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Queens College Students' Fund Raising Helps Build School in Ghana

-- Before 2011, Children in Rural African Village of Abetenim Had No Middle School --

FLUSHING, NY, April 13, 2015 –When science teacher Frank Appiah Kubi was assigned to the primary school in Abetenim village, Ghana, in 2009, he was moved by what he saw. “The kids wore tattered uniforms and some had no shoes,” he says. “Most of them came to school with no books and pencils.” The parents were mainly farmers who earn $2 to $5 a day.
 
The teachers sewed new uniforms for the children and bought them supplies. But the biggest problem was the absence of a junior high school. The nearest one was three miles from Abetenim and the students had no transportation. As a result, education ended after sixth grade.
 
Two years later that would change, thanks to the involvement of Rikki Asher, a Queens College professor of art education, and students from the UNICEF Club at QC. The children would have their own junior high school and Appiah Kubi, now 32, would be its first principal.
 
In 2011, Asher, a muralist, was attending a Biennial at the University of Kumasi in Ghana along with other artists and art educators from the world over. Its theme was "Community Art in Focus: A response to the growing problem of a widening gap between contemporary African Art and the rural community.” Afterwards they visited Abetenim, offering art workshops for children and, with local residents, creating a public mural. Appiah Kubi, on the scene daily as the mural progressed, explained the village’s plight: an individual who had promised funds to build the desperately needed junior high school did not deliver.
 
“There were about ten of us who heard this,” recalls Asher, “and together we decided to contribute about $40 each. A few hundred dollars goes a long way in Ghana.” Indeed, that $400 was enough to buy materials to begin construction of the new school.
 
Back at Queens College, Asher found enthusiastic supporters for the “Ghana Project” among the members of the United Nations-affiliated UNICEF club headed by Trisha Guduru. The students decided to actively fundraise for the school as an independent project.
 
“We raised money several ways, including car washes, a raffle and bake sales,” says Guduru, 23, a native of India who will be graduating this spring with degrees in both biology and computer science. “We communicate with the principal and know that we’re sending money into
good hands,” she says. “And with education comes freedom.” Guduru has also set up a Go Fund Me page for the school at http://www.gofundme.com/theghanaproject
 
The junior high school, built of cement blocks and concrete floors, has three classrooms, an office and a staff room. Enrollment has grown to 83 students (35 girls and 48 boys), ages 13-16, who attend from grades 7 through 9. The initial $2,000 raised went into the school’s construction, and the subsequent student-raised funds were used to purchase a laptop computer, some furniture, and materials for teaching and learning.
 
Guduru continues to head the Ghana Project, but now she works with Kimberly Hajioff, 23, the current president of the UNICEF Club. Hajioff, a senior who will soon earn a BA in biology, says, “I was excited to keep this going. I gravitate toward humanitarian efforts involving children who are eagerly striving for knowledge but don’t have the means to pursue education.” She is co-sponsoring fundraisers with other campus clubs “to pool our talents and double our efforts.” For example, last fall ticket sales from a Halloween dinner-dance were put toward the Ghana school.
 
In a poor rural environment such as Abetenim, “some students have to work after school each day to survive,” says Appiah Kubi. And the challenges continue after the students complete 9th grade. The admission fee for high school is Ghc 2300—about $615 in U.S. dollars, an enormous financial obstacle. “It’s heart-breaking that the parents of only two students who passed their final exams last year could afford to send their children to high school,” he says.
 
The principal, wed to a native of Abetenim and now the father of an infant girl, has raised funds for several of his graduating students to continue their education. He hopes to develop a long-term plan for awarding scholarships. In the meantime, he says, “We owe the staff and students of Queens College for their immense contribution in bringing education to the doorsteps of our children.”
 
For more information and to view photos, visit the Ghana Project page created by the QC students to spur interest and support: http://theghanaproject.tumblr.com
 
Located on a beautiful 80-acre campus in Flushing, Queens College enjoys a national reputation for its liberal arts and sciences and pre-professional programs. With its graduate and undergraduate degrees, honors programs, and research and internship opportunities, the college helps its students realize their potential in countless ways, assisted by an accessible, award-winning faculty. The college is cited each year by the Princeton Review as one of the nation’s “Best Value” colleges, thanks to its outstanding academics, generous financial aid packages, and relatively low costs. Learn more at www.qc.cuny.edu.
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