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Education important to students of Ghana

By Erica Horton
On September 4, 2012

  • Dennis and Rebecca Laumann went to Ghana in June to give an elementary school money that was donated by University of Memphis students who studied abroad there in 2009. courtesy of Rebecca Laumann


More than 6,000 miles away, children at the Airfield School in Atiyeenu Village, Ghana are writing in new notebooks and reading from new textbooks thanks to donations from University of Memphis students and professors. 

In 2009, students in the Graduate Association for African-American History went with Dennis Laumann, associate professor of history, and Miriam DeCosta-Willis, former associate professor of Spanish, to Ghana for a study abroad trip.  There, they met locals, including the village chief and students at the Airfield School. 

The village had nine teachers working with children from 4 to 13 years old. The U of M students decided to raise money for the school. 

Decosta-Willis said the passion the Ghanaians have for education is touching. 

"The classrooms were open to the elements, so if it rained heavily the school had to close down," she said. "If it was a light rain, then the students got wet and the books got wet."

Many students had to walk miles to get to school, DeCosta-Willis said. 

"It reminded me of when African-American students in this country had to walk five to ten miles to school," she said. "It was very impressive and moving to see those students."

She said she hopes students in the United States will understand what a gift public education is and what public education means. 

"Here in the United States we take education for granted and there, education is so desirable," she said.  "There in a village of 1,000 people, maybe only 40 or 50 people will be able to get an education."

DeCosta-Willis, Laumann and the students raised $850 through fundraising after they returned to Memphis - the equivalent of 1,660 Ghanaian New Cedi - to send to the school. 

Because the U of M has not hosted another study abroad trip to Ghana since 2009, Dennis Laumann and his wife Rebecca Laumann, assistant director of international programs and study abroad, returned to the country for research in June 2012 and took the money with them to give to the village school. 

Laumann said they could not send supplies during the three-year sabbatical because the school required particular products, and they could not mail the money for cultural reasons. 

"If you go to Ghana, it's customary to announce your departure and arrival to everyone," he said. "For us to go there and express appreciation for them means more."

Laumann and his family used the money to buy supplies from a wish list provided by the school that included textbooks, paper, pencils and science equipment. 

"We bought as much as we could with the $850," he said. "We wanted to give something tangible." 

The couple was greeted by students and villagers, who danced in an official ceremony to receive the supplies.

Since 2009, the villagers have acquired another building that has walls and a roof from a non-profit organization, but the school continues to use the old building in addition to the new one.

The students' parents have to pay for their uniforms, books and school fees. Rebecca Laumann said despite the donated supplies and new building, there is still a need. 

"There are desks, chairs and blackboards, but nothing high tech," she said. "There's no library and no playground. These are things we take for granted. This means that when these kids go out for recess, they've got to be creative." 

Rebecca Laumann said there were things on the school's wish list that were not able to purchase such as computers, so she kept the list with the hope of being able to go back with more of the supplies. 

"In Ghana, there is a thirst for learning," she said. "Our students are definitely not wealthy, so I am impressed that our students were able to fundraise and come up with $850 to support another group of students that do not have." 

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