felt that completing the school was a goal that would take at least a few more years to fulfill.
Then, in February of 2011 I received an email from Karen Amero, a local woman I vaguely knew from years before when our sons played hockey together. She had heard about the Ghana Children’s Fund and suggested that we meet for coffee so that she could hear more about it. As I told her about the orphanage and the school and the many ways we are involved in helping the children in Ghana, Karen honed in on the need to complete the school building. She had been looking for a way to honor her deceased mother who was a fierce advocate of education, and what could be more fitting than to build a school in her honor? She committed to raise whatever money she could over the next three months and donate the rest personally so that we could do the construction over the coming summer break and have the new school ready for the school year to begin in September! It took me several weeks to realize she was really serious! Just like that... Karen’s desire to honor her mother answered our need to build the school... the ultimate win-win solution.
The next challenge was to find some trustworthy, qualified Americans to oversee the building project. Our experience with building in Ghana has taught us that Ghanaians are very capable of building solid structures, but slightly less reliable about adhering to budgets and providing detailed records of the finances. I feel a heavy responsibility to make sure that every dollar is used wisely, and I knew I could not provide that level of oversight from Connecticut. On my husband’s suggestion, I sent an e-mail to our alma mater (Duke University), asking if they could help me spread the word to the engineering students that we were looking for a volunteer to go live in Ghana for the summer to oversee this project. Within a few days we heard from Pete Zseleczky, a young man who would be graduating in early May but did not have to start his “real job” until September. He had been looking for a way to make the most of his summer, hopefully something that would involve travel, adventure, and some sort of service work... something just like what we needed! And just like that... another win-win solution. (Even better, his classmate, Hugh Runyan, quickly signed on for the adventure as well.)
At this moment, Hugh and Pete have happily settled in to their temporary home at the orphanage in Ghana and construction is under way. I sit back and think “I can’t believe how this all came together!” And I reflect on how many people have “won” in this situation: the hundreds of students who will have a modern, weatherproof classroom starting in September, Hugh and Pete who will have an experience that they will remember for their entire lives, Karen Amero who will have the satisfaction of finally honoring her mother in such a meaningful way, the donors in the U.S. who will have the satisfaction of seeing the school completed in 3 short months and knowing that their donation really made a difference, all of the Ghanaian men working on the job who will now have some money to feed their families, and the Ofaakor community at large that benefits from having a school that will provide their children with their only hope of breaking out of the cycle of poverty that keeps them living in such bleak circumstances. And, of course, I consider myself the luckiest of all... standing at the crossroads of the best that humanity has to offer... when people come together for a moment in time, and they all walk away better for the experience.